In many ways, I am in the best mental and physical health of my life. I have minimal stress, I get plenty of sleep, I eat well – perhaps a little too well if one can judge by my waistline. My lab results are the epitome of “normal”. I gave up drinking and smoking and am finally reaping the benefits of both, feeling great and breathing easy. I have learned to be comfortable alone and in silence – conditions that induced great anxiety peppered with frustration and sadness in my past. I have faced many challenges in this past year, mostly of the academic type, which have been a privilege rather than a burden, unlike the lifelong challenges that accompany keeping a roof over one’s head. This year, I haven’t had to juggle work and kids and pets and household and all the various responsibilities of adulthood. It has been a gift, quite literally. Instead, this year has been me and my laptop studying at home with two of the world’s happiest dogs at my side, quite literally flanking me wherever I sit or lay, as if trying to keep me from ever leaving them again. After working most every day of my life since I was 16 years old, many of those years spent on my feet, this experience has been an adjustment both physically and mentally. One year and 15 pounds later, I can honestly say that I am ever so grateful for this opportunity to obtain a college education, not to mention the education about myself that came with the package. I’m grateful for my health and the knowledge that I have acquired.
I’m also cagey. What does it say about me that my improved mental health has sprung from a year of virtual solitude? Yes, of course, I get out, but not a lot. Most of my “outings” occur in cyberspace (and I am ever so grateful for my cyber friends who have helped me stay on this side of crazy). I go to the grocery, the post office, the doctor’s office. I walk to the book store and spend an hour or so adding to my literary bucket list while listening to one of its entries through my earbuds, trying to remember not to laugh or talk out loud lest the other browsers think me crazy. Until recently, my class load was so heavy that I really didn’t have much time to think about anything except school and I certainly wasn’t bored. That was then and this is now. My class load is reduced for this last half-semester. I have been making a long, drawn-out process of preparing to move, trying to spread the tasks of sorting through my 800-square-foot life over two months when the reality is I could have it sorted and packed in a weekend. I’ve already forgotten what’s in those boxes I’ve packed. I’m watching marathons of Below Deck Mediterranean (new) and CSI Miami (way old), and binge-watching past seasons of Grey’s Anatomy that I missed while working too many hours for too many years (Did McDreamy die? Wait! Don’t tell me.). Despite so much time on my hands, I often go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink and I’m having a teensy-weensy problem sticking to an exercise routine. I guess I’m sort of holding depression at bay.
Why is it that I was fine while I was busy, that I do my best work when I can hear the clock ticking down to a deadline, yet having ample time on my hands turns me into a basket case? I mean, the more I stay home the more I want to stay home. Then I start thinking about what it means that I have trouble leaving the house some days. Or what it means that I won’t go for a walk because I look too fat in my shorts even though I know that walking will help me not look so fat (I say, as I step over the rabbit hole of distorted body image and save that for another day). Why is it that the more time I have on my hands the more neurotic I seem to become? I guess I’ve always known this about me, that I love being at work with my brain fully engaged for exactly this reason, because crazy doesn’t come to visit when I’m busy. Home has always been merely a place to sleep and eat. In the periods where I have tried to nest and do the whole Suzy Homemaker thing, I have been miserable and a little off. I mean it’s good to put your house in order but then it’s time to move on and go back to work. My brain needs to be challenged on a regular basis. Right now, I’m not pretending to give a damn about my apartment’s décor or even whether I’ve vacuumed up the dog hair, preferring instead to entertain myself with mindless television drivel. I’m eating too much. Or maybe I’m just moving too little. Whatever is going on, I’m clearly getting a little cagey. I’m like the hamster who loses interest in the wheel he’s been running on and makes a break for it when his cage door opens. I’ve got my exit strategy and I’m ditching this cage mid-July. For now, I’m thinking too much about thinking too much and wishing I was already gone, being cagey in my new apartment in my new town.
I guess it’s official: I’m lonely. Now that the workload is reduced, I wish I had someone with whom to take a walk or go to the beach that is a mere 2 miles straight down the street, or with whom to see a movie at the theater that’s walking distance from my apartment. Except for the grocery staff or the postal clerks, and save for the handful of times that I have seen old friends, it’s been just me and the dogs for a year now. I don’t think folks really understand what I mean when I say I rarely spend time with anyone. I think they think I mean I haven’t gone out to dinner or been to any parties. That’s true, I haven’t. But many days go by in which I do not talk to a soul save for the dogs. A lot of folks go to work and come home and don’t go out to socialize for weeks at a time. Yet they have spouses or roommates or kids at home, and they have co-workers and bosses and customers at work, with all of whom they interact. It doesn’t matter whether they frame the interaction as positive or negative, it’s still interaction. I have none of that. The grocery clerk may well be the only person I look in the eyes or say a word to all week. As I said earlier, I seemed to be comfortable with this while I was preparing for the LSAT and applying to law schools last year, and while my class load was so overwhelming until about a month ago. Even now, I’m not unhappy, just restless and bored and a little bit lonely. Now, I’m in wait mode. I’m on hold. I’m in limbo. I am literally waiting for my lease to expire so that I can move.
The absence of other human beings in my sphere is now painfully obvious given my limbo status. True enough, I couldn’t have accomplished all that I did academically over this last year if I still had that full-time job or a house full of people with which to contend. I needed the space and the quiet. There have been other benefits as well. It has been good to get comfortable in my own skin full-time. It’s great to know that I can accomplish just about anything if I make a plan and work hard, as I did to complete 60 credit hours in one year and get accepted to law school with a partial scholarship. It’s good to know that I can provide my own sense of safety, take care of myself in every conceivable way, and arrange for my own entertainment. I have stuck to my budget and my schedule and accomplished much on my own. Now that the dust has settled, I am also lonely.
It’s been a really good year. I’m really done with it.