Content Warning: Discussions of anxiety, depression, and suicide.
When I was little, I had this intense fear of being just another brick in the wall, another ordinary person. Sometimes I’d go to other people’s houses and I’d see sun bleached plastic toys strewn across tile floors and kitchen tables piled high with bills as everyone just tried to make it from one day to the next and the entire thing just depressed the hell out of me. Some people might say that this is just indicative of a generation of snowflakes with participation trophies, but we didn’t give those trophies to ourselves. We were all told we could grow up to be these amazing unicorns who could change the world and while this was technically true, not everyone can be magical and transformative. Some people are just there. The idea that this terrifies me might make me sound like I’m entitled or think that I’m better than other people. Maybe I am, maybe I do. Either way, the damage is done and the thought of being irrelevant and wasting my life depresses the fuck out of me.
I want to write something great. I want to be great. The idea that I’m ordinary is enough to make me want to slit my wrists in a bathtub. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how much of an asshole you think I am), my house doesn’t have a bathtub. It does, however, have a floor where I can lie and stare at the ceiling and wonder how the fuck I made it to 31 without either achieving something or offing myself.
In a speech about Ladybird, Greta Gerwig encouraged people to tell their stories. I started thinking about what was that one story I just had to tell, the one I had to get out there before I died. I thought about it and thought about it and came up with . . . nothing. My husband says I’ll figure it out, that that story is out there somewhere, but part of me thinks he was just trying to get me to stop talking. He’s not a bad person. Actually, my husband is a very good person. I’m kind of a bad person, so I think I project my own issues on him a lot. When I talk to him about a problem I have, he wants to fix it. This is a pragmatic, logical approach, but sometimes there isn’t an easy solution and when there isn’t, I get mad at him. I think I’m more angry at the fact that I don’t have my own answers and I can’t fix my own problems, but he’s an easy scapegoat for my anger. Otherwise, I might have to reflect on my own average failings and I’m not always prepared to go down that depressing rabbit hole.
When you’re 31 and feeling like you’re going nowhere, especially as a writer, people love to bring up Charles Bukowski.
“He didn’t publish his first book until he was 40!”
He was also a miserable, misogynistic alcoholic. Sure, I like his writing as much as the next person, but he’s not exactly my idol. I understand their point that there’s still time to “reach for the stars”, but if I’m looking at Bukowski or bust, I might as well start looking for a bathtub now.
Bukowski was one of those writers idolized by the men in my graduate program, the kind of guys who fantasized about being angry, drunk geniuses in smokey bars. They wanted praise for their work without ever actually writing anything of substance. These guys wrote, of course, but it was mostly in notebooks when, mid-conversation, they’d stop and shout, “I have to write that down! This is going in a story!” They loved the idea of being Hemingway or Hunter S. Thompson, hoping to one day be the kind of writer that they themselves idolized. However, buying a Moleskine notebook doesn’t make you a literary genius anymore than watching a football game makes you Tom Brady.
To my knowledge, none of those guys from my grad program continued to pursue writing. After graduation, most of them seem to have vanished off into other fields, most unrelated to writing at all. Although one guy was blogging a lot on his LinkedIn page, so maybe that counts for something. Probably not. More than likely, they have half-finished novels on their hard drives and tell themselves that maybe one day they’ll publish it. Maybe one day they’ll be Bukowski. Realistically though, they’ll never publish anything. These Bukowski sycophants might revisit the incomplete manuscript from time to time, but it’ll never be anything more than a fantasy.
This is my main problem: I don’t want to be those guys. I barely resisted the urge to punch them in the face during grad school and if I become them, I’ll have to punch myself constantly and that sounds exhausting as well as painful. I’m already farther along than them considering I’ve published several books under my own name and ghostwritten several others, but the fear is still there. What happens if my depression and anxiety become too much for me to handle and I stop writing completely? What if my works in progress on my hard drive turn into stagnant files and then all of my ambitions turn into fantasies that will never be?
What if I’ve always been ordinary and I’ve just been kidding myself thinking I could be more? Do I accept that reality or do I keep pretending, keep faking it until I make it? What if I never make it? What if I’m just another brick in the wall and I finally have enough perspective to see myself for what I truly am? That thought is almost as depressing as I am.
I battle with depression and anxiety, but I also love writing. Even if my writing never amounts to anything, I still love doing it. At my therapy appointment this week, my therapist commented that I seem more energized, and she’s right. After depression made it difficult for me to create for a while, I’m finally producing work again. And it feels really, really good. Ultimately, I have to make the decision to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. My ambitions will never have the chance to come to fruition if I don’t try, so I have to keep going. Just because I don’t know what my Ladybird is yet doesn’t mean I won’t ever figure it out. It just means I don’t know what it is yet. For me, writing tends to have the answers to what I feel and what I want, so all I can do is keep putting pen to paper.
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