This January has been tough.  Though to be fair, most Januarys are difficult for me–and not just because of the struggle to zip my jeans post-holiday-feasting.  January means a new calendar year.  For me, it also means another year of life.  There were thirty-three candles on my birthday cake this past Monday–or there would have been if I’d had a birthday cake.  It’s cold, it’s damp, and it gets dark at 4:00 in the afternoon.  And on top of all of this, it is suddenly halfway through the school year.  You’d think this would be something to celebrate.  But you’d be wrong.  It is shocking how quickly the time goes, whether you are having fun or not.

I did something today I’d not done in 362 days–I looked at the first draft of the book I started during my year off.  In fact, for the very first time, I printed the entire thing out (one of the few benefits of having a day job is access to a semi-functional printer-for-which-you-do-not-buy-the-ink).  I know that I’d not looked at it in 362 days because Google Docs tells me that the last time I updated my most recent chapter was January 19th, 2012.

I haven’t looked at my book–the book that I was so passionate about for months and months–for almost an entire year.

Even now, it is difficult to face.  It’s sitting there in a folder, chapters dutifully stapled together (not using a work-issued stapler, because public school office supplies really, really suck), being most-of-a-first-draft.  I have no idea if the editor who was interested in in over a year ago is still interested; hell, I have no idea if that editor is even still alive.  But I printed it out today.  And that, at least, is something.

In my constant quest to share my lessons–and mistakes–with the world so that others may learn from them, I thought I’d address the real reason I gave up working on it.  I’ve given many reasons (er, excuses) over the past year.  These reasons were, at best, examples of extremely-stretched truth.  Some of these reasons included:

-I decided to focus on my blog, thus building a better author platform (excuse).

-I spent all of my time looking for a job and didn’t have time to work on it (outright lie).

-I was afraid to fail (excuse).

-I fell out of love with it (lie).

-I decided to travel and have fun during my year off, because I knew I’d be returning to work (excuse and lie).

None of those reasons are the real reason why my poor little book–so lovingly and obsessively researched and outlined–may never see the light of day.  The real reason isn’t something I’ve ever admitted to anyone, but it’s an important lesson, so I’m going to share it with the world right now.

The reason I did not finish my book is because I allowed myself to be brought down by an extremely toxic person.

You’ll note that I’m not blaming this person.  The grammar of that-which-I-just-admitted places the blame solely on me.  The key term is ‘I allowed myself to’.  Totally my fault.  And totally something that can be avoided.

When I started ‘liking’ things like this on Facebook, I knew I had a problem.

Back when I announced that I was taking a year off, I met a lot of doubtful people.  You’ll recall me talking about the ‘good luck’ wishes dripping with sarcasm.  This was–and is–to be expected.  Any time anyone does anything remotely out-of-the-ordinary, it scares many people who are perfectly happy with being ordinary.  But I anticipated this, so it didn’t phase me.

What I did not anticipate was the slow erosion of self-confidence that occurs with prolonged exposure to a toxic person.  And it’s really frighteningly easy to fall in with a toxic person–or group of toxic people (I’ve found they tend to travel in herds) during a career break.  Think about it–you just left a job you (most likely) didn’t love.  You are suddenly free to do whatever you want whenever you want.  You lost all of the structure in your life.  If, like me, most of your friends were colleagues, you also lost most of them, too.  You’ve created a void in your life, and it is extremely important to only fill that void with positive, supportive people.

I did the opposite.

In a perfect world, a wise career breaker would make sure they have a support group in place even before their last day of work–kind of like loading up on vitamin C before flu season.  I’m not sure how to do this, but I’m confident it is possible.  And I’m even more confident that it is necessary.

So here I sit, 362 days later, staring at my book-in-a-folder.  I’ve long since removed the negative person from my life, but the negativity remains.  It’s like…radiation.  Or dog hair.  Yes.  It is exactly like dog hair.

I guess I just need to find an emotional-lint-brush somewhere and get the hell back to work.