I’ve never suffered from depression. I know I’m lucky to say that, and I know I can’t imagine what it must be like to live with it.
But low points? Yeah, I’ve had a few.
Five years ago, I returned to the States after living in London for four years. It was, simply put, four years of magic. Four years of traveling the world, visiting museums, making friends, experiencing culture. I had taken a break from my career and devoted myself to being the best ex-pat I could be. (The rumors are true: I’m a great ex-pat.) But when my husband got a job offer in Silicon Valley he couldn’t turn down, we headed back to America.
Reverse culture shock? It’s a thing. California was so hot. The food was so salty! The people were so loud. And don’t get me started on driving. I handled the change well…for about a week. Then, one day when I was touring a new gym, I walked past a spin class blasting a Coldplay song (Strawberry Swing. I’ll never forget.) and I burst into tears. Ran into the bathroom and sobbed while simultaneously texting my girlfriends in London: I’ve made a huge mistake.
The crying spells continued (if you know me, you’ll know this is already cause for alarm: I never cry.) I cried on the treadmill. I cried in the shower. I cried in my car. I cried more in those months than I’ve ever cried in my life. The problem, I decided, was I had too much time on my hands. Were I busier, I wouldn’t focus on my misery. So I decided to go back to work, joining an internet start-up in Menlo Park.
Turns out technology moves awfully fast. Four years is like twenty in the tech world, and I was a dinosaur. I was a dot-matrix printer. I was so out of my element, something I realized about ten minutes after I first stepped off the elevator. There was more crying here, too, in the bathroom stalls when everyone else was at lunch: crying for the career I once loved but now hated, for the things I once knew but had now forgotten, for the identity I once had but was now gone. But for nine long months I stuck it out, partially because I don’t believe in quitting, but mostly because I had nothing else to do. (Yes, I do have two small children, which is plenty to do. But early mid-life crisises do not respond to logic.)
Moment of truth: I’ve never written a book before The Witch Hunter. I’d always wanted to write one, but didn’t have the time, or anything to say, or the resolution to see it through. But after I finally quit my job, I was all out of excuses. I dared myself to do it (because what is a dare if not an unspoken expectation that you can’t do something?) and three months later, I had a finished manuscript. A terrible one, yes. But that hardly mattered. Because somewhere along the way I discovered I loved to write. I couldn’t go an hour without wanting to get back to this story I created. It was a job, yes. It was work, certainly. But it was my work, in a way nothing else had been before.
My goal in writing was not publication; that came later. My goal was to try and find myself again. I smile a little when people discuss the “muse”, because truthfully? Writing is my muse. It’s the thing that’s taken me from one of my lowest points to one of my highest. It’s the thing that, no matter what, will always belong to me. It’s the thing that I discovered I should be doing with my life. And when things get tough on the page (and things always get tough on the page), it’s nowhere as tough as it would be if I weren’t doing it at all.
So my reverse culture shock may be gone, and my early mid-life crisis may have passed. But if you put on Coldplay’s Strawberry Swing, I’ll still cry.
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Virginia Boecker recently spent four years in London obsessing over English medieval history, which formed the basis of The Witch Hunter. She now lives in the Bay Area, California with her husband and spends her days writing, reading, running, and chasing around her two children and a dog named George.
In addition to English kings, nine-day queens, and Protestant princesses, her other obsessions include The Smiths, art museums, champagne, and Chapstick. Her debut, THE WITCH HUNTER (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) comes out June 2, 2015.
Thank you for sharing, Virginia! And THE WITCH HUNTER sounds amazing. Can’t wait for the release!