How The Pandemic Inspired A US Sailor To Become A Writer
“Petty Officer Cotton, I have a question for you: What do you want?”
My therapist asked me this question one year ago — right before the start of the pandemic. At that time, I was visiting him on a weekly basis. I was in a rough place during that time in my life. I was depressed, battling night terrors, and figuring out my place in life.
Naturally, this became a good reason to go to therapy.
“Well I want to do something that makes me happy. (Obviously). I’m not sure what that is yet. Usually, work makes me happy.”
“Does it really?”
“Well yes and no. It doesn’t truly make me happy, but it keeps me from dwelling too much about the bad shit I’ve dealt with. It keeps me busy. Keeps me moving. That’s enough. But right now, it’s not working anymore. Actually, I feel more lost than ever.”
“You’re right. You are lost. But it’s the lack of work that’s bringing you down. You lack meaningful work — you lack purpose.”
It was during this time that the pandemic screwed up life as we knew it. Shit got worse for everyone. Talking to each other got worse. Working and making money got harder and more complicated. Even something as simple as getting groceries felt like an episode of The Walking Dead. The pandemic forced us to live differently and approach life with a new attitude.
Myself, included. I had spent 5 and a half years going in and out to sea. Throughout that time, I lived a much different version of the early 20s experience. I didn’t have the normal “go to college and find myself” phase that most young adults live through. My life a messy combination of tireless work, crunch hours, a negative work environment, and inconsistent relationships in my personal life. It also led me to develop a nasty drinking habit combined with excessive partying.
Basically, I spent my early twenties overworked, overthinking, and doing everything I can to run from both.
So, when I finally got reassigned and stationed in Connecticut, my goal was to get better and find myself. Except there was one problem — how the hell does someone find themselves??!
Instead, of getting better, I actually got worse. You would think having an easier work environment that would grant me a more positive lifestyle would make me happy? Plus, by being a service member, I had access to thousands of dollars in healthcare and benefits for free! It meant that I had all of the resources to live out whatever life I wanted. Hell, that should make anyone happy.
It didn’t. Instead, I actually got worse. I became plagued with a restlessness that would haunt me for months. I didn’t know how to relax because I could never enjoy it. I didn’t know how to work for myself because I never had to. My work and life were all designed by the orders and thoughts of those above me in the military hierarchy. But most importantly, I was so busy being sad about shit that never took the time to actually enjoy being happy.
“Uh…I guess you’re right. But I don’t know what to do with myself anymore. I don’t know how to make the night terrors stop. Like, yeah, I have tons of free time because of this pandemic, but I don’t what to with all of it. I exist and that’s it. There’s nothing more to my life right now. It’s just me and all of the bad shit locked up inside of my head.”
My therapist gives me a wry smile. As if to say, the answer is right in front of you.
“Cotton, if the work you have now isn’t fulfilling, maybe it’s time to find something that does fulfill you. You got a deep void inside of you and you try to fill it with work. Or fill it with drinking. Or partying. So try this, attack the problem differently. Instead of filling that void with negatives, fill it with positives. Do things that make you happy and are meaningful to you.”
“Well I do like to work and…”
“You’re not hearing me. I said meaningful to you. Not the Navy or what your superiors desire. What makes you happy?”
“Well, I like to work out and go to the gym in my spare time.”
“Okay, what else? You can only exercise so much until you get tired. What else do you like to do?”
“Uh….well…I don’t talk about it much, but I like to write. It’s hard to explain, but writing gives me peace of mind. It’s one of the few things in my life that fills meaningful.”
“So write. Write a lot. Write anytime. You’ve shown me some of your writing and it’s not bad at all. It has potential. You could probably become a great blogger with time.”
“Yeah, but the writing is for me. It’s just a hobby. Besides, I have failed so much already. What if my writing fails too?”
The key to success is to fail. Fail a lot. Fail incredibly often. Because if you don’t fail at something in life, you will never learn how to succeed. When you avoid failure, you avoid giving yourself a shot at a better life. A shot to finally live a meaningful life.
“If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be cynical.” Bradbury said in a recent interview.
“Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
— American Author, Ray Bradbury —