It’s almost the 6 month anniversary of when I quit my life and decided to start a new one. Almost 182 days since I left home to travel. 4,368 non-stop hours that I’ve spent with my best friend and fiancé. As I lay in bed, doing the mental math (ok, I cheated and used my phone calculator to help), I find myself unable to doze off.
Sometimes when I try to shut my brain off, it tells me, “no thank you, I choose this moment to broadcast vivid recollections of mundane details that you previously gave no fucks about – enjoy!” On this particular night, I am thinking about my old dating profile. I don’t know why it popped into my head (it was several years ago), but I can’t seem to shake it. It’s this one section – my response to a default question that has given me insomnia tonight. I keep rolling my 4-year old words in my mouth, like a hard candy, and I’m left with a dull, metallic taste. I know it doesn’t matter now, but I really hate what I wrote. It bothers me more than I am comfortable with, so I allow myself to reflect.
These last couple of weeks have been hard. For the most part, I am in love with my life right now. 90% of the time I want to pinch myself, because it feels like I’ll wake up from this beautiful dream and realize that I’m late for work and that my cable bill is overdue. But that 10% can be the death of me if I let it. That 10% is all of the stuff that I wanted to leave behind – the crap that I got fed up with carrying, so I tried to leave it in Toronto. Turns out, it may have followed me on to my AirEva flight and through the customs gate at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Having no support system; no security; no stability – it’s been rough on me. Even worse, not having to worry about mundane things like work deadlines and my best friend’s latest Tinder drama, has given my mind a lot of time to roam and wander. And occasionally, despite my best efforts, it finds its way through a labyrinth of hallways that lead into a secret room with no windows. I thought I threw away the key years ago, but turns out that my brain is an excellent lock-pick. In this room is a single filing cabinet, locked and chained, and hidden within its drawers are carefully labelled manila folders that contain all of my Bad Thoughts (in alphabetical order, of course). On the train, on the plane, in a tuk-tuk – even sitting in a restaurant waiting for our food to come, occasionally my sadistic brain decides that it would like to open one of those files and do an audit. Yes, even paradise can be a bummer.
And now I realize why I’m so fixated on something as seemingly unimportant as my old dating profile – it’s a warning.
Don Draper says, “if you don’t like what someone’s saying about you, change the conversation”. Well, I don’t like what I said about myself back then, so I’m changing my internal monologue and saying something different now. This is for myself; a reminder that it’s ok to be a little lost.
Here is what I wrote on my online dating profile in the section that asked users to describe, ‘What I’m Currently Doing with My Life’:
“….sitting alone in the corner, picking up the pieces of my broken heart”.
I know, I know. It was all very dramatic and cringeworthy, but I guess I chose accuracy over some façade that I could try to project, and inevitably puncture. Thing is, I really was picking up the pieces of my heart. I’d been doing it for years. The shards were embedded in my fingers, the dried blood a tattoo across my palms. My heart had been reduced to glass confetti scattered across a tiled floor, and even in its fragmented state, people were walking all over it. Therapy, apathy, drugs, alcohol– nothing would hold my shit together.
I don’t have one of those tragic, newsworthy type lives. I haven’t been abducted by aliens, or given birth an excessive number of times, and I don’t have a rare disease that makes me a freak by TLC’s high broadcasting standards. I’m just an everyday, overly sensitive, far too analytical, and obsessively-introspective asshole who feels things too intensely. So to say that my heart has been smashed to smithereens is not to imply that devastating things have happened to me; I have been devastated, yes, just not in the made-for-TV-movie way that sells books and makes headlines.
In my winding, topsy-turvy road to life, I’ve made several unscheduled pit stops. Abuse is a place I kept coming back to, after first encountering it in childhood at the insistence of my father’s fists. When I decided to set off for greener pastures, I did so by running blindly down a path that I took to be my Life. Unfortunately, the spirit of adventure clouded my vision, and I fell headfirst into a swamp.
The swamp was called Depression, and it was full of quicksand. I succumbed to its unrelenting gravity and sank for years before I realized no one would send in a rescue team. So, I reached out and told hold of the only solid thing within my limited grasp, and I climbed. A centimeter at a time, slowly but surely, until my head emerged and I breathed the air, and my arms broke free and could I could swing across to solid ground.
As I regained my equilibrium, I found myself a on a new path, one shrouded in mist, but with tiny bursts of sunlight peeking through. I took this road, hoping for a happily ever after, only to find that I had made a wrong turn and found myself back in familiar territory. I had circled back to Abuse. This time, it was my first ever boyfriend who locked me in a black hole and threw away the key. I knew it was time to leave when I couldn’t tell if I was blind, or just in darkness. I scratched and clawed and burst through the wall like a battering ram, vowing to get a compass so that I’d never set foot in Abuse again.
When I resumed my journey, I dilly-dallied here and there, but took an unexpected detour to Self-Harm. Don’t ask me why, because I can’t explain how I ended up there. There were signs all around, but I was overwhelmed with all of the choices, and I never was very good at directions. Initially, I didn’t unpack, figuring I was just passing through. But the days turned into months, which turned into years, and when I looked around and saw that I had set up a permanent camp, I knew it was time to leave. I had stayed too long, and I didn’t know if I would ever find my path again.
I continued on, hoping for light at the end of this very dark tunnel, but for years I walked in the shade. I felt hands reaching out and grasping at my soft flesh, trying to pull me in different directions. The road here was bumpy and uneven, and prone to sharp curves, but I persevered even though my feet were tired. Every time I looked back, I saw the faint outline of Self-Harm on the horizon, and I had to force myself onward.
And as I walked on, a funny thing happened. I looked over and realized I was no longer walking alone. My companion gave me water to replenish my energy. He carried me when my body needed to rest, and when I was uncertain, he calmed and reassured me. As we walked side by side down what was now our path, everything grew brighter. Abuse, Depression, and Self-Harm were far behind me, and I vowed that I would not lead us back to those hateful places. I had found my compass.
We walked onwards, my companion and I, sometimes through foggy curtains, sometimes bathed in dazzling sunlight, but always hand in hand. We walked until we came to a crossroad. We stood for a very long time and contemplated our choices. To the left was a tangled path that went in circles, with no discernible direction. To the right were the familiar wetlands of Depression, and I could feel the current pulling me in, drawing me back to the pit. I was overcome with worry, until I looked down and saw the hand clasped over mine. We looked left, we looked right, and at one another – and then we both stepped forward, off the path.
We left only footprints in our wake. As we stumbled along, navigating obstacles and ducking pesky hurdles, we came to the edge of a cliff. We could either turn around and head back to the crossroads to choose one of the equally unappealing paths, or we could jump. So, we did what any two recklessly stupid, crazy in love idiots would do. We gave Life the middle finger and cannon-balled into the unknown.
When I composed that particular dating profile (there were many over the years), I was jaded, cynical and burned out. In terms of plotting my position on the figurative map that was my life, I was just about ready to blow Self-Harm’s popsicle stand and try for something better. If I had to rewrite it over again, well, I wouldn’t, because I’m engaged and shouldn’t be on a dating site. But, ok, hypothetically if I had to write it again, my ‘what I’m doing with my life’ section would now read : “Living out my dreams of traveling the world with the love of my life; finally free to chart my own course”. What a difference a couple of years and renewed perspective can make.
We made the decision to quit our lives in 5 minutes, but it took me years to get from my shitty apartment in Toronto to my shitty apartment in Thailand. And reading that, you may think, “that’s not even an accomplishment, it’s just a change of scenery”. But every day that I wake up feeling happy and free, is not just an accomplishment; it’s a fucking victory. Every night that I stay up until 4am sitting across from my fiancé on our balcony as we’re both furiously typing away on our respective writing projects is the best day of my life. Every morning that we wake up and ask, “what do you want to do today” and not have the answer be, “go to work”, is the best moment ever. Scrolling through my Facebook feed and seeing that in the time we’ve been gone, nothing has changed in my friends’ lives, while we’ve made a thousand “Instagram-worthy” memories, makes me feel confident that we were right to jump. But most importantly, knowing that I made the decision for myself, and that I took a step towards my own happiness despite the uncertainty, is the best feeling of all. Even better than the absence of responsibility and obligation and the addition of suntans and pad-thai is the empowerment that comes from charting your own course and choosing to leave the bullshit behind.
I started my journey with itty bitty heart pieces and a hand-me-down map that took me nowhere. It took a lot of patience, soul-searching, and determination, but I am slowly putting myself back together. Sure, some of the pieces are missing and will never be found, and some are mashed together like some frustrated child solving a jigsaw puzzle, but duct tape can do wonders, and I have an arsenal.
My new and improved mosaic heart may not look like much, but I know that it has the strength of one hundred galloping stallions running at full speed. My heart is fiercer than the fiercest drag queen on her most fabulous day. If Chuck Norris roundhouse kicked my heart, his foot would fall off, it’s so solid. And while this resilient little fucker may sound like it’s gotten too tough, like it’s overcompensating for something, it has not forgotten how to love. It may be fireproof and waterproof and resistant to ice- but it will never be Teflon. I will always feel, and hope, and wish, and dream, and some of those things will actually stick. I figured out that my happiness, self-worth, and personal achievement will never be found on any path, and that I don’t have a destination; I’m just wandering aimlessly taking in the sights, happy to be here at all – and most of the time I actually believe that.
These days when I wake up it takes me a minute or two to remind myself of where I am. It’s always the sounds that bring me out of my stupor and into consciousness – the cafe lady across the alley opening her gate, or the monks chanting for their morning alms. I think back to those days where I’d wake up and hear nothing at all, because I didn’t want to listen. Sometimes I have a moment of panic when I see the contents of my backpack strewn across the floor, and I realize that I have no home or permanent address. Other times it’s when I see the local people going about their lives that makes me miss the predictable banality of my old one. Then it dawns on me that I have no income, no insurance, no friends, and worst of all, no certainty. I go into full-blown panic-mode as I consider my unknown future, and I can’t help but remember the bleakest moments of my past. The filing cabinet has been opened, and the hurt rains down like candy from a battered pinata. My deep-rooted insecurity rears its head like the most gentle of lovers, whispering breathlessly that I’m worthless and not good enough. My brain replays every insult, every slight, every snub, and my body remembers what it’s like to be bruised. The scars on my arms and legs open again, and blood threatens to spill, even though I’m not holding a knife. Whenever that sinking feeling from the quicksand is tugging at the hem of my jean shorts, trying to pull me under with its hooked claws, I slap it away and remind myself that I have duct tape and a compass – I’m good.