At age 33, I am constantly grappling with what it is that I “should” be doing. Whenever I feel that I am beginning to get a clearer understanding of what that is, suddenly the trapdoor beneath my feet swings open and I am in free fall. Panic ensues. I begin flailing my arms and soon enough, I am back on rock bottom. I get back up and begin the torturous climb, attempting to navigate adulthood before plummeting back into the void once more.
In times of uncertainty, one’s mental health can deteriorate as they attempt to decide which course of action to take to arrive on more stable ground. Throughout life, I have chosen not to act out of fear of making the wrong decision. However, my inaction has often resulted in a feedback loop which has created more anxiety. This can sometimes be known as denial, a state of being in which you may pretend everything is normal or that you feel okay but that is certainly not the case. Many of us know exactly what we need to do in order to begin breaking the cycle but lack the motivation or are too fearful to take action.
The beautiful thing about rock bottom is that it is a solid foundation.
While I may end up with a sore backside every time I take an emotional stroll in the abyss, it forces me to take some time and think about how I might begin to recover from a mental health crisis. Generally, the things that make me feel a bit better are not necessarily the things that I “should” be doing. It would be fantastic if each and every one of us could align what makes us happy with what we feel we should be doing but that is not always possible. I really enjoy Netflix but for now, when I feel as though I “should” be dedicating all my time and energy to embarking on a career path, I’m doubtful that I can realistically make a living off of Star Trek and snacks.
While I cannot perfectly align what I “should” be doing with what makes me happy or what enables me to better manage my mental health, this does not mean that my time is wasteful. I seem to have daily existential crises where I question everything I am presently doing and quickly determine that it is not enough. Well, the fact is that nothing I am doing will ever be enough no matter how hard I try. However, this does not mean that I cannot set things in motion that will lead me to a better version of myself. Instead of focusing on one grandiose image of so-called perfection, it is kinder and gentler for those of us struggling with keeping ourselves stable to start with manageable goals.
At one point, the best goal I could set for myself was cleaning up my room. As someone who has suffered with anxiety and depression since childhood, I developed bad habits in my adolescence that have stayed with me into my twenties. Unequipped with the self-awareness to determine I was suffering but also feeling voiceless, as a child I would hurl the laundry my parents had freshly washed and put away in my dresser onto the ground in a cry for help. As an adult, while I developed strategies to stay on top of my habits or have managed to ween them out completely, I still struggle to keep my room clean for long periods of time. This struggle is particularly pronounced in the midst of uncertainty.
Having moved to a city alone, a five hour flight away from my friends,in the dead of winter, I found myself in a time of great uncertainty. While the experience has resulted in tremendous personal growth and independence, the road has been exceedingly bumpy. I have felt aimless and as though I have made a terrible mistake leaving everything familiar and comfortable behind.
At one point, my mental health deteriorated to the point that I could hardly cook a meal or wash my face. I set a goal that I could conceivably manage, cleaning my room. It took me a week but finally, I was able to do it. From then on, I focused on tidying up before bed each night to ensure I did not find myself overwhelmed by a huge mess. Today, my room is consistently clean.
While I have made leaps and bounds in terms of my mental health, I have still struggled exponentially with what I “should” be doing. This “should” has changed from “I should be going to grad school,” “I should find a full-time job” to “I should focus my efforts on establishing a freelance career”. The trajectory of my life seemed more linear when I was in university and had a seemingly natural course to follow. Out in the real world, it is difficult to determine what decisions will yield the most positive results. I have goals in mind. I’d like to learn to code. I want to learn another language. I want to travel to all seven continents by age thirty. I want to obtain a Master’s degree in something. I want to live in another country.
Whatever it is that I want to be doing isn’t necessarily what I “should” be doing.
Many of us cannot follow our heart’s desire at a moment’s notice. These types of endeavours often involve significant resources like time and money. Ultimately, there is no perfect “should”. More so, there is a lot of happenstance and surprise and you end up really confused and somewhere you didn’t expect to be and there is nothing wrong with that. A few years back, I never imagined I’d be living where I am, doing what I’m doing and that is often just the way life goes. You can go both go with the flow and have an idea of what you’d like to be or where’d you’d like to go. Sometimes, instead of planning ahead, it is better to plan to be surprised.
Recently, someone told me to be stubborn with my goals and flexible with my methods of achieving them. While I won’t accomplish everything I’d like to in life at this very point in time, I’ll likely end up doing something I never imagined possible. So, while right now I do honestly have no idea what I’m doing (well, maybe a semblance), it is perfectly okay.