Leap Year


I'm pretty straight-laced.  A rule follower.  A good girl.  If you were to ask around about me, I imagine that you would hear that I'm pretty quiet and by the book and I tend to stay in line.  

I generally do what is expected of me.  Except for when I don't.   

I'm pretty content being the good girl most of the time, but I have a strong-willed, rebellious side that likes to shake things up.  I've always, even at my most straight-laced, had the capacity to say Yes to things that scare me, to listen to my gut and go against the grain, if need be, to take leaps of faith.  It's one of the things I like best about myself. 

This is the side of me that ran for student council in grade 9, which required that I stand up in front of the entire grade 9 class and risk social suicide, in the armour of my Northern Reflections t-shirt, promises of commitment and change on my Bonne Bell-glossed lips.  I lost.  I was mildly annoyed to have received fewer votes than the girl whose speech amounted to "Hey, what's up, guys?" but psssshh.  Whatever.  I had stood up there.  Don't you know you're supposed to keep your head down?

This is the side of me that takes chances on connections and relationships that, from the outside looking in, seem absolutely crazy-town.  It's the side of me that got married when I was 20.  Don't you know that you're supposed to finish school and build your career and date for years before you get married? Don't you know you're supposed to follow the script?

This is the side of me that doesn't know how to make it to point B but gets in the car and drives anyway and assumes I'll be able to figure it out along the way.   This is the side of me that trusts I am capable and that, if nothing else, I'll at least learn something in the process.  

Don't you know you might get lost?  Don't you know you might end up right back where you started?  

This is the side of me that, a year ago, chose to leave a job, with a pension and benefits and at least a semblance of security, to be an unemployed single mother.  At least, that's one way of looking at it.  Another version of that story is that a year ago, I chose to leave a job that took away more than it gave to focus on what matters most to me.   

It was one of the best decisions of my life. 

I left my job to focus on three things: my daughters, my writing and my health.   

I was home with my kids last summer.  Some of the time anyway.  The rest of the time, we were off having adventures.  Exploring museums, building sandcastles, wandering the farmers market, and testing out the city's playgrounds, before returning back home to living room sleepovers and library book readathons and quiet cuddles in the big bed.  I have, for this past year, met my kids off the school bus every day at 4:00, greeted most often by "I'm hungry" rather than "Hi Mama", mind you, but they're there and I'm there with them.  This year of focused family time has immeasurably strengthened the bond that I share with my girls and I wouldn't take back a second of it.

I'm a writer.  I can say that now with confidence.  A year ago, I would have said that I wanted to be a writer, and I'd downplay my efforts.  Over the course of this past year, I completed my first picture book manuscript and sent it off to publishers, and as soon as it was in the mail, I got started on the next.  I'm currently working on two manuscripts and I have generated dozens of other ideas that are waiting in the wings.  Since leaving my job, I've written over 20 essays for this website, writing that I'm very proud of.  And my writing has become better, my instincts more sharply refined.  I used to be afraid to write, hesitant to use up an idea in case another one wasn't forthcoming, and unwilling to cut or change anything too much lest I lose my way.  Now, I slash and banish my precious words like a heartless dictator, and I use the good china - pulling every idea out of the cupboard - knowing, trusting, that the cupboard will never be bare.  

I wrote last year about my rheumatoid arthritis, about wanting to use my able body while I have it, in case the day when I no longer can comes sooner than expected.  In this past year, I've only had one major flare-up (and that was because I had foolishly taken my medication two days late).  This is a vast improvement from the previous year.  Turns out, unemployment has some benefits of its own.  And I have put my healthy body to use playing with the kids and hiking and traveling to amazing places.  I'm not, as yet, as strong and toned and healthy as I would like to be but I am getting there. 

The truth though is that when I was talking about wanting to take time off to care for my health, I wasn't really referring to a desire to do more aerobics classes and squats.  The truth is that a year ago, I knew that if I didn't take some time off and get some help, I would likely kill myself in the next month or two.

That's a hard thing to read and, believe me, a hard thing to write.  But that's the truth.  When I wrote about "a feeling that whispered quietly at first but recently it has been singing in every cell in my body", I was writing about the growing feeling that I was edging closer to the brink, and that my decision was really one between life and death.  (The inevitable question comes: "Why didn't you take a medical leave?"  Let's just say that as open as I am about my depression, the stigma against mental illness is powerful and that time, it won.)

Since leaving my job, I've been asked many times if I have any regrets.  Not a single one.  Not for a moment.  Because I'm here where I maybe wouldn't have been.  And, while I still have a long way to go and my depression still dogs me - as I'm sure it will the rest of my life - I'm a stronger, happier person than I have ever been.

Despite the many uncertainties I still face, I've never regretted my decision to leave my job.  I've never regretted any of my leaps of faith.  Because with each leap, I was following my intuition and my heart, and each leap brought me closer to my true self and the life I want. Going with your gut and taking a leap:  it's setting out without a map but with the world before you, trusting that your inner compass will guide you in the right direction.   

Don't you know you might get lost?  Don't you know you might end up right back where you started? 

Yes, I know that.  So what?