When the pandemic hit, it took all my work as a performer. I have been on stage since I was four years old. I’m used to overcoming hardship, but I was devastated.

Soon, the lease on my apartment was going to be up, and I couldn’t afford to stay. Without being able to prove 60 days of income, I had no prospects for renting a new place. A trailer park wouldn’t even think about selling me the cheapest property in town. My unemployment hadn’t come in yet. I had an important relationship end. My self-worth was at an all-time low.

As my desperation grew, I serendipitously got a new job. Two weeks before I had to move out, a coworker told me about the houseboat next to hers. It had been gutted and abandoned.

I found out about it on a Friday. I bought the boat by Sunday.

In the three months it took to build a home from scraps, I went through a rollercoaster of emotions, battling an intense bout of depression along the way.

Now that I’m moved in and things have calmed down, I want to share what I gathered from this life-altering experience and how I found my own ways of overcoming hardship.

 

Your dignity is something you bring with you everywhere you go, no matter the circumstance

A person staring out into the distance.
Credit: Umit Bulut, Unsplash.

It was very easy to be down on myself as I watched my dreams go up in smoke.

This is not the life I imagined for myself. When I pictured buying my first home, it didn’t look anything like this, and I certainly wasn’t doing it by myself. I started to existentially question what I had done wrong. Yes, the boat was an exciting new opportunity, but I mourned the loss of the things I felt I would rather be doing instead. I did this out of desperation and not because I chose it as a cool millennial who wanted to try the ‘off-grid life’. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that my value is not tied to my circumstance.

No matter where I am, what it looks like, or what’s happening to me, I have dignity. And so does everyone else.

 

You can intellectually know the privilege you’ve enjoyed, but you won’t understand it until you feel it

A crowd at a protest, with one protester holding a sign saying "true love is born from understanding".
Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Anyone with any sense of empathy or social justice knows the term “privilege.”

Many of us have become hyper-aware of checking our privilege in the turbulence of the current politics of the world, particularly if you are an American, like me. Until now, I have had the privilege of living a middle-class white American existence.

I thought I understood what that meant. Until…I didn’t have a toilet

The pandemic has made certain materials hard to come by while you’re building a home. I found out that composting toilets are one of the things that are on back-order for who knows how long. Over a month after I ordered my toilet, it was still showing no signs of arriving. Let me tell you, peeing in your shower is a humbling experience. Twelve dollars spent on a five-gallon bucket and a toilet seat cover to make a makeshift commode felt like luxury.

 

I will never take a toilet for granted again. And I will do my best not to judge people who don’t have the modern comforts I enjoy. You are one step away from being that other person.

Don’t forget it.

 

Stretching your comfort zone has unexpected consequences and rewards. Overcoming hardship is the price of the creative life

A placebard on a table, with the words "trust in the you of now" on it.
Photo by Lena Kudryavtseva on Unsplash

I have never been content with a safe and comfortable existence.

Maybe it’s because I’m an artist and a creative, but I see no growth inside boxes. I value and seek out a variety of experiences. This is a leap of faith and a test of trust because you will end up facing down every fear you’ve ever held. Your beliefs will be challenged. I’ve had the deepest of my darkness dredged to the surface as I’ve chosen to leap without a safety net. I never expected that it would be this hard. Physically, mentally and emotionally, this has been the most trying year of my life. I have wondered if living is really worth it. I have understood why people numb out their emotions and have wished that I knew how to do that.

Yet, I have also seen overwhelming amounts of kindness. I have learned to appreciate simple joys.

I have gotten to the core of what is most important to me.

 

Self-sufficiency is great! Ultra-independence is overrated

A person sat on the edge of a mountain, overlooking a forest.
Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Our culture values the “every-man-for-himself” mentality.

Many of us are stunted when it comes to asking for help when we need it. We will soldier on alone or die trying. Knowing that you can take care of yourself and meet your own needs is not a bad thing. It’s best to not outsource your worth to other people.

But, we live in a world of duality. Life is not worth living if we are islands. Human beings are designed as pack animals. We need each other. At our best, we enhance each other. So, maybe a part of being self-sufficient is understanding when a task is better done with assistance?

I tend to be a very independent person. Recently, I discovered that this comes from past experiences of not having my needs met. I learned that others won’t show up for me, so it’s best not to give them a chance to disappoint me. Thank goodness, I’m unlearning that twisted mindset. I could not have done the last few months and overcoming hardship that I have, alone. Reaching out for help felt like a brave thing to do. Trusting others to lift me up was an act of faith.

I learned something about love and how receiving is just as important as giving, which leads me to my next point…

 

A lot of the time, superheroes actually look like friends

A group of friends sat laughing on a bench.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

It was almost midnight the night I moved out of my apartment.

There were a few things left to do, and I broke. I called my friend, and he drove over there to let me sob as my life was falling apart. I had to move away from the support system I had built for seven years, the city that had been home to me. It wasn’t known if it would be okay, but I knew that I wasn’t alone.

I told my friend that I didn’t know how to be happy right now, that all the joy seemed to have left my life. He didn’t let more than a day or two go by without checking in on me. He invited me to game night and gave me Power Rangers comics, and I smiled again.

Another friend helped me move everything in my storage unit when I couldn’t do it by myself. Then, he turned around and made eleven curtains for me in one evening, so I would have privacy in my new place. And he drove to my new home to hang them for me.

Yet another friend accused me of selfishness. Implied that my depression was self-centred, that I should be grateful to watch my life go up in a blaze before my very eyes. After all, it could be worse. Everyone’s suffering. This did not help me.

 

Who’s there and who isn’t?

During the worst time in your life, it is fascinating to observe who steps up and shows up, and who doesn’t. Overcoming hardship doesn’t have to be a solo journey. Normally, I like to be the person giving. I hate to be the person asking. Well, I’ve had to ask and ask and ask until I feel utterly tiny. When I apologize for being in pain (which is ridiculous, and we should all stop doing that, by the way), my friends reply with, “I am here to listen,” and, “That’s what friends are for,” and, “You are not a burden.” Those words are acts of radical love in a hardened culture. Let’s do that more.

Listening without judgement is one of the most beautiful gifts a person can give another person.

 

Having clear priorities and knowing yourself deeply will help you know when to dig in your heels and when to let things go

There’s a time for compromise, and there’s a time to demand what you deserve.

Mastery is understanding which approach is appropriate for the situation you find yourself in. If you don’t know yourself, your needs, and priorities, it will be impossible to tell which is the right choice. For you. You. Someone else may have different priorities and needs. They will give you advice from that place. Keep in mind that you want to take the advice that works for you and leave the rest.

For me, home is sacred space. I need to feel comfortable in my home, and part of that is finding my space aesthetically pleasing. I will pee in a bucket, but my walls will be pretty! Some people make fun of my quirky styling tastes. During the process of building this home, some thought I was being overly picky about certain things. I didn’t get everything I wanted, and that’s ok. I didn’t expect to. But, I got the things that matter most to me, and guess what? I feel comfortable in my space. I can’t tell you what a relief that is after months of being in transition in places where I did not feel comfortable. Overcoming hardship isn’t a linear process, but it is one, nonetheless.

Fun fact: I witnessed someone try to shoot another person at one of the places I stayed. Small town Florida is charming!

 

I’m not sure how long I’ll be here, and I have no idea what this adventure will lead to. But, there’s always something to be taken from the madness that life throws at us, and I will look to the future with hope.

 

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