It was coming up to New Year in the Czech Republic, where I had moved since breaking up with my long-term boyfriend. I was a tired cliché: a failing musician who’d reached her 30s and realised that the music career clock had all but stopped ticking and ended up clinically depressed. Yawn. The irony for me was that I had achieved some significant things that were steps capable of taking me closer to my goals. But I couldn’t see them as such, because that’s what depression does: it robs you of clear-thinking. I felt like I’d hit a total dead-end. My life in London had become a soulless battle to keep a roof over my head. I couldn’t find a way to afford to live on my own, which was the one thing I longed for above all else. And as a result of my deepening depression, my boyfriend had cheated on me. (He had a point. I was absolutely no fun to be with.) So I did what any person pushed to the edge does: I left the country for a fresh start.
By the time I’d sold my piano, packed up my things and shipped some of them to a country even more pessimistic than my own (which initially appealed to me – here was a place where you could respond to “how are you?” with, “my boyfriend left me and I’m feeling quite depressed, how are you?”) I was pretty much done. I had enough of trying to find new ways of earning money from things I actually enjoyed doing instead of teaching English as a foreign language at 7:30 in the morning for $10 an hour. It just wasn’t possible. My ex-boyfriend was moving in with his new lover by the end of the year so I decided that that would be a good time to call it quits. By which I mean, really call it a day with the whole ‘being alive’ thing. Yeah, talk about a downer…it’s actually genuinely embarrassing to write this, not least because it means that I failed at that too. I was obviously taking Samuel Beckett’s advice: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Instead of coming up with a clever suicide plan, I came down with a horrible cold and crawled my way through Christmas. When I arrived at New Year’s Eve, I had neither fully prepared plans nor the strength to carry them out. I chose instead to try a new approach. (Yet another “an answer, not the answer” tactic.) In amongst a pile of papers of interesting articles that I’d kept, I came across one by a journalist at the Chicago Tribune. He had written about the importance of studying for the joy of learning’s sake, rather than with one eye on an internship and burgeoning career. I loved his values. I reveled in the idea of reading for the fun of it and then turning that inspiration into something creative of my own, be that lyrics, music or prose. It encapsulated everything I believed in but that life seemed to be telling me was obsolete. At the end of the article was an email address. I bargained with myself that I would write to him and if he wrote back, I’d have to find a way to live.
He responded promptly and very graciously too, considering the appallingly grandiose, victim-like cry for help I’d sent him. His response affirmed to me that there are kind people in the world, not only in general but in well-respected positions. The type we would refer to as having “made it” in their field. This was the opposite of what I’d experienced in the music industry. I had attended music business seminars, music manager talks and royalty collection agency panels where most of them had reiterated the doom and gloom that the industry was over-subscribed, no-one makes money from it except the lucky 4% and anyone over 28 let alone 30 was, quite frankly, beyond hope.
So I turned my back on music and worked on getting my mind healthy again instead. Which entailed counselling and 12 step programmes and eventually moving back to the UK. It also involved thinking about what I actually wanted, no matter how preposterously inconceivable it seemed. Ideas like living in New York, publishing a book or wanting to go on vacation to Hawaii came to me and I had to learn not to dismiss them as unattainable.
Moving abroad hadn’t been the answer by any stretch of the imagination, but it was an answer. It was a change. Prague had shown me the ultimate destination for those who believe that there’s no hope of doing the work you love and are best at. If you accept that it’s just ‘normal’ to feel stuck and depressed, then there’s no room for progress, only more proof of your limitations. (Note, I had found the version of Prague that reflected my state of mind at the time…lots of other versions undoubtedly exist.) Yet in amongst this ‘an answer but not the answer’ situation, a lifeline email from a kind stranger across the Atlantic broke through like an answered Mayday call, offering a sliver of a hope big enough to build a better fresh start from.
Four years later, I had a single that got played on BBC 6 music and an unexpected well-paid project writing lyrics for a producer who needed some songs completed for a new artist. I was actually getting paid as a songwriter. Something I’d never thought possible. This year I published my first book and also lived in New York rent-free for six months. I still don’t have the answer (and the trick here of course is to realise there is no such thing, unless it’s a series of “an answers”) but trying an answer seems to have served me rather well.
(Photo credit: it’s me neosiam via Pexels)
Rowen Bridler grew up in England and moved to London at 18 and has loved living in big cities ever since, including Paris and New York. A rebel at heart, she prioritises the unconventional, hence acting in German in a Danish TV drama, as well as writing songs about space travel and aviation. Since her single, ‘Lifeboat’ was played on BBC 6 Music in 2014, her songwriting morphed into poetry as her personal experiences of dating prompted her to reflect on what men and women really want and how they somehow keep failing to give it to each other.
“Love Poems for people who don’t like being in love” is out now on Amazon.