Follow your dreams, before it’s too late

Just today, I was having coffee with a friend of mine and we got onto the topic of just how important it is to do something you love. I mentioned that doing the ‘wrong’ thing, for me, led to chronic fatigue syndrome. And my life changed. Here is a piece I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014 urging us all to try to find some space to do exactly what our soul calls us to do, before we’ve lost the chance.

xx

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It’s 6.45 am, our toddler is in the bath and my laptop is perched on a sliver of the kitchen bench because, frankly, it looks like we had an out-of-control party here last night. Meanwhile, the dogs are trotting muddy paws across the floor, and my husband is nuzzling my neck.

If I died right now, I would actually die all over again of shame, knowing that someone would find me in this disaster. But then I’d get over the fact that the cat is eating out of the cereal bowl and there’s the smell of something rotting in the air, and I’d only be sorry I hadn’t got more books out into the world.

Because that is my calling in life: to write. It’s a calling I almost missed while I was busy leading the wrong life in the corporate jungle. But I didn’t truly start to listen to what I had to do until I had chronic fatigue syndrome and couldn’t work any more. Until the eczema spread all over my face and I couldn’t ignore it when I looked in the mirror.

So many women have amazing creative skills and yearn to leave their “day job” in favour of this passion. There’s a sadness that can’t be healed because that passion, that thing they want to do more than anything else, is also the thing that will, ultimately, make them happy.

I used to be one of those women, leaving for work and getting home in the dark, marching in silence with the hundreds of other rats racing through the tunnels on our way to the towers of soul-destroying “real work”, numbing ourselves with earphones in an attempt to ignore the fact that our true selves, our innate creative selves, were dying inside.

Some women love that life and if that’s you, I’m happy for you, truly. But for me, that life nearly destroyed me.

Unlike a virus that knocks you down for a few weeks before you start to recover, chronic fatigue doesn’t just get better. It takes time, lots of time, with an unknown finish date. Time I didn’t have. I had bills. I was a freelancer. I was a single woman. I was stuck in a horrible cycle of knowing that I needed to invest money in myself to get better, but not being able to make money to do that.

I accrued enormous debts, treading water until I could earn more money, believing one day I’d wake up and be better and everything would be fine. Eventually, I had to accept that I might not get better, that this might be as good as it got. And if that was the case then I had to start living the life that brought me joy.

It was like that saying – people work hard all their life to be wealthy, then retire and have to spend their money to save the health they ruined by working hard. Except I was only 29.

I made tough choices and changed lots of habits, not least of which was learning to accept myself rather than striving for (imagined) perfection. I had to learn to lower the bar. Do less. Expect less. Earn less. Work less. And then I had to start doing more of what truly nurtured my body and soul, even if it was by taking just one tiny step at a time.

Western medicine said it couldn’t offer me much, except perhaps for cortisone, which I didn’t feel was right. I couldn’t afford the plethora of complementary medicines being pitched my way. But I had to keep eating, so that was where I started – with food. Organic farmers’ markets became the place where I began to, finally, invest in myself.

None of these changes happened overnight. You can’t steer a ship in the wrong direction for 30 years and then expect it to turn on a dime. It’s an ongoing process.

We’re always waiting for the perfect time. And we bargain with ourselves by saying we’ll just be happy when we’ve paid off the bills, finished that degree, got that promotion, had three kids, got a cleaner, got a new car … whatever. And yet we all know the truth: there is only the now. And you can’t be temporarily unhappy to be happy.

Deep down we know this, yet we find myriad ways to delay our dreams. We think creativity is something separate from life. But it is life, not something you do for an hour on a Saturday afternoon. We’re running ourselves into the ground with pie charts and timetables and life coaches trying to find the work-life balance when there is no such thing. There is only life. And you only have one of those.

I want everyone to have what I have now – a career that fulfils me and financially supports me. One that gives me energy, not takes it away. I know that seems rare. But it doesn’t have to be. You can have that too. I honestly believe that. You just need to start and keep going. Don’t worry about how long it will take you, because you’ll still be the same age whether you do it or not. Don’t wait for the perfect time because that time is here, right now, messy kitchen and all.

R U Ok? My life, three years on.

Three years ago, my life was very different.

Three years ago, my life was very different.

This photo recently came up on my Facebook page and it floored me. I was speechless, with my mouth actually hanging open as I stared at it. And because this week, it was R U OK day here in Australia, I thought I’d talk about why it had such an effect on me.

R U OK day is about suicide prevention, specifically, about asking us to engage with the people around us with meaningful conversations about life and how we feel about it. I don’t normally write posts like this, but this image, randomly generated by Facebook in a ‘your memories from three years ago’ way, moved me.

This is not me in the photo, it my Friend, holding my son, then three-months old. I remember that day; I remember it so clearly. I remember where we were, what we talked about, the things we said, the anger and sadness and grief we vented, and also the hope we held that the light at the end of the tunnel we were in must surely be coming.

This baby was everything and he was wonderful and I wanted everything to be perfect for him. But right on this day of this photo, I was living in an isolated town with a newborn. I had post-natal depression. I had post-traumatic stress from a birth that went badly and a litany of physical problems for myself and my baby (and what seemed like endless medical appointments and all-day trips from the country to the city) that followed. I had insane levels of sleep deprivation (quite seriously, in hindsight, I should never have been on the road, let alone driving the highway as much as we were). My husband and I had just received notice that an enormous mobile phone tower was to be built right next to our house, something we found very distressing. (We lived on six acres and our neighbour had over 100 acres but still the tower would be right outside our lounge room window.) I was in the middle of a soul-destroying, heartbreaking, messy, bitter breakdown and breakup of relationships with several women I had considered to be close friends. I was losing a significant business/life calling I had created from scratch (my first ‘baby’, with my identity all over it). I was gutted. My heart was in pieces. My world was falling apart.

And of course, I was trying to keep it together so that no one could tell how much pain I was in, especially the women with whom I was ‘breaking up’ and especially from my precious baby. I couldn’t possibly be vulnerable… I had to be strong!

As for my Friend, her life was in a very dark place as well. I won’t speak of her troubles as they are hers to share with the world if she wishes. But they were even greater, and more difficult, and more life-changing than what I was going through. I was so worried about her that day. I could see the stress and the trauma all over her face and body.

But we had tea (and hot chips and probably some cake). Many cups of tea. And we talked for hours while we sipped that tea, and I fed the baby, and we rocked the baby to sleep, and we talked some more. We could be vulnerable in that space. We were each other’s life preservers that day, holding each other’s heads above water for a bit longer so that help could come to us eventually. We trusted Light would come to us somehow. That it had to get better. It just had to.

So the other day, Facebook pulled out this photo and this sea of emotions from the technological ether washed over me. I was viscerally shocked. Why? Because my life is completely different now. And so is my Friend’s. Our lives couldn’t possibly be any more opposite than what they were that day.

And I think this is important to note: neither of us could see it coming. Neither of us could have predicted it. Neither of us had a plan.

All we were doing was getting through each hour of each day, trusting, hoping, trusting, listening, drinking tea and trusting some more.

And it happened. Now, we are both living our dream lives. Three years on.

I have my dream career that I’d worked so hard for and wonderful publishers I am blessed to call my friends. I have published three books in three years, all of them best-sellers, two of them internationally so, and I have contracts for two more. The success of these books has paid for the renovations on the seriously rundown house we took a huge chance on buying. Yes, we moved house and re-located to acreage on the Sunshine Coast, with all of our horses, which had been my childhood dream. My husband’s business has gone from strength to strength, as has our health and our level of joy, creativity and connections to wonderful people. We are happy, every day.

Now, I’m not saying the past three years hasn’t been the most intense and frantic of my life. But I could never have imagined this life on that day three years ago. So I’m thinking you don’t always need to be able to see the Light on the other side. You don’t always need a plan. You don’t always have to know the answer. I think we just need to keep talking to our friends and family, and drinking tea and hugging and laughing and crying and be able to borrow their strength when we don’t have enough for ourselves.

Sometimes, just drinking tea with your best mate (or mum, or neighbour, or aunt, or pastor, or your kid’s teacher) might be all you need to make it through the day. And you only need to make it through this day. If you look too far ahead it gets scary. So just get through this day. And take on tomorrow with fresh eyes.

Wishing you love.

The Light will come. It always does.