The holidays have taken their toll. I am utterly exhausted from an overload of baking, shopping, wrapping, socializing, dealing with the kids. Too much! Every year the same hectic insanity leaves me recovering for days on end. This year was worse yet as I was left baking six kinds of cookies with a 3 year old running about and making a task that should have taken a day take two instead! Now add into that a social anxiety I can’t quite shake that comes to a peak on Christmas Eve spent with the in-laws and an autistic son who requires double the planning and preparation for any special occasion lest we have a major meltdown, and I’m sure anyone would call my fatigue justified. I’m supposed to be tired and worn out. Most people would try to sleep it off and hopefully spend days in languid recovery. And what do I do amidst all the chaos? I write a new story.
There’s a reason imagination is considered a gift. As children, we played pretend more than any other game. We were different people putting on fake makeup and silly costumes or singing like rock stars with light-up microphones and a radio. We were Barbie or Jem, acting storylines through 12-inch dolls. We were little pretend moms in our playhouses with plastic food, cooking dinner and making parents act like they were eating it. We had an imaginary place to escape to as we played. Then we grew up and learned reality is a lot more difficult to endure without a retreat.
Writing has always been my retreat from the real world. It’s more than a hobby; it’s stress relief and necessary to my well-being. Literally. At high school age when most of my classmates were hanging out and having parties, I was home writing romantic stories of a world I wished existed. I happily spent more of my youth in my fantasy world than the real one, and that carried on until I got married and had my first child. I was under some misguided impression that being a wife and mother meant sacrificing everything that made me “me”, and my fantasy world became a memory.
Then I had my son, and I got sick. And everything changed. The human body can only take so much without retaliating; for me, the complications I had after my son was born culminated in insomnia. It never sounds bad to say the word, but when you’re living it, it’s a whole different story. I barely slept. Every single night was a struggle. I did everything the doctors told me to no avail. Not even prescribed sleeping pills made me sleep. I was in a constant state of alertness and spent hours in the middle of the night crying just because I couldn’t rest. One would presume that after so long awake, you’d just be so exhausted that you’d have to fall asleep. Not so. I went whole nights with little more than 45 minutes of sleep and then spent all day taking care of a newborn. It was the worst time in my life.
After giving up on everything, I decided one day to pick up a pencil. “Opera Macabre” was the product of my rampant insomnia and ironically the cure. I had started the story years before and had set it aside when reality cut me off from my magical world of imagination. I can’t say why I thought returning to writing would help me. I claim God and destiny. But I read through the 60 or so pages I had written, and I just knew I had to finish it. I committed myself to writing something every morning before my son woke up. Since I wasn’t sleeping anyway, it wasn’t a sacrifice to get out of bed at 4:30 and work. And the more I recommitted myself to my creativity and fell into the story, the more I began to sleep!
My imaginary world is my happy place. When life reaches out and tries to claw at me, I now know that is the place for escape. I go there, fall into my current story or make a new one, and I shut out life. If I didn’t have my writing, life would overwhelm me, and considering the hardships I deal with everyday, it is a blessing to wake up at 4:30 and forget the real world exists for a little while.
People always tell me that they have no idea how I keep motivated and balance a singing career, a writing career, two kids and a husband. My little secret is that I can slip away every morning and I don’t have to be the wife, mother, singer, author. I can stop worrying about everyone else and my responsibilities. And nothing can touch me when I’m there. It’s playing pretend all over again. It takes the weight of life from my shoulders, so that by the time I have to face my day and run downstairs to deal with the kids, I’m rejuvenated and “me” again. Sometimes the best places that exist are the ones we create, and though they aren’t real, as we move in and out of their corridors, life seems sweeter and touched with imagination all the time. Even in the midst of chaos, imagination is an eternal blessing.
So now as I recover from far too many holidays and return to the regular stresses of day to day life, I do it with a new story in my head and anticipation for where my world of imagination will take me next.