2016 was not easy.
I started the year intentionally unemployed. I’d spent three years working in an environment that had driven me to the point of suicide, and I was so mentally unstable that I couldn’t work. I’d spent the better part of 2015 playing video games and writing fanfiction. I rang in the new year by downloading Guild Wars 2 and putting hundreds of hours into it in two months, many of them spent RPing. I slept from 5 am to noon. I rarely changed out of my pajamas. Going to the grocery store would make me have an anxiety attack.
When 2016 started, I’d already planned to move to Seattle. I’d been casually apartment hunting there for most of a decade, and I’d been job hunting for several years. Every time I wanted to move, the timing was off. Finally, I told myself I would not turn 30 in Ohio, and I was set to turn 30 in July. I was running out of time. I spent my days – when I wasn’t playing Guild Wars – figuring out the logistics of how to get two people, two cars, and a car-loathing cat 2500 miles.
In February, I started working again, and I was terrified. But I needed money; I was running out of it, and a cross-country move isn’t cheap. The first couple weeks of the job were a mess. Every time someone walked near my desk, I jumped. The sound of footsteps coming down the hall would make me have flashbacks. I drew in on myself, figuratively and literally; I tried to take up as little space as possible. I tried to do my job and not get in anyone’s way. It was a temp-to-hire job, and I didn’t tell them my plan to move. I figured, if the job sucked, I was there a few months and then gone. And if it was good, well, I was there a few less awful months.
What I didn’t expect when I started the job was that my four-month stint would become one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. The people there were friendly and helpful. My boss and I got along instantly. My boss’s boss and I hit it off as well, and then my department head, and then the head of the other department, and then the entire team I worked on. Everything there clicked. I had a lovely four months, peppered with job hunting and organizing a road trip for what had at that point become four people, two cars, and a cat.
In April, I went to PAX East, as I’d been doing every spring for years. PAX has always felt like home to me; surrounded by people like me, somewhere safe and welcoming, I could be myself. It cemented my decision to move, it made me see that writing for a career wasn’t entirely crazy, and in a lot of ways it started a new chapter of my life I hadn’t seen coming.
About a month before I’d planned to leave Ohio, the company VP at my job offered me a full-time position when my temp work was up. And on top of it, I was offered a fantastic promotion. I had to tell them that – while I desperately wanted that promotion – I’d recently decided to move when my lease was up. Sticking to my goal of moving to Washington in the face of that offer and leaving that workplace was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop wondering what could’ve happened if I’d stayed. I credit that place with bringing me a few steps closer to stability, and I sincerely miss everyone there. I wish I hadn’t had to lie to them about my plans, though to this day they don’t know I was lying. I wish I’d kept in touch with my boss, and her boss, and the heads of the departments, and my coworkers. I wish. If any of them are reading this – first, what the hell, I had no idea you were into fanfiction porn, we could’ve had so many great conversations; second, I’m sorry, and I hope you’re doing well.
But my 30th birthday was looming, and I had made myself a promise. And one thing that has always been true of me is this – I may say I want to do something, then not do it. But if I ever truly set my mind to something, I don’t stop until it happens. I. Was Not. Turning 30. In Ohio.
With June in full swing, I was stressed beyond belief. The Big Trip had become five people and a cat. A close friend from college had decided to move with us. My two best friends were flying into town to drive with us, for no other reason than road trips are fun and they love me (I love you both so, so much, and I would never have gotten this far without you). I was organizing a large portion of it by myself. I was packing most of the apartment by myself. I needed to sell my car, which was old enough to be almost impossible to sell. I needed to fly my cat to Washington, because she couldn’t handle a week in a car, and find someone to watch her for the week it took to drive. I’d just turned down a lucrative job at a company I liked working for. I was ending 18 years of living in the same state and moving so far out of my comfort zone that “comfort zone” might as well not exist. I didn’t have anywhere near enough money to feel safe. Our soon-to-be apartment had decided that jobs out of state didn’t count toward income requirements, and we had to scramble to not become homeless. Everything was happening at once and I was spiraling out of control.
We sorted out the apartment. I took the cat to Washington. I went back to Ohio. I sold my car. I got a rental trailer. I held the constant, endless panic as close to my chest as I could. Every second was a test. Every minor inconvenience was a crack in the wall I was building around myself.
We managed to fit three people’s entire lives into two cars and a rental trailer, with a little of it strapped to the roof of an SUV. Five friends, two cars, 2500 miles.
Everything that could go wrong started to go wrong on day one. We lost things. We couldn’t get car doors to close. We all sucked at backing up a car with a trailer attached. We made a sacrifice and voluntarily left a microwave in the middle of a Rite Aid parking lot (Only later did we realize the microwave contained spices we hadn’t meant to abandon. I hope whoever picked it up enjoyed the spices.). The hotel we’d booked for the first night decided – at the last minute – that they couldn’t actually accommodate a car with a trailer, despite having assured us repeatedly that they could.
Now seems like an apt time to make an important aside – one of my biggest sources of anxiety is the state of my home. I worry that lights are left on. I worry that the hair straightener isn’t unplugged. I worry that doors and windows aren’t locked. My home had become two cars and a rental trailer barreling down I-90. Any time the speedometer ticked over 60 I would start to panic. Any time the tiniest gust of wind hit the trailer I would start to panic. Any time we didn’t have enough space to back the car and that goddamn trailer I would start to panic.
In the midst of it all, just as the move was happening, my relationships with some close friends started to sour for reasons mostly out of anyone’s control. Things fell apart fast, and hard, and I was already tired and vulnerable. I reacted badly. I acted in ways I shouldn’t have, even when I tried my hardest to be mature and responsible. It colored several months of my life a nasty shade of “I’m a fuck-up” that it took me another several months to move past. And it happened when, and partly because, I was at my weakest. The timing was awful. I was very human.
On the first day of the road trip, I had one of the worst, longest, most dramatic and explosive nervous breakdowns I’ve ever had in my life. I cried for two hours straight. I refused to take my medication. I screamed, sobbed, alienated everyone who was with me. Months of uncertainty and pressure caught up with me, and I completely and totally lost it in scenic Chicago, Illinois.
If it weren’t for an actual fucking angel stepping in and offering us a place to park and options for where to stay, I genuinely don’t know what I would have done. I don’t know if I’ve ever thanked her enough, or if she even knows how much that gesture meant.
Thank you, Trin, from the bottom of my trashy little heart.
The road trip did not go perfectly after that. Tensions were high. Several of us – all of us, I think, in the end – had panic attacks during the five days we were on the road. We snapped at each other, with me doing more of the snapping than anyone. But we also went to Wizard Quest and got to spectacularly fail at questing. We saw the Corn Palace and its ridiculous mascot. We observed the stunning feat of colonialism that is Mount Rushmore (though I don’t recommend observing it on Independence Day weekend, because traffic is a clusterfuck and a half).
We peed in a field on the side of a dirt road in South Dakota, laughing and trying not to fall into a ditch. We watched the sun set in a thousand colors over hills so rolling and green they didn’t seem real. We took a wrong turn and wound up standing next to the trailer, holding each other’s hands, to look up at the most incredible night sky I’ve ever seen in my life. On July 3rd, we watched fireworks go off over a lake in the middle of nowhere. And six days before my 30th birthday, we picked up the keys and opened the door to our new apartment.
The search for jobs began in earnest. Money continued dwindling. People close to me started having major, unavoidable, very serious life issues. Life comes at you fast, some ad says, and it’s true. When I finally found employment, I thought it was a godsend.
It was, in some ways. In others, it was very much not. The mental health issues that my job from years prior had caused started up again, and I wound up, for the first time, seeing a therapist. I was depressed and exhausted and every day I thought about dying.
It kept getting worse. I hit rock bottom. The low point, if I had to pick just one, was the day I ran off into the woods and sat down on a fallen limb next to a trail, screaming, crying, wishing I had a gun, wishing I’d never moved, wishing I didn’t exist.
I walked back down the trail after a while, tear tracks on my face and dirt on my jeans, and kept living.
The election happened. I don’t need to talk about that, beyond saying that the only other time I have ever felt that helpless was in second period English class on September 11th, 2001, watching the world fall apart live on television.
I kept seeing the therapist. I decided to leave my job. I was cripplingly, devastatingly depressed.
I was so depressed that I almost skipped an event I’d been looking forward to. An internet acquaintance and friend of a friend, Sam Maggs, was doing her book tour nearby, and I’d planned to go. But the last thing I wanted to do was leave the house and drive somewhere unfamiliar to say hello to someone who didn’t know me very well.
I went anyway. I’m not entirely sure why, but I went anyway, and that night changed my life.
Sam was, for that particular tour stop, with Bonnie Burton, someone I was vaguely aware of but had honestly not paid much attention to prior to that. That night, the two of them were more inspiring than I could have imagined. Bonnie recommended a book called You Are A Badass, which has been one of the most positive influences of, possibly, my life. As she signed my copy of her book, I told her I wanted to write erotica for a living but had never particularly thought I could make it.
She told me I should do it anyway.
I read (most of; I’m still working on it) the book she recommended. I’ve been trying to change my thought processes to something more positive. I’ve been taking steps toward living my dreams. My friends’ lives are slowly improving. I repaired the friendships I almost lost when I was a mess. I try to take time to breathe, think, and chill the fuck out. I try to be more fully myself.
I still have bad days. I’m kind of fucking terrified of what the future’s going to bring. But I feel like I can do this. I am smart, talented, and capable, and I’m going to try my hardest.
I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve. Yesterday was the last day of my job. Soon I’ll officially launch my Patreon and the website this post will be on. If I’m lucky – if I’m very, very lucky – by the time anyone reads this, I will be getting paid to write. I’ll be a professional writer, like I’ve wanted to be since I was a child.
2016 was not easy. There were a lot of changes, and there was a lot of bad. But it set me on a path that, for the first time in my life, feels like the right direction. It brought me many new friends I’m grateful for. It was a hell of a year.
I hope you’ll be there with me as I take my best shot at living the life I want. Yeah, you, reader on the other side of a screen. Stay a while and listen.
I’m going to go play board games and write smut to ring in the new year.
See you in 2017.
May it be everything we hope for.