How Writing Saved My Health and Happiness ♡

For the longest time, I lived a life that wasn’t truly my own.

This led to finding myself rolled up in the fœtal position on the floor of my Park Avenue office with fists clenched in such intense pain I thought I’d pass out.   I was in my early thirties and, according to society’s standards anyway, living the dream: working as a corporate lawyer on Wall Street, negotiating multi million dollar transactions while dressed to the nines in the season’s it bag and shoes. I was at the top of my game but deep down I was dragging my soul through the lowest depths of misery. The reality was that I was utterly unhappy and making myself ill with Crohn’s disease in the process.  I was ignoring all the signs the universe was throwing my way.  And there were many, many signs - the kind you find on a billboard in Times Square.  I was in total denial, collecting my fat paycheck and spending it all on frivolous nonsense. Sitting in my posh office overlooking midtown Manhattan, I had boxed my spirit into a corporate office. And it wasn’t a pretty sight.

 

          I was slogging through thirteen-hour days while guzzling obscene amounts of coffee and feeding my body candy bars and greasy take-out food, all of which only made my health condition much worse.  But hey, I was bringing home a six-figure salary, investing in high profile stocks and shopping on Madison Avenue. I should’ve been happy, right?  What I should have been investing in was my soul purpose instead. In the long run, it would have been a better return on investment.  As a child, I loved to write, paint, draw and dance, but I had stopped dancing altogether and was stressing myself under piles of stress instead.   The child within me was desperate to come out and play but I didn’t give her any breathing room or the time of day she deserved; I was too busy billing my time and shopping online.

         I was embodying someone else’s idea of success: by constantly pushing and striving to get ahead for a better salary, a higher position and a more prestigious title. I was climbing that corporate ladder at all costs: at the expense of my health, happiness and true Self.   The sad truth is that I sold out for the cold hard cash and what I ended up with is the cold hard truth while lying on the office floor of my law firm’s office.

          Checking myself into the emergency room of a few New York hospitals in the middle of night while suffering from debilitating pain wasn’t enough to wake me from my sad state.  Hell, I don’t think I would have gotten the message if an eighteen-wheeler with “Get a Life” written all over it had parked in my spot.   Not only was I avoiding my artistic dreams, I was burying them alive.  Clearly, I hadn’t heard of the mind-body-spirit connection yet.  I was light years away from it actually-I was so far removed from my personal truth that I went for more disconnection by having part of my insides taken out.  The surgery didn’t help much.  Instead, it left me feeling weak, vulnerable, and scared.

 

           A psychic I ran into on the streets of New York willingly offered some insight. Her words of wisdom:  “You’re wasting your precious time dear child. Pack it up, go home and start living a more creative life.”                                 

          Although these words profoundly resonated with me and sent shivers down my spine, they still weren’t enough to shake me from my stupor. I kept on plugging away at a career that was making my sick and keeping my spirit depressed.  Call me crazy but I needed more.

           Then one day a friend suggested I pick up Eat Pray Love, a book she read in one sitting and was life changing and affirming.  “This one’s a game changer,” she said.  One line from that book hit me like a ton of legal briefs:  I’m choosing happiness over suffering.   Not only did those words resonate deep in the recesses of my soul, it also brought up the question  “what are you waiting for?”  over and over again in my mind.   These pearls of wisdom stayed with me long after the day I handed in my resignation, called the moving truck, and started living for real.    

     

              With some time and much patience, I let my previous life and its façade fade away: the expensive suits, the fancy apartment, the need for constant approval and the fake me.  Slowly, and ever so gently, my real persona began to come forth and see the light.  I still remember bursting into tears the day I watched the Eat, Pray, Love movie.  Sitting in the dark theater, I saw a reflection of myself in the main character, a woman on a quest for her own truth.  I may have been on a different continent and time zone, but my search for meaning was there nonetheless.  Liz’s willingness to venture into uncharted territories and find true happiness gave me hope and permission to do the same. I signed up for writing classes at the local community college and took jazz history lessons for fun.  During this transformative time, I wrote every day and penned my first novel.   I had no idea what I was doing but it was the most fun I’d had in years.   What was it about? An overworked, stressed-out corporate lawyer heads to New York to make it big and changes her life after realizing she’s profoundly unhappy.

             Once I had completed my first draft, I sought feedback from close friends and family members who were extremely generous with their time. To my surprise, some former colleagues, the very lawyers I poked fun of in my novel, took pleasure in providing feedback and suggesting some funny jokes.

          Finding a publisher was no easy task either, but once I completed the manuscript and put my mind to it, there was no stopping me. The laws of abundance worked their magic and the doors swung wide open.

          Truth be told, it was difficult at the time to explain (and justify) my life choices to my colleagues and immediate family. And it was even harder to cut back on the lifestyle I’d become accustomed to. But I’ve never second-guessed my decision. I’ve since given up drinking coffee and soda and replaced them with herbal teas. I even took up yoga.   Taking time off and living a more authentic and creative life gave my body the respite it needed to heal.  And with time and gentle care, I eventually became symptom free. 

             Today, as I peer out the window of my cabin in the woods surrounded by tall pine trees, my dog, hummingbirds and sweet dragonflies, breathing in the country air, and creating meaningful experiences while doing the work that I love with my heart filed with joy, I’m grateful for the changes I’ve made and the lessons learned.

           In that regard, I’d like to share five lessons I learned while on this wild adventure:

1. Living a creative and fulfilling life is more rewarding than simply making lots money.

I once worked crazy hours but had no spare time to pursue my artistic passions. Sure, I was making good money but I was seriously unhappy. Writing novels and offering writing workshops have been the most rewarding events in my professional life.

2. Expensive shoes won’t make you happy.

When I worked around the clock as a lawyer, I often compensated on the weekends by buying things. Although it was fun for a while to parade around town with the season’s “it” bag or shoes, it soon lost its appeal and left me feeling empty. Our souls crave more. Way more.

3. To reach new horizons, you must lose sight of the shore.

According to the French writer André Gide, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Making big changes in life, whether career related or otherwise, can be very scary. I went through moments of serious self-doubt and worry. But I managed to sail through the choppy seas by stubbornly focusing my intention on my ultimate goal: happiness, artistic expression, and fulfillment.

4. Success is the culmination of a series of failures.

Like so many authors, when I first sent out my manuscript to agents and publishers, I received countless rejection letters but I never gave up on my goal no matter how discouraged I felt.   Eventually, a door opened for me and it was the right one.

5. Never let anyone get in the way of your dreams.

Once you decide to make a major change in your life, many people might feel intimidated or uncomfortable with your willingness to take risks and may even become vocal about it.  Don’t let the naysayers rain on your parade, it’s negative energy that you don’t need at this crucial juncture in life.

 

Follow your dreams and be happy.  I did it and so can you. 

 

Happy 2016!

 

Isabelle Laflèche worked for more than ten years as a corporate attorney in New York City, Montreal, and Toronto before pursuing her passion for writing. Her debut novel J’adore New York became a best seller in Canada, along with its sequel J’adore Paris. Her books have been translated into six languages. She also recently published a travel book to Paris, written during her stay in the city of light. She lives in Montreal.

Visit Isabelle on Instagram, on her website at IsabelleLafleche.com and on Twitter: @Isalafleche

 

 

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Comment by Cassandra Black on May 14, 2016 at 10:26am

I just tweeted your very inspiring post at https://twitter.com/writercassandra. Wishing you continued success and happiness! Cassandra Black

Comment by Karen Szklany Gault on January 22, 2016 at 11:51am

Your story is very inspiring!  Once I gave birth to my daughter, I realized that this parenting journey only happens once.  We only have 1 way to do it right or seriously damage our own and our children's psyche by not living an authentic life.

I decided that I wanted to home-school my daughter.  My husband and I also wanted a good place for her to grow up, so we found a co-housing community to move into.  ~:0)  Our parents have trouble with this.  I think that's because it really isn't the "safe" road and they grew up with the idea that choosing careers, etc., that pay the bills over ones that are enjoyable is the responsible thing to do.  I knew in my heart that I couldn't follow that road.  I spent most of my childhood and beyond working to fit into my parents' idea of an adult who contributes to society by holding a job and paying taxes and bills.  I didn't fit into their idea of what it means to "grow up."  From the time I was 14 I have been having anxiety attacks in the form of muscle seizures.  They are manageable  now, but not totally gone.  There is a piece that I am missing that makes a difference.  There needs to be a stronger mind-body-spirit connection than I have at present accomplished.

My husband is an historian at a house museum in Boston and I have been working to make writing my career around home-schooling my daughter.  I did publish a non-fiction title around gardening, with a focus on growing your own fruits and berries.  I have a writer's group that I lead and started writing a novel with the support of NaNoWriMo 2015 (35,888 words).  I am traveling to San Francisco in February 2016 to take the Labyrinth Walk Facilitator training at Grace Cathedral with the support of my UU church.  It's both exhilarating and incredibly terrifying to think of this trip and plan for it, but thinking of the regret I'd feel if I didn't undertake the journey was more painful.  My church has paid for the registration and the travel expenses and I will be staying in a guest room at a co-housing community in Oakland.  All I can think of is how grateful I am for all of these blessings. The universe wants me to do this.  I think that it is about time that I finally read and see the movie "Eat, Pray, Love," and I may make it my goal to do that before my SF trip.

Comment by Isabelle Laflèche on January 20, 2016 at 4:56pm

Thank you Irene and Joyce!  You both made my day with your kind comments.

Comment by Irene Allison on January 19, 2016 at 11:45am

Inspirational, thank you! Amazing how our body lets us know when things are not right and when they are. So glad you found your calling and your muse!

Comment by Joyce Evans-Campbell on January 18, 2016 at 4:01pm
This essay resonates with me, although I didn't reap opulence. I have suffered immensely, dying inside for decades. I've been devastated because illness replaced the freedom from a strangling work life. I have put ever ounce of strength in a couple's memoir and poetry.The poetry had to be put on hold because the memoir is so close...Thanks for sharing your story. It uplifts me and removes my guilt.
Comment by Isabelle Laflèche on January 13, 2016 at 7:42pm

Thank you Julia for your comment. Yes, there's much more to life than the corporate world  I'm thrilled to hear that you also teach yoga.  The practice has changed my life for the better!

Comment by Julia Whitmore on January 13, 2016 at 6:25pm

How wonderful and encouraging. Yesterday, someone asked me what I "do," and as often happens I struggled with my answer. I started out in law school, worked for corporate firms, got bunions, etc., dropped out at 33, raised our children, volunteered, gardened, journaled, played music, taught yoga. Wrote. It's a lucky life, quiet and rich, but still, sometimes the old parameter -- if you don't make money you don't 'do' anything -- raises its ugly head.  

Glad you found your way to yourself, health and happiness. 

Comment by Isabelle Laflèche on January 13, 2016 at 6:58am

Thank you Juanita for your kind words! You picked up my emotions well! Kind regards, Isabelle

Comment by Juanita K. on January 13, 2016 at 2:16am

Thoroughly enjoyed your post, which had sadness and wonder and overcoming all mixed up together. Thank you for sharing a portion of your heart.

Comment by Kathryn Meyer Griffith on January 12, 2016 at 6:44pm

Thank you Isabelle. Blessings to you, too.

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