The Terrifying Joy of Saying NO to Money

It’s June 24, a holiday in Quebec, and the weather is perfect. The sun is out, shining obnoxiously, as a light breeze blows all the white fuzzies from some dumb giant tree in my backyard straight into my naked eyeballs. At least, that’s what it would be doing if I felt like leaving my house.

To be fair, I’m recovering from a cold, and all I’ve really wanted to do is lie on my couch watching shows that neither challenge me nor auditorily slap me awake from my drooly half-naps with any sudden noises. Never have Made-for-Netflix Rom-Coms been so highly appreciated. Honestly, getting sick for a little while has been a total gift. To have permission to DO NOTHING?? For as long as I want?? This after working so hard for months-on-end that I didn’t even have time to feed myself properly. I’d come home from work, and be like, cool—so I have enough energy now to either wash this dish, OR pick that shirt up off the floor. Not both.

I was, and still am, SO low energy, that I convinced myself I have hypothyroidism. Or at LEAST its basic AF distant relative, iron deficiency. The symptoms are all there!! I’m exhausted all the time, I’m depressed—I have no drive or motivation—and all sorts of other fun things, like pretty significant amounts of hair falling out in the shower (enough to have made a hearty winter sock by now if I’d been saving it since October). I went to see my doctor a few weeks ago, and knowing I only had 15 minutes of his precious time, I brought in a piece of 8×11 paper COVERED in illegible symptoms and I just, stood there and barked them out at him like I was auctioning off a valuable disease.

“And I’d like you to test my TSH and my ferritin and my T3 and T4 and, umm, my antibodies!! My PROTEINS!?! Is that a thing?!? I was reading this article on google about hypothyroidism, and…” My doctor stops me.

“ALL my patients think they have hypothyroidism. Don’t worry, we’ll test you for all of this, AGAIN, since *cough* we already tested you two years ago…but… tell me more about this depression. Have you ever had suicidal thoughts?”

“Well, yeah…but I mean, nothing to worry about! Just the occasional musing… My mom had pretty serious depression growing up, so I know the difference between thoughts that are dangerous and thoughts that are just, you know, passing by…”

“Oh, your mom had depression? In her 30s?” (I am in my 30s)

“…Yes…”

He pauses for a moment. “Lauren, you very well might test low in iron or have a thyroid issue, but, in my honest opinion, I think you might just have mild depression.”

And you know, it’s not like I didn’t already know this. I wrote a post a couple months ago on whether or not I should try anti-depressants for God’s sake. But it just hit me so hard, coming out of his mouth. Because I have done such a good job my whole life, of being the happy one. When mom was depressed, I was the one who cheered her up. I can see the silver lining in even the worst situations. I can bounce back from anything. I’m the one who is always laughing. I. AM NOT. DEPRESSED!!!!

So why then, does life feel so much harder than it should? Why does it feel like I never laugh anymore? Like I have no purpose in life? Why am I acutely aware of the things I love to do, but yet, never let myself do them?

When I ask myself this, two possible answers float to the surface of my Magic 8 Ball.

  1. I am not just feeling circumstantially depressed, like so many of us in the last few years; I actually HAVE depression. There is a chemical imbalance within me, and it’s slowly getting worse as I get older. This is 100% okay. As long as I know, I have the power to do something about it. Once I find the right medication, I will start to see the world in color again. I will find the energy to meet new people: artistic collaborators, friends, a romantic partner; ideally all three wrapped into one… and I will possess the energy to DO those things that give my life purpose.
  2. I am depressed, sure, but NOT because of a chemical imbalance. I am depressed, because I got a taste during the pandemic, of what life is supposed to be. Not the isolation, or the masses of people getting sick and dying part; but the part where we all slowed down. There was less hustle, and more community. More resting, more just being still with one’s thoughts. Less “I’m too busy to talk;” and more “How are you doing? Want to go on a walk together?” I’m depressed because despite the valuable lessons we learned during the pandemic, the world has scrambled to get right back to where it was before. Filling Every. Damn. Moment. With. Work. And in fact, it’s all even more exhausting than it was, because we are doubling down. We are making up for lost time.

I don’t think we are actually meant to live like this. We are not supposed to be busting our asses in pursuit of things. We are meant to just live, to enjoy each others’ company, to have adventures, to share stories, to simply… survive. This life I am living now, where I am working non-stop, was “doable” before, but only because I didn’t know how life could be. I can’t unsee how wonderful it is to truly slow down. Not just for a 2-week vacation, but as a lifestyle. When we all actually have time to rest, to cook healthy meals, to be creative, to engage with each other in meaningful ways. I can feel that this life I am living now is unsustainable. But it seems that everyone around me is right back to business as usual, playing The Game. And while every ounce of my spirit has been screaming at me to slow down, I have this deep-rooted desire to belong; and so I play The Game, too.

To follow my spirit, to say NO to societal pressures, is to go against the herd. It is to say once again, after fighting so hard my whole life to escape the pain of it—I am all alone.

Last week, my employer emailed me with a list of work offers for the summer, taking me right from the week after I get back from a jam-packed tour to South Korea (read, just enough time to recover from the jet-lag) and up until the day before I fly home to visit mom in Nova Scotia this summer, before running full-speed into a new season of wall-to-wall work. (Which I understand is a privilege, of course!) When I got the email, I full-on panicked. I had been mentally prepping myself to take the summer off, so I could fully recover from the last year and actually have some time to work on my neverending solo show. But it’s a totally different ball-game when the offer actually comes in.

Would you like some money?

And suddenly, in my semi-delirious sick-state, I catch myself crunching the numbers, justifying not just doing one of the weeks, or a couple of the weeks, but ALL OF THEM!!!

I could get that sectional couch I’ve been wanting in the living room!! Those fancy Ray Ban sunglasses. ANOTHER HAMMOCK FOR THE PATIO! I could… actually, save money… for a theoretical time in the distant future, when I finally learn how to give myself time off!!??!! You know, when I’m 65!!

Lucky for me, amidst this decision-making process, I was listening to an episode of the FANTASTIC podcast, Bewildered, hosted by Martha Beck and Rowan Mangan who just happen to be 2/3 of the women in a lesbian power-throuple. This is irrelevant, but cool. It was an episode on just how scary freedom can be, and you can listen to it here. Martha Beck was saying, that if you find yourself resenting something in your life—whether it be a job, a friend, a romantic partner—and then, when you imagine yourself freeing yourself of this thing/person, you feel suddenly TERRIFIED… it’s a pretty good sign that you’re staying for the wrong reasons. Or something like that. Just listen to it.

Anyway, I lied down on my couch, and I imagined how it might feel, to say yes to ALL of the work that had just been offered to me. I felt a slight tension in my body. A dullness. A numbing. A dimming of colors. Then I imagined, how it might feel to say yes to just ONE of the weeks of work. That’s doable, right? A compromise! But strangely enough, this little voice inside me somewhere whispered, no bitch. that’s not quite right, either.

And then, I imagined what it might feel like to turn down ALL THE WORK. (Just for a month now, remember. We are only talking about a month here, PLEASE KEEP HIRING ME) And you know what this felt like? My goddamn soul leapt out of my little earth chest and all the way up into outer space. I felt both excited, and TERRIFIED. And that little voice whispered, “Really?? You’d really let us do that? We can be free for a whole, entire summer?”

And that’s how I know it was the right choice.

So, I very well might just have clinical depression. And you know, that month off this summer could be a great time to try anti-depressants, in case wild mood swings ensue and I feel like the contents of a hot pink garbage truck! But I might also just need to set my spirit free for a while. I think we all owe ourselves at least that much.

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