A lot can happen in two years.
On this date in 2011, I was experiencing my first day in my new job in radio. I was in Canberra, a big step for a lass from the country. Despite the fact that I made a complete mess of my first commute (the bus driver pointed me to the wrong bus stop, leading to an hour of unnecessary walking, tear-filled calls to my mum and my new boss begging for directions, and a pick up from a colleague I’d never met before), I was so incredibly keen to get started and take on the world in my chosen industry. I was 5 hours drive away from my family, or a total of 12 hours, taking into account my reliance on the questionable public transport between there and home. I was sleeping on an air mattress in the early weeks of the Canberran winter (not the brightest idea, but I coped), I had just moved into my first share house, and my whole being was thrumming with the excitement of living in a place with so much more life than the town I had grown up in.
I was standing on the top of the world and I could see everything panning out beautifully below. The problem with being so incredibly high, however, is that you have so much further to fall.
Like I said, a lot can happen in two years.
I didn’t get back to my family for the first seven months, something that was unthinkable for a girl who’d been able to take weekend trips home from uni and had lived with her parents for the rest of her life. I struggled to make friends, stuck in a cycle of fleeting pub conversations and questionable internet-forged connections. Slowly, I lost the passion for my work, as office dramas piled up; and the pressure of jumping straight into what I saw as a big city began to mount. Unrequited love interests took their toll, and the money was disappearing from my bank account far too quickly, and I spent so much time on my own that I started to get uncomfortable socialising at all. The fall was gradual, but it certainly happened. I was changing, and not entirely for the better.
However, the year and a half I spent in Canberra was also completely magical. I saw live music almost every week, found new haunts that immediately felt like home, read more than I had in years, and indulged in magnificent food at little cafes and restaurants in the city. I fell in love with people, places and pastimes that are now so distant and greatly missed. I wrote ads that thrilled colleagues and clients alike, and I picked up experiences that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I met folks who inspire me and make me want to be better and more interesting and worldly than I am. It’s ironic that most of these things happened in the final months of my Canberra residence, but the fact remains that by that point I was well and truly on the road to ruin. Not even the sweetest elements of my existence could save me from the inevitable crash and burn.
Things have changed so dramatically, it’s hard to believe the life I used to lead was actually mine. These days, you won’t find me sitting in my favourite pub, reading a riveting piece of literature as I sip on a glass of red or a Coopers Pale Ale. If you’re looking for me, you’ll probably find me in bed, wishing the sun would go away or the neighbours would stop yelling at their kids or that for the love of god I could just stop crying.
You won’t see me in an office, working cheerily on a commercial script that I have crafted from the scantest of briefs, or picking voices and music beds that are just right for the specific occasion. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: the idea of writing terrifies me most days, and having to interact with anyone who isn’t a close relative or best friend sends me into spirals of panic. The idea of talking to a client or business contact is completely unthinkable most days, and that fact only deepens my feeling of disgust at the way I have let myself go.
I had so many great plans for my time at home: I was only going to be here for three months, then I’d be back in the workforce again; I was going spend all my time working on a novel or two; I was going to create a website that would reinvigorate live original music in this town; I was going to blog and scribble and podcast and paint; and I would learn to ride a bike.
What do I have to show for the last nine months? A website that sputters along at a rate that makes me feel totally ineffective; a binder full of empty pages, still waiting to be filled with the notes still floating in my head about that story I was going to finish; a work experience arrangement I have let fall into a heap; a Centrelink claim, and a bike I still can’t ride. It’s no wonder I feel completely pathetic. I am.
Sure, there were other circumstances that contributed to this slump: the stress of my job and everything else I was living caused my epilepsy to flair up, leading to one of the biggest seizures of my life, a round of re-testing and a new medication regime; my attempts at a romantic life were a complete shambles, the last of which still aches with a bitter tenderness; I felt isolated, without close friends or family nearby. I was drinking too much and I wasn’t writing enough. Those are just the things off the top of my head. I’m completely certain there were others.
None of that really matters though. What does matter is the fact that I let the bad stuff win, and in doing so, I had to discard all the good stuff I had started to accrue.
I can’t help calling this my “Quarter-Life Crisis”. It makes it feel both important and flippant all at once, like it’s a character building exercise, but one that I can get over whenever the fancy takes me. In reality, it’s neither. It’s just a huge pile of manure that I’ve burrowed into and am flailing around in as I attempt to escape its quicksand-like embrace.
Nevertheless, I’m still trying to get out. Spending my afternoon writing all this out might help, or it might end up as incredibly unsuccessful as every other method I’ve tried. Tomorrow I could wake up in the blackness and the vicious cycle could start all over again.
But that’s not today. Right now, I’m giving all I’ve got. I’m doing something, and that’s better than nothing. It may not last, but today I’m trying, and that’s all I can do.
And it’s so much better than nothing.