Gratitude for The Devil

I find it ironic that I was nervous about my Devil year when what I realized within it was that the Devil has been here for a long time, lurking in my own mind. My Devil year freed me from the Devil within, and the joy I feel in trusting and believing in myself again is unparalleled.

I knew going into 2020 that my card for the year (the Tarot card that represents the themes likely to come up again and again) was the Devil. What I didn’t know was absolutely everything else- what that meant, what to do about it, etc. So like a good little pseudo librarian, I did my research and learned that the Devil card appears when your brain chemistry is sabotaging you. When your brain whispers self-destructive secrets to itself, urging you to trust everyone but yourself. The Devil is not the harbinger of this grief, of course. It is just the messenger. The devil is there to clue you into the source of your turmoil, to tell you that this might already be happening. So, good news right off the bat.

My chosen word for 2020 was gratitude, and believe me, the irony of that fact is not lost on me. I began the year in good spirits, as we all did. I was engaged to my partner of 4 years, joyfully planning our wedding, and looking forward to becoming myself more fully than I had in previous years. I was going to commit myself to myself, ironically enough, in the year of my wedding. Specifically, I was planning to go to the Colgate Writer’s Workshop in Hamilton, NY. The intent was to workshop the new novel I began in 2019, network, and connect with a writing community, something I haven’t had since 2015.

In January and February, I was fully focused on that goal, writing, and editing frequently to get my submission ready for the writer’s workshop. My fiancé, Eli, and I were also planning a honeymoon to Italy, which we called off by the end of February. We were bookmarking Airbnbs, acquiring passports, and looking at flights when we realized— this Coronavirus thing is not blowing over anytime soon. 

In March, I officially received word that I had gotten into the workshop with a full scholarship. This was amazing news, but a few days later I was told that it would (rightfully) be canceled and that my spot would be saved for the exact course in the 2021 workshop instead. Eli was fired from his job as a coffee roaster on March 13th, and I started working from home on March 17th. Thus began the weirdest year of our lives. These two events were simultaneously the most terrifying and happiest accidents. Eli had been eagerly anticipating the day when he could start a new job, and the pandemic simply sped that process up. He spent a few months unemployed, diving into a newfound love of video games, baking bread, and making my lunch. We spent every morning and afternoon on long walks together at our beloved secret park. 

But it didn’t take long for the Devil to crop up. Again and again, he came, in the form of my most subversive thoughts. Whispering: your wedding won’t happen, you will be miserable, you will regret (what?) all of this. I felt anxious about everything, constantly looking to Eli or my parents for approval on what to do. But the thing about planning a wedding (or doing literally anything) during a pandemic, is that no one can tell you the right thing to do. You have to decide for yourself what is right.

When I got in a car accident at 18 outside the community college I despised attending, my entire world shattered. It was like something outside of myself was telling me, “So, real quick- you don’t want any of this, you never did, and it took this devastation for you to not only realize it, but to do something about it.”

For a long time, I credited that accident for putting me on an ultimately better path in life. This instilled in me something insidious that has taken me until now to puzzle out. The trauma of this event (and a few others since) has taught me that I can’t trust myself. I don’t know my own self well enough to know what I want, and if I don’t do things right on my own, someday, something traumatic will happen to set me right again, like Lakitu in Mario Kart. Not trusting myself is worse than any other mental illness I’ve experienced, because it feeds all of them. When I’m depressed, I think: “I am completely indifferent to my life, and that’s good, I should be, because I’m nothing.” But not trusting myself sews seeds of anxiety that keeps the cycle going. Who am I? What do I want? I have no idea. But I do know one thing. “I. Dont. Trust. That. Bitch!” And down we go.

In the aftermath of my accident, I was taught by professionals and those closest to me to trust my feelings over all else. Take them as signs. But 18-year-old baby Fran who couldn’t differentiate between thoughts and feelings interpreted that as trust your thoughts, every last one. The problem is that my thoughts are like weeds in that they pop up out of nowhere, and need no nourishment to not only survive but thrive, overtaking my precious brain space with their gnarly, knotted, thorny stems. In short, my thoughts have been known to be absolute batshit on occasion.

The only reason I’m in a good enough place to write this right now, after an ugly bout of this batshittery, is because I actually tuned into my feelings for once. In doing so, I realized that what I’m upset about is that I feel like I can’t trust myself like someone else is always in control and it isn’t me. Sure, none of us have control, and I should accept that. But it’s more than that. A part of me believes that someone else (in the sky perhaps?) knows exactly what should be happening to me, and they see all the ways in which I am fucking that plan up daily, and they’re just constantly shaking their head in disgust at my ineptitude. 

If you had told me in January that the biggest thing I would accomplish in 2020 would be to forgive myself for my car accident, I would’ve told you that you were crazier than me. Forgive myself? Why would I do that? I’m not holding anything against myself for that accident. (Jim looks directly into the camera.) But eventually, that’s exactly what I did.

The times when I was happiest this year were the times when I trusted myself. When I wholeheartedly threw myself behind myself, backed myself up, and defended myself. In June, Eli and I decided to downsize our wedding and change the venue. This was far from an easy decision, as the common rhetoric at that point was that things would somehow be back to normal by October when we planned to get married. But we trusted ourselves, and we trusted each other above all else. In the hazy heat of August, I drove myself down the middle of nowhere, Trump-country roads to my Grandfather’s funeral, listening to Writers & Lovers and remembering who I was and want to be the whole way there. I spent four days with my siblings at our family’s lake house, recalibrating after this loss. In October, Eli and I got married in our magical park with only immediate family and a few close friends and had a tiny reception on my Maid of Honor’s back deck. I cannot convey with words how certain and boundless I felt in making that enormous choice that day. In November, I started writing blog posts, making weekly videos, and working on my novel again, finally making good on the new year’s promise to commit to myself. At the end of November, I started a daily guided meditation practice, investing my time in my own nourishment.

Though I wouldn’t have thought it possible in March (and at so many other moments throughout this year), I accomplished much of what I intended to in the dumpster fire year of 2020. Throughout all of the ups and downs, I remained grateful and optimistic, sometimes naively so. Gratitude tethered me to the positive in my reality, and the Devil, shockingly enough, urged me to look past myself and see that things weren’t as bad as they seemed.  I believe it was that gratitude that helped me begin to trust myself again. Let’s be honest, I haven’t fully gotten there yet.

by Francesca Swick

Francesca Swick is a weird little sandwich. She is a writer, filmmaker, and co-host of the mental health podcast CrazyAF. Her goal in all artistic endeavors is to give voice to mental illness, portray it realistically and hopefully, and help those suffering by telling her own story. Her skills include thinking of terrible puns and picking the exact right number of crackers for a plate of cheese. She lives in Manlius, New York with her coffee roaster husband and their future cat, Ghost. Their initials are E, F, G.


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