A few years ago, I sank into what I can only self-diagnose as a near mental breakdown. In the span of several months, depression and lethargy took over my self; if it wasn’t for the task of raising two children, I could have easily passed full days immobile, in despair, on the living room couch. It didn’t help that my professional life amounted to me sitting at my home desk working on short stories without an agent or editor or anyone else who might care whether a piece got written or not. By the time I reached out to a therapist, any energy I mustered in front of my family was complete fakery.
Here’s what I learned at therapy: I needed to get out. Troubles close to me—kids bullying my younger son, an overdose death next door, rejections from editors, the disturbing political news on the radio in my car—were taking on a disproportionate size and weight. I had lost my sense of perspective, lost sight of all that was happening beyond my own narrow space: other troubles, but more importantly, all the normal stuff, and all the good. My world had gotten too small.
The first thing I did, based on the therapist’s recommendation, was join a gym. A gym populated by ex-marines, that worked me so hard I had no space to think about anything except surviving the next set of burpees. I hated every minute and, like an addiction, had no choice but to return the next day.
I talked to a friend who served on a local board, and she got me an application. I began monthly meetings to support the executive staff’s tireless work serving families raising children with mental and emotional needs. It wasn’t seeing other people’s troubles that made mine feel less significant. It was seeing all the good that was being done by caring people looking out for one another.
Finally, I rented a desk at a coworking space, leaving the house every morning and writing until the kids got home from school. In nine months, I wrote three drafts of my first novel and was so busy I barely noticed the short story rejections accumulating in my inbox.
We all struggle at times; there are tough moments out there for everyone, and these moments last a while. Sometimes a little space in the wider world is enough to remind us we aren’t alone. Maybe our specific troubles are our own, but life is a shared experience. It’s why we are so grateful to our authors in this latest issue of Halfway Down the Stairs. Through the generosity of their words and the honesty of their imaginings, they widen our worlds, take us out of our little spaces to remind us that the diversity of experiences, of challenges, of disappointments and successes, empathy and winks of goodness, are ours to embrace.
So, laugh and cry. Judge or swoon. Find life in these troubles.
Milena Nigam is a nonfiction editor at Halfway Down the Stairs.
© 2019, Milena Nigam