In 2022 I read over 100 books. This might not seem like an accomplishment to some, but for me it was huge. In recent years it has been a struggle to reach my yearly goal of 50. And not only did I read over 100 books, but when I look back at the list of books, I remember them. Again, that probably doesn’t seem like an accomplishment to some, but when I look back at the lists of books I read in recent years, I don’t remember a thing about most of them.
Let’s journey back to 2014. I was working in a corporate banking job that wasn’t bad but wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wasn’t actively looking to leave, but the stars aligned and I was offered a job to work at a church and school. It felt like a big risk and I had one thing that was non-negotiable for me. The job offer met that non-negotiable point exactly and I knew that if I didn’t take the job I would always wonder, “What if?”
When I walked into my soon-to-be-former boss’s cubicle to turn in my notice, I had the thought: I wonder how long it’ll take to regret this decision.
I’ve always fully believed in the anthem from RENT: “Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.” So this thought was unusual, but there it was.
Everything was new and exciting the first year in this position, but about a year and a half in I realized I wasn’t doing well. I couldn’t concentrate when I opened a book. When I finished them I couldn’t remember what I had read. I didn’t write anymore. This blog sat dormant. The novel I had been working on collected dust on my computer. The novel that I had at one point been querying also sat untouched. I wasn’t painting anymore; I never pulled out a sketchbook to draw. (There were other indications too, of course, like the fact that every day during the last year I cried on my way to work. But these are the things that made it real to me.)
It felt like a switch had flipped in my brain and it no longer worked the way it used to.
I was an imaginative child growing up. I would play outside, making up my own stories. I acted out my favorite scenes from my favorite movies. When I was seven, I wrote my first book. People who know me from before this period of my life know me as a writer. Books and writing had always been part of my life and suddenly… I couldn’t.
It’s not that I didn’t want to. I wanted to read, but I couldn’t concentrate and couldn’t remember much about what I read as soon as I finished. I wanted to write and sometimes I’d sit down to churn out a few words, but my mind didn’t work that way anymore. I used to live and breathe the stories I was working on. My characters were friends and never far from my mind. But I had to actively work at immersing myself in the world of my stories and even when I did, it never felt like I was fully there.
It felt like there were two versions of me, a before and after: the creative dreamer who read and wrote and painted, and the jaded, dried-up husk of the creative dreamer who couldn’t do those things anymore.
In 2017, I finally decided to leave. At first, it appeared this toxic work environment would allow me to have a clean break, but in the final weeks before I left it all changed and it came to a turbulent end. At the same time, I lost the only other community I had outside of work and I was not in a good place. But at least, I thought, I’d be able to read and write again. This thing that had taken that from me was out of my life and I’d be able to do what I used to do.
But I couldn’t. My mind just didn’t work that way anymore.
I thought maybe it would work as it used to after a month… or two… or six.
It was during this time that I finally acknowledged I was also deconstructing. And it wasn’t just my faith; I was sorting through every belief I held about life and the people around me. As I went through the process of deconstructing – and eventually reconstructing – my faith, I realized I also had to face some of the wounds from my past in order to fully be able to move into the future.
At various points, I started to say goodbye to Crystal the writer. I loved her and missed her and didn’t imagine a life where I wouldn’t miss her. But I didn’t think she existed anymore.
In 2022, that started to shift. I started to write again and assumed it was a false start. But while I’m not back into a regular writing routine, I’ve written more in the last six months than I have in the last… I don’t even want to think of how many years. I think about the things I want to write and it’s not hard to make time to write a little bit down here and there because I need to put these words down on paper. I’m willing to take time to read because I know I’ll actually remember the book when I finish it.
It felt like the fog that I had been living in that changed how my mind works had started to lift. For so long I’ve felt like a different person, but now I’m starting to feel like myself again.
Has the creative dreamer returned? No, not completely. But she’s coming back. And I’m so grateful. (And I’m kind of afraid to put this out there.) When she returns I don’t expect her to be the same. And I hope she won’t be! After all the processing I’ve done over the last few years, I hope she’ll be a little older and a little wiser, and I hope this will enrich the words she writes and the art she creates.
I share this because when I reached the point of saying goodbye to Crystal the writer, I would have loved to have heard from someone like me. Someone who had gone through the heartbreak of saying goodbye to that part of themselves, only to have it reemerge later. It would have been a comfort to hear that it might come back; it would just take time. More time than anticipated.