Part I: Where am I now?
I’ve been fielding a lot of “so, what’s the latest?” questions these days. Stands to reason given last weekend marked the three-month mark since I moved from Ottawa to Toronto.
I’ve joked to a couple of people that the truly interested can visit my twitter feed for all my latest thoughts / experiences / inspirations, but I recognize that not everyone shares my high level of social media buy in, and so I came up with the idea of directing people to this update post instead.
Not surprisingly given my obsession with narrative, thinking about how to write about where I am now got me reminiscing about where I’ve been. About time. And the importance of endings and beginnings.
I realized that this weekend, which is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, is incredibly significant in terms of the recent developments in the narrative of my life.
If I had to pinpoint a “beginning” to the surprising turns my life has taken of late, I would have to place it right around the weeks just before, and right after, Thanksgiving 2010.
Two years ago this weekend.
Part II: Where was I then?
It is late September 2010. Two and a half weeks before Thanksgiving.
I am getting ready to go on a last minute trip to South America with my long-time friend NB. To make good on a long ago promise to travel together one day. To take a much needed break. To gain perspective.
If only I could pack.
But instead I am sat on my bed in my (former) house in Ottawa, so tied up in emotional knots that the mere act of choosing which items to put in my backpack seems an impossible task. On the phone to my mother, I am suddenly in tears. Maybe I just won’t go. Won’t drive to Toronto. Won’t meet NB at Pearson Airport to catch our flight to La Paz.
My Mom talks me through it.
Several days later I am making a once in a lifetime journey across the salt flats of Bolivia.
Passed out in the back of this 4×4.
Maybe I ate something that didn’t agree me. Was a little too causal about my exposure to local drinking water.
I’ll never know how I got sick.
I do know that whatever it was, it hit me hard.
I remember little of that first day of our three-day desert crossing. Have only vague memories of sleeping with my head against the window while the gentle chords of the xx played from one of my travel mate’s iPhones.
I’m sure there was a physiological reason for my illness. But I am convinced that there was more to it than that.
It was almost as if after months of avoiding the emotional anguish in my life by working way to much, sleeping way to little, and hoping it would all just go away while I was busy doing something else, the full weight of it finally hit me.
And I crashed.
I recovered slowly throughout the next two days of our desert crossing. Was myself again by the time my tour group and I parted ways with our 4×4 crew on the border crossing into Chile.
And then, over tea with NB in a small cafe in San Pedro de Attacama, I began to face some truths I had too long been avoiding. About my marriage. And myself. And my fear that I was on the brink of falling into the dark abyss of a deep depression.
I spent the remainder of the trip attempting to vanquish that threat. I stockpiled bits of happiness in the hope that they would protect me against the wear and tear of the tough times I knew awaited me upon my return home. I remember standing at the top of this sand dune in the Attacama desert in Chile, thinking, “Remember this place. Remember how you feel right here in this moment. Remember that you know what happiness feels like.”
I returned home to Ottawa on Thanksgiving weekend.
I won’t share the details of what happened then as they are not mine alone to share.
I will say that I failed. As the days went by I very quickly lost my grip on the the bits of happiness I had foolishly thought would protect me. I slid ever closer to the abyss.
By late November 2010, an eight-and-a-half year relationship had come to an end.
Part III: In between then and now
Similar to my salt flats crossing experience, my memory of the months that followed is somewhat foggy.
I recall sobbing with the abandon of young child in my mother’s arms one night while home for Christmas.
Going for a long walk on a chilly January evening and coming up with a plan for what to do with my life now that everything I thought I knew I suddenly didn’t know anymore.
Listening to a particular Willie Nelson song on repeat precisely because it caused me to break into silent, sloppy tears within seconds.
I also recall the many, many wonderful friends, family members and colleagues who helped me through that time. Some of them at the same time as they dealt with their own challenges.
In May 2010 I moved out of the house that had borne witness to my packing paralysis eight months earlier.
I then took a three-month leave of absence from my govie policy nerd job.
And started this blog.
If you read my posts from that summer, which I generally refer to as my “summer of travel,” you know that in addition to journeying to some amazing places geographically, I reached some important places emotionally as well.
I grieved my losses.
Found silver linings.
And I once again found myself enveloped in the support of many, many wonderful people. Some new friends made on my journeys or through my new found blogging community, others constant supporters through my months of upheaval.
This community of supporters was there for me again as I moved into the first place I’ve ever lived in on my own in September 2011.
As I tackled emotional challenges like admitting the impossibility of sharing custody of my dog with my former partner (we agreed I would be the one to step away).
Humorous challenges like how to move what I thought were heavy pieces of furniture on my own (in hindsight I totally could have lifted my new 37″ flat screen TV on my own, but was glad my friend OH came to share in the excitement of buying it nonetheless).
And challenges that were somewhat emotional if you were me and over analysing them, but purely humourous if you were everyone else and telling me to just stop thinking so effin much and go for it, like figuring out how to date again after a nine-year hiatus.
Earlier this year, despite having for the most part succeeded in settling into my new solo life, my growing community was again there to see me through the implementation of my Game Changing Decision to move from Ottawa to Toronto, giving up my govie policy nerd job in the process.
Which leads me pretty much up to now.
At the end of my second summer off in two years (referred to as my “summer of retirement” in order to distinguish it from my “summer of travel”).
Just starting to dig into my #freshstart in Toronto.
Part IV: So now what?
So, where am I now?
Well, I am two-years away from being the woman who almost skipped out on a trip to South America because I couldn’t make the simple decisions needed to pack my bag.
One-year away from being the woman who judged myself so harshly for failing at my marriage that I could not fathom how anyone would ever want to date me again.
Six-months away from being the woman who, for the first time in many years, made a decision I was completely and absolutely certain of when I realized I wanted to move back to the city I grew up in order to be closer to my family.
And one week away from being the woman who, when I started thinking about writing this post, realized that I am no longer any of these women any more.
That’s not to say that who I am today is unconnected to having been those women. Of course those experiences are essential parts of my narrative.
It is instead my attempt to recognize that the woman I am now is no longer of the time line that those experiences were part of.
The one that began two years ago.
And that has finally come to an end.
In the past few months I packed for all the trips I took without paralysis. I dated men without worrying quite so much about whether they liked me, and more about whether we had the kindof connection that might lead somewhere. I learned the importance of doing what you love, and in the process found my compass for making decisions moving forward.
That this end landed so close to Thanksgiving makes perfect sense to me.
Because I know I can not roll credits on this period of my life without giving thanks to the many, many wonderful people who helped me through it.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re one of them.
So thank you.
Thank you for listening. Thank you for advising. Thank you for cheering me on.
Thank you for travelling with me. Thank you for comforting me. Thank you for being patient with me as I worked my way through what were undoubtedly the two most self-focused years of my life.
Thank you for showing me so much love that it sustained me during a time when I had forgotten how to love myself.
Thank you for helping me to work my way back to a place where I could love myself again.