Don’t look back.
If I could give myself one piece of advice, that would be it. I would tell myself this, again and again, year after year. I’d whisper it in my ear as I stare out the window, dreaming of my youth. I’d say it and tug on my arm when I look at my brother, remembering how we played together so long ago. I’d scream it to myself when I walk away from my dad, remembering how I’d run up and hug him after he came home from work back in preschool. I’d slap myself in the face and tell myself, “don’t look back” as I cried over the years for so many people….
I guess I’ve always been sort of a nostalgic person. I used to keep journals and scribble my thoughts furiously, telling myself that they’d someday matter. I hang onto pictures, pour through them and will myself to relive the happiness I felt in them. I replay my memories like an annoying film montage that can’t ever seem to pause. The past holds so much knowledge, so many mistakes, and I constantly search through it so that my future may end up differently…or the same.
But I’m trying to stop this. My nostalgia gets me in trouble because it plays on all the softness in my heart. In those moments when I long for the closeness I once felt for my family, guilt, pain, and anger start appearing. When I remember my happy childhood I often feel sad, because it ended too soon. And when I think of the good times, the times I’ll never get back with the people I’ll never get back…well, then I start questioning. Did it have to end up that way? What did I do wrong?
What. Did. I. Do. Wrong.
That used to be the thing I whispered to myself in nights spent alone. Instead of advice, I repeated that question to myself, gradually chipping away at my self-esteem. The depression that kept coming back to me came back through my memories. It attached itself to my past, sucking away all the happiness I once felt and leaving emptiness, leaving blame. If the present sucked, it was my fault. And everyone knows you can’t repeat history. But I tried, anyway.
I went back again and again to the same relationships, the same friendships, because I loved those people and I missed them. But what I loved and missed more were how they once made me feel…whole. Happy. I had so much trouble letting go, because I was always looking over my shoulder, wanting to make the past a reality again.
But things can’t be undone, can they? A fight will always be remembered; the words said can never be unsaid. The carelessness that someone gave toward your heart will always leave behind a new insecurity, just like a love once felt will always leave behind some pain. Even though I would try my hardest to rekindle laughs, wild nights of summer, unhinged passion, and unblemished trust…I failed. Those friendships would fade again when I wasn’t looking, and those relationships withered away in my hands.
So I tell myself, “Don’t look back.”
It’s true, the past will always be a part of the present; I cannot pretend to be indifferent to the things I once held so dear. But the past doesn’t have to remain my vicious cycle of retracing my steps. I can accept my mistakes; I can let go of the rose-colored glasses peering into my recollections. The past was never perfect, just like the present, and I can’t let myself cherry-pick the good times. Life goes on…One happy memory can always be followed by another, and sometimes you find happiness where you don’t expect it to be.
By welding my own destiny, and following the path of the present I can move on. So when I dwell on the dysfunction of my family, I think of how independent it has made me. When I feel the sting of rejection from old friends who have turned into strangers, I remind myself of the new friendships I have created. And yes, even when my stomach drops in disappointment when recalling the relationships that have gone awry…I manage to hold strong, reminding myself why things ended the way they did. Because I find that the older I get, the more I define my experiences, instead of the other way around. If I’m looking back at my past I won’t get to see what’s coming up next. Life moves forward so I look forward…So I can look forward to life.
This weekend I went to Florida to visit my cousin. It was decided about three weeks ago, while I was at work running around and stressed, that I needed a vacation. Amidst all the chaos of the dinner rush, I was worrying about my ex and my feelings and the upcoming school year…just worrying, freaking out, stressing out, and doing it all at the wrong time. Fuck, I thought to myself, this is how I’ve spent my whole summer. Just working at this mediocre job and putting off all the things I’d say I’d do. So instead of working on promises I made to myself like reading a book or trying my hand at painting, I decided to take up my cousin’s offer from March to come visit her in Florida. I texted her right then and there, and we planned my visit for later in the month.
The next morning I woke up and thought, Oh god what did I do? It’s not like my cousin and I were close—there’s almost a ten-year gap in our ages, and the only real time we had spent together was when she helped me get her old college job when I decided to go to the same university she went to. Shortly after that bonding, she packed her bags and moved to Florida, and we hadn’t talked much since. So what was I doing, going to stay with her? What would we do or even talk about? I shook my head and cursed my impulsiveness…this was one plan I couldn’t back out of.
Luckily, I found a cheap round-trip flight that lasted the weekend. I was able to take off work, and my cousin was able to pick me up at the airport. Before I knew it, I was on a plane. Just like my trip to Central America, I had zero expectations and told myself that no matter what I’d make the best of this trip. So that was Friday. And now, in the wee hours of Monday morning, all that is left of my mini vacation is the trip back home.
Surprisingly, this trip has given me a lot of fresh perspective. I thought I’d use this time to think, sort out the jumble of feelings in my head and figure out what I’d like my future to look like, but instead I was a sponge absorbing the life my cousin has built for herself.
To give you some background, my cousin moved to Florida with her boyfriend about two years ago. One year ago, the relationship dissolved and left her in a state where she hardly knew anyone, in a lonely apartment, and in a relationship status she hadn’t been in for ten years. But she stuck around, because she had a good job and a lease to maintain. Basically, she had to rebuild her life and figure out who she was again. (Sound vaguely familiar?)
I’ve come to witness her strength and resilience despite all the crap that she’s been through. It’s pretty inspiring, though she still remains unsure of herself and what her future will be. She still gets lonely and sad about the whole thing, for sure, but she’s also very determined, and it’s damn impressive. On her fridge is a message she wrote to herself about remaining positive…in her apartment is a bunch of decorations she’s recently bought to make the place seem more homey and like hers…all weekend she practiced training with her dog because they are in an obedience class…on her counter is a routine of exercises she’s working on in order to become more fit…in her stories is a new family of friends that she’s grown close to and relies upon—she is moving forward and trying new things, for her. Watching it all in front of me, I wondered, when was the last time I did something I wanted to do for myself, by myself? I never could come up with answer.
On Saturday night we took a walk on the beach. Moonlight guided our bare feet through the sand as we discussed things like traveling abroad and surviving our teen years. I realized that everything I was talking about with her was actually about myself and my own private experiences, and not something I had done or shared with someone else. Her stories were very much the same. It made me feel like my life was my own, like I felt back in high school before I had ever dated or back when I went off to college. Why don’t I feel like this all the time? Just because I’m in a relationship doesn’t mean my life isn’t my own…why does this feel different from my everyday life back at home? Suddenly all the personal baggage I imagined revealing to my cousin didn’t need to be poured out…I didn’t want to confide or be consoled…I wanted to make new experiences, just like my cousin.
From the time I was seventeen, I have hidden myself in the security of relationships for fear of loneliness, depression, and asking myself the big questions: what do I really want? Why am I not doing it? What is holding me back? Subconsciously, this effort to protect myself has been the backbone of almost every problem in the last three years…every moment of uncertainty, of choosing a path, of moving forward has been about protecting my relationship with someone or developing my relationship with someone. And where has it gotten me? Scrambling inside my head, still questioning whether all of my decisions are the right ones. Fuck, I thought, maybe I should just quit the mental dialogue and just do the things I want to do. Sometimes life doesn’t need to have some big fairy tale lesson or conclusion.
Being on your own is harder than relying on a partner during the everyday issues we encounter in life. But on your own, you learn so much more…this weekend I learned that I like eating fruit in the morning and doing puzzles while a movie is on in the background. I learned that I like reading before bed and that snacking on cheese, meat, and crackers with wine is sometimes preferable to eating a regular meal. I learned that I love walking on the beach barefoot at night, and that walking around outside in the afternoon breeze can be just as relaxing as staying indoors. So when I go home later today I’m going to try to take some of this with me. I’m going to make more of an effort to take care of myself, for myself. I don’t want to keep waiting until shit hits the fan—until I’m forced to—to take some time out for the things I want. I’m going to go out and find what I’m looking for…status quo be damned.
For the past month, I’ve been receiving treatment for my depression via an outpatient program run by a nearby hospital. For three days a week, four hours a day, I am immersed in a world of people who know I have severe depression before they know anything else about me. Together, we all sit in a room and deal with our messed up lives. It’s an interesting experience.
The first day of outpatient is usually the worst. You walk into this place thinking, “This probably won’t work…” “What am I even doing here?” or “God, could things get any worse?” It’s like being in a zoo, only you’re the animals and spectators…you feel like everyone is looking at you, wondering why you’re here, but at the same time you are looking at everyone else and wondering why they are here, too. It’s a room full of strangers who know you have a mental illness before members of your family or your closest friends do. You are instantly humbled, and incredibly defense. “What will these people want from me?” you might wonder. Yet in outpatient, questions never last long…
The day begins in community group, where everyone in the program (roughly 30 people) congregate in a big room and listen to the group leader read off a little thing called “The Daily Promise”. “The Daily Promise” is a book that has a passage for each day that asks you to think about your life, your choices, and your attitude. For instance, one day might ask you to contemplate whether you dwell on the past, present, or future. The group leader will then go around and ask everyone this, and then offer some bit of advice about their situation. It’s not really met to be therapeutic so much as it is meant to start your day off with some positivity, and get you to hold yourself accountable for your feelings and choices. It’s also a little bit of social time, where you ask about people’s weekends and if they caught the game last night. Some people tend to utilize this more than others. You have a strange set of cliques: the middle-aged ladies who discuss cooking recipes, the middle-aged men who are gruff and bitch about traffic, the really old people who make occasional small talk to the people next to them, the young women who are gossipy and thrive on scandal, the young guys who talk about the same stuff you heard from guys in middle and high school, and finally the quiet people, who sit there and do anything except talk to other people. The cliques are present, but fade when it’s time to open up.
There’s a strange sense of community at outpatient. People say hi to another or smile even when they’ve never spoken to each other. While people may ask why you’re there, there’s never judgement in their voices or criticism in their advice. Everyone understands the hoops you must jump through when dealing with health insurance, and everyone takes some kind of medication. We are each other’s community, and we understand each other in a way that most people in our lives don’t. While my parents or friends don’t understand how or why I can say in bed for days, people in outpatient nod their heads and murmur “I know what you mean” in agreement. When I mention not having the energy to see or talk to people, other patients offer suggestions while everyone else asks, “Why?” Even though the people in outpatient don’t necessarily know your story or know who you are, most of them know how you feel, which is a really big deal.
In the real world, no one talks about their problems or struggles with them due to abnormal brain functioning. In outpatient, everyone has problems, everyone has an illness. You look at people and see that they have a history, a whole story that leads them to where they sit in front of you, and you see the possibilities in life. I see old men grieving for a spouse they had for forty years. I see middle-aged men fighting their addictions for their families. I see women who have been beaten up and betrayed by those who claimed to have loved them, and I see children who yearn for parents that love them as they are. We all have problems, we all could be worse off, yet we are here, we are surviving. Everyone in the room is trying and fighting for their life, for their happiness. And it gives you a sense of hope in the world…all from a bunch of strangers.
The day continues with group therapy. You’re assigned to a room with about ten people total, and throughout the day two or three therapists come in to give lessons or facilitate conversation. This is where you learn the famous coping skills, the relaxation techniques, and the tips for effective communication. It’s also where you are put on the spot and asked about your life. You hear a lot of stories in group…from spontaneous marriages and trouble with the law, to dead-end jobs and ungrateful families. Some people open up right away and others need prying. But we all get our turn to say what matters, and why. It’s been in these group meetings where I’ve discovered something I had long forgotten: that I have a voice.
Outpatient has given me a strange sort of confidence boost and slap in the face all at once. After many weeks, and many contemplative conversations (not to mention getting on meds), I’ve sort of woken up from my depression fog. The colors and happiness in the world are coming into focus, and actually seem within reach. By getting out of bed, driving to the hospital, and spending a significant amount of time with the sole intent of bettering myself, I feel productive and proud of myself for the first time in ages. I’m accomplishing something that is difficult but necessary, and I’m doing it because I am worth it. After months of a downward spiral, I’ve finally gained the motivation to start fixing my life, one baby step at a time. This isn’t to say that I haven’t gone over the mistakes that I’ve made. I look at the things I am learning, the skills I am building, and see all the times I should have used them. Throughout my depression I’ve broken a lot of trust, hurt many feelings, and pushed away a lot of wonderful people. Some of it I can fix, but others I’ll just have to learn from. Acceptance is a major part of healing, especially when there’s a mental illness involved, so accepting my mistakes and letting go of my self-hatred have been essential during my time in outpatient
I know no matter how much I describe it, there will always be people who don’t understand outpatient, or why I needed it. Depression is an invisible illness, and a lot of people have trouble accepting that, especially when treatment is expensive and/or intense. But, for the people who are reading this and learning about my experience in outpatient, I hope what you take away from this blog post is that you never know how deeply treatment can effect and help someone, so please do not judge it. Anytime anyone admits to having a problem and commits to fixing it, they are taking a fundamental step toward recovery. So remember that recovery takes time, and looks different for each person. I don’t know how long my recovery will take, and I don’t know how long I will be on meds, or struggle with depression, but I do know this: I am a strong person, I deserve to be happy, and I’m glad I chose to go to outpatient.
Everyone in their 20’s can relate to the same struggle: figuring out which path in life you would like to take. Even when you outgrow your 20’s, it seems that many people are still searching for this answer in their 30’s and even 40’s or 50’s. This is a dilemma I’ve written about again and again, and though this seems to be a recurring theme in every problem I encounter I am no closer to finding my path. Or am I?
Tomorrow I’m getting on a plane to Central America. My reasoning for buying this ticket to a country I’ve never been to and my reasoning for going are very distinct—I bought the ticket because I was in love and I wanted salvation for my relationship. I’m getting on the plane because I am in search of inspiration and direction in my life, and after a severe bout of depression I need to do something kind for myself. Also it was a nonrefundable ticket.
Back in January, I was in a long distance relationship and my partner had just moved to Central America. I was incredibly sad and lonely, and my depression was creeping back into my life. So I bought the ticket as an incentive for myself to keep going, and something me and my partner could remember in our moments of doubt. I thought that if I liked being there enough, maybe I could briefly move there during the summer, and then wait for my partner to move back to the U.S. in December. Life had other plans, though. My relationship disintegrated, my depression worsened, and my ability to plan for the future vanished. But the plane ticket was still there, waiting for me.
Now, in the present, my circumstances are different. My plans for the summer are school and work back home where I grew up. I’m transferring schools, finding a new job, and exploring a different relationship. Everything I’ve recently done has been to better myself, and instead of worrying about someone thousands of miles away, I’m preoccupied with changing my life in helpful ways. So I’m using that plane ticket, getting on that plane, and spending a week in Central America.
After my life went to hell in February, time kept moving faster and faster. This trip has sort of snuck up on me, and honestly I don’t think it will feel real until my mom drops me off at the airport tomorrow morning. I’m excited but hesitant…my life has reached a steady rhythm and I’m nervous to disrupt the balance again. Especially because it means spending a week with my ex Jessie, who doesn’t exactly encourage my more rational side. Jessie brings up our old relationship all the time, and I’m worried he’s going to forget that there’s no relationship left. He’s in Central America, I’m in the U.S., end of story. I’ve moved on, and so has he. Nothing good can come from beating a dead horse.
Right now I’m done with planning out my future within relationships. In a few years it might be more realistic to start doing that, but until then I just want to enjoy the moment. After all, I need to find my passion and indulge that while I’m young and I still can. So I’m pursuing my passion for travel right now, and then hopefully pursuing my passion for creativity when I get back to the states. What was once a trip about figuring out the future for Jessie and I has become a trip about reawakening my hunger for life. I was severely depressed, I made changes and started to recover, I found stability, and now it is time to wake up again, and start my life over. I’m embarking on a path, and seeing where else my life can take me.
Sometimes people have the luxury of reducing their identity down to one thing. “I’m a writer.” “I’m a partner to SoandSo.” “I’m a student.” “I’m a traveler.” “I’m a democrat.” You get my drift. This can be a really nice thing, because it can give a person a sense of purpose, a direction for their life. Or, even if it doesn’t give a direction, it can soothe the existential crisis in their hearts because they finally have a name for who they are—they can put a word to a feeling. But not all people have this luxury; some people feel hopeless disconnection with the rest of the world and everyone in it.
I bet you can guess which type of person I am right now.
When most people are going through a rough time they stop and examine their identities—you know, they start hanging out with their friends, they pick up an old hobby, they go home to their family. Going back to your roots is an important part of the healing process, because it reminds you that you used to exist (and do an adequate job of existing) before your crisis. But sometimes a person has nothing to go back to—nothing seems to quench the pain, nothing is comforting enough to cling onto. So they spiral…they are like a dying star, collapsing onto themselves until they implode. And when they implode, everyone likes to shrug and say stuff like, “Well, if they needed help so badly, they could have come to me. Geez, it’s not that complicated.”
Here’s the thing, it is complicated. When a person without an identity or a support system has depression, their first instinct is basically everything you know they shouldn’t do. They don’t want to call a friend, they don’t want to go to the doctor, they don’t want to go see a funny movie and they don’t want to take a hot bath. The first instincts of depression always are along the lines of: do nothing, say nothing, pretend everything is fine, curl up in a ball and cry, stare at the walls until you don’t feel anything, drink until you don’t feel anything, smoke until you don’t feel anything, do anything that makes you feel nothing, entertain ideas about walking out in front of traffic, etc. And this isn’t a little devil on your shoulder telling you to do these things, it’s your brain. Your brain, the essence of who you are, is telling you to essentially give up. Not only is that completely fucked up, it’s heartbreaking.
So what’s a person to do? You can’t trust your brain, you can’t go to other people for help because there’s no one left to really go to, and you can’t fall back on who you are because you don’t know who you are. You’re stuck, hopelessly stuck in a life you hate and in a situation that destroys you.
This is where I’m at right now readers, and the thing is, I don’t have any answers. I know I need to be back on meds because therapy alone doesn’t seem to be enough, so that’s something, but the meds will take a month to kick in, and I need something that’s going to help right now. Should I quit school? Should I run away? These don’t seem like the right answers either. I don’t want to throw away my life when I know my grandpa would be here if he could, so killing myself is out of the question. But staying this way seems to be impossible. What do I do?
No one is left, readers, no one but my mom and Fred, and they are far away. Maybe I should move back home. Maybe I should be institutionalized. The only thing I can think to do is listen to my heart, to trust my heart. But my heart is just crying.
I look back at my life and see a person who tried to do the right thing. But sometimes it isn’t enough. Sometimes you try your whole life to be happy and you fail. But I’m not dead yet—this depression I’ve been struggling with since I was twelve might kill me one day, but today I’m alive. So I’ve got to keep trying.
I don’t have an identity, I don’t have any friends I can reach out to, I don’t have a partner, I don’t have a family I can talk to. But I’ve got my depression. I guess that is the only thing I will always have, forever and ever.
(The title of this post was formed via Google Translate. If it’s inaccurate, please read the rest of this post to find out why I don’t care.)
My mom has met Jessie a few times, and after both times I would pull her aside and like most women, ask, “So what do ya think??” And each time, my mom has said the same thing: “I just don’t know how much you two have in common.” Most of the time, I remember this and get defensive, reasoning away in my head that Jessie and I are great together. But sometimes, sometimes…..I wonder what we really do have in common.
You know how most couples have those few topics where they will just never come to an agreement? Well for Jessie and I, one of them is Spanish. Like most Americans, I took two years of Spanish in high school, managed to get an A all four semesters, but never learned a thing. And that was totally fine with me, because after the first week I realized that learning a language is hard and if you’re not passionate about it/you won’t use it/you don’t grow up speaking it, then you’re going to hate it, because it will feel like a waste of time. And it was a waste of time, because when I went to college I had to take three semesters of a foreign language anyway, and since I never learned any Spanish I decided to try a completely different language. So until I met Jessie, I never gave Spanish a second thought.
But Jessie…Jessie LOVES Spanish. I mean, it’s his obsession. No matter how well he can speak it, it never seems to be enough. He’s completely fluent, but he can’t stand the small things that set him apart from native speakers. Hell, Spanish is the reason he moved to Central America (that, and to get un-“stuck” from the college town where I live and he used to live). Jessie’s whole life seems to be Spanish—he speaks it all day, every day. But ever since I told him I’d visit him after he moved to Central America he’s been hell-bent that I learn it.
Here’s the problem: when Jessie gets all worked up about something, he wants everyone in his life to do the same. When we first started dating it was yoga. He begged me to do yoga with him all the time. And then biking. And trying the vegan food he cooked. And henna. One by one, he would pick up a new kick and try to get me to partake in it with him. And I tried for a while there—I did yoga sometimes, I got out my old bike and tried riding again, I did henna and tried not to make a face whenever I ate the vegan stuff put in front of me. But it wasn’t for me; the only thing I really seemed to enjoy for myself out of those activities was biking, and I only liked to do that by myself because then if I fell or ran into something no one would be there to see it. The point is, I tried, and I tried for Jessie. But I won’t try Spanish.
See, after a while I just got tired of working up interest and optimism in things I wasn’t so interested in. “Try new things,” I’d tell myself, “Keep an open mind.” But usually after trying it the first time, my mind’s door would slam shut. Where Jessie had endless energy, I felt exhausted, where he craved stimulation, I craved solitude and/or quiet. His extraversion and my introversion were batting heads, so I just decided to give up. “Be yourself,” I finally said instead, “do what makes you happy, and be honest.” So I started refusing the vegan food, and stopped feigning interest in yoga. Don’t get me wrong—I was always supportive and pleasant about it, and usually said something like, “No thanks, but feel free to go ahead. I’ll be right here.” But it always disappointed Jessie; I could tell he didn’t like getting no for an answer.
All this comes back to the Spanish. “You’re going to need to learn Spanish if you’re going to be here,” he keeps saying, and I keep replying, “I’m only going to be there for a week!” It’s so frustrating. Sometimes I think Jessie is trying so hard to be Latino that he can’t fathom anyone who is happy being American. “Bring jeans to wear,” he’ll tell me, “everyone wears jeans here.” “I’ll bring whatever I want to wear,” I say back, “I don’t care about fitting in. I’m white and I can only speak English; I’m already not going to fit in.” I can tell he looks down upon the fact that I’m unwilling to learn Spanish even though it is the native language in the area, but I’m not going to learn flawless Spanish in the course of a month. There is a significant amount of tourism in the area that we’ll be in, and most of those tourists are white and speak English, so many people in the area know how to speak it too. I’m not saying that local language shouldn’t be respected or acknowledged, but I would never ask someone who didn’t want to learn English to learn it if they wanted to visit New York City or L.A., or even if they wanted to live in the U.S. (although that would be pretty hard if they didn’t know someone who could translate).
I just get so frustrated with him because he can’t stand it when things don’t go his way, or he can’t control a situation. He keeps pushing and pushing until people give in, but the thing is I won’t give in—I’m just as stubborn as he is, and I hate it when people tell me what to do. And it would be one thing if it were just as simple as “I don’t want to learn Spanish,” but it’s not. I get insecure because I feel like Jessie is constantly trying to change me so I’m like him, and while I do like to try new things and do activities that my significant other likes, I want him to like me for who I am rather than who he is.
And I don’t care about Spanish, I really don’t. I think it’s nice that it makes Jessie happy, but that’s it. I mean, it’s important that I know a few phrases in Spanish for safety reasons before I travel, but I don’t want to know anything that’s not completely necessary. I don’t have a passion for Spanish, and I’m not embarrassed that I’m an American. (Although I wouldn’t exactly say I’m super proud to be one either–America has done some really stupid things, and running off to live in The Netherlands, U.K., Australia, or France wouldn’t bother me a bit. Even if I would have to potentially learn Dutch.)
Sometimes I get envious of the fact that Jessie is passionate about so many things, and other times I feel sad for him. I feel like the difference between me and him is that he distracts himself from what’s going on inside, and I dwell on it. Neither way is better or worse, but they both have their downsides. Jessie can never be anywhere too long because he gets restless/the distraction never lasts, and I can’t seem to find anything I’m passionate about because I get too wrapped up in my head.
I never share anything that means something to me because I’m afraid people will disregard it. Jessie shares everything with everyone because he’s eager for someone to agree or relate. Sometimes I think that it’s not that we necessarily have too much or too little in common, but it’s that we are two opposite sides of the same coin.
The best way to make a change in your life and how you feel about it is to start trying new things. Everybody knows this, but we all sort of get busy with our lives and push new ideas aside because it’s so much easier to stick with our old routine. Sometimes, though, you’ve just got to go ahead and put on your big girl panties, suck it up and put yourself out there.
As a person who has a lot of anxiety about interacting with people, this is no easy task for me. Sometimes hanging out with my own friends can be tiring and nerve-racking, so making new ones is not something I’m especially good at or used to. But after weeks of talking about it with my therapist, I’ve finally found some motivation to take the plunge and actually try.
So what am I trying? Well, it’s just baby steps for now, but I’ve been focusing on: a) Cutting back on people-pleasing so damn much and actually doing what’s right for me, b) Making more of an effort to socialize with my roommates and in general, and c) Trying things that I am interested in instead of just letting opportunities slip by. How I’ve been doing this is: a) I told my roommates I want to live somewhere else this fall. I just can’t live with pets anymore without some sort of allergic reaction, and even though that’s not my fault, I was really dreading the idea of telling them I want to move out. I didn’t want them to think I was being unreasonable or hurt their feelings, so I really considered just staying where I’m at, but in the long run I know moving out is the better choice for me. b) On Monday nights I set aside time to watch The Bachelor with my roommates. Honestly, I think the show is super sexist and ridiculous, but it’s something they enjoy, and I like watching it with them because we all add our own commentary. It’s a good bonding activity, especially when we break out the wine. c) I’ve been searching for a club to join this semester that fits in with my schedule and is something I maybe won’t get the opportunity to do after college. So next week I’m going to a Tango Club meeting, because I suck at dancing and I’d like to be better at it. I’m not setting up any high expectations—I’ll go, and if I like it I’ll keep going. If I don’t like it, I won’t go, and I’ll probably try to find some sort of craft club to join. My therapist used an interesting metaphor for this; she said that it was sort of like gardening, where right now is the time to just try to plant a bunch of seeds. Some of them won’t grow into anything, but others hopefully will, and after time they can turn into something great that I can pick and make into jam or some shit. So basically, I’ve got to try some new things, find what I like, stick to the ones I enjoy the most, and eventually it will bring me a sense of purpose or some friends or at least a fun way to spend a Wednesday night. (For all of you non-therapy goers, metaphors always turn up eventually, even though it’s so stereotypical, and they are almost always something strange that sound stupid in any other situation.) Anyway, I’m planting my seeds, readers. Hopefully something will grow.
In other news, I’ve also had some good changes with Jessie, my ex-partner living in Central America. Since allowing each other to see other people, we’ve become more honest with another and more realistic about our relationship. Now that I feel less pressure to tie my future to his*, I actually feel more inclined to. But I’m not making any sort of promises still, because there’s more work I need to do about figuring out how I want my life to be. In a strange way, I think we are sort of better than ever at this point.
Being honest means I’ve fessed up to seeing someone else in the past few weeks. Now, by “seeing someone” I just mean hanging out and intimacy—it is not a relationship with labels and I intend to keep it that way. Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed spending time with this guy (who will be anonymous for now) and it has taught me a lot about the kind of person I am looking for. After looking back at some of my old relationships I now see them in a different light; where I once thought I had serious, adult love I recognize that it was young, foolish love that was based on a naïve dream. Now I know that while it is fun to spend time with people who are free spirits and idealists in your 20’s, the person I want to marry one day is someone I could count on, who is responsible and reliable. And that’s not to say that free spirits and idealists aren’t great people…I just know now that I’m going to need someone who I can both dream with, and conquer reality with.
I had a funny sort of inspiration for all of these realizations lately. Yesterday I was sitting in my car outside my therapist’s office, looking out the window, and thinking about what it would be like if I were pregnant. Mind you, I have no desire to be a mother any time soon, but since I’ve lost track of my periods I was a little concerned about this at the time. (Just for the record, though, I’m not pregnant.) Anyway, I sat there picturing myself with a little boy who was mine and I suddenly saw this attainable version of myself that I’d like to be someday. I was independent, and I trusted my instincts though I was sometimes scared, and I stuck to important values that I wanted to pass on to my kid. Values like being honest instead of proud, being kind and fair, especially when you don’t agree with someone, and learning about the things you don’t understand instead of dismissing them. I know it sounds sort of silly, but when you think of the life you’d like to give to someone you love with all of your heart, it becomes clear what you think people deserve. And I think if you can take that idea of life, and apply it to yourself instead, you realize that maybe you deserve that too.
So this is my journey in becoming someone I can admire and aspire to. It’s not going to be easy (in fact, it will most likely be pretty uncomfortable as I push myself to do new things), and it’s going to take time and work, but I’m trying because at the end of the day if I tried, at least I did something different.
*In the past, I’ve used she/her or they/them pronouns for Jessie (or tried just avoiding using pronouns altogether), however recently I learned that Jessie’s correct pronouns are he/him, so that’s what I’m going to start using!
I didn’t plan it like this. I have no plan. Maybe that’s a problem, maybe it’s not.
Last night I suddenly found myself asking my partner for a break. It was incredibly hard, because a) I still love her very much b) I knew she would not be happy about taking a break c) I absolutely hate disappointing her, and generally anything that makes her unhappy. But it was the right thing to do, and I have to keep telling myself that despite all of the guilt I feel.
It’s not like I’m unhappy being with her. On the contrary, she makes me so happy and content with life. But there are things I need to learn about myself, and I need to learn them alone. Like, for instance, how to have a life a part from my relationships. I disappear in the people I love, and I stop doing what I need and do what they need instead. And that’s not the worst quality to have, I know, but it’s not fair and it’s not what I want. I want to be able to love someone and be self-reliant at the same time. I want relationships that are healthy, and not functioning as my lifeboat.
She’s an amazing person. She makes me laugh, holds me when I cry, surprises me all the time, and inspires me to pursue my dreams. But the thing is, I don’t know what my dreams are anymore. And while I was happy to be with her, even long distance, I found myself trying to live through her. I would wait for our Skype conversations each night, and her texts each morning. Everything else was just passing time. So I found myself questioning if that was the kind of life I wanted to live for the next two months, until I see her again.
It boils down to this: I’m not ready for the kind of serious relationship where you start thinking in terms of years from now. I’m only 21, and I have so much left to figure out about what I want in life. I don’t want to decide who I’m going to marry because I haven’t even decided when, where, and how I’m going to grad school. I haven’t decided what kind of career I want to have. I haven’t decided where I want to live, where I want to travel, or even where I’m going to live this fall when my lease is up on my current apartment. I’m just not ready, and I’d rather be honest about that than try to make promises I can’t keep.
It hit both of us last night when my partner (ex-partner?….sigh) said, “I know that you’re the best thing for me.” And I said….nothing. At least not at first. “You seem so certain about that, and the thing is, that’s what I want.” I wiped off my tears, “I want to be that certain about something, whether it’s a person or a place or anything. But…I’m just not.”
It was the kind of brutal honesty that leaves you with nothing to say. I looked at her and could practically hear both our hearts breaking, because that’s not what she wanted to hear and not what I wanted to say. But it was the truth, and while I hope one day I can say all of the things that make her happy, I’m just not there yet. And I’ll be damned if I hurt her even more by leading her on and pretending to be ready for things I’m not, like Fred sort of did with me.
So that’s where I’m at. I think this is important because I don’t want to lose her, and I didn’t want to break up. But I did it, I made the hard decision, because I believe it was the right one for me. And I’m not ashamed of not being ready, and I’m not going to beat myself up and say I was the bad guy.
I’m just a young person, searching for a purpose, a dream, and a chance to become the person I’ve always wanted to be. I need time to grow up, and then someday, whenever that may be, I’m going to use that progress to build a life with someone I love. And I’ll not only be the person they deserve, but the person I deserve, too.