Making stuff up has always been my mental sanctuary. Writing and drawing started out as things I did to escape both pain and boredom, and they quickly became the centre of my life as I turned them into passion and career. They became one of the driving forces in my life. I poured energy into them until they took a life of their own and I could only follow and try to keep up.
A lot of people ask me how I do it; I’m a mom to two very young kids (a two year old and a four year old), I run my own publishing business, I do freelance editing, design, illustration and translation on the side, I work full time at the library, I run a webcomic which updates twice a week (and starting soon, another webcomic which will update once a week) and I write enough to publish 1-2 books a year. Oh, and I’m also a member of a writer’s group which meets every other week.
I do all that, and I struggle with sometimes crippling mental illness and chronic pain and fatigue.
I could give you a lot of advice about time management and self-discipline, and have in the past, but it’s not the point. It never was.
The thing is, as it turns out, I’m a workaholic.
I don’t mean that in a tongue-in-cheek way that some people use to describe their dedication to hard work. I mean, I have an addiction. One that is as potentially destructive and deadly as any other, and is one of the many symptoms of my struggles with my mental health.
You see, working, especially writing, was always a refuge to me; it was a place I’d run away to when things were bad. When having especially difficult fights with my spouse, I would take my laptop and run away to a coffee shop to write. When things were stressful at work, I buckled down and buried myself in it and outdid all my previous performances.
But it grew too much. The joy I felt in my work vanished, and the work became a burden which I slugged through as I cut back on my sleep more and more to be able to maintain appearance. I went through a burnout and major depression once. Twice. Three times. I just couldn’t seem to learn. Every time, I would shut down, retreat into myself, drop all my projects, and then start again, swearing that this time, I wouldn’t go too far. I would just do what I wanted, follow my own rhythm, and say no to the things I didn’t think I could take on.
And every time, I took on more, and more, and more, and only started noticing that the joy turned into a burden too late, when I’d already committed, and my impostor syndrome mixed with my perfectionism tried to convince me that it was better to die trying than to go back on my word to complete an assignment. Because it doesn’t impact just me when I fail; I have people who depend on me, and don’t we all?
There is no secret to this. There is only trying, and vigilance, and the need to stop defining my success by the way others perceive me, because the truth is, I have no real clue how others perceive me, and I know that my impostor syndrome is wrong at least most of the time. I always feel the need to be the best because I feel like people will see through me to my tiny, frightened core and realize that I’m just a human, as though that were such a terrible thing.
So, I talk to myself. I tell myself that the truth is, it doesn’t matter what people think of me. There will always be those who think I am not enough, but these are not the people who matter to me. And the truth is, people don’t think nearly as often or as much about us as we think they do, and I don’t need their permission or their approval, because I will never get it, not the way I want or need it. I need my permission. I am the one who has control of my life, my actions, and the person I am.
So I give myself permission to fail. To not be the best. To be mediocre, and unmemorable.
I give myself permission to stop and smell the roses. To eat the wrong things, to stay in bed a morning or two, to watch a movie and not work at the same time. To spend time with my kids. To do something because I want to do it, and not because someone expects it of me.
I give myself permission to enjoy my life. ‘Cause I’ve only got the one.
Caro Fréchette is originally from Montreal, but has been living in the Ottawa/Gatineau region since 2004. They are a sequential artist and author. They have published several short stories, both sequential and traditional, as well as two graphic novels, five novels, and one non-fiction book on writing. They were the editor and director for the French Canadian literary magazineHistoires à boire debout, and work at the Ottawa Public Library. They have been teaching creative writing since 2005.