Have you ever had the feeling that the life you’re leading is so far removed from what you want it to be or what you expected it to be at this age or stage of your existence?
I had that feeling the other day and it hit me like a fast-moving truck. To be honest, when I had the feeling, I wasn’t too far from being hit by a fast-moving truck, literally. I was riding a scooter on a busy, dual carriageway somewhere on the northern outskirts of London in the driving rain and blustering wind, as huge vehicles whizzed past me at high speed, covering me in dirty spray and knocking me slightly off balance.
I felt incredibly vulnerable and scared – and that’s saying something for a confident driver who’s been riding a scooter around London for six years. But I could cope with the vulnerability and fear. And I could cope with the cold and the horrible driving conditions. I just sat up straight, kept my nerve and kept my eyes on the road.
What was harder to deal with was the stream of questions that rushed through my mind as I tried to focus on my driving: ‘What on earth am I doing here? What kind of life is this? Surely it wasn’t meant to be like this? Why am I scootering in the pouring rain? I’m 41. Shouldn’t I be driving a car by now? Or better still, being driven along by a partner with a few kids in the back. How did I end up here? And is this it? Will it always be this way?’
As another noisy truck sped past, leaving me shuddering in its wake, my life was brought into sharp relief. And I didn’t like what I saw, not one bit. I’d totally veered off track.
The ensuing feeling was akin to shock.
My eyes pricked and I wanted to cry but I steeled my gaze and carried on, aware that floods of tears may be one hazard too many. But when I got home, peeled off my sodden wet-weather gear and took a bite out of the soggy sandwich I’d been carrying around all day (I’d missed lunch and I was starving), I sobbed my heart out. I stood in the kitchen, leant on the worktop and wailed. The tears came from such a deep place that my shoulders heaved and I had to double over to let them out. I was shaking, with cold and with emotion.
Eventually, the crying subsided and I poured myself into a steaming hot bubble bath and, from that place of warmth, stillness and safety, began to look at my day and my life.
I’d been doing motorbike training that Friday so I could pass my full motorbike license. This would enable me to get rid of the ‘L’ plates I’d been sporting for six years, carry passengers and, most importantly, avoid having to take basic tests every two years to keep me on the road.
I’d been meaning to get my license for ages and at the time I signed up for the training, it seemed like a good idea. Why do another basic test now and again in 2014? But I hadn’t bargained on the rain, wind, the dual carriageways at 60+ mph or the fast-moving heavy goods vehicles. Nor, it seems, had I thought too far ahead. In two years time, did I really see myself living in the same one-bedroom flat and riding a scooter around the same streets of London? Was that what I wanted for myself, for my future? What about the dreams of a relationship and/or a family? Of higher-paid work so I could afford a car? Of living near the sea so I could have a dog and wouldn’t have to navigate the capital’s heavy traffic?
Somehow, in my mind, the act of taking that motorbike test seemed to be condemning me to lead the same single, rainy London life for years to come. And I so didn’t want that.
Of course, those feelings were acute in that moment and they’ve lessened since. Today, I am pleased – and proud of myself – that I passed two difficult motorbike driving tests and a written theory test (all first time), can get rid of the ‘L’ plates and carry passengers. And my scooter is a real joy on beautiful spring, summer or autumn days, ferrying me into town in 20 mins or over to view the glorious colours of Hampstead Heath or swim in the refreshing waters of the Ladies’ Pond. The speed, the convenience and the freedom suit my personality.
But what I have taken away from that day is a sense that if I want my life to change, I have to change it. If I don’t want to be scootering around London in two years – with or without a passenger – it’s up to me to do something about it.
The impetus to change also seems to be a reaction to the box of anti-depressants sitting, still unopened, in my kitchen drawer. It occurred to me that my depression/sadness/misery (call it what you will) seemed to be circumstantial. At the start of September, after a summer of doing largely as I pleased, visiting friends, family and spending time in Nature and by the sea, I was feeling pretty upbeat, as I wrote in Waiting for my honeymoon on Sept 5:
In early June, I blogged about my sadness. The tears had been flowing really fast for quite a few weeks, even months. Of course, I held it together pretty well on the outside but I was seriously worried about myself. I talked to my GP about anti-depressants and gave them a lot of thought.
Three months on, however, and without taking any pills, I feel – dare I say it – happy. I feel content, hopeful and excited. I feel grateful and loving towards myself and my fellows. Yes, I feel good.
A month later, I was back at the doctor’s surgery, requesting those same pills I’d decided I didn’t need. What had changed? As far as I can see, in September I’d returned to the rigid straightjacket of my London life – the interminable commitments aimed at improving myself: the therapy, the addiction recovery meetings, the constant sharing of my troubles and supporting other people with their stuff and the endless striving to achieve, to make a name for myself (whatever that means). Once again, I’d left no space for fun, joy or the things I love. No wonder my mood had sunk.
It seems that I was about to take a pill to cope with the rubbish life I’d created for myself. So, at least for a trial period, I’ve decided to try to create a better life for myself to see if I can avoid taking a pill.
Step one – a holiday. I’m off to the south of Turkey in less than two weeks for a yoga retreat. I’d been meaning to book something for weeks but was worried about money, tiredness, temperature etc etc etc. In short, I couldn’t for the life of me make a decision.
Step two – I’m thinking of spending a month in Mexico over December and January and renting out my flat to help pay for it. I love my family dearly and have grown to love Christmas in the UK – the traditions, the candlelit church services, the chill – but there’s another part of me that longs to return to Mexico, to hear the mariachi music, feel the splash of the Pacific Ocean against my legs, taste the spicy shrimp and see the vibrant colours of that amazing country once again. And I have a wedding to go to – in Acapulco!
I’m aware that both these steps may sound like escapism, like I’m doing a ‘geographical’ – trying to run away from my problems without realising that I take myself with me wherever I go. But this time I know I take myself with me and I have a strong sense these trips will get me out of my head, give me some much-needed perspective and help me find a little bit of that sparkle and spirit I appear to have lost. And if not, at least I’ll have tried.
I used to take risks, be spontaneous and laugh a lot more. Granted, in the old days I used crutches to cope with my fear of people and of life – excess food, alcohol, male attention, work, status etc. But it seems, as I’ve put down those crutches and delved into the reasons why I was using them, I’ve shrunk a little. I’ve lost some of my enthusiasm for life.
I go to bed at reasonable times, get plenty of sleep and eat well pretty much all of the time. I keep to all my commitments every week, do my work and try to spend money wisely. I’m a very good girl, nothing like the crazy girl I used to be. But I fear the balance has swung too far the other way and I can hear fun, joy and spontaneity crying out to me.
Going back to Mexico, in one way, would be like returning to the scene of the crime, to the place where I engaged in some of my worst excesses (read A Mexican memoir to get an idea). On the other hand, it’s probably the place I felt most alive, spontaneous and free. And it’s where – for the first time in years after wandering the world – I felt like I belonged, in a massive family of friends, a jumble of nationalities thrown together in that vast metropolis.
Mexico isn’t booked, nothing is decided. We will see. Today, I feel I’d like to make the trip, but if I don’t, I’d hope to find other ways of recovering some of my sparkle. I can moan about my circumstances until the cows come home but nothing’s going to change unless I put in the action.
(PS Beautiful, bright one-bedroom flat for rent in north London, Dec 6 – Jan 6. The right price for the right person!)