The realisation came to me when my partner and I were having a conversation about what my future looks like. I told him I hadn’t bothered looking – none of what I’d planned over the past two years had worked out the way I thought it would. He was of the opinion that I should have a plan B in place. I found myself laughing at that – I didn’t have a plan A in place. I didn’t even have any of the basic knowledge I should have in order to have a plan in place. What was I going to do with a plan B when I much less didn’t have a plan A in place?
My partner found that surprising. “But you always had multiple plans in place,” he said. “When did this happen?”
I didn’t know, at that time. But looking back now, I realised a lot of the things I used to stick by as my values had changed overnight, when it was decided that my postgraduate program was not going to be in person, like I’d been assured until that point, but that it would be online. My perception of life changed completely, and it hasn’t reverted back since.
I used to be an obsessive planner. I had plans A, B, C and D, sometimes all the way to G, for any given situation. Given how inflexible I was/am(?) to change, I used to find it a lot easier to work out every possible outcome in my head and prepare for it mentally. Being an ex-overthinker and a writer-on-hiatus, my mind had plenty of space and tools to think myself into a tizzy, and if not a tizzy, then at least think up every possible path that forked from a single upcoming event.
For two years, I had my entire life planned out, all the way until I was married. I didn’t have the specifics, just the basic headings – I’d finish college by age x, join the postgraduate program of my dreams in my dream college and finish my postgraduate by age y, get a job and start preparing to go abroad to join my partner where he currently is, and get engaged and married sometime after plans to move become concrete. This plan was tweaked from time to time, as and when new information reached me, but for the most part, it stayed within this general framework.
Then, life happened. A late graduation, an offer to do a postgraduate program from a college I’d never even considered seriously, the realisation of the colossal time I’d waste if I reapplied, a job I never thought I’d have and a postgraduate on campus life that never did manifest… Well, nothing worked out the way I’d wanted it to. Nothing at all.
I still remember when the shift happened mentally. I was on one of the many calls with the department staff, frantically trying to find out whether or not I’d be able to pursue an on-campus program for my postgrad. The lecturer I was on call with was explaining the situation to me, and I was trying to figure out what my options were. And then he said this –
“Why are you in such a hurry to start classes?”
I froze. I didn’t really have an answer beyond, “I’m being left behind. Everyone is moving ahead, and I’m being left behind.” And honestly, it wasn’t the answer I wanted to be giving someone who would be my professor for the next two years.
I still remember that moment, his words, his voice clearly. And that moment put me down this path of letting go. It didn’t happen immediately, of course – it took months after that phone call for me to truly let go of every semblance of a life path that I had, and for me to realise that all things are meant to work out in a certain way. I may or may not be privy to how things would work out, but I had to move forward believing that they would, and that, most times, I would not have any control over how that would go.
I’ve always been very attached to the idea of control, and therefore very resistant to change. Spontaneous plans gave me anxiety – they still do. I’m the kind of person who needs a two day notice for doing anything, because I love the routine I set for myself and I find it really difficult to break away from it, more mentally than anything else. Somehow, I’ve found myself surrounded by people who had an allergy to planning things, and I had to teach myself not to have a mental breakdown every time the people I hung out with would change the itinerary at the drop of a hat. It was a real tough training for me, but having plans changed constantly in my personal life, along with an uncertain academic life and a job where things change instantaneously made me adapt, to be accepting of change and spontaneity.
Another thing that changed, over time, was my idea of friendship. I’ve gone over this multiple times in many of my blog posts, but I grew more comfortable with not having multiple people I considered to be closest to me, and being just friends with people I used to consider close enough to be siblings with. It took a while, and, even now, I sometimes have intrusive thoughts that tell me what a failure I am as a person for not being as friendly and as open as I used to be.
Honestly, though? I’m mentally a lot more calmer, and more at peace. The people I was close to were – and still are – good people. But I perceived them to be a lot closer to me than they actually were, and the realisation that they weren’t took a long time to accept. It was hard – to realise all the friends I had were friends of proximity, not friends of matching mental frequencies was not easily digestible. But I feel like I have digested a majority of it, thanks to time, and this blog.
Mental health, for me, hasn’t been easy, and achieving mental equilibrium is something that is more a process than a destination. In all honesty, I still don’t know what I’m doing, but the longer I live, the more I realise that a lot of us don’t know what we’re doing. All of us are out here, groping around in the dark, figuring out the path we call our life.
Sometimes we end up taking roads that take a lot longer to arrive at our destination. Sometimes these roads are filled with peril and more potholes than we’d care to fall into. Sometimes, the detour ends up being an altogether different path than the one we thought we’d end up on. I thought I’d have it figured out once I’d grow up. But growing up was realising that nothing is figured out, and the rules to live life by are the ones we create.
So, now, I don’t have any plans for my future, just preferences. I’m emotionally connected to fewer people than I has originally started out with a year ago, and that my two hands are sufficient enough to count them. And as I look out at the barely visible road before me, I remember Green Day’s song:
I walk a lonely road/the only road that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes/but it’s home to me and I walk alone
And instead of the emotional turmoil I expect to feel inside me at these lyrics, I feel… Fine. Pretty alright, actually. A lot better than I thought I would. And surprisingly peaceful at the thought of it.
At the end of the day, mental peace is a lot more satisfying than even the best laid plans, or the return of an old friend. And, with open arms, I’ll take it.
Next month is going to be full of book reviews of some wonderful books from my First Impression series – I’ll see you guys there! Bye bye!