What are we all here for?
Since human existence is a complete fluke in scientific terms, figuring out what we’re here for isn’t exactly straightforward.
Unless you are guided by vocation and feel a strong pull toward a particular occupation or pursuit, achieving fulfillment may look like a crapshoot or an unattainable goal.
From a young age, I’ve always known communication and bringing people together was what I had to do. This strong sense of mission led me toward languages when I was a student then into media and, unexpectedly, tour directing as a sideline that paid the bills when journalism didn’t.
Vocation is a calling, and once you have it, it will never leave you; you’ll know because that’s all you can think about.
And then major depressive disorder did away with my writing voice for five years. Not only did I lose my livelihood, but I spent all that time contemplating the loss of my raison d’être too as the will to live left me a little more each day. I was lost, adrift in my head, bereft of purpose, unable to think and much less to string two words together.
Until then, I had taken vocation for granted and never thought anything could prevent me from practicing it.
Against all odds, my voice came back and the very thing I couldn’t do is how I’ve been rebuilding a life word by word for almost a year, using my experience of mental illness as material.
At first glance, it is more than a little counter-intuitive.
Then again, to me writing is service, and if the last five years can be put to good use to help chip away at mental health stigma then this goes a long way toward offsetting some of the damage illness caused in every area of my life.
What happens when you’re no longer able to answer your calling?
I spent years trying to figure this out, wondering if the disappearance of my ability to write had rendered me obsolete and useless as a person.
My new circumstances made no sense and I couldn’t do anything with the skills and knowledge I had acquired. From one day to the next, depression had made them — and me — redundant.
Or at least this is how it felt at the time.
Depression works by turning your life into a wasteland and erasing your sense of self until you no longer have any idea of what makes you you. When familiar landmarks are gone, finding the way back to yourself seems impossible. While vocation, passion, and love can all carry you and see you through difficult times, what do you do when they all vanish?
Suddenly, you have no reason to get up in the morning anymore and if breathing weren’t a reflex, you probably wouldn’t bother with it either. And so you endure their absence, hoping they’ll eventually return.
Finding hope in the darkness when it looks like what defined you has evaporated calls for superhuman strength, something depression doesn’t exactly grant you. Worse, you may feel an all-encompassing need to shut everyone out and cut yourself off from the world so you can lick your wounds in peace.
Beware and resist this urge if you can as self-imposed isolation is dangerous. When you keep everyone at arm’s length, it’s easier to convince yourself that it doesn’t matter whether you live or die.
And yet, those who love you unconditionally will not leave you alone.
For five years, my father turned into a phone pest all the way from Paris while I lived in the Pacific Northwest. He was obsessive, unbearable, and ultimately instrumental in making me realize I wasn’t as lonesome as I felt.
But I seldom took his calls because I sought to shield him from what ailed me.
Darkness is part and parcel of human nature.
Some choose to deny its existence while others hold hands with it; when you acknowledge it, you stand a better chance of taming it.
The amount of darkness within each of us is variable, and in the case of depression, it often manifests as fog that smothers you and prevents you from seeing things clearly. Knowing your triggers is key to managing your condition, as is being disciplined.
Much as you’d like, there could be certain things you can’t do anymore as you may end up paying a high price for them. For example, I cannot drink alcohol. No matter how tempting, just glass of fine Portuguese wine could catapult me straight back to hell. I still buy it, but only as a gift to other people.
Not only do you need to become your best ally even though you don’t feel worthy of self-care, but if you know one non-judgmental person who will always have your back no matter what your mood is, do try and let them into your head.
Because they know that your lashing out at them or attempting to push them away is a direct consequence of the distress you’re experiencing, and not personal.
While you’re likely to hurt them on occasion if they’re the sensitive type, I assure you they will not hold it against you and any damage done won’t be irreversible.
Making friends with your darkness is key to self-acceptance.
When depression is so blinding you doubt your ability to keep going, you can use your past as evidence of your stamina and endurance, for to have kept yourself alive this long is no mean feat.
Even if your illness is chronic, you’re still here.
And when you can no longer answer your calling or haven’t identified it yet, take heart, because human capacity for reinvention is endless. The only limits to what you can do are those of your imagination, and of course common sense. Even when you feel you have nothing to offer, there’s always something you can do.
You can always use your experience of being a human in the world to improve someone else’s day. Sharing what you know can give you a reason to go toward others and find a new sense of purpose: Value is intrinsic to every human being.
In other words, everyone has something to offer.
And because no one can know everything, there will always a need for what you have to share. Think about small, simple joys like a cookie recipe or a joke — food and humor are often how new connections happen.
Or go straight to the essential and say hi or smile at a random stranger — folks walking their dog in my old Seattle neighborhood made my day more than once that way, ditto chatty bus drivers.
And if you can’t or don’t go out, a few words directed at someone you haven’t interacted with yet can have the same effect.
Keep groping for meaning and you will eventually find it, sometimes in the most unexpected of places…
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.