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I Like Writing

My feet are dangling from the side of my bed where I’m sitting, barely awake. Hunched over my phone, I'm staring at the screen not knowing how to answer this text I just got. My solar plexus and throat are tightening up as my mind starts racing.


“Fuck, seriously? That’s gonna mess up the whole rest of the week, I would have to reschedule all the clients because I can’t finish these jobs alone. Are you sure you can’t come in? ”


That was my boss’s answer to me telling him I needed the day off. I was confident about my decision when I texted him a few minutes ago, but after reading his response I don’t know what to think anymore. I really need a mental health day, but I doubt he speaks that language. I need to make a decision right now, and after receiving his text I feel like no option is going to play in my favor: if I cave in and go to work anyway, I will burn myself out even more and I can forget about asking for a mental health day again in the future. But if I stick to my decision, I don’t know how he’s going to react. Since I work for him on a contract basis, I fear he'll think of me as unreliable and stop giving me work. I feel like I just put myself in a lose-lose position.


Shit.


My cold and sweaty palms are gripping my phone, thumbs hovering over my keyboard, waiting for my brain to decide on what the right decision is. I can’t think straight. I get up, and jump up and down, in an attempt to shake the anxiety out of my body.


Do I really need the day off? I try to connect to my heart. I’ve been feeling out of alignment lately and this morning when I woke up, I simply couldn’t stand the idea of being around machines and doing pressure-washing all day. I’ve had plenty of mornings where I just don’t feel like going to work, but this is different. There’s something telling me that I really need to take care of myself today.


At this point, all I can do is rely on my principles. If taking a mental health day when it’s necessary poses a problem, then I have a bigger issue to address with my boss, and it’s not going to get solved by giving in to the pressure of always being fit to work.


I decide to take the leap and risk it:


“I’m sorry, but I need a mental health day today. I apologize if it creates an inconvenience, we can talk about it tomorrow, thank you for understanding.”


There.


The notion of falling back on my principles doesn’t remove all of my anxiety about the situation, but at least I feel like I am respecting myself and that’s commendable in my book.


It's a start, but now the real work begins as I need to unpack what’s going on and find the source of my turbulence. I head to a nearby coffee shop to do some writing.


At this point, I’m about six months into my journey here in Vancouver. I left Quebec, my home, some 4,400kms on the other side of the country earlier the previous year as my heart needed an adventure. I set out to move to the West Coast after some friends of mine had been relentlessly encouraging me to visit them. I was 28 when I officially moved here. I left with the intention of exploring new horizons, but more importantly to find some answers regarding the type of life I wanted to live. It seems like this intention is finally catching up with me this morning: pressure washing and window cleaning is a good-paying job, but certainly nothing more than a stepping stone to me. Now I’m called to reevaluate where I’m going.


As I’m writing, I come to understand the pattern I am in. When it comes to my vocation or my offering to the world, I tend to romanticize my process and make assumptions prematurely about what that ‘thing’ is because I’m so impatient to move into that period of my life. And by being so pressed for time and excited to begin my journey, I end up neglecting the most important aspect of that equation, which is figuring out the degree to which I actually resonate with said ‘thing’. In other words, I am skipping essential steps and jumping to conclusions, dropping the last commitment to begin the newer, more exciting one. I’ve been probing and searching for over a decade at this point, so I must be going about this the wrong way. Now that I’m approaching 30, I have a heightened sense of urgency. Like a toad arriving late to the pond, realizing that the mating process is well underway, I feel late to the party, or perhaps ripe to join in on the action.


At least one thing is now clear: I need to figure out how to break this cycle. But with one thing out of the way, a daunting reality sets in; I have no clue how to go about putting my finger on what my contribution to the world is, especially since my efforts have not led to where I want to be. For the first time in my adult life, I catch a glimpse of hopelessness in my own heart and worry begins to seep through. I've always had strong morale, and now I feel weak. I fear that I might have lived in my imagination this whole time and the very real possibility that I have wasted the precious years of my early adult life is introduced as a sour taste of disillusion. I thought I had been productive. If this is really the case, I need to change my way of doing things entirely.


I am soon forced to stop writing as my energy gets depleted by the discouragement I'm experiencing. As I start packing up my things, a lighter thought comes to mind:


“How about I begin by trying to acquaint myself like I would a new friend, instead of making all these assumptions?”


This sounds like a nice change of pace and a better way to treat myself. I agree to give it a go. Now I have to find something to do with the rest of my day, and I don't feel like staying home will help me feel better. The weather is as good as I’ve seen it in a long time. I should spend some time recharging outside, I tell myself, still struggling to give myself permission to enjoy my time off when I know my boss is somewhere working by himself, probably cursing me out.


Suddenly, I remember something I’ve been wanting to do since I moved into this neighborhood. There is a famous beach called Wreck Beach at the Westernmost end of the peninsula forming Vancouver City. Since I live on this peninsula, I should technically be able to walk all the way out there from my place if I follow the shoreline. It’s a good 10km walk and I am not sure that those two points actually connect, some cliffs might make the crossing impossible, but I feel like I need an adventure and adventures are also about the unknown. I also feel it’s a great opportunity to start using the mindset of discovering things about myself. That could be the focus of this long walk, to observe how I feel in every moment and to take mental notes.



I go back home to pack a lunch before I head down to the nearest beach and start walking westbound. As soon as I begin to enjoy the scenery, thoughts of shame and guilt creep in. “Did you seriously just take a day off to go walk on the beach?” I think. I notice those thoughts and practice letting them go. It’s too late to feel guilty now; I made my decision, and now it’s up to me to make the best out of it. I decide to turn off my phone and stash it in my backpack, as I find it helps me truly connect to myself and my surroundings when I do so. I also take my shoes off and let my energy connect to the ground beneath my feet. I quickly find myself in deep silence, taking in the full view around me: the snowy mountain tops capping the distant mountains, the dark green forest right below, and the azure sea scattered with whitewash from the crashing waves in which my feet are now threading.


Before I reach my destination and bus back home, I make it a point to stop and explore as often as I’d like, paying attention to the genuine impulses of my curiosity. About halfway in, I decide to stop for a nap under the partial shade of a willow tree where the sand is finer and smoother than everywhere else. I notice how even the simple act of stopping to enjoy a nap just for the sake of it causes thoughts of underperformance to arise in my head. The voice of military phenom Jocko Willink makes an appearance, telling me to “Get After It” in his authoritative baritone voice. I notice it and intervene: today isn’t about performance, today is about learning and discovering things about myself. The quality of this walk isn’t measured by how fast I finish it, but by how present I can be with myself.


So, another time, Jocko.


The next morning, my boss picks me up for work. As we drive to the storage unit where we pick up the equipment for the day, we have an awkward conversation. I feel guilty and I try to justify my decision to take the day off yesterday, even if I doubt that he ever thinks in terms of mental health; I’ve seen him finish a 24-hour shift for the fire fighting department and do a full day of physical work with me a few hours later while looking completely exhausted. His first words completely throw me off, he says:


"It’s one thing if you actually needed it. But I’ve had guys call in 'sick' for a day’s work only to catch them hanging out at the beach later on during the day."


“Fuck” I tell myself. Did he see me on the beach yesterday or is he just saying that? I take a few moments to collect myself before responding:


"I get it, but yeah, I just woke up feeling terrible and I had to do something for my mental health yesterday.”


He doesn’t need to know how I spent my day, I tell myself in an attempt to feel better about my decision. He continues:


"Well, as one of my friends says, most of our problems are either because we smoke too much weed or not enough."


“Probably not enough” I respond jokingly. That's a lie but I don't feel safe enough to open up about my personal issues with him. Seeing how quickly he is moving on, he doesn’t seem as mad as thought he was going to be. I’m still unsure if he saw me on the beach yesterday and I doubt he would confront me about it, but at this point, all I can do is try to move on, whatever is done is done.


After we pick up the equipment, he drives to his apartment and tells me to wait there. I sit tight for about 5 minutes before he returns. When he gets back in the truck, he throws a small bag of weed in the console. I go “What’s this?” as I know for a fact he doesn’t smoke weed. He says:


“It’s some old weed I’ve had somewhere in a drawer.”


He doesn’t add anything else. Next thing I know, we pull up to a nearby park and he rolls up a small joint. He tells me:


“You said your problem was because you didn’t smoke enough weed, so there we go.” And he lights up the joint.


I’m flabbergasted. I don’t have the courage to tell him the truth about my smoking habit. I know him to be cold and quite secretive about any kind of sensitive stuff, and even if he still has the same stoic look on his face, I recognize that this is an actual gesture of kindness on his part and that he’s doing this to make me feel better. I accept his invitation and join him. Next thing you know, he and I are getting high in the park and we're having a laugh together, I think for the first time. I can’t believe that he’s doing this after he seemed so mad at me for messing up our schedule yesterday, yet here we are. I take a moment to appreciate the curveball life just threw at me, I could never have predicted things to turn out this way. A few moments later, we're standing on an old lady's roof, cleaning up gutters in the rain and connecting with each other as opposed to strictly working as we typically do. I didn't know it but that's exactly what I needed.


The next day I’m off from work, so I head to my favorite coffee shop to further explore what came up during my previous writing session. I order my usual oat cortado, find a good spot to sit, and tune out the noises of the coffee shop before opening my journal to pick up where I left off.


“Aquainting myself”... I like those words. It feels fresh and explorative. I decide to make this the theme for my next 50 days of writing as an exercise of self-discovery. I write that in my journal: Aquainting Myself, Day 1/50. Following the current of inspiration, I begin. This is quite different from my typical documenting process. Perhaps I can start with something simple and approachable today, to ease into it. Yes. What does Ismaël like? I ask myself.


My pen stands still over the blank page of my journal, as I wait for something authentic to come up. "I’ll just write down everything that feels true and see where it takes me" I tell myself. My hand starts to move and I welcome the first item on this list:


“I like writing.”


That's pretty straightforward, as I’ve done a lot of it. Alright, that’s one. What else? I feel a cluster of ideas arise in my mind like a wave of formless thoughts. As I wait for them to materialize as articulable sentences, a silence washes over me and a strange curiosity guides my eyes back to what I just wrote. Then, something I did not foresee hits me:


Sitting there, next to a large window shaded by a majestic tree on an unbelievably beautiful Vancouver day, I realize I am actually enjoying myself. No judgmental pressure, just authentic presence, making one with my experience. As I feel into the staggering beauty of what I'm progressively awakening to, a geyser of suppressed emotions rises up, unannounced. I catch myself but cannot contain all the tears. I quickly cover my face with my hands so as not to draw attention to myself, fearing an uncontrollable outburst of crying.


This. Whole. Time.


Twelve long years of probing every inch of my being, in search of the alignment I needed before I could finally take my gift to the rest of the world and join the long list of people I had been looking up to. While I took my search to the outside world, my treasure had been waiting for me in plain sight, literally right under my eyes.


Everything makes sense now, even though I can hardly explain it to myself, what’s happening is definite and undeniable. My insecurities and fears momentarily get shredded into nothingness, and as I process every emotion, the curtain of confusion gets lifted, allowing me to see my truth for the first time:


The detour WAS the journey.


When I thought I was behind on my timeline, I was actually being prepared. When I thought I was lost, I was being shown how to use my courage to find my way. Life had offered me writing as a tool to observe my own world, and without all the persistent insecurities and challenges, I would’ve had nothing to write about and my gift would never have materialized.


My face still resting behind the cover of my hands, I feel a surge of life being injected back into my heart. I dry my cheekbones and ready myself to take in the world once again. I slowly slide my hands off my face and open my eyes. My gaze naturally finds solace in the deep blue of the cloudless sky, and as I take a deep and heartfelt breath, my stomach releases what feels like a lifetime of tension. Sensing a warm flow of blood circulating from my center and all the way down my legs and arms, I feel pure life inhabiting me once again; muffled sounds turn to crystalline melodies; stale air turns into bright aromas.


Feeling my way into my long-awaited truth for the first time, a smile pushes my mouth open and I shake my head incredulously. The words resonate once more:


I like writing.





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