Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow.”
~ Helen Keller
Last week, I was ready to give up. This probably has something to do with the fact that my birthday is next week. I’m going to be 29.
Sarah Maas is 30 (8 books), Victoria Aveyard is 26 (3 books), Veronica Roth is 28 (4 books), Marissa Meyer is 32 (6 books). This doesn’t include novellas, compilations, short stories, collections, etc.
I felt too old to be only just starting.
I know, it probably sounds ridiculous. I shouldn’t be comparing myself to other writers, especially not those who are traditionally published and anyway, 29 isn’t that old! But I felt old and tired and exhausted and beaten and defeated and… broken.
I have wanted to be a writer since I could hold a pen(cil). I never really dream hopped. I didn’t want to be a veterinarian one day and an astronaut the next. If you asked me at age 6 what I wanted to be, I would have told you I wanted to be an author, ask me at 16, a novelist, at 22, a writer.
My dream has never changed, but I still managed to get so, so lost. For years, I struggled through a quagmire of mental health issues ranging from addiction to depression to agoraphobia to self-mutilation to panic attacks. I have insomnia. When I do sleep, I have terrible nightmares and night terrors. I spent years undereating only to then spend years overeating. My weight is in a constant state of confusion. I’ve weighed 106 pounds and 206 pounds and everywhere in between. Living is often exhausting for me. And last week, I thought, “You know what, this is hard enough as it is, why make it more complicated? Accept mediocrity. Accept that you’re never going to make it. It’s okay to be average. You don’t have to be special. You wake up every day and for someone with as many problems as you have, that’s enough. Enough is enough. Just stop.”
There is peace to be found in surrender. Peace sounded good. Surrender sounded good. Curling up under a comforter and never coming back out sounded good.
But none of those things are actually options. Not for me. Not when I feel so deeply that God has blessed me with a special gift—the gift of knowing what I want to do with my life.
I don’t talk about my faith very much, because faith is personal and controversial and for me, hard to nail down. But sometimes, usually in my darkest moments, it whispers to me.
I was not raised with faith. My mother has always identified as a Christian, but she didn’t really rediscover her faith until I was much older. My father is a scientist and like a majority of scientists, he is an atheist. While my mother read me fairy tales in the cradle, my father read me Darwin. When I was in the sixth grade, he bought me a copy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (“Because it’s a good story”). I was brought up on the belief that religion is a crutch used by those who are desperate.
Maybe it is. Then again, maybe it isn’t. As the daughter of a scientist, I was encouraged to question, to be always curious about the unknown. Fostering curiosity is probably part of what led me to be a writer. It’s also what guided me to my faith.
I converted to Catholicism my sophomore year of college. I started attending mass because I was in love with a Catholic boy, and I wanted to impress him. I decided to convert because I felt like I’d found something that had been missing inside me, but I’d be lying if I said it’s been easy. I’ve struggled with my faith every day since the day I converted. I’m constantly questioning it just as I’m constantly questioning myself. But sometimes, I think I hear God’s voice, and it gets me through the day.
In that way, I guess my faith is a crutch. But a crutch helps those who cannot walk for themselves. A crutch helps broken people heal. It is exactly what I needed last week, and I clung to it until my knuckles turned white. And eventually, I found myself walking a little stronger, a little further. I found my despair easing its hold. Ideas started to flow again as hope sprang back to life inside me, a small ember at first, a tiny thing I had to nurture, but it was there all the same.
There’s something magical about being on the precipice of defeat and clawing your way back. There’s something empowering about being lost and finding your way again. There’s a reason the image of the phoenix rising from the ash is so popular, and it’s because never has there been a symbol that encompasses the human spirit so well. At some point in our lives, every single one of us has been the phoenix risen from darkness.
Last week, it was me. But I have risen stronger than before. My dream is more beautiful because it was broken. It will be so much more exciting when I make it a reality because I will remember the taste of the ash on my tongue and the burning in my throat as I fought my way back into the light.
Broken and built anew.
Never stop dreaming. Never stop fighting.