To the Year I Lost and the Decades I Won
How a quarter-life crisis devastated and reinvigorated my love of writing.
I have long sympathised with people suffering through a mid-life crisis. I realise the potentially crushing anxiety and suicidality goes way beyond the stereotypical motorcycles and twenty-something mistresses.
In 2016, around my twenty-fourth birthday, I first struck upon the concept of a quarter-life crisis. I know, last minute and all that. But although I had by then truly realised how devastating a mid-life crisis could be, I mostly saw this new concept as a silly joke — or even further evidence that my fellow Millennials truly can’t resist making everything about themselves.
Mere months later I felt caught in a blizzard, with all those plans, dreams, and aspects of life I so long held as obvious crumbling around me. My husband-to-be left me, I lost my wonderful Stockholm flat, my career was in jeopardy and, in the middle of it all, I tried to write it all down and… I hesitated.
A crippling realisation
I hadn’t truly hesitated for years. Ever since I learned to write I had written stories, opinion pieces, philosophical thoughts, poetry. I had by then run a blog for a full decade,¹ self-published two books,² ³ and written for a number of online and paper journals for six or so years.
My point isn’t how awesome or productive I was. My point is how I never hesitated, how I never stopped — for better or for worse. And now I would just stare at my blank screen for hours, fingers trembling and eyes welling up as my coffee grew colder and my screen stayed just as blank. And every time I thought of a phrase or idea, every time those trembling fingers touched the keys, I’d feel a chill down my spine as the same thought kept cropping up.
Why would anyone even care?
I realised that even though I had written professionally for years, with clients to please and numbers to uphold, I always somehow just assumed I’d have readers. I never assumed fame or appreciation… but I always assumed I’d have readers. Now I couldn’t stop picturing my readers’ faces as they would sigh and close down the browser window. Or not open it in the first place.
I’d question the originality of everything. For every idea I had I‘d scour the web for hours before finally arriving at the conclusion that yes, some Thai blog on the seventh page of Google search described a similar hypothesis back in 2003 and yes, there’s no real point to further discussion because why the hell would I be any better?
A chapter in loathing
And so I stopped. And almost every day I didn’t write, I cried in anguish and confusion. Because if I, who had always hailed myself as a writer, couldn’t finish a single text — who was I? What was my worth?
As the days passed, anguish turned into fear. Fear turned into panic. Panic turned into loathing. I looked myself in the mirror and I could no longer see myself as anything but a disgusting con artist who so long tricked not only myself but the world as a whole, and who was finally waking up. And I feared what I was waking up to.
A part of me wanted to just let go, to find a new passion. Another part refused to give up. I considered just lowering the bar for what I considered “acceptable” writing, but I couldn’t — I had long refused to play with handicap, often preferring to lose what I considered a fair game than to have a chance at evolving. And now it felt like someone turned on the handicap long ago, and I had just kept playing and kept celebrating false victories.
The drapery had fallen and the truth lay bare before me. I couldn’t keep playing. Or if I did, the rules would have to be rewritten from scratch. I would have to work for it.
And something inside of me whispered right back at me:
Too. Fucking. Bad.
Revelation, acceptance, love
Like waking up from a quarter of a century long dream in which I was a supreme expert, a legend, a perfect exhibit of a star. Realising that I really don’t know shit. Like a painter who lost their hands in some mid-career freak accident I kept feeling I should be able to do so much more. I should be able to be so much more. And it pains me that I’m just… me.
And it’s not the realisation that things have gotten harder, that others got smarter, that there’s more competition. The world hasn’t gotten larger. There isn’t anything there that wasn’t there before. It’s just me that’s changed.
It’s all me, realising that I never really worked for the results I arrived at, or thought I arrived at.
It’s all me, realising that I have cheated myself every step on the way, constantly playing with a handicap without realising it.
Now is the time to grow up. Time for the next level. I kept thinking it’s now all or nothing — either I invest emotionally and intellectually and struggle to make this right, struggle to produce something I could be proud of, or I call it quits. And I’m not going to call it quits.
This is my return.
I will fight for your readership. I will work hard. I will struggle. I will succeed and I will fail. And most of all, I will never take you for granted again.