"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Loss of Robin Williams and Why We Must Keep Talking About Depression


Yesterday, along with the rest of the world, I got the horrible news that Robin Williams had died. Even worse, he had taken his own life.

I found out via a breaking news email, tiny text in a few sentences on my cell phone. I gasped, and had to read it twice before I could answer my husband’s cries of “What’s wrong?”

I felt sick. Of course I didn’t know Robin Williams personally. I was just a fan. But anytime I read of anyone losing a battle with depression, committing suicide, I feel this way. It can be a stranger I read about in a newspaper article, a random obituary. It makes my heart hurt, because I know that pain.

After I read the email, my husband and I immediately turned to the 24 hour news channel on the television, and watched as the story unfolded. Already, stars and mourners were sharing their shock and memories of Robin Williams. I watched as social media turned into a place for people to grieve openly, and I was pleasantly surprised to see compassion dominate the postings. People were so shocked that someone who had given them such happy and touching moments in their lives was, in reality, suffering so much. They wished they had known--wished they could have helped somehow. It was hard for people to fathom how someone who had brought so much joy to the world could have possibly not felt that same joy returned to him.

Suddenly, total strangers offered their contact information out to the world—if anyone needed someone to talk to, just call, just write. YOU are important. YOU matter. People began to realize that if this could happen to someone like Robin Williams, it could happen to any one of us. They wanted to help. I found myself tearing up at the outpouring of love in honor of this man’s passing.

All I could think about was his last moments. I cannot claim to know his personal suffering, but like anyone who has battled severe depression, like anyone who has attempted suicide and been in that low, horrible place, I felt I knew something few people know. There is just a darkness that is like nothing else, that you can’t escape, that you can’t see a way out of, that envelopes you and hurts like nothing else. You feel worthless in a way that is bottomless. You feel like such a burden to everyone and everything and that you will be relieving the world of you and your problems if you are gone. There is nothing more painful, more confusing, and more horrible than those moments. You want to die and you don’t. You want to the pain to end, you want so badly to be anything other than this dark, horrible thing that you are.

I hated so badly that someone so gifted, so genuine, who had given so much, felt that way, and was alone like that in his last moments. But everyone who dies like that is alone in those moments, and it always hits me the same way when I hear about it. I hate it.

If we learned anything from Robin Williams’ death, we learned that depression can affect anyone. It doesn’t matter how rich, how talented, how popular, or well thought of you are…depression doesn’t discriminate. It can crawl in on shadowy feet into the minds and souls of any one of us. It isn’t a choice or a mood. It is a disease, and it can be fatal.

I was so, so fortunate to have survived my battle with depression, that lasted most of my adult life. I am one of those people who will always have to be careful, always aware that depression will be just below the surface for me, easier to inhabit my psyche. For me, it feels like a rope around my waist, loosely hanging now, as I am healthy and fine, but with the threat of it always being able to pull tight and drag me down. I have to know and understand my triggers, take care of myself, not let myself get too stressed by work (or life), get enough sleep, take medication, and seek help if I feel myself slipping.

What I think was also apparent as I watched social media erupt with love and grief last night, was so many people shared their own battles with depression. It’s almost absurd that we have the stigma that we do, when almost everyone either has suffered from depression or is close to someone who has. It’s as if we are all keeping this big, stupid secret about something that is painfully obvious and happening all the time to all of us right before our eyes. Because it is. Life is so hard. We all struggle. We all need help sometimes. Keeping quiet is what leads people into lonely rooms to take their lives. We have to keep talking.

If Robin Williams had been just another comedian, he wouldn’t have touched people the way he did. Sure, everyone loves to laugh, and someone who makes you laugh is always welcome. But the reason Robin Williams was so beloved is because he surprised us. He was one of the most gifted funny men out there. He could truly make you belly laugh like no one else. But then, almost out of nowhere, he appeared on screen in serious roles and showed all this heart and made us weep. There was such a true genuineness in his dramatic roles, they were as touching as his comedic roles were funny. There are so few people in the world with that much range, that much depth—to be able to pull off both comedic and dramatic roles the way that he did. I believe he felt things so deeply, he gave so much and we, his audience, felt that too.

To me, he always seemed a little tortured, fighting something—in a beautiful way. You could tell he felt everything, deeply. That’s why his performances rang so true. I have just felt so sad by this loss, all the performances we won’t see, what we will miss out on now that he is gone. But most of all, I can’t quit thinking of his last moments, and I am haunted.

My hope in all of this, in all of the compassion, the sadness, and the realization is that out of this huge loss, a conversation will start and continue. This is the best example of the fact that depression can affect ANYONE. Robin Williams has left an amazing legacy of his work onscreen, but my hope is also that another legacy will be that so many lives will be saved because we all kept talking, and more people came out of the shadows, and stayed out of their lonely rooms and more people reached out for help.

I think he would have loved that. Don’t you?

Please, if you are contemplating suicide, know that you are not alone. YOU ARE IMPORTANT. YOU MATTER. No matter how bad things are right now, they can get better. Reach out for help.
Call this hotline—I have called this number before—they save lives and they can save yours:

1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE)


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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Into the Night




When I was in college, when I found life too challenging, and I felt too overwhelmed to face and handle everything coming at me, I often did something that the adult me now knows wasn’t exactly safe. I would often, usually in tears and exasperated, in the wee hours of the night, grab my keys and head to my car. I didn’t have a planned destination, a map, a route, or anything other than my pain as my guide. Very often the gas tank wasn’t full, but I took my chances, driving into the night, the windows down, my radio blaring, and tears flowing.

It all sounds melodramatic. It wasn’t done for dramatic effect. This was before the days of cell phones and selfies. No one knew my whereabouts. I definitely felt I was running away, or rather, trying to out run everything. Pain, depression, loss, my family, my own failures, the very life I was leading. Sometimes I dreamed of just driving and driving until I ended up in a new, unknown town-- leaving everything behind and starting over. 

In my heart, I knew it wouldn’t all work out as easily as all that. I couldn’t ignore all that was behind me—college courses, work, bills—it would all still be there even if I took up residence in some other zip code.

Ultimately, and usually depending on the amount of gas in my tank, I would decide it was time to turn back around. I would drive slower on the way home, letting the cool air dry my tears, trying to breathe in slowly and take in the night’s movement, the weird, lonely pace around me. I would finally make it back home, exhausted, spent, and fall into bed.

I can often remember dropping my keys on my nightstand and laying down and just hoping beyond hope that I would make it to a time in my life where I never felt this way again. Where I felt settled, safe, and happy. Where I didn’t need to run or out run anything.

The funny thing is, for so long, I thought I had. Then, over the last five years, even in the best of times, there are moments where I would think about those midnight drives in college and feel that tug. Sometimes it was because of work stress or life stress. Sometimes it just felt like I was lost and needed to go looking for something…myself maybe?

Recently, especially, there have been nights where I try and go to sleep and my mind won’t stop racing, won’t stop fretting, thinking, turning over every little thing. Sometimes it’s after a bad day, sometimes I am worried about our bank account or my career, but some nights I just get myself into a spiral of thinking that is beyond anything I could possibly catch up with by pacing or normal worry. I start to wonder if I will ever really finish my book—the dream I have wanted forever—to be published. Then I wonder what I am doing with my life. I feel so far away from the core of who I am and who I want to be. I start feeling like I am paying the bills and losing pieces of my soul more every day. I try and remind myself that we all have to work, that everyone feels this way, but I feel a clock start ticking so loudly that I mentally start searching for my keys. I want to jump out of bed, into my car, and drive quickly into the inky dark night. I want to roll down the windows and feel the night air. I want to drive until I can smell the Pacific and hear the waves and see the moon reflecting in my windshield. I want to drive and drive and drive until the sun rises in a new place altogether.

It won’t solve anything. I will end up right back here. This isn’t a bad place to be. Everything and everyone I love is here. I just wish I was sure about the choices I make every day. 

I have said so many times that I don’t have regrets—that however I ended up where I am, I have made peace with. As long as I ended up here, I am fine. That is not all completely true. I am thrilled with where I ended up—and I believe this was fate—and exactly where I am meant to be. But I do have regrets. And a part of me believes that I would have ended up here (since this is my fate), even if I had made different choices, and maybe after not having gone through such a painful journey.

At one particularly low point over 10 years ago, after our company had just gone through a series of layoffs, I found myself unemployed and unsure of my next steps. I had just enough money in the bank to survive another few months or so where I was, or, I thought, take a leap. I seriously considered buying a plane ticket to Paris, landing, and figuring out the rest from there. I was going to leave everything—my apartment, my belongings, my life—everything behind. I couldn’t decide if the plan was brave or stupid. Now, looking back, I know that it probably would have been disastrous. I was depressed at the time (never a good time to make decisions) and I didn’t have nearly enough money to take a chance like that. I had nothing that even resembled a plan B, and the list goes on. I know all of that. But there is a huge part of me that wishes, very deeply, that I had bought that ticket.

I think my late night obsessive thinking and worrying sessions are a bit of a mini-mid-life crisis. I am just realizing that there is so much I want to do, and I am not making progress on a lot of the things that matter to me. I look at my life five years down the line, and I am so afraid I will still be in this same place. I worry about the person I am, the wife I am, the human being I am. I want so much to do more, to give more, to be more. I worry.

Back in college, on those midnight drives, I was truly trying to run away, out run things, drive towards another place. Part of me wonders now, if when I am dreaming of grabbing my keys and driving, if I am not trying to go back, take the wheel from that younger me. I want to take control, change the course, lead her in a different direction. 

I want to tell her: We will end up here, in the same spot, I promise. The way we get there will just be far less rough, dangerous, and painful.

I can’t go back, I know. I can only worry about the road I have left-- it stretches out before me. I can chart the course from here. I have to remember that, when I am laying here worrying. My hands are on the wheel. I can only plan so much. I can only worry so much. For now, I will sleep, and try and reassure myself. At the end of the day, I will end up back here, right where I am supposed to be, with everyone and everything I love. 

Oh, and to that younger me, so sad, driving in the night, I also want to say, No matter the path we took to get here…we made it. Somehow, we made it.




The beautiful photograph at the end of my blog post is entitled "Time Reverse" and is by Amy M of TruBlissPhotography. Check out more of her amazing work here.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

The Book: A Teacher's Gift of Love




In the summer of 1980, I had just finished the fourth grade and also my last year of elementary school. I would be crossing over into the unknowns of middle school the next year, and I didn’t know yet how different things would be. My third and fourth grade years in school were two of my best. I was so fortunate in those two years to have been in the same classroom, with the same teachers each year, in an environment where I felt safe, supported, and even loved.

Somehow, within those years, within the walls of that classroom, or “suite” as it was called then, I found confidence in myself. This was no small feat. In those two years, the three teachers in my suite made me feel as though I had something special to offer the world. I had never felt that way until they ignited that spark in me. In particular, they all recognized and fostered my writing talent. I remember my poems being featured on bulletin boards, and my short stories being entered into contests. But most of all, I remember being told that I had talent—and somehowbelieving it. One teacher in particular, Ms. Garwood, always seemed to find opportunities for me to shine, to highlight my writing. Instead of us performing a play from a book, she would let me write one for my classmates to perform. She did this for other students, fostering their talents, finding ways to make the classroom a place where we all found our own paths while learning everything we needed to, and understanding the importance of appreciating one another’s gifts.

Somehow, I knew things would never be quite the same in my future classrooms. I struggled the following years in middle school, as everything seemed to be changing so fast, and being popular became more important than finding talent in one another. I honestly felt like I had slipped into a black hole once I stepped onto my middle school campus. The one thing that kept me going was remembering the love and support of Ms. Garwood, and her belief in me. Even though I felt that I didn’t fit in, and that some of my best friends were moving into different circles and leaving me behind, I remembered that I had someone out there who believed in me and had no doubts about my success for the future. I can’t express how powerful that was.

I don’t think any of my teachers or friends for that matter knew how hard things were for me at home. I couldn’t even articulate it myself. Children that take dance lessons, that have enough food, that do well in school—these don’t add up to things not being right at home. These aren’t the signs of an alcoholic father and a broken marriage at home, and little pieces of my confidence and self-worth were taken away as things got more and more tense. I would tell myself I was fine, when I wasn’t. I would keep secrets and smile when most of the time I felt as if I was so fragile I could crack apart and disintegrate at any moment. There wasn’t anywhere that felt as safe to me anymore. I was still a good student, but the rules of school seemed so different once I left the safe nest of elementary school. A few teachers still called out my writing talent, and many were supportive, but it wasn’t the same cocoon I had felt so safe in. It was the last time I would feel that for a very long time.

But that summer before middle school, I didn’t know any of that. I just knew I was sad that I wouldn’t see Ms. Garwood anymore. I wondered if she knew how special she was to me and how much I was going to miss her. And then, she asked to come by my house. She said she had something for me.

I can remember this moment as if it was yesterday. I was sitting on the kitchen counter in our house, alone, and I looked out the window to see Ms. Garwood arrive. She was wearing a purple dress, and she smiled as she walked up the driveway. I don’t remember exactly what words she said, I just remember how heartfelt her words were as she handed me the gift, a blank book to fill with more of my poems and stories. I remember we laughed as she showed me how the pattern on the spine of the book somehow perfectly matched the material of her dress. She read her inscription out loud to me. That moment, that book, her faith in me…it meant the whole wide world to me. That book was so much more than a book. It was belief in me. It was belief in a talent I had only quietly dared to hope I had. It was love.




She left, and for awhile we kept in touch, but without the magic of social media and email, cell phones and affordable long distance calls, over the years, we lost touch. But I never ever lost the feeling of her love and support. In times when I felt alone and struggled, even well into my adulthood, I would draw strength from that moment and her belief in me.

At first, right after I received her gift, the book almost seemed too precious to write in. I didn’t want to put anything in it except my absolute best work, the most beautiful poems, my most exceptional stories. The result was blank pages for a long time. But I kept the book with me, always. I finally broke down and starting writing poems in it, once I had finished my usual pattern of scribbling on notebook paper, changing lines and words, and finally reaching a finished product in the margins and on the back sides of five or so pages of paper. Once I had the completed poem in its final stage, it would go into the book. And then I added another and another. Then I added a short story. And another. I was still picky about what made the cut. It couldn’t go into that book unless I felt it was worthy of the love behind the gift.

The book traveled with me through middle school, high school, and college; carried in back packs, purses, and packed in an untold number of moving boxes. I had such a fear of losing it, that when I moved, I would always mark the box it was in with a big star so I could make sure that box made it off of the moving truck. If possible, I hand-carried it to my next destination.

I had finally filled its pages seven years after the book was given to me. The filled pages were my heart poured out in ink on sometimes tear-stained pages, lamenting loss, longing for love, and enduring the pain of my first heartbreak. Many of the pages also help me remember what the world looked like to me through my eyes then, the reality of the storm at home, that at times is still foggy in the midst of my mother’s denial. These pages are a truth, a touchstone, so I know that my memories are real. Painful, but real.


For years after that, I bought my own blank books and filled their pages. I always dreamed of being a writer, but in some dark times of my life, when I lost sight of so many things, I would give up, let go of writing for awhile, and the words stopped flowing. Without fail, I would be cleaning or packing and come across the purple bookits edges faded and worn from years pastand start reading my own words, then Ms. Garwood’s words, and I would find my way back to pen and paper. 

Blank books later morphed into blogging, which really became the place I felt I was finally honing my skills and getting somewhere. It took a long time, but I got published-- an essay in a magazine I loved and admired-- and I felt things shift. Since then, in the middle of life and work, and everything else, I am working harder than ever to make this dream of finishing my book happen. I got the courage last year to finally attend a writing workshop and get that final push of feedback from a successful author that I was indeed ready to do thisready to write, ready to finish my book. 

It has taken a long time, but the words I am writing now had to grow from all the things I have lived, seen, and known. I am a better writer for the time it has taken to get here.  I finally can see a glimmer of hope of achieving a dream I have had since I first picked up a pencil in my tiny hand as a child. I am getting closer.

I can say without hesitation that I was first given the confidence to do this by an amazing teacher, Ms. Garwood. She walked up my driveway in her purple dress thirty-four years ago, and handed me her belief in me, and her love for me, that I have carried with me every day since.





~~~
A note: Ms. Garwood (now Mrs. Sidden) and I recently reconnected on Facebook. Her first post on my wall mentioned this book, this gift. I let her know I still had it, and I had planned on sharing photos with her. I saw that her birthday was approaching, and I decided to write this blog post-- as I couldn't think of a better gift than for her than to see how much she has meant to me all these years.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Five Years with Bear




During some really hard times for me and my husband over the last few years, I have questioned a lot of my choices. The more I looked back over recent decisions, I started going back further and realizing there might have been a lot of things I could have done differently that would have impacted my future in a positive way. I always try not to have regrets and believe I am where I am for a reason, but in truth, I know there are times I could have made better choices—stayed at one job a little longer, or chosen to move one place instead of another, and boy, could I have made better romantic choices in the past when I was younger.

Many of the choices I questioned were those that were quickly made, under pressure, or without planning--usually during times of great emotion. I know a lot of my romantic choices were made during times like that, and even career choices, unfortunately, sometimes involved a combination of pressure and emotion that probably could have used some time and reflection.

But one decision that I made at one of the lowest moments in my life, and in an instant, without planning, and totally based on emotion, was adopting this sweet boy.
And never, not for one second, have I ever thought it was anything than one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.

The year I adopted him, after a few months of healing, I wrote about how I had rescued him, but in turn how he had also rescued me. That was just the beginning. I knew then that he was opening my heart. In truth, he taught me to love again. That may sound far-reaching or dramatic, but anyone close to me knows that I was in a very dark place in my life and I had a long way to go before I could find my way back to the land of the living, and learning to love was a far off place I didn’t dream of ever really visiting again. 

What I didn’t know then, was that Bear would continue to teach me things, all the time, day after day.

One of the things I am always in awe of is how he constantly communicates with me, without speaking, now for five years. He has taught me that there are non-verbal ways to let people know you care that are so meaningful, powerful, and real. Bear’s eyes are very expressive. So many people have said he has very “human” eyes. When I am sick or upset, he never fails to check on me, or stay near me when I need him. But it is the way he looks at me, in a different way than his usual playful way, with concern in his deep brown-doggy-sweet eyes that darn near brings me to tears.


I have always known the power of laughter, and it was one of the things that made me fall in love with my husband. He can make me laugh, a truly desperate, grab-onto-something laugh like no one else. I love that. Bear has taught me about the joy in laughing every day. There have been times over the last three years when, honestly, my husband and I were struggling with so many things that for months, there seemed like there was nothing to talk about but bills and stress. Out of the blue, seeming to sense tension, Bear would do something silly or pose in a funny way and cock his head and have us laughing. It would shake us out of where we were for a moment and remind us that even in the middle of what seemed like everything caving in, we could still laugh. We held onto that for awhile. I remember that once we turned a curve financially, we were able to say, “You know what? We still laughed every single day.” And we knew we owed a lot of that to Bear.

I knew once we were on our feet that I wanted to try and add another dog to our family, a sibling for Bear. But, I only wanted to do it if it was right, and if Bear was still happy and felt loved. I also wanted to do it so that Bear would stay active and have a playmate. This year we added a puppy, Boone, to our household. Once again, Bear taught me a lesson. I watched in awe as he shared his food and toys and loved his new little brother in a way that made me love Bear so much that I thought my heart would burst. This sweet dog had so much love to give that it seemed endless.


The most important lesson brings me to tears. Bear is teaching me the deep importance of small moments. Taking pictures of all the things that matter. Kissing his head 500 times a week, because I know I will always want to know I kissed it as many times as I possibly could. Rubbing his ears to get him to fall asleep next to me, because it magically makes his eyelids heavy as it has since he was 12 weeks old and first lying next to me in his new home. Going to bed each night knowing that we are giving a rescue dog that we love immeasurably the most beautiful life that a family could give a dog, because if all was right in the world, all rescue dogs would be this happy and celebrating their fifth adoption birthdays like this:



The lesson he teaches me is that life is so precious, and the years go by so fast. We are so lucky to have Bear. So lucky. If our luck continues, we will have him for many, many more years. He is healthy and strong, and handsome and happy. All we can do is appreciate the small moments and treasure our time with him. 

He is teaching us well.

Happy five years Bear.

~~

You can read my previous posts about Bear here:

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Permission, Courage, and Telling My Story




There have been so many changes in my life in the last year, really in the last six months, especially on the career front. This year alone, I have worked for three different employers, with an end of the year scramble that made me dizzy with a mixture of fear, excitement, and hope. But it was mid-October when things really got interesting.

I was at my desk at job #2 for the year, when I was just beginning to figure out that this particular job wasn’t going to be the long haul, career home job I had hoped it would be. I was already job searching, miserable with a boss that knew nothing about marketing, management, or people skills, and watching people quit by the dozens around me every day. I had started only three months earlier, and I had never seen a workplace go downhill so fast.

My cell phone rang, and an out of town number popped up, and I answered a little excitedly, hoping it was a response to one of the dozens of jobs I had applied for. Instead, a voice I vaguely recognized responded to my hello, almost in mid-sentence before I could put two and two together. It was a vendor calling me, but she thought I was still behind the desk at my last job, a failing startup in San Francisco that I had been relieved to escape. I had spent months there watching several wealthy men fight and break promises (and do little else) for months. I finally got in a few words edgewise and was able to explain to her that I was no longer with the startup and couldn’t help her with the event she was calling about. She paused, and expressed disappointment.

“I so enjoyed working with you Kim,” she said, “you did a great job.”
I thanked her and prepared to hang up, but she continued.

“I really hope you are doing something you love and have always dreamed of doing.”

I was almost stunned by her words. First, they were so genuine, she really meant what she was saying, and secondly, it hit me like a punch to the stomach. Even if things at my current company weren’t unstable, even if I was in the perfect marketing job—was this what I dreamed of doing when I was little? Was this what I dreamed of doing every night when my thoughts were racing and I couldn’t sleep? No. All I ever wanted to be was a writer. When I can’t sleep, I am thinking about my book that still isn’t written, and about my blog that is gathering dust. 

I thanked this vendor who will likely never know the events she helped inspire, and then hung up the phone. I was in tears at my desk. I felt hopeless. I felt like every job I was taking was a mistake, every decision I was making was taking me further away from what I wanted more than anything. Most of all, I had made the decision to move us across the country, far away from everything, to this place of opportunity—California, and what had it gotten us?

I made my way to the office restroom and spent a good half hour crying. I reminded myself that very few people I know are doing what they always dreamed of doing. We all have to earn a living. I told myself that, as a recruiter recently reminded me, there are more f-cked up workplaces out there than there are normal ones, and you just don’t know how it truly is until you are there, until you are inside and working there. I took a lot of deep breaths and tried to give myself a break about everything.

I got back to my desk, and as I working on some social media posts for work, I clicked over to Facebook to find a link I needed. I was on my personal page and scrolled down, and stopped on a posting on an author’s page that I followed.

One spot left for my One-Day Writing Workshop.

I was frozen. For a minute, work was forgotten, everything was forgotten. The words stared back at me. This wasn’t just any writer, it was Joyce Maynard, a writer I had long admired. I had always toyed with the idea of going to a workshop like this, but didn’t have the confidence, or usually, the money.

I clicked the link to check out the details, whispering to myself, please don’t be too expensive, please don’t be too expensive. The page came up. It was expensive for us, for this time in our lives. But, it was local. It was 18 miles away. When would I ever have a chance like this again? I needed this right now. I needed to go and find out if this dream I had was crazy or if I should keep plugging away. The only way I would ever know was to go somewhere and get honest feedback from a writer I trusted and believed in.

I called my husband, and through tears explained that I needed to do this, I knew we couldn’t really afford it. He was alarmed that I was so emotional, and agreed immediately that if I needed to do this, to do it, we would figure out the money somehow.

The date of the workshop was November 3rd, and we had to submit our essays beforehand. To say I was a nervous wreck didn’t even begin to cover it. There were six other women attending the workshop. I was so afraid to put my words out there, to have Joyce and these other women read them and think I was a horrible writer. I was afraid I would read their words and compare mine and know immediately that I was not cut out to do this.

To be honest, over the past year, I had been asking myself why I was putting myself through this torture. No one said I HAD to write. It was just me doing this to myself. It would be a lot easier to let this dream go. I had to work- that was a have to. If I was supposed to be a writer, I would have been discovered or I would have figured out a way to make a living doing that by now, right? I had started thinking that maybe it was time to just let go.

What I wanted from this workshop was some kind of answer for myself. I felt stuck. And if I got a positive answer, I hoped to find a group of women that I could connect and continue with after that one day. I prepared myself for the worst. I wasn’t prepared at all for what I got instead.

I turned in my essay at the last possible moment. A few days later, all the essays were posted online so we could all read each other’s work before the actual workshop. I did feel humbled by the other women’s work, and I didn’t know what to think about how my work would be perceived. The workshop was memoir-focused, but Joyce had also encouraged writers of fiction to attend. Many of the other women had submitted works of fiction.

One of my biggest struggles with my writing is also what to write. I have avoided my story (as in writing a memoir) because I just didn’t know who would want to read it. I am not famous, I don’t feel I have accomplished that much, although at times, I do feel I have a story to tell. I have started a novel, but I have struggled. That’s the other part of me feeling stuck with my writing, and the other answer I wanted out of this workshop.

November 3rd came and as nervous as I was, I made it to Joyce’s house in one piece. She was incredibly warm and inviting, and as the other women arrived, my nerves eased a little bit. Regardless of the answers I got about my writing, I at least began to feel I was among friends. 

We began by going around the room and introducing ourselves and talking about why we were attending the workshop. Joyce let us all do this, and just listened carefully and said very little and took notes. When we had all finished, she went carefully around to each one of us and responded.

When I introduced myself, I talked about feeling stuck, about not knowing if this is what I was supposed to do. I told everyone about the day at my desk, and being the person who took the last spot at the workshop, and how I had dreamed of being a writer. I explained that there was a book my mother had kept for me that chronicled every year of school, with my school photo pasted in it, and a few memories jotted down below it. And every year, underneath that photo where the book asked, What does Kim want to be when she grows up? The answer was always: writer. Every year, from kindergarten on up. I explained about my hesitation to write a memoir, and my biggest hesitation of all—my mother. I didn’t want to put her through any more pain, she had been through enough. I remember Joyce hesitating for a moment when I said those words. But I had continued and soon it was time for the next person to talk.

When Joyce got around to responding to me, she got out of her chair. She hadn’t done this with anyone else, so I was a little taken a back. But she got in front of me, on her knees, and she told me she was doing this because she wanted to make sure that I heard her and remembered what she was about to say.

She told me there were so many things that held us back in life—money, work, everything else—but this was MY STORY and that I had every right in the world to tell it and not to let anyone or anything stop me. She told me I didn’t have to protect anyone, especially someone who did not protect me. She said that if my mother was in the room, she was sure she would be touched and moved by her story, but that would be her story. This was mine. 

I can’t repeat her exact words, and I can’t ever express the passion with which she said them, because I was crying. This release of permission she gave me, I can’t explain it. I felt I had part of my answer. A huge part of it. 

As I got to know the other women that day through their work and their own personal journeys, it amazes me how we all travel through such hard places to get where we are. I felt so fortunate that I had landed in this particular group of such compassionate, giving women. Everyone was so supportive and thoughtful.

Joyce worked through each woman’s piece, one by one. With each piece of work, I was learning more and more, and I was nervously awaiting my turn. My essay was the last one Joyce reviewed. Her critiques and the input from the other women at the workshop gave me my other answer. I need to keep writing.  The positive feedback I got from Joyce and these women was a huge turning point for me. I was so emotional, and it was almost hard to leave Joyce’s house that night. I didn’t want that connected, creative feeling to end.

The good news is, it hasn’t. The women from that workshop have been amazing, and we all stay in touch and have met once and have another meeting in January. I feel so fortunate to have this group of supportive, positive, amazing, talented women to share and grow with. We are all each other’s biggest fans, and can openly share anything and everything about our writing with each other.

I am forever grateful to Joyce for opening a door for me that I very nearly let shut. It is still a battle to carve out time for writing, but I am making myself do it, especially with my writing group’s encouragement. But I wouldn’t feel the confidence and I wouldn’t have the direction I do without Joyce kneeling in front of me that day, passionately making sure I heard her words.

And really, how many times in our lives does someone do that for us? Really make sure we hear the words that make all the difference—that can change our lives?

If it happens, be grateful. Listen. Don’t take that moment for granted. Take the words to heart. Do what you are meant to do.

I plan to do just that.

It might take a long time, it might not work out like I’ve planned, and I am sure it will be ten times harder than I can even imagine.

But, this is my life. 

I am a writer. It is what I was meant to do.

I will tell my story.

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