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!)
You are absolutely right. We single women have to be brave enough to create the life that we want. We can’t magic up a husband or a baby but we can keep doing the things that make us happy and feel good about ourselves and somehow when we sit down at night, you don’t feel so unhappy any more. For me, it is my singing lesson, where someone focusses for a whole hour on me, fussing about me and by the end of the lesson I sound better than I did when I walked in the room. I’m never going to be a professional singer but it makes me feel really good. There’s a really good quote about not being unhappy today ( sorry I can’t remember it all) and being unhappy tomorrow – but not today. Concentrating on what we do have rather than what we don’t, getting rid of the things and people that make us miserable and making plans to have things to look forward to are so important. A spouseless, babyless future frightens me so much so I just can’t allow myself to think of it and instead I concentrate on a fun-filled and happy present. Get booked, make your plans, think about the wonderful things that you will do on your travels. You might be unhappy tomorrow but not today!
Thanks for reading and for your comment, Anna. I started singing lessons, but then I stopped! But it’s something I’d like to get back to. I am, however, enjoying my painting class.
Thanks for the quote – focusing on a fun-filled and happy present makes a lot of sense. Happy singing!
Katherine – such a great piece. And I so hear you that “if I want my life to change, I have to change it”. This sounds so basic, yet it’s so bloody tough in practice! Without a partner and children, our lives can so easily stay the same for so long… no milestones of weddings, births, birthdays and anniversaries to mark the passing time and change us. As single childless women we have to MAKE SHIT HAPPEN on a daily basis, or absolutely nothing changes except that we get older, smaller, sadder. And this is terrifying – because what if we make the wrong choices? In the end, I’ve learned to trust that my “wrong” choices will turn out to be the “right” choices, in the end. Any other way of looking at it paralyses me and keeps me stuck on the treadmill of daily life! I am reminded of a line from a Rilke poem which keeps me going on tough days:
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Mexico sounds like a great idea!
Love, Jody x
Thanks for your comment and your support – as always! You’re a star!
Right now, inevitably, I’m wondering if Mexico really is the right thing, whether it is just escaping the here and now, which inevitably I’ll have to come back to. We’ll see. It will require a little bit of thought, but hopefully not too much!
Sending love and best wishes for your own happy present.
Great stuff. I’m 46 and been there and will go there again. Its all swings and roundabouts. From the sounds of it you won’t lose any of your spirit and sparkle.:)
Thanks Westown Girl,
Swings and roundabouts indeed. I feel like I’m there today – up and down, changes of heart, changes of mood. Will it ever end?!
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.
I have similar thoughts to yours Katherine, and I’m 64 next week! But you know what’s great? Your pills are still unopened, you’ve managed without them, so perhaps you don’t need them after all. Maybe you just needed to feel the reassurance that they were there – just in case!
Great piece of writing- the opening really captures the attentionn in its description. The start for ur book?? Rest assured we all question our path at times, i see it every day, but maybe this is your path, your destiny???? something / someone is guiding you – even if that is you…. and don’t feel guilty about veering off to Mexico, it’s where a piece of you is and hopefully will be fun xxx
Thanks Hannah, for reading and for your comment. Yes, I am writing two books, and that could be the opening for one of them!
Interestingly, I just had a photographer come and take photos of my flat to rent it out potentially – he was Mexican!
Nice to see you on my blog, H. Can’t believe I didn’t realise it was you. How funny! Mexico – fond memories. And our trip in Brazil. Crazy. Juggling the potential excitement of a different Christmas with the fear and the sinking bank balance! Hope all is well with daughter and furry friend xx
brilliantly-pitched and brave blog. x
Thanks Rachael! x
I say go loco, sweet-pea, very definitely, if you can swing it. I cherish those colourful days. You sound so much happier when you write about it. With gratitude mamacita XX Tracey xxx