A year ago last July, I was sitting on Hamill Road waiting for the light to change at Hwy 153, running late for an appointment with a client who was always at the center early. It was only 7:30 am but the sultry day was well underway. With a forecasted high of 96 and scattered thunderstorms, my time in a truck without air conditioning meant a lot of sweaty driving for me.
As a case manager for a not-for-profit mental health agency, I was required to get at least 90 hours of face-to-face time per month with my clients. In other words, I needed to bill enough time for the agency to make a little money to operate and, according to administration, pay my salary and provide services to the clients.
I wasn’t sure about that last one. After attending the annual awards ceremony a few months back, and seeing the gluttony and self-glorification of the “long-termers,” I remained jaded. The ceremony in and of itself was self-serving and expensive with a gratuitous display of glad-handing.
I felt a little rise of acid in my esophagus at the memory as I turned left at the light to continue to my appointment.
Driving along DuPont Parkway I reflected on how things can change in instant. My thinking process was jagged. I wanted to write but felt blocked. I had been doing so well in the months before I took the job, using my words to make a difference, to change reality, to ponder humanity. Since I went to work at the agency, my creativity had dried up. My dismay was palpable.
It turned out my ponderings on sudden changes became a self-fulfilling prophecy. What I thought was going to be a short day at the office and little time with my husband before he had to go to work on a rare Friday night became one of the longest days of my case management career. A client went into crisis mode and I was the only person who could, or would, help him. My team leader was supportive to me during the process, and some of my team members offered to bring me food. My client needed me so I remained.
I finally got home around 10:00 pm after I watched a grown man detox in the emergency for over seven hours. While helpless at the mercy of alcohol withdrawal, I worked to coordinate rehabilitation services for him. When he was released from the emergency room I transported him to the behavioral unit. At the end of my first week back from several days of vacation, I finished with 30 face-to-face hours—a full third of my monthly requirement.
Undone, the experience resonated within me throughout the weekend, and into the weeks to come. My satisfaction in helping others had slowly disintegrated over those last few months by a combination of a cancer of the system and my lack of self-care. Instead of finding joy and a feeling of accomplishment in my work, I had come to dread my days. I had no energy left. At the end of a day I would stare at my computer or guitar and do nothing, or spew out words on my blog that could only be described as vomit because I could not get to that quiet and centered place within.
Traffic, television, radio, phones, emails, appointments, deadlines, quotas, ex-spouse drama, family drama, sick kids, sick grandchildren, sick parents, sick siblings and friends—they were all continual and unrelenting noise, suffocating my creativity. Without the ability to create, I have learned, I am like a car that you can only drive to make left turns. Without my words, stories, music and songs I am, in effect, handicapped.
Granted, life is life. We have to adjust and we have to learn to dance along the way. However, we must also feed that which makes us able to continue onward with strength and perseverance. For some this involves more interaction with others, more time spent, more running around, more helpfulness and productiveness, and more busyness.
That does not work for quirky, introverted artists like me.
I was beginning to resent everything. My dogs, my cats, and even my husband—who by all intents and purposes was, and continues to be, the most giving person I have known. I resented my clients, the very people I was driven to help. I resented my employer. My resentment was toxic as it eroded my happiness and peace. I knew I had to do something different.
It was time to get beneath the noise, to that quiet place within—to feed my inner self. I had to get under the pain and past the over-thinking and over-analyzing part of myself to uncover my inner voice and just…let it breathe.
In August of last year I submitted my resignation to the agency with a two week notice. The relief was immense. My husband equated it to the scene from “The Green Mile” where John Coffey spews out the bad after taking it from others. (Darabount & Valdez, 1999).
Over a year later, I am participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the second time. November has come to symbolize feverish writing and angst about word counts, but it has also become a beacon of light, directing me to what matters more; writing it all down. I won NaNoWriMo last year by exceeding the 50,000 word count and went on to finish the first draft of my first novel. This year I am well on my way to completing the first draft of my second novel. The effort does not stop there. A first draft must be revised and edited, and that takes a lot of work.
Life has a habit of getting in the way of that work, so there remains noise to overcome. I hold a full-time job that does not suck the life out of me, but the time I must spend there still requires discipline on my part as a writer. Family continues to require careful attention, especially this year, when my husband lost his father and brother, we lost our dog, and we have both faced health problems.
Over the last year or so I have learned a lot about writing and how to go about achieving writing success. Though not an exhaustive list, here are a few gems I discovered:
- Know who you are as a writer
- Write every day
- Take yourself seriously as a writer and expect the same from others
- Perfection is NOT a requirement
- Persistence IS a requirement
- Patience remains a virtue
I am cognizant that my vision of myself as a writer will evolve over time. What matters more than anything is that I respect my writing and expect nothing less from others in return.
Getting beneath the noise of life and staying loyal to self is a daily battle and some days are more hard won than others. It’s messy and complicated, but the journey to get from here to there is not what slows me down or leaves me in a puddle of defeat. What throws me off my game is my expectation that there be no struggle at all.
Being a human being is work, and to rise above ones expectations of self requires more effort than I am sometimes unwilling to expend. However, digging deeper to extract those gems of beauty, truth, perseverance, clarity and creativity—in the face of adversity—is the journey.
It is a journey I am willing to take, regardless the obstacles.
It’s time to breathe.
Kim Bailey Deal
November 8, 2015