I have always believed that in order to really write about life, you need to have lived a little. That is not to say you, as a writer, need to have traveled to far off exotic destinations or spent time among the lepers.
Not at all. But you do have to get involved in life and experience the highs and the lows and really understand what those things mean.
For example, I have been involved in several lay-offs. Early in my career that experience was simply hearing the corporate communication telling us that such a Vice President was let go or that Business Unit ceased to exist. It was shocking and unpleasant and when it was over I got back to work. I had barely known the affected people so my safe little world continued on.
Then, a few years later, the concept of lay-offs hit me closer to home. It happened to me and that shock I felt earlier didn’t hold a candle to what was going through my mind then. So many conflicting thoughts and emotions: what did I do wrong? How could I have prevented this? Am I worthless? I deserved better, damn it!
It didn’t matter that my boss at the time showed me an enormous amount of respect and did his best to ease the blow. It didn’t help that I had seen the writing on the wall weeks earlier. My entire world was thrown askew and I couldn’t see the day when it would get better.
I tried to fight my way out of it and regain my personal equilibrium and sense of self-worth. Months later, when I finally had another job, it started to come back. Eventually I stopped jumping at shadows.. Then it happened again.
I was better prepared that time. I was stronger and knew what I had to do to overcome all the negative feelings. Only, being out of work for months (again) wore that resolve down until I was in a worse place than before. Seeing my spouse working an extra job to keep us afloat only added to the guilt and feelings of failure I already had.
A friend threw me a life-line. It was a job. Not what I had ever expected to be doing, but it was better than moping around the house every day. The people I worked with were kind and showed me the love and respect I had been missing and craving and I healed. Slowly, but I healed. I was safe!
And fate smiled on me and a job found me that I knew was important and could love.
I left that safe place for the new challenge. I was well-enough in mind, body and soul that I could accept the challenge for what it was. I made friends and found a new inner strength I had never realized existed. I flourished.
Then, today, lay-offs came again. This time, I was one of the survivors. I feel the usual survivor guilt and I’m trying to aid those others who haven’t felt the harsh sting before. I mourn for those people I cared about who I won’t see or talk to on a daily basis any more. Their pain resonates with my own barely healed wounds. I pray for them all and hope they find their own healing and opportunities to flourish.
And I know that if I have to write anything, ever, that needs that depth of soul-shattering realism, I can do so. I can face that demon now and make others understand the way it can eat you from within.
It’s not pretty. It’s not glamorous and it certainly isn’t refreshing. But it is real and I can only write about it because I went down that long dark road myself.