Hamster On A Wheel

In conversation with one of my closest friends, I told her about my life. The routine and the things I hated that have become part of the new-normal. She interrupted, “Like a hamster on a wheel?”

Nothing had ever made more sense to me. 

I was that teenage rebel who swore she would never live a life where two days felt the same. It’s been two years of the same day every day. A few breaks every now and then, but I miss so much about life before all this. Surprising even to me, it’s not the fancy vacations, the trips to Paris for “work” or the drunk stumble home. 

I miss the little things I don’t get to see anymore. The different people on the train every morning. The ones with earphones, wet hair and a lost stare. The ones in a suit, hoping to be more productive today than the day before. The familiar face that worked in the same building, a small smile of “I see you even if I don’t know you.” I miss elevator rides. You never know if you’ll be in time for your best friend or your boss. The walk to get a morning coffee, not always because you need it. It’s more for the conversation, the steps, a loud sigh about the people we had to deal with as we waited for a latte we all knew wasn’t worth the money.

I miss walking into the office, turning on my computer and knowing my day has begun. The random knocks on my door for “Lunch?” “Second coffee?” “Walk?” or “Yay you’re here. I need help!”

The moment I walked into my house at the end of the day. I knew the day I’d had the moment I dropped my bag – productive or procrastinated. Did I spend too much on Starbucks? Do I continue to feel energy to pre-make lunch for tomorrow? Am I cooking? Netflix and instant noodles it is.

There was a joy in knowing I would wake up and see a whole new world of people the next day. A different train, different passengers, different barista and a different routine.

I miss familiar moments with strangers. Getting ice cream at McDonald’s as I headed to my apartment. A little treat to myself. Her stories of a boyfriend that refused to respond as she swirls the ice cream cone perfectly. I’ll never know her name but I’ll always know she’s annoyed at him. 

I miss long nights at my parents’ house. It was in the dark that our laughter was at its loudest. Past bedtime, dogs curled up at our feet, talking about our day, our lives, the people in it and the many memories. A sarcastic comment from my sister that sends us into fits of uncontrollable laughter. A remark from my dad we tell each other we’ll remember forever. Unafraid, unbound. 

I miss the feeling of there being no end to my physical world. If I took a plane, I could go anywhere. I could get in my parents’ car and we would drive for hours. We’d pass fields and towns, windows down, music loud. We had a destination but if I chose to, I could drive on for days. I could see nature at its purest. That stretch of sunflowers I notice every time. The group of old men sitting together smoking and talking as cars fled past them. I look out the window, observing. Knowing I’ll never see them again. I’ll never remember their face or that exact place. But in that moment, they were there, and they were part of my journey to a destination my parents were taking me to.

That’s the hardest thing about the last two years. The feeling of being walled in. There’s no endlessness to my physical world. I can try all I want, there’s only so far I can go. It wouldn’t matter if I couldn’t travel for my ‘gram. But it matters that a plan I’ve been making to go visit my parents at the end of this month is yet again in jeopardy. I feel like I have yet again been caged in.

Repeating the same day over and over again. The same emotions, the same processes, the same people. Wondering when the groups of 5 will turn into groups of 2 again. Wondering when the imaginary walls of the country I live in will open to let me be free again. Wondering when travel to see my parents filled with fear and agony of infecting myself or worse, them, will change again.

I miss knowing my parents are healthy still. I miss not being afraid to lose people before I could spend enough time with them. I miss existing in a world where I don’t feel terror when hanging out with my best friends. Not having to wonder every minute of every day where every person I see on the street has been to over the last 14 days. 

I miss breathing. Not the “say no to masks” kind. The emotional kind. The calm as I took on the world kind.

Every morning, I wake up and for a brief minute, I imagine being somewhere else. Head out the window, driving for hours past fields, towns and cities I’ll never remember. Wind in my hair, nothing to think of but the stillness of my emotions. Calm and happy as I breathe in a world without walls.

I get out of bed and go repeat my day. A hamster on a wheel again.

My Lighthouse

 

I’ve been kind of lost for the last six months.

My life went through a drastic change and as I tried to find where I belonged in this new phase, I feel like I lost who I have always been.

When things end, they say it gives way to new beginnings. I thought my new beginning would feel free. Like I could do anything without ever having to worry about how it affects another person. But the thing was, there wasn’t much left to be done with that freedom because the things that controlled me remained. Money, exhaustion and just life, in general.

So I began to cling on to anything that felt new. Maybe a new person, maybe a new role, maybe a new dress or a new passion. Maybe I should focus on myself finally. Or my job. Or maybe I should look for a partner. Maybe not. Maybe I look for the old me. The teenage-me. The care-about-nothing and just-have-fun me. Something had to give because my life had to change drastically. It had to.

But it didn’t. And I couldn’t accept that. I turned frantic in my search for something that replaced what I had lost, not realizing that as I tried to walk towards something else, I was walking away from myself.

So I started to add pressure – to me and to the people around me. I watched others’ lives change and began envying them because mine wasn’t. But it had. It didn’t feel that way because my routine hadn’t necessarily changed. Nothing I did every day changed. It was only an emotional disruption and I didn’t know how to process that. I didn’t know how to point and say, “This is why it’s different. Even if nothing changed around me, my emotions are in disarray. So that’s what I need to focus on.”

I searched for a solution to my emotions in the physical world and failed, consistently. I tried to throw myself into work, but it didn’t feel enough. I tried to balance work with life so I could focus on myself but when the day drew to an end, I was left feeling unsettled again.

Maybe this was my way of grieving. This frantic search for something, anything, that made me feel like my life had gotten better. Maybe this was my way of going through the emotions that come with separating yourself and your life from someone. Maybe this is how we all feel at 27 and it’s nothing but a mid-life crisis. 

The problem was, until three days ago, I didn’t understand any of this. In my frustrations with the world around me, I never realized that perhaps the reason I couldn’t find what I was looking for was because it wasn’t in the real world. 

I haven’t painted for over a year. I’ve given myself a lot of excuses as to why I don’t have the time – to be creative, to draw, to imagine, to clean up after. And on a very busy Sunday, I was just done with the excuses. I always imagined painting a lighthouse, Van Gogh style. There was something about it, standing next to the ocean, alone but surrounded by the beauty of the world that made lighthouses seem so fascinating. They reminded me of the wind against my face, sand between my toes and the sound of the ocean. Far above the land, almost touching the sky, just a little bit shy. Lighthouses reminded me of home.

It’s amazing how art cures the most complex of your problems. As I slowly began painting something I’ve been wanting to for so long, I found what I had been missing. Why I had felt so out of place. What I had been searching for since July.

Myself.

I smiled for the first time in a while. From my heart. It was like standing in the rain, every drop taking you closer to yourself. I painted my happy place, finding it within myself along the way.

Maybe this blog isn’t the right thing to post at this point in my life. Someone recently told me that if I were to get married, blogs with so much honesty cannot exist when they google me. Maybe they’re right.

Maybe you’re not supposed to know how I’m trying to find my place in this world. Maybe we’re all just supposed to pretend we’re put-together and perfectly fine with lives that go through nothing at all. But I’m not going to take this away.

We all go through changes. Some are obvious. Some aren’t. You know they happened, you experience the difference even when you can’t see it. Those may be the most difficult ones to process. 

In the process of readjusting my life to a new reality, I lost myself.

It took me six months of searching and one painting to find. And I know this could happen again. Another change I don’t know how to handle could make me lose sense of who I am.

But when it does, I’ll know better. I’ll know the patterns and the emotions.

I’ll know to breathe deep and close my eyes for just a few seconds.

I’ll know to look for my lighthouse.

If you’re out there reading this and you’re not sure where you’re headed, what you’re doing or why you’re acting a certain way – this is your reminder.

Breathe. Imagine your lighthouse. What does it feel like?

Lighthouse painting