Five Years and Four Months Later

As of next Tuesday, I’ll be going back to work. It’ll be retail, yes, but it’ll be work. After five and one-third years of false starts, detours, and dead ends, a fresh start in a new place is great news. And now I get the challenge and opportunity I’ve hoped for.

I have a lot of thoughts, and likely will for some time, about the entirety of the five-plus years I was out of work. Mostly thoughts about the people I’ve met—and have yet to meet—in those years, as well as the things I had an opportunity to do, and the places I managed to travel. I keep coming back to how grateful I am that these people, these opportunities, and those places were in my life during these times. How grateful I am that people shared their homes with me, gave me a spare dollar or three when they could, and supported my every effort to improve on my education and well-being. I think about what that has taught me about people, the world I live in, and about myself.

Some time ago, it would have been easy to look at the world with a cynical, distrusting eye. For many years, depression burdened me with such a distrustful view of the world, that it was small, insignificant and pithy. It’s easy to discount all those wonderful places, people, and moments when you’re blinded by depression.

As I had done for many years earlier, I tried to soldier through it. It took until the spring of 2012 to realize that my depression, and all that came with it, required treatment. Yet once I began to treat the depression, to go to therapy, to get on the meds, to learn better and healthier ways of coping with it; that’s when things began to change. My attitude changed. My prospects changed. Suddenly, the things that never happened began happening.  And I stopped looking at the last five years as the end of something, and took it for what it was, and what I see it as now: the time where I finally grew as a person, no longer needing a workplace to help define who he was.

It’s easy for others to be proud of me, and I know that they are. These years have humbled me, but I have no problem saying that I’m proud of myself for having gone through it, having survived it, and now more ready to accept the next challenges in life. The five years of being out of work were not a holiday, nor was it ever effortless. No, they forged me into a more adjusted and fundamentally better person than I was in September 2008.

In these five years alone, I’ve accomplished so much. I was there in D.C., when President Obama got inaugurated. I moved away from the D.C. metro area, to live on my own. I took college courses, graduated with honors, with consecutive semesters on the Dean’s List, and have a college degree. I traveled to Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Durham, Atlanta, Columbus (Georgia), Washington D.C., Trenton, and New York City. I took up volunteering. I’ve gone to sporting events, movies, plays, and even a jazz club. Marched with thousands of people in Washington on the 50th Anniversary of the Martin Luther King march. Watched my cousin grow into his own person. I even got engaged—never figured that would have happened five years ago. And I finally took the fight to my depression and anxiety, and continue to do so today.

There’s so much good that has come from everything I’ve gone through—good and bad—that it’s hard for me to look back and focus on the negatives. There were plenty of them, not that I need to list them—I wrote about many of them here in this space. But as negative as they were at the time, those were just as important to go through as the accomplishments were. I learned from every experience I had—for better or worse—and those, too, helped me become better as a person. They taught me invaluable lessons on how to treat others, how to value myself, how to be graceful in defeat, and grateful in victory.

So I don’t discount my mistakes or failures. I accept those, just as I accept the successes and honors, but I am not defined by them. That much I do know.

Five years ago, I lost my job. Five years later, I gained one again. I still have a family that loves me. I’ve got a lot more to go with it this time. I have many more friends who support me than I did when this started, and now a fiancée in my corner. But most important of all, I have the most fully realized version of me that I’ve ever had. I didn’t just survive this. I became stronger through it.

The struggle of these last five years was real, the lessons and memories shall endure, but the work for the future carries on, with a new chapter to begin on Tuesday.

To all of those people—to all of you who’ve known me for these years—thank you for everything.