“Just do it.”
The words bounced through my head like lighting, too quick to catch and stop in their tracks, each repetition a hot jab into my brain.
“You’ve done this before. So… just do it.”
It didn’t make any sense.
“For the first time in my life, I couldn’t make it work.”
Here I was, sitting in front of a dual screen work desktop, staring at my latest assignment. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t make it work. My brain just couldn’t figure out how to complete the task – even if I had done it a thousand times before.
It should have been easy. Straightforward, even. “Come on, Charlène. Just do it. Just… do it. Do it. What are you waiting for?”
I weaved my fingers through my hair and clenched my teeth, still staring at the screen – staring until my eyes burned. The words swam endlessly into my head. But no matter how many times they jabbed at me, I wasn’t doing it. I couldn’t.
That day, I broke down in front of my boss in frustration, anger, disappointment – all aimed at myself. It was a call for help. And she, being the beautiful human that she was, wanted to do everything in her power to provide that help. So I opened up and accepted the truth – that my anxiety had spiraled itself into a depression.
But first, let’s go back.
I’d always been a cheerful, optimistic and creative kid – writing stories, role-playing through video games, making my own (terribly drawn) comic books, and later developing a taste for filmmaking – while also being academically successful. I was praised for that, but also continuously told to push further, to work harder, to go above and beyond.
And so I did, since nothing ever challenged me.
“I pushed through. How else could I prove my worth?”
Only when I entered the field of video game design did I begin to feel challenged. But I pushed through that as well. I needed to. How else could I prove my worth? So, I did what I was taught – I established myself as a leader and pushed to provide above and beyond what was expected.
That attitude got me my dream job before I even graduated from university.
Picture this: emotionally available bosses, a veteran game designer as a mentor, flexible hours, unlimited sick days, a guarantee of no overtime (which is a rarity in the game industry), a small and closely knit team, amazing and innovative projects… What more could anyone ask for?
Once I had my dream job, I kept pushing higher. I planned and gave workshops, even though I had less than a year of professional experience. I applied to be on a panel at the Montreal International Game Summit (and was refused, due to how difficult it is to get in). I travelled to Berlin for an industry exchange on virtual reality. I spent my free time developing my own games. I wrote a (bad) book. I bought my first house.
“I began to feel myself sinking. So I reached even higher.”
“Keep hustling. Reach higher. Don’t ever settle. You’re going to be the BEST young game designer around.”
Surely, having accomplished this much, I would feel happy, right? RIGHT?
As each day went by, I slowly began to feel myself sinking. So I reached even higher. But the higher I reached, the more I lost control over my own capabilities.
“Just do it.”
But I couldn’t. Not anymore.
No matter how much I willed myself to just DO IT – like the broken record of a Nike commercial – my mind disobeyed. Simple tasks I could have done with my eyes closed now seemed like unsurmountable behemoths.
“I’m not trying hard enough. I’m losing momentum. If I keep this up, I’ll be worthless.”
The guilt and anger brought on by these two identities living within me began to rip me apart, so much so that I found my little empire falling to pieces. No longer could I be extra productive eight hours a day and keep working on my personal projects at home. I was drowning, and this time, there was nothing to hold on to.
No way to drag myself back up.
“I was a mere shadow of who I had once been.”
Depression has this insidious habit of sneaking up on you. Its wave overpowered me and entered my lungs, drowning the light out of me, one little drop at a time. I found myself unable to get out of bed some days – and on the days that I could, it took barely anything to break me down into panicked tears. I was no longer reaching higher – I was barely skimming the surface in order to survive.
I was a mere shadow of who I had once been. My former self? She had died, leaving me alone to deal with the consequences. I would never get her back.
“You have no right,” I kept repeating to myself. “You have the perfect job. You barely work 40 hours a week. You’re doing the work you love. How can you be depressed? It’s not possible. You’re not allowed to be depressed – that one lady you know, she worked 80 hour weeks for years before burning out. And you? You’ve been working regular hours for a little over a year. Get over yourself.”
“You’re pathetic. You’ll never be enough.” The words continually jabbed at me, sinking me even lower.
My therapist continually spoke of “listening to yourself.” Well, I didn’t want to listen to myself. “Myself” had pretty nasty things to say to me.
But still, she kept insisting. “Listen to yourself, Charlène.”
I took a three-week vacation to rest, hanging on for dear life to the hope that time off would fix me. Of course it would. That’s all I needed – time to rest. But why did I have a nagging fear that it wouldn’t be enough?
“It’s not enough. YOU’RE not enough.”
So I took the time and came back semi-refreshed. But it wasn’t long before I began to feel myself sinking again.
“All I wanted was for this rotten, pervasive feeling to end.”
This time, I had nowhere to run. If time off hadn’t worked, what else could I do?
I was trapped and cornered against a wall, with nowhere to go. All I wanted was for this feeling – this rotten, pervasive feeling of guilt and weakness and pain – to end.
And so I was left with what seemed like two options, both of which I hated in their own way – make a DRASTIC change to my life or let the remainder of myself die, free to join my former self in her limbo.
Today, I weep at the pain this tortured version of me inflicted upon herself. The answer was right there in front of me.
My therapist had been constantly whispering it to me.
“Listen to yourself.”
But that was not what drove my decision when I told my bosses I was scaling my work back to four days a week. I was merely driven by a desperate need to change SOMETHING. By asking for a four-day work week, I was convinced it would give me the time to sort out my feelings by writing, just like I had done as a child.
“I hadn’t thought that I would be allowed to feel this good, ever again.”
That was how I found myself at home, using my newfound time to research freelance writing. I was there, minding my own business when it suddenly hit me.
I felt… good.
I had energy. I wanted to do things.
I had forgotten what that felt like.
Immediately, a tidal wave of warmth and giddiness hit me, and the tears exploded out my eyes. They were tears of relief, of freedom. That’s when I realized – I hadn’t thought, deep down, that I would get out of this, that I would be allowed to feel this good, ever again.
It’s possible to heal. It’s possible to be happy.
I listened, openly and without judgment.
I listened and vowed to respect the needs of my inner voice.
I expressed what I needed – an extra day to myself, in order to develop my own business, separately from my job. Time to work towards the goals that made me feel accomplished – not the goals I had set for myself to impress the people in my life.
“Freelancing is the flame that ignites that powerful need to create something of my own.”
What I didn’t need was to invest all of my time reaching higher when there was no one to impress but myself.
What I didn’t need was to be the “best” young game designer.
What I needed was what made my heart sing – the ability to grow my own business, to work towards building something that came from me and me alone.
What I needed was to realize that I wasn’t listening. My job is not the “dream” job – it’s wonderful and creative and makes me a better person every day, but it’s not my own. It’s not what I need the most.
And once I took the first step to listen and truly understand what I needed – by asking for a four-day week – everything clicked into place.
Freelance writing is my self-care. It’s work that doesn’t feel like work. It’s the flame that ignites that powerful need to create something of my own.
Freelance writing is the tool that empowers me. It’s the investment I am making for me and me alone.
It’s the refuge I take when the bad days come, because there are bad days. But now they don’t seem so bad. Not now that I know how to listen, that I know more good days are just below the horizon.
That moment when I finally understood what it meant to listen, truly and authentically, with respect and love for myself, the words in my head changed.
“It”s okay to need.”
“My needs are valid.”
“The work I do is valid.”
“The work I do is enough.”
“I am enough.”
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Charlene Boutin is the freelance B2B writer for hire behind Kinetic Content. She specializes in creating compelling case studies, eBooks and white papers that increase conversion rates for technology and productivity businesses. When not writing, she can be found prototyping weird games or playing on her Nintendo Switch.