The advice I gave to her--and some I didn't--is worth repeating here. I believe that dreams represent hope. In the same way I assumed I'd ultimately be well--even during my darkest days--I also assumed I'd be able to contribute once again.
The mantra that I whispered to myself over and over again was, "You're not a quitter. You're not a quitter. This, too, will pass. You're not a quitter." (It's seems silly to me now, but for some reason, it always made me smile inside.)Once I was well most of the time, I suddenly realized I was lost...for awhile. I'd spent so much time focusing on illness and then wellness that I didn't know what I wanted to do once I actually became well.
I knew I wanted to write, but I couldn't decide what to write about. I started this blog, which has been very satisfying in many ways, but it wasn't enough. I knew I didn't want to return to grant writing, which is how I made my living for many years. I finally decided I was stuck, and I didn't know how to get unstuck. And it was a very painful and frightening feeling.
Ultimately, I returned to therapy, and one of its many values was to talk about my strengths and the ways in which I feel I can contribute. Luckily enough, I was able to take the time I needed to explore things without feeling like I had to make an immediate decision.
These days I'm quite clear that my path will be to combine my love for the outdoors and gardening with my love of writing. I'm still not sure how this will play out...but I know I'm headed in the right direction.
If I were to give advice to folks who are feeling lost and worried that their illness has destroyed their dreams...it's this: "From experience I know that wellness is possible. I don't know of anyone who's experienced more depressive episodes than I have, but I truly am well...most of the time now. And, if I can do it, so can you."
"And, if you've been ill for a long time, but you're feeling well now, recognize that it's okay to take baby steps towards finding your way again. For me, the first baby step two years ago was to sign up for a six-week photography class at a community college. For years, I wasn't able to commit to anything in advance, and before I took the class, I didn't know if I could remain well for six weeks. So, just completing the class was a huge step forward."
"Then I signed up for a second photography class, which I had to quit because my mother was dying. But, what I learned from that experience was that photography is an interest rather than a passion. And, that was a good realization because it paved the way for me to begin taking my gardening and horticulture classes.
"Now I don't think twice about signing up for ten-week classes, and I know I'll complete them. And, it was a natural progression to commit to a nine-course certificated program, and I know I'll complete it if it continues to interest me."
"Most of all I know that once again, I can pursue my dreams--big and small. Without dreams, there is no hope. But, with dreams, the sky's the limit."
To my friend Susan, I want to add that I know how awful it feels to wonder what you'll do for the rest of your life in order to find meaning. For me, the answer was getting help, and having the courage to move ahead...one baby step at a time.