I had a strange post-holiday sensation yesterday. I felt all at sea, despite being back in the metropolis and a long way from the sunny shores and gentle waves of southern Turkey.
I arrived back from my delightful yoga break late on Monday and spent Tuesday enjoying the luxury of not having to rush back to work. I did several loads of washing, checked my emails and walked in the park with my Mum who’d been flat sitting in my absence. I felt at peace.
Wednesday, however, was a different story. I had designated Wednesday as ‘back to work day’, only I didn’t seem to have a job to go to.
There’s something about being freelance, being self-employed, having to constantly self-start and self-motivate that seems to make the post-holiday blues much more acute. I remember when I was in full-time work and I would head into the office straight after an overnight flight or short on sleep after a late-night arrival. That first day back would be catch-up day – catching up on the news, on emails, on admin and with colleagues. Bar any major news event, I would ease myself gently back into the world of work, into that world to which I belonged, into the team that I was part of and into the role I performed.
It was that feeling of belonging to something that I missed so deeply on Wednesday morning. When you’re a self-starter and you’ve had some time off, it’s hard to know how to start again. At least it was for me.
I had the feeling that I was drifting, that I wasn’t part of anything. I had no partner or children clamouring for my attention, no family of my own to slot myself back into. And I had no job to return to, no team to join in with again.
I felt anchorless. Rudderless. Without direction. Without purpose.
That familiar question, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ took up residence in my brain. I started thinking about career changes, thinking that I wasn’t cut out for a life of not belonging and thinking that everything I’d been excited about before my holiday – story ideas I’d pitched to magazines and the book I’ve talked so much about – was worthless, pie-in-the-sky claptrap. I should just give it all up and find something else to do with my time, find an office to work in, a team to work with, somewhere to belong, I told myself.
Now, I’m not saying these aren’t valid points. Belonging is important – that’s clear to me now, if it wasn’t before. That’s why so many of us join clubs or societies, work in offices even if at times we hate our jobs, or form partnerships, enter into marriages and create families. Belonging gives us a sense of meaning, a sense of purpose. And I had none of the above, no partnership, no children dependant on me, no job to rush out to. I felt like I had nowhere to go, nothing to do – an odd feeling for someone who constantly feels overwhelmed by the number of tasks on her To Do list.
Fortunately, though, those feelings passed. And all it took was a little action, a few tiny steps to reconnect myself to my life here in London and to the people who, like me, suffer at times with that same feeling that they don’t belong. I remembered I wasn’t alone, and that gave me a sense of belonging.
I also remembered that belonging begins on the inside, not on the outside, and that planting myself in an office and doing work I’m not passionate about just to feel like I’m part of something, or tying the knot with the first eligible man who crosses my path or having a baby simply to fill the gap was not going to cure my existential angst. It’s an inside job. I can feel like I belong even if I don’t have any of the things traditionally associated with belonging.
Once I’d realised that, I could get on with some practical action to give me a sense of purpose and direction. I returned to my studio today (where I have colleagues, even if we all do different things) and got on with some work (including writing this blog, which always grounds me). I started sending out some more story ideas to magazines to make up for the knock-backs I’d received when I came back from my trip (dust yourself off, Katherine, and carry on). And I set up two interviews for my book, getting excited again about a project that I’ve already put a lot of work into and that’s definitely worth a shot.
I also dragged myself out of bed this morning (despite poor sleep) and got to a 730 am yoga class, which was incredibly rewarding, once I’d got over the initial shock of cycling there in the cold and dark. As I planted one foot firmly on the floor and felt the strength in my standing leg as I lifted the other behind me, I felt connected, connected to the earth, connected to my core.
And that’s what the yoga break in Turkey did for me – it connected me to my centre, to the essence of who I am (I have a feeling that last phrase sounds a little grandiose but I’ll leave it in there anyway). It reminded me that I have a spirit of adventure and a love for foreign lands. It reminded me that my spirit sings when I’m swimming in the sea, walking through pine forests or sitting on a rock watching the sun set on the horizon. And it reminded me that I can trust myself to know what is good for me, to know what is right for me, even if the voices in my head try to send me down a different path.
I feel a little taller and stronger after a week of yoga but, most importantly, my mind feels calmer. It’s likely the anxiety will return – it’ll take a while to rewrite a script I’ve been following for decades – but I feel I have more tools, more awareness and more strength to fight back today.
And I have memories to draw on – of lying on the floor of a wooden yoga shala at the end of a class, listening to the bees buzzing and the birds singing as the sun warmed my legs. Of wandering down a path, through vegetable gardens and past chickens, to my wooden hut. Of walking down a slope through pine forests to a rocky cove to swim with fish and watch sailboats glide along in the distance. Of walking back up the hill to meet my fellow yogis for a delicious meal harvested from the local plantations and eaten on an outdoor platform with an incredible sea view. And of stopping to look at the moon and the stars as I made my way to bed. (I was at Suleyman’s Gardens near Dalaman in southern Turkey if my description sounds appealing.)
I make good decisions.
I can trust myself.
All will be well.