Sometimes I feel like my life has been defined by feeling stuck.
As a child, I felt stuck because I couldn’t grasp social rules, and as a so-called ‘gifted’ child, I couldn’t expect help when I asked for it; I was told, “You’re smart, you’ll figure it out.”
As a teenager, I felt stuck because I couldn’t see a bridge between my dreams of creating art and stories and the poverty I’d grown up in. I’d learned not to ask for help; if I failed to do something on my own, then I figured that I couldn’t do it at all.
As a young adult, I felt stuck because I was trapped in a bad relationship and a small, rural town with few opportunities.
I got out of that relationship and that town, at least, but the grown up world was big and scary and I struggled to understand it. I couldn’t afford to go to university, the one thing I thought would let me pursue my dreams. I didn’t know how to look for opportunities, and it didn’t occur to me to ask for help. I was supposed to figure it out on my own.
It was a life, of sorts. I had friends, and I fell in love with a kind, caring man who genuinely loved me back. I had managed to crawl my way forward bit by bit a little closer to my dreams despite everything, even with the fear of failing made sharp by the ever present threat of poverty.
I moved to Finland to be with my love, and it felt like my big chance to get unstuck once and for all. I had him, I had my dear feline friend who’d been with me through thick and thin, and I had a bright hope in my heart. I knew it wouldn’t be easy — I had a whole new language to learn and culture to acclimate to — but I had all new paths to explore and someone by my side. I had some security.
But it was harder than I’d ever imagined. Winter depression hit me harder than it ever had before, I injured my already weak leg beyond repair, and my mental health slipped despite my best efforts. My hope flagged as I struggled — with the language, with socializing, with my flagging physical and mental health.
And then, all at once, I fell apart. My beloved cat died of a sudden and terrible illness. It would have been an awful if I’d been in perfect health, but it was finally one thing too many, and my mind simply… collapsed.
My memory went to pieces; my coping mechanisms weren’t just broken, but completely gone. I could barely eat, barely speak, barely interact with the world at all. I wasn’t just stuck, I was sinking.
It took years for me to pull myself out and on the road to recovery. I barely had the energy to endure a roulette of medications and mental health professionals, but with my husband’s help endure I did, until I got the correct diagnoses.
My mind was healing, but I felt more stuck that ever. My memory remained poor and now I had new difficulties learning new things. Going outside and interacting with people confused and exhausted me. My physical health bounced back and forth. I took work opportunities when they presented themselves, but they were always short-lived. And my dreams of making a living writing? When I timidly reached out for help, I was told it was too hard, too complicated, too many steps, needed an education I couldn’t get now.
No one knew what to do with me. I didn’t know what to do with me. I was ashamed that I hadn’t yet become fluent in Finnish and that I’d made nothing of myself at my age. I felt like I not only couldn’t afford to take any risks, but I wasn’t allowed to take any work that wasn’t a sure thing — but with disabilities and no degree, there were no sure things. Write fiction? Create art? Ha! I’d already failed.
When the employment office sent me to Kuntoutussäätiö, I didn’t really know what to expect. It frightened me, quite frankly; being around strangers was stressful, and my experiences in the US had prepared me for rigid expectations and judgment.
What I got was a calm atmosphere where I could set my own goals and interact with others as much or as little as I pleased. I was surprised to discover I didn’t have to work on my projects at an exhausting pace, and the environment here isn’t all about work, but also about living in and experiencing the world.
Slowly, bit by bit, I’ve got more used to being around strangers, and people in general. I’ve found myself more capable of leaving my house and running errands by myself. I’m a little braver. I’ve learned some programming. I’m even a little better at Finnish. And, possibly most importantly, I haven’t been told that my dreams are too difficult or complicated for me to bother with.
I’ll be honest: I’m still not really sure what to do with myself. Even though I don’t feel stuck anymore, I feel simultaneously lost in the woods and at the edge of a cliff, unsure of how to get down. Every idea for education or work that I look at, I worry: Is this a useful start? Can I afford to try and fail? Am I allowed to fail?
Well, I do know I don’t want to get stuck again. I’ve gotten used to living a little, and I think I’d rather risk failure instead of waiting for permission to try at all.