Why I Write

The seeds of doubt were planted at a young age. I can’t tell you exactly when, but I know it started in childhood. I was lead to believe I wasn’t capable, that I would struggle in this life.

In particular, concerns surrounded my abilities in English. At first, my parents worried that I had a hearing problem. They believed this stunted my development. Later they had me tested for dyslexia.

I’m not, of course. It just happened to be one of my weaknesses. And I just happened to be different. I’ve always been a daydreamer, a wanderer by nature.

Languages, the English language – spelling, grammar – has never come naturally to me. But that has never been the problem. The problem was I didn’t believe, and because I didn’t believe, I didn’t try. I internalised that belief and thought, “What’s the point?”

“I’m no good, so why bother?”

Unfortunately, that belief took root at a much deeper level than my English proficiency.

Problems really started in adolescence – at the age of 13 – when I was first offered drugs. I didn’t say yes because I was curious. I didn’t say yes because I thought it was cool. I didn’t say yes as a form of rebellion. I said yes because I was afraid.

I took drugs because I was too scared to say no.

So began some of the most challenging years of my life. At first, it was fun, but I soon felt trapped. At one point, I was smoking pot every single day. I suffered from intense bouts of anxiety that I hid from everyone. Depression soon followed. 

I sank deep into my shell.

I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know how to ask for it. I was too afraid to speak up. So I drowned silently. It came to a head when a friend of mine was caught in possession of my drugs.

I was made to make a choice that day. When the deputy headmaster sat us down in his office, he asked me if I had also been using. He said I can’t help you if you’re not honest.

I was so scared at that moment. I wanted to tell the truth, but I was afraid of the repercussions. The thought of breaking my parent’s hearts broke my own. Yet, I also feared what would happen if I didn’t tell the truth.

While fighting back the tears, I admitted the truth.

It proved to be one of the most pivotal moments of my life. I was suspended, but the deputy headmaster held true to his word. No permanent record was kept. He honoured my honesty by protecting my future. How different my life would look now had I lied.

Honesty hurts to begin with, but in the long run it will set you free.

During those years, I sat my GCSEs. I didn’t care about my grades. I didn’t care about what future I had. I simply wanted to escape the hell I found myself in. As a result, I didn’t put much effort in. 

My results came as a surprise.

I landed 4 A’s, 6 B’s and an E (in German). I was far more competent than I gave myself credit. English language and English literature were the biggest surprises. Had it not been for one teacher, in particular, my grades would have been very different.

She taught the class with the top peers in our age group. Except she did something a little different. She took several students who were really struggling from the lowest level and placed us in hers. She had me sit in the front row.

She was petrifying, which helped. I was made to apply myself. I remember she believed I had a voice. She pushed me to do a lot of public speaking – which also scared the bejesus out of me!

My coursework marks steadily improved over the two years she taught me. Still, my coursework barely averaged a C. This made the final results even more surprising. Following our final examinations, I ended up with B’s in English language and English literature. I must have aced those exams to achieve those grades.

They’re my proudest grades from secondary school.

What she proved was more important, even if it didn’t fully register until years later. She showed that if I chose to apply myself, I was more than capable. She planted the seeds of self-belief that would bear fruit many years later.

To my English teacher, wherever you are, thank you.

I didn’t pursue English for A levels. It wasn’t for me. I also lacked clarity. As a result, I took a random collection of subjects. Art (the one subject I truly loved), Biology, History, and Geography.

I dropped Art halfway through my A levels despite getting an A. I dropped it for the wrong reasons – because no one else took it seriously. It would be an entire decade before I started drawing again. 

Somewhere along the way, I forgot.

Doing something simply because you love it is enough. More than enough.

History was the subject I went on to take at University. I took it because my parents were adamant that I should go to University and get a degree. I took it out of preference, not because I truly loved it. The truth is I only enjoyed aspects of it.

I later realised that what I really enjoyed was applying lessons from what history has to teach us about living life. What I was really interested in was philosophy.

During University, I fell in love with a French lady. In the second year, she asked me to edit much of her coursework. She studied media and communications. I didn’t just edit her work; I rewrote large chunks of it.

I loved it. 

I found I had a knack for drawing conclusions. I loved finishing with the right words. I realised there was an art to it. Between her coursework and my own, these skills developed.

Then she broke my heart. I finished my degree and forgot about this.

After University, I was clear about one thing. One thing I had always been clear about. A deep longing in my heart to travel the world.

So I applied for a cadetship offered by the airline I now work for. For the airline my father used to work for. He was keen, provided I was serious about it. So he took me flying. I didn’t look back.

And so followed the last 12 years of my life. 

There was a big break where I didn’t write. Several years passed while learning to fly and traveling the world before I decided to pick up a pen again.

One of my hobbies is traveling through cuisine. Anthony Bourdain has long been a personal hero of mine. Inspired by him, I put together a blog documenting my travels. 

I enjoyed it for a while, but that passion started to wane as depression and anxiety took a firmer grip.

This came to a head during another pivotal moment of my life. I froze up while trying to land during my Junior First Officer training. The training captain had to take control and go around as a result.

That scarred me deeply.

Added to the list of depression and anxiety, I had PTSD to contend with too. I remember flying approaches for years afterwards where my heart would beat so hard, it felt like it was going to break through my chest.

So many times, I wanted to quit. I wanted to throw in the towel. Those demons screamed at me. “GET OUT! YOU CAN’T! YOU’RE A FRAUD! YOU’RE NOT CAPABLE!”

I kept going.

Part of me refused to give in. I was so sick of those voices. Overcoming and passing my Junior First Officer upgrade was something I felt I had to do. So, I worked harder than I ever have in my entire life.

My demons started to drive me.

9 months on from that day, I was upgraded to First Officer. It meant everything to me at the time. I thought that was it. I thought that would be enough to finally put those voices to bed.

I was wrong.

It wasn’t until the birth of my first child 3 years ago that I finally sought professional help. At a low moment, I broke down. Once again, my demons were screaming at me. Telling me I couldn’t parent. That my boy deserved better. The guilt overwhelmed me, and I cried and cried.

Afterward, I felt a deep peace I’d not known in years. I knew exactly what I had to do. I picked up the phone and called for help.

This time I was ready. 

The following 4 months of therapy were difficult, emotional, and liberating all at the same time, but I didn’t hold back. In doing so, I finally gained the clarity I needed. In seeing my demons in the light, they lost their power.

The fog of depression finally started to lift.

Shortly afterwards, the pandemic hit, and I was left grounded. I used the time to do something I’d not done since I dropped Art during my A levels.

I started drawing.

And because I was feeling particularly creative – BECAUSE THAT’S WHO I AM – I started writing again. I put together a children’s book. I went to a publisher who loved it. Last summer, I became a published author. 

How do you like them apples?

At the same time, I started blogging. This time I had a different motivation. I spoke from my core. It felt like a spark had ignited something inside. I felt possessed. My intuition kept telling me to keep going. It’s leading somewhere. I don’t where yet, but it is.

It has.

My writing has given me clarity about what I want to do next. I will be starting an online degree in psychology next year with a long-term view of changing careers. I also have an idea for a number of books I plan to write.

Once again, I hear my demons screaming. Telling me not to do it. That I can’t. That I’m making a big mistake.

There’s a difference this time. 

My relationship has changed. I know those voices will be with me till the day I die. It that doesn’t phase me anymore. Honestly, I smile. I realise I don’t want those voices to go away. You see, they’re a guide. A powerful one telling me which direction to go in. What obstacles I must take on.  

Those voices also remind me of all the pain and suffering I’ve gone through. They keep it close to my heart. That’s want I want. To use that to help others who are suffering as I have. To give meaning to my pain by helping others with theirs. 

And so, as I sit at another crossroads in my life – as I build towards my second career – I keep writing. This time I won’t ever stop. Even though it continues to scare me – every single time I hit that publish button. 

I see it now.

I now know why it has to be this way. I was meant to write my way out. It’s poetry in motion.

You see the seeds of doubt that were planted at such a young age. The demons that have plagued me my whole life. They all stemmed from a lack of faith in my ability to overcome one of my biggest weaknesses.

That’s why I write.

For the boy inside who was lead to doubt himself. Who was told he couldn’t. Who was told he would struggle.

I write for every child who suffered under the weight of their fears, for everyone whose fears have been used against them in the cruelest possible way.

I write because I can. I write because I know that you can too.

I write to call myself a writer and be called a writer, because that means more to me than words could ever convey. 

The question I have is, why do you? 

Angels and Demons

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”

― Carl Jung

I spent most of my adult life trying to avoid suffering. It made everything worse. I spent my days waiting, hoping for my knight in shining armour. The funny thing is she existed, I just didn’t have the courage to ask her for help. I was too afraid to challenge my beliefs.

I also didn’t understand the paradoxical nature of change. The fact that you have to first accept who you are, that you have to first accept your life circumstances.

Which is hard, of course. I mean, how could I accept what my demons were telling me? How could I accept that what I really believed, was that I wasn’t capable – that I wasn’t worthy?

I tried in desperation to whip myself into something I wasn’t. I tried to kill that part of myself and in the process became consumed by it. Depression took a firm grip and I found myself drowning. In my attempts to fight, I only sunk deeper.

Eventually I gave up altogether.

Yet, it was only when I finally let go that I started to see something. What’s already there is there, so why fight it? To fight your demons, to resit them – is not only futile, it makes things worse.

Attempts to kill your demons makes them scream louder. It’s hating those parts of yourself that gives them strength. It’s only by embracing your demons, by having the courage to hold them in your heart, that you will start to see change.

And it won’t be that those demons go away. They won’t. What changes is your relationship to them. Suddenly they become part of you. You see both the light and the dark side. You come to understand them. You start to see where they’ve really come from.

That is insight.

And because your demons feel heard, they start to soften. They don’t feel the need to scream for oxygen anymore. It’s no different to a child who is shown love after a long period of neglect. Of course that’s all that the inner-child deep down in all of us wants – to be heard, to be held, to be loved.

I believe life’s biggest lesson is acceptance. For who we are, for life in all it’s fucked up glory, for, ultimately, our own mortality and that of those we love.

That’s why I suggest making it part of your morning prayer or meditation ritual. Find ways, design habits, whatever you have to do to cultivate an extreme sense of gratitude for who you are and what you have in this moment. It’s not easy, of course. I get it. It is something you have to practise everyday.

That’s not to say one shouldn’t act. No, that’s resignation. Resignation is choosing not to act when you can make a change. Resignation is choosing to believe the false narratives in your head instead of looking deeply. Resignation is believing that you can’t be helped, when you can. I know all about resignation.

Acceptance is something very different.

Acceptance is about acknowledging your demons, it’s not about letting them dictate the terms. Acceptance is about having discipline to face your current reality as it stands, to own up to it.

You need to let your demons know you hear them, then go ahead and do what you know is right. That includes asking for help if you need it. That includes processing your grief. There is no shame in this. In fact, that’s exactly what courage is.

Now here’s the paradox.

What follows a fear to accept is a fear to act. What follows the courage to accept is the courage to act. If you do that, you’ll find your demons switch shoulders. You’ll find you’re driven by them, not burdened by them. You’ll find your demons are everything to you – they’re what give your life it’s ultimate meaning. Once that happens, you’re not just going through the motions. You’re not just doing a job. It’s far deeper than that.

From radical acceptance comes meaningful action.

That’s why we need to infuse our existence with as much meaning as we can. In the way we interact with others. The way we play with our children. The way we hold our partners. Even in seemingly small or mundane tasks. If you look deeply, you can access peace in every moment by giving it meaning.

I can’t stress that point enough. 

We need meaning in our lives, because that’s what gives us hope. It’s what helps us to guard against nihilism. The more meaning you find in life, the more meaningful you believe your life is – the more peace and joy and love you will find in it. The most powerful way to do that is give meaning to your suffering.

If you do, you’ll realise your demons were trying to lead you from darkness all along. You’ll look down and realise, your shadows are made from light. You’ll realise your demons are your angels as well.


HELPLINES, SUICIDE HOTLINES, AND CRISIS-LINES FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Tuesday’s Top Tip

There are many people who believe that life is meaningless and argue, for that reason, what’s the point? Why bother?

I have two responses.

The first is why not?

If life is meaningless then you have no reason not to put yourself out there. No excuse not to be courageous. If it doesn’t matter then why wouldn’t you take risks? Why wouldn’t you want to see if you can achieve your dreams?

To simply say there is no point so why bother is a cop out. It’s a poor excuse and you know it.

Here’s the second more important thing I would say.

Life is meaningless because meaning implies understanding. Whatever life means. Whatever the why may or may not be. What it is… is beyond our comprehension. It is therefore beyond meaning. Ergo, it is meaningless.

However!

It’s preciously because life is meaningless that we must give it meaning. That’s how you guard against nihilism. That’s how you stop from falling down the rabbit hole.

Life is chaotic which is why we must strive to give it order, no matter how trying the circumstances.

To live is to suffer, it’s an unavoidable aspect of Being. Which is why we must suffer with purpose. It’s why we must seek to alleviate the suffering in others, however small, it whatever way we can.

That’s how we find balance. That’s how we stop from falling into the abyss.

The truth is your life holds as much meaning as you give it. The answer to this dilemma – whether it’s true or not – is to give your life as much meaning as you possible can. To fill every corner of your precious existence with it.

If you do, you will no longer be concerned with what the meaning of life is. You will understand that the question doesn’t matter. You will understand that your life does and that this is enough.

Previous Top Tip