I recently read a blog post about how major changes can divide life into a before and a after. This resonated with me. I think about my befores and afters. Before my family immigrated to the UK, and after. Before my grandmother died, and after. Before my cat died, and after. A thing happens, and afterwards you are left with a new and terrible reality. But not all befores and after have to go like that, do they? Sometimes the after is better than what came before. Before being accepted to university, after being accepted to university. Before I was employed, and after.
And recently, before I could drive, and after.
I have a car now.
No more waiting around for buses, followed by an excruciatingly long and claustrophobic journey- funny smells, loud noises, packed tightly on overcrowded services. No more lugging my things around with me. Just me, my little car. I am in control of my environment and my journey. I do not have to carry heavy loads anymore. It is terrifying, every time I struggle with the clutch, when I stall, when there are no speed sign limits and I’m unsure how fast to go, when someone drives too close behind me… I have so much to learn still. But I can drive to work, in 40 minutes flat I can get there, 30 minutes when the traffic is good. (A two hour commute more than halved and much more reliable!) The world is shifting again. My world opens up, new and exciting, and also very scary. Another step towards an independence I want but don’t feel truly capable of.
A before and after that I think about a lot: Before I wanted to live, and after. The scars on my body remind me every day that I am alive, but that I once set a time limit to my life.
I sometimes find myself tracing the scars on my wrist with my fingertips, thinking about all that has been, amazed to have made it so far, but also wondering if I have the strength to go further. I doubt myself sometimes. I feel pressure and I know it’s coming mostly from me but I can’t seem to find the ‘off’ switch for my thoughts. I’ve had so much going on lately, most of it I can’t go into here, and I’m stressed out. My life has felt very all over the place, my anxious brain has been going at 110% with worry. Nights spent lying awake, thinking about this and that. Tired, so tired. Everything keeps changing and I am only just keeping up with it. Some days my chest feels tight, like I can’t breathe, it’s all too much.
But then I look at the scars sometimes and I stop at that amazement. I know I have survived, and that I can get through whatever life throws at me. I am reminded that I am still, despite everything, alive.
My brain can’t quite settle on a state of mind. I feel stuck in a bad place, wanting change, making some half-hearted efforts towards it, but dreading it all at once, and procrastinating and putting off the things I know I should do.
When I encounter something new, I begin to feel that familiar pressure to succeed at it. I can’t just do something without worrying about doing it well enough. Whatever ‘well enough’ means. I apply unreasonably high standards to even the smallest things, in ways that don’t make much sense. This is my perfectionism. I strive towards unrealistic goals and naturally never reach them, so I become disheartened and demotivated. Sometimes, before I even get going on my way towards my goals, I get so overwhelmed with worry that I won’t carry out my task properly that I can’t even start it. I procrastinate, put it off, and try to pretend it doesn’t exist.
I worry about driving, too. It’s hard to discuss when I can’t go into details about certain things, but I basically have gotten into bad habits, haven’t gotten much of a routine right now. I used my commute as an excuse for my disorganisation, and now with that stripped away, I am left vulnerable. I can look at having my licence and my car as a chance to press reset, as the good sort of change I’ve been waiting for. It becomes my hope that I can fix it all now; I can get my routine sorted and become more in control. But the reality is- I wanted a convenient excuse for why I am struggling (a bad commute!) and an easy fix (driving!) when there is definitely something more to it. I am overwhelmed by all the changes in my life, and I am retreating from it. I have set myself standards that are impossibly high and become demotivated because I cannot reach them. I am so caught up in worry for what may become, that I become detached from the now. I tell myself to take each day as it comes, but in the morning, when I have just woken up, my tired brain can’t quite be that strong, and I struggle to begin my day properly, and then struggle to get through the rest of it once I’ve failed at that. (Again perfectionism – if you’ve already failed there’s just no point is there. The world becomes very black and white.)
I am caught up in my befores and afters, tracing the scars too often, too afraid. This pressure to keep going, to keep succeeding. I don’t know what version of success I am chasing, or why I can’t be happy where things are now. I don’t know why I cannot accept the present, but am always looking ahead to what’s coming next. I can’t settle into a happy after without worrying about that shift again, something else changing again, turning bad.