The first time my doctors wanted me to go on disability, I refused. I thought it was quitting, admitting to everyone and myself that I was broken, which was something I'd spent over a decade trying to avoid. Instead I continued working, only to be waylaid by a bigger, badder version of what ailed me six years later.
This time, my psychiatrist told me, I didn't have a choice. It wasn't a factor of would I be able to work, or should I be working, it was that working was flat out impossible.
But this time, I had a backup plan.
I'd always loved writing. From scribbling out half-baked beginnings on Post-It Notes while working at the 1-Hour Photo, to my 19 year fan fiction obsession, storytelling had been a long-time hobby. At Kenyon, I joined the legions of would-be poets, reading out poorly edited free-verse about breasts or cigarettes in falling down barns.
You see, the episode that stopped me from working was in June. But I'd started working on a novel in April.
It was a task I'd taken on lightly. I figured it would be easy with my experience at roleplaying and writing about Star Wars. Besides, I'd been thinking about it for two years, so the plunge into character development, crafting scenes and chapters, and writing an ending couldn't be that hard, right?
So ... I'm still working on that novel, and I've learned a lot.
I traded one profession I was head over heels in love with for another. Social Work is not a career someone enters into lightly. I left my MSW Program a different person than I was when I entered it. Ditto with writing. I changed again. If I thought I was compassionate, patient, willing to help, and observant before, I have become only moreso, but in a different way.
I started a writers group for my friends in May of 2014. It was unstructured, like my writing then. I didn't follow any rules for critique or process, much like my narrative had no structure and my dialog followed no rules of punctuation. Now, I host a critique group of six writers with Operational Guidelines and a formal critique structure. We schedule two months in advance and submit our pieces a week ahead of time to allow for ample time for reading.
I am also happy to report that I have formalized my dialog tags and learned how narrative works.
When I had to change professions it wasn't by choice. I turned what had always been a hobby into a career out of necessity, as I have always had a work ethic that precludes me from consuming all Netflix has to offer as a vocation.
I had to learn to structure my days, more than they ever were in my eight years as a social worker. I am my own boss, something I learned how to do in my former profession, which required me to make my own executive decisions and prioritize my tasks and time in a maelstrom of change.
What I am saying to you is: change is not the end of the world, and hard life choices are not armageddon. It's what we do in the wake of those decisions that make us who we are and decide who we will become. I could have followed my first idea about disability and quit entirely, but that's not who I am, and it never will be.
Hell, I won't even quit smoking.
I tell myself I'm a writer because that's who and what I want to be. It's the power in the language that gets me out of bed in the morning, gets me to read, gets me to walk the dog, exercise, eat breakfast, and continue working. Even though my first priority is taking care of myself, I do it all under the pretense that I'm a writer, not under the pretense that I'm broken.
I make these choices because they keep me stable. Watching every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation will not make me feel better. Reorganizing the (now obsolete) DVDs on the shelf will only send me staring at the ceiling contemplating the inevitability of decay. I have to decide to do work every day, to be active, to keep moving forward.
And while I build this new persona of me - a writer, a confident person, the Me I have always wanted to be - I have to prepare for the future. There may be more choices ahead that may sideline me. Further career changes. More abilities and people lost. But I walk calmly into the darkness as my flashlight guides me, because I refuse to fear the dark.