I had a really important lunch today. Not because it was business- or networking-related, but because it was with an old friend who managed to screw my head on a bit straighter for me.
Since you last heard from me, I was in a sad place. I’m still in a sad place sometimes. While I don’t always make it publicly known, I am still hurting from the events of a few weeks ago. I am also in a consistent battle with my depression and anxiety disorders, which make my healing process that much more difficult.
My life has felt like it’s been at a bit of a standstill lately. With all that has (or hasn’t) been going on, I started to lose myself again. Back when I was unemployed and by myself all the time, I felt my mind reel back into its depressive and anxious state. Despite treatment, this is something that happens to anyone with emotions of any kind. We’re never permanently happy. It’s impossible to battle these demons for good, and I think it’s important to understand and accept that about ourselves as humans. However, we can take preventative measures in fighting off the darkness. While I’m medicated, I find that I need to do extra work to remain in a positive place.
That’s where this lunchtime conversation comes in.
I’ve known this friend since my freshman year of college. He was the first person I ever worked with in Los Angeles and he has gotten to know me as I’ve grown into whatever it is I am today. Noticing my unrest and unhappiness over his tilapia this afternoon, he shared something important with me that I want to share with you.
Our senses of self are fluid, he said. We are not in a box that defines us. You are not a coffee drinker, you are not a writer, and you are not the outdoorsy type. These are things that bring you joy or things that you do. But you are not them. Who you are changes daily. Stop thinking about the future you and just get to know who you are in the present, today.
Who am I as I sit at my laptop and type out these words that brought me so much comfort just a mere hour ago? I am someone different than I was as I drove to our lunch spot, confused and restless and lonely. And I may be someone different when I leave my office for the day or when I stop at the market this evening to pick up produce.
“Follow your energy,” he told me.
All my life I’ve resisted this message. I felt it necessary to define myself by what I did. I was a writer. I was an Ivy League student. I created a web series. I was selected to join an elite college society. All that mattered was climbing to the next round of accolades. I kept myself boxed and had these accolades lining the walls. And when I needed more room to breathe in my little box, I would seek out the next honor or award so that I may build the walls up a little higher. Today, I realized that these walls need to be knocked down and that my little box needs to go into the recycling bin with all my old take-out containers and empty wine bottles.
After feeling complacent in my life lately and desperately trying to earn my next bragging right, I feel exhausted. My creative energy is constantly being zapped and replaced with my anxiety and depression. While school was all about being the best, I finally need to learn to be who I am. Not who I am in relation to others, but who I am purely in the many moments of every day life. Life is not a competition anymore.
By following my energy and seeing my identity as a fluid being rather than a tiny house of accomplishments built on a shaky foundation, I feel freer. I feel ready to write something for myself, and I feel ready to meet someone that can let me be who I am today, without worrying about who I may be tomorrow. In the past, all I’ve ever worried about is where a relationship will take me in a year. What the break-up will be like. I feel like those are thoughts that I can avoid now.
Something else I want you to know is this: the feeling of contentedness and freedom from your darkness will not be permanent. When talking about things like mental illness and general sadness, no one ever seems to remind us that the depression or the tears or the panic attacks come back. They will. That’s life. Darkness returns. But you do not have to define yourself by these things and you can get through them and return to a simpler and happier place. Nothing will ever be exactly as you want it to be. But follow the path that you’re drawn to and things will be okay.
Be realistic, be brave, and be who you are right now, as defined only by the energy you feel.
After years of trying to prove myself to be what everyone thought I was, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I don’t have to be funny. I don’t have to be clever. I don’t have to be defined at all.
Neither do you.