Where the heart is

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The heart is where home is. That’s why it hurt so much to leave.

As nice as it was to see everyone and everything that was familiar, I was reminded about how much I have, and will, miss as time goes on.

As the birthday boy and the one visiting town, I had much to share. But there is a downside to being on the move. When everything is new, nothing has the chance to grow old. There are some things that only get better with time. Some of them we eat, like wine and cheese; others we experience, like relationships.

I’ve relocated my life twice. On both occasions I believed it was in the best interest of my personal development.  I’ve become a better person, but I need to share that…  like cake batter – another thing that’s eaten.

A few friends expressed their interest in taking similar steps. I responded by reminding them how great it is where they already are.

Then, alone last night, it dawned on me. Perhaps all this fondness I feel in my heart has something to do with the distance I’ve travelled. In that case, the hurt is worth it. If you’re reading this, go.

Home is where the heart is. That means it’s a feeling, not a place.

 It’s a feeling of comfort, belonging, and most importantly contentment – not wanting to be anywhere else. When we fall out of love with the place where we are, we are no longer at home.

Adjusting is another thing that takes time. However, if it turns out I move back, there will definitely be no regrets about leaving. Leaving home just might be the only way find it… And in some cases, it means finding out you didn’t have to leave, but it’s for the best that you did.

 

The coming of days. The passing of years.

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I’ll be twenty-eight in approximately sixty minutes.

Keeping me up is the ridiculous concern that, in accordance with the sun rising tomorrow, so will the world’s expectations of me. Ageing and anxious.

Two decades earlier, I was young and free. I couldn’t wait for the light of day and the permission it granted for me to open my presents.

It seems insecurities can gatecrash any party. Even our own.

I start rummaging through my memory, looking for those plans I wrote under the enchantment of teenage naivety: ‘Life at 28’.  I scrunch it up and throw it onto the pile with editions 24, 25, 26, and 27.

A smirk, a flick, and it’s all up in flames.

I don’t oppose having plans. But it is said, you can’t control the direction of the wind; you can only adjust your sails.

I still remember the week I turned 26. A gust came through from a future I never imagined to lead me to where I am today. My curiosity allowed me to be carried me away. But what if my fear kept me fixed to all that was familiar?

Regardless how drastically different our decisions are, they all raise a similar question… what if.

Perhaps a wondering mind is the sign of a wanting heart. Some people love almost every moment of their lives, and only wonder how they got so lucky. I hope that’s you.

I’m me –  someone who spends a lot of time wondering where they went ”wrong”. Especially on my birthdays.

But not this year.

I’ve learned a few things over the last two years. Mostly from my own experiences – going overseas, moving states, working in the mental heath field, and addressing my own issues. And from people who have pieced together their dream life; people that have lives that are in pieces; and people like me, who are somewhere in the middle. I even met a guy who was pronounced dead after suffering a brain aneurism while having sex – luckily coming back to life (no pun).

As old and wise as we feel, we’re still children of chance. There’s no stopping the world from turning, seasons from changing, or our hairs from graying. Before wishing it could be better, we should be grateful for all the ways it’s not worse. Time is precious and what ifs, worries, and waiting on God to answer our prayers only wastes it.

For that reason, this birthday, I’m cutting myself some slack with my cake, and I’m saving you a slice of both.

Tomorrow

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5 years doesn’t fit into 60 minutes. But this morning, I tried.

I saw Graham, a psychologist, for a free one hour consultation. My plan was to explain all that was wrong in half that time, giving him the rest of it to tell me how to make things right. But anyone who has ever had one of these spill-it-all conversations – with a professional, close acquaintance, or total stranger – knows they’re no straight road.

Nearing my late twenties, I wasn’t sure where to start. I can’t remember exactly when the clouds started rolling in. I just know they’ve been following me around and raining down more frequently than usual.

Stumbling over several stumps of silence, I got out a ‘bit about myself’.

Then, thinking of this time as too precious, I took control of the conversational wheel, making a sharp turn towards the topic of my desire of certainty and my disgust of anxiety.

Halt.

Graham was quick to point out – having volunteered in a developing country, and most recently moved states – my actions have a remarkably different tone to my words.

I lost at least 5 minutes to silence after that.

Before I knew it, he was explaining my options for moving forward: The costs, the rebates, his limited availability during the week.

This isn’t to say I didn’t appreciate his help. He is the only professional I’ve ever come across that offers a service for free. He had some great points… but he didn’t have the answers.

Maybe, no one does. Maybe some songs just have to play themselves out.

As I walked out into the streets, the sunlight hit my face. A ray of optimism came over me. I hoped today will be a good day.

But if not, there’s always tomorrow.

Only tomorrow knows what today doesn’t. If you give it the chance, tomorrow can bring you what today didn’t.

 

 

 

Sydney Month 3: Spring is Coming

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These words brought a smile to my face, which was far from my expression when my doctor suggested I go on Zoloft; and nothing like the looks my co-workers had when I arrived at the office in thongs, with a smell emanating from my feet as a result of that morning’s plumbing problems.

I left my housemate with a mop in hand and feet in sewerage water as I hurried to work. But not without first returning with a fresh muffin from the cafe down the road. It wasn’t much, but it was what I could do.

When I got here 3 months ago, I didn’t feel the same way about making it through winter. I honestly thought I would crumble; break; snap – or one of the many physical depictions of mentally giving in.

It’s been a challenge. The transition from a slow island in the South Pacific to Australia’s biggest city isn’t easy – or easily explained. To many it’s all ‘just another day’, but I can’t help being put off by the overpowering cold, cement surroundings, and presence of consumerism.

So understandably, there have been many nights where I’ve been left asking myself: “Why did I come here?” But truth be told, a few months ago, there were just as many sleepless nights spent keeping company to the thought: “Why stay here?”

But as my new housemate rightfully stated:

“You can’t run.”

I feel it’s important to mention that this experience has introduced me to what share housing is really like. Previously, I’d only lived with close friends. I’ve since learned that differences are to be expected, but also traversed through honest conversation. In this instance – despite our differences in where we’ve come from and going – we discovered a rather unexpected mutual understanding. It’s that wherever you go, so will whatever you’re trying to escape.

I know the importance of properly addressing ‘issues’ rather than avoiding them. I work for a non-profit organisation that promotes positive mental health… yet I’m having trouble staying positive – and worse, staying me. Bascially, failing the advice of one of my inspirations, Robin Williams:

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. Don’t lose it.”

Though various books, I’ve been exploring the idea of life itself being comprised of many instances of dying and being born again. The one requiring the other; letting go being the only way to have our hands open to receive. I don’t feel like the person I used to be (especially at work), but I’m holding onto the belief that it’s a natural process in the same way that a snake sheds its old skin for the sake of new growth.

Vivid, but the thought gives me comfort in what I’m doing: leaving home for the second time to  ‘start again’ and hopefuly figure out myself and my place in the crazy world. Sure, it could be me that’s ‘crazy’. But that would make days founded on coffee, cigarettes, high costs of living, and long crowded commutes… normal.

Maybe it is, and maybe this just isn’t the lifestyle for me. I’ve been exploring the ideas of minimalism and other alternative ways of living. The central theme being that one is encouraged to evaluate their obligations and desires against what they truly need to be ‘happy’. (Whatever that means, it should be defined by the individual, not marketers).

Without a doubt, these are all questions that first emerged last year while I lived in Tonga – a place where people had much less, but smiled so much more. There are Ted Talks on the topic as well as blogs from people like Lauren who are living their answers. (I’ll be Skyping with her shortly!)

It does seem that whenever we leave – and wherever we go – we run the risk of finding more questions than answers. Some settle, and some keep seeking. I don’t think either is particular the wiser. There’s many ways to live this thing called life. I had no idea about most of them until I stepped off the ‘road most traveled’ for the first time in my life last year.  My remaining commitment here in Sydney is 9 months, but I have every intention of making this place my permanent home if I can. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I promised myself I would try.

Before going on medication, there’s certainly things I will try… like following the advice that I spend 40hrs a week ‘giving’.  That means doing things like eating and sleeping well; and getting enough exercise, sunlight, and social engagement. I’ve also found getting enough ‘me time’ to pursue my hobbies to be essential to my wellbeing.

These are all things that definitely make one feel better. Except, ‘feeling better’ seems to be the prerequisite for having the energy and motivation to attempt these things in the first place. It’s kind of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, so we’ll just have to see what hatches. In the mean time – as I have through every dark storm that I’ve weathered over the years – I know that I can find solace between the pages of books.

Philosophy’s main task is to respond to the soul’s cry; to make sense of and thereby free ourselves from the hold of our griefs and fears.  – The Art of Living

It’s possible I might just end up passing through. But then, just like Tonga, I’ll hopefully leave with this place, and myself, being that little bit more better off.

Artificial & Anxious

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Grass can be fake, but it’s no substitute for the real thing. You definitely notice something’s off.

People can act fake. You can fool others, but certainly not yourself. There’s still going to be that ‘something’.

While I find it easy to present the image of being well-maintained and vibrant, others often find it difficult to get to the truth behind the weeds of my whimsical nature. So here’s something I hope you can grasp:

I don’t feel that great.

Today marks one month since I left. Emphasis on ‘I’. I chose this for myself, so I can’t complain. Even if I didn’t chose everything else: being overwhelmed; the homesickness; the unfamiliarity to everyone, everything; and the emotional toll that not having a place to call home for a month takes.

I don’t feel very organic either.

Not many people know what’s below the surface. I worry that piling it all on others would mean losing them. So I’m under the pile, hoping for a hand to pull me out or pass me a ‘shovel’ in the form of a solution. I’d even be grateful to be swept the remaining shards of support from some sold-out saying.

That’s because I’m willing to dig my way out.  Like a prize-winning patch, getting the grass to be greener where you stand requires work. It requires a routine. That means attending to pervasive emotions so they don’t get out of hand.

I spend my weeks working with wellbeing and mental health content. I know the tools, I know the techniques; I know I wasn’t using them.

 Emphasis on ‘wasn’t’.

Since finding somewhere I feel comfortable in calling home, I’ve taken steps to start laying a proper foundation, sprinkling the right mix of habits and hope. With patience, effort, and self-care, like a flower finding its way through the pavement, I know beauty can blossom from what appears broken.

I feel better  – especially after writing and a much-needed phone call.

Adding Colour

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The grass isn’t always greener. Sometimes there’s no grass at all.

This is my first post since moving to a completely new city.

So far its been a corrosive mixture of feelings. The most unsettling being the urge to turn my car around and head home. That’s the thing about options; as much as they help us when we fall, they can also be a hinderance when it comes to taking flight. Tony Robins said it well:

If you want to take the island, make sure to burn the boat.

I didn’t set my car on fire, but I gave myself some much needed rest after two days of solid driving – accompanied by no one but my own thoughts. For most of the way, I was going between 100 – 120km; they were racing at least twice that fast.

I didn’t exactly know why I was doing this, but I knew what I was doing. I was running.

I guess I didn’t learn from Tonga; you can run from anywhere, anything, and anyone … but yourself.

I opened the door to a standard Sydney-sized shoebox of a room. My bags barely hit the ground before the mirror caught my eye. There I was. Somehow, I expected the mirror, but not the person in it.

But I didn’t run. I stayed because I believe that somewhere out there is the person I want to be. I might find him here. Or as I did in Tonga, I’ll at least find a few more pieces of the puzzle.

I already wrote about a recent realisation regarding my parents. Likewise, so far this experience has also allowed me to see even more value in my friendships. “Thinking of you,” “Call me anytime,” and “I’m on your side,” are more than just words when you’re in a city of four million people and only know four; they’re a way forward. But making my way is still my responsibility.

In his Ted Talk, How the worst moments in our lives make us who we areAndrew Solomon speaks about “forging meaning and creating identity”. Inspired by this, I’ve found strength in my own slogan: adding colour. (Shattering several stereotypes in the process considering that I’m the straight one.)

It’s like that phrase about finding the silver lining in the clouds. I’m faced with a silver wall of concrete to which I’ve taken it upon myself to add some colour to. Our perspective and personality truly are paint brushes. So far – based on my limited experience – this city seems dull and dark, but I know things can get brighter.

However, just like when it comes to working with an actual paint palette, I understand that not every colour will work. Compromises must be made and benefits must be balanced as we walk down this tightrope that’s made of time and a temperament towards snapping at any moment. ( I just watched an episode of Louie which had an unexpected death.)

And on the topic of walking, I’m a short distance from work, but far from comfortable in a house that has parts hardly standing. I’m paying little in rent, but not enjoying spending all my time in my room. I got the things I wanted, but it’s clear that they’re just not working for me overall. So I’m going to change my circumstances like an artist choosing colours. I can’t be certain of how my decision to move will affect my ‘bigger picture’… but hopefully my next post will be looking a lot better.

Halfway and Half-hearted

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Yesterday morning I faced a similar sight:  two open suitcases and a bare room. I felt a similar feeling: excitement stirred with far too many dashes of doubt. This is happening; I’m closing one chapter and turning to nothing but blank pages.

All of a sudden at the half-way point in my journey, I have a thought at 1.09 am:

“Turn around, go home.”

It’s amusing how certainty gives the illusion of comfort. I left home in order to seek out more ideal conditions, but nothing can dilute the odour of uncertainty that drifts with any daring decision. That stench surrounded me in the middle of the night. It gets us all at different times and in different scenarios, but it’s always felt as fear –  fear of the unknown. 

It’s also elaborated in sayings such as, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”

Well, here’s what I do know: I held by breath through the night and woke to the fresh air of possibility and this beautiful view. There’s also now something on the first page. Something that I wrote; not my imagination.

What stinks in your life?  

My Crossroad: Moving State

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The Crossroads of Should and Must – Elle Luna

It’s amusing how the most unexpected and usual scenarios can play themselves out for a second time.

I recently went camping for the weekend to spend a night under the stars, but only to find myself lost… in thought. I was preoccupied with the possibility of how my life may change based on the news I was awaiting. Last time it was whether I got accepted into the volunteer program that sent me to Tonga for the year; this time it was a potential job offer in another state.

Once again, I returned to get the good news, but also to be left with the weight of a gigantic decision to make.

Just like Tonga was a country that I never saw myself visiting, Sydney is a city I never saw myself living in.  I even wrote a post about how I didn’t enjoy my last experience there…

But there is a key difference this time: why I’m going.

I have the opportunity to work for an organisation that focuses specifically on promoting mental health and preventing youth suicide. It’s an opportunity to better lives and to make a ‘difference’ – pretty much the kind of difference that I intended this blog to make by reaching out to the kid I once was: sitting alone in my room starting at the wall for hours; lost, numb and unwilling to fully participate in life. It’s the opportunity to save someone from making the mistake that I’m lucky I never made. It’s an unfortunate reality, but many people do – which is why what this organisation does is so important.

But the question remained: how important is it that I do it?

I spoke to everyone – from my friends and family, to passing strangers and even shop clerks. I also spent one hour going through a pros-and-cons list with my psychologist. No one could give me a definite answer. This advice from a friend illuminated my biggest concern:

“When it comes to making such big decisions, make sure you’re running to something, not just running from something.”

Not that I regret my decision – but I will admit, my decision to go to Tonga was definitely motivated by the latter. I enjoy the feeling of escaping; I think I always will. But I also desire to grow; I hope I always will. As I’ve been slowly sinking back into old habits and mindsets since returning, leaving my ‘comfort zone’ may strangely enough, be the only way to save myself.

Sink or swim.

Just as pressure forges diamonds, it’s said that it makes the best in us shine. I hope it does because, apart from the job, at this stage, I’ve got nothing else of value waiting for me. I believed going to Tonga would allow me to reinvent myself – which it did. But it also left the process largely incomplete. Which is why I’m hoping another change of scenery will allow me to discover the rest of my missing pieces.

Currently, I dislike the uncertainty I have in my life. I’d definitely prefer to be ‘normal’ with a secure job, wife, house, and baby; but I deeply desire to be different, too. Or better put: myself. My employment experience so far has also proven that I’d be better off with some congruency between who I am and what I do. Just as Elle Luna asks in her ‘must read’  book, The Crossroads of Should and Must:

“What if who we are and what we do become one and the same? What if our work is so thoroughly autobiographical that we can’t parse the product from the person? In this place, job descriptions and titles no longer make sense; we no longer go to work, we are the work.”

It’s a question worth asking; but we are not always given or guaranteed an answer, to which Luna also states:

“To choose Must is to say yes to a journey without a road map or guarantees.”

So I can’t say that taking the job is specifically the best decision… but I do feel it’s certainly a step in the right direction. And that’s enough for me to choose Must.

PS

* Great Ted Talk by David Brooks discussing the desire to live for more than just our work.