Channelling illness into something meaningful
It was three years ago that my life started to fall apart. My nursing career was in shambles. I had a relapse of my mental illness, and came very close to suicide. I had pushed pretty much everyone out of my life. The rapid plummet eventually levelled out and the really intense pain started to abate, but things weren’t getting any better. My life felt devoid of any sort of meaning or genuine purpose. All I could think about was how much the combination of illness and circumstance had stolen away from life and from my core self.
It was almost two years ago that the idea popped into my mind to start a mental health blog. I was totally unfamiliar with blogging, and if I had read any blogs before then it was entirely by accident. Still, I chose to go for it and dive right in, choosing Wordpress as my platform to send my words out to the world.
I didn’t actually think it was very likely that the world would be interested in listening to any of those words, though. Mostly I just figured that the writing process would be therapeutic, and that was reason enough to forge ahead. I didn’t have any particular goals because I simply didn’t know enough at that point what the potential options might be. I just wanted to write.
That wanting to write quickly turned into discovering a new passion. I found a community, which was especially valuable considering that my in-real-life social contacts had dwindled down to almost nil. I got to exercise my foggy, depression-addled brain by doing research for posts. I expanded my writing scope beyond the little safe haven of my blog. Eventually I was inspired by fellow bloggers to write my own book.
Overall, though, the specifics matter less than the core of it all: finding something that really meant something to me and gave me a sense of purpose.
Did it make my illness go away? Nope. The depression has become treatment-resistant, and I just have fluctuations in symptoms rather than any sort of remission. I’m not able to work very much, and I struggle in situations where there are other people around. As a result, I spend a lot of time at home. I live alone, aside from my guinea pigs, so it’s up to me to provide my own stimulation.
Whereas once I might have killed time with watching Netflix or assorted fluffing around at home, now I always have something to do that feels like it matters, in some small way. I spend hours each day reading others’ blogs and writing my own work. I’ve become pretty much a full-time blogger. I make very little money at it, but luckily I’m able to get by with the little I do work.
What matters most, though, is having something that feels like it really matters that I can do to fill my time, even when I’m feeling awful. Even the fact that there’s anything at all that feels meaningful is remarkable, given the extent to which depression tends to suck the spirit out of almost everything in my life. I recognize I’m in a very privileged position to be able to pursue my passion project without too much concern about having a paycheque associated with it. I’m also lucky that I’ve found a project that’s workable even with the often significant effects of my illness.
From an objective standpoint, my life now compared to before everything fell apart a few years ago represents a pretty negative change. I went from happy and well, with a tight group of close friends and family, and making a good income, to now being unwell, experiencing increasing levels of disability, social isolation, and most months earning less than my expenses.
Now I have a passion project, though. And while that doesn’t change everything, it matters a lot. Does it mean that everything is ok? Absolutely not. My illness clearly makes itself known each day, and there’s a lot that I struggle with that used to come very easily.
Still, it’s easy to give up when life throws adversity in your way, but to use a cliché, this is my lemonade.