If I told you that I was going to end my academic career, how would you react?
That’s what I asked my friend, Kevin, on August 4, 2021.
At that moment, he was both the closest and farthest away to me. But I guess distance lets you be, allows you to be closer to someone. To be brutally honest when uttering those words seems inconceivable. Whatever it is you’ve been keeping to yourself, whether knowingly or unknowingly so.
He asked me to take the time to clarify my sudden query. It didn’t matter how long it would take. He would study every single word with care. I was not to spare any detail.
I told him everything. I was honest with him then, as I’m going to be now. This is my turning point.
A few weeks prior to my professional existential meltdown, I had gotten married to my loving husband. The wedding had been a great success. After all the COVID stress, we had had the privilege to celebrate with our friends and family. A couple of days later, we went on our honeymoon. All was great.
It wasn’t until we came back that reality set in. I remember sitting behind my computer screen. I had to work on a proposal and integrate the feedback I had received. For a moment, I stared at the open document on my screen. That’s when it hit me: I had no idea where to start. The comments in the right pane jumbled together. I had an overwhelming sensation of being incapable of doing anything. It was physically impossible.
Then, everything went red. Sheets of paper ripped out of an agenda were being thrown at my face, all marked with red crosses all over. It felt as if I was being buried alive underneath the deadlines that I knew I wasn’t going to meet.
Red. Everything was red.
Meanwhile my family was sitting at the dining-room table laughing. Laughing because they were having a great time. I wasn’t. And I thought to myself: Is this how my life is going to be? Am I going to continue being the one sitting in the dark corner not laughing?
I looked back at that damn screen. And I wished, I wished I could smash it against the brick wall and be done with it.
I was fighting against the tears that were welling up inside. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t. It was too difficult. I had to leave.
I started to recount my feelings. As I put it all in writing, those feelings, even the nonexistent feelings, the tears kept streaming down my face. The phone screen became blurry, as my eyes overflew with the sadness that had accumulated over the years. The feeling of being demotivated, unwilling to get up in the morning, hating what I was doing and how it had changed me was overpowering.
I was disgusted by myself, by the task at hand. I was angry. But most of all, I didn’t want to feel like this anymore. It had to stop.
It was all so unlike me and who I am. I used to be happy, smile, laugh. That’s the person my husband had fallen in love with. My mother-in-law used to tell me how she adored hearing my laughter. It was contagious. But all of that had faded throughout the past five or so years. All because I thought that who I had become was who I was doomed to be.
And I had lost. I had lost someone. I had lost someone without even realizing it was happening. I had lost her piece by piece, little by little. I had lost my true self.
My Dad once told me that there are two types of people in the world. There are the ones who make it their life’s purpose to find someone to blame for their misery. Then, there are the ones who identify the problem and do everything in their power to find a solution. I’d like to think that I am the latter type. Instead of falling further down the rabbit hole, blaming the world for my existential crisis, I needed to take my life into my own hands and make a change for myself. Even though it scared me shitless not knowing what was next. An inescapable void lied ahead. The thought of having to face others, the pressure of having to account for my actions without a backup plan was terrifying.
But I was going to heal. Revive my broken self. Regain the strength to restore what I had lost. Try new things, then change my mind if it wasn’t what I had imagined. Because what good does it do to burn out doing something that annihilates your true self, your identity? Shouldn’t you rather burn bright doing whatever makes you feel alive, gives your life purpose? Something that gets you up in the morning. Maybe even something that keeps you awake at night because you’re so excited, you can’t wait to get up and do it. Something that gives you a sense of fulfillment. It doesn’t matter whether that thing is your job or your hobby. Whatever makes you thrive matters.
It may take a month, a year, or ten years before you achieve your goal. Maybe you’ll realize down the road that it’s not what you wanted, and you try something else. But once you’ve found it, whatever that it is, embrace it, hold on to it, scream it from the rooftops, break out in song, say it out loud and say it with pride.
My name is Anika K. Clausen. I’m a writer.
First performed at a story-night event “Tell” in Zürich, Switzerland on January 13, 2023.Genre: Monologue, Motivational
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