The end of my second year of university crept up on me so softly, I almost missed it. I was aware of the passing of time, of the ending of my final exams, but there was no cut-off point. There was no definitive moment of “okay, this is over now.” Last summer I left Glasgow in June, and set off on my grand adventure across the continent. This summer I’m staying in Glasgow, and perhaps that is why there is no sense of ending. The academic year is over, but there is no pause button to press on my life this year. No epic adventures await me.
I spent this afternoon with my best friend, eating lunch, drinking cocktails and iced coffee. The sun shone in the sky, and the combination of the weather and the martinis put me in this weird, philosophical mood, where my mind was filled with nostalgia. All I could think about was the past, and what the future holds for me.
I am a different person to who I was a year ago. In May 2017 I was filled with a naive sense of hope and expectation. I had a vision of the future which didn’t come to be. Back then, I had many expectations of where I would be by the end of second year. I failed to meet my own expectations. Or, more accurately, external forces over which I have no control failed to meet my expectations.
I’m glad of this. Sometimes in life, we think something is right for us because we so desperately want it. And we look back in a year’s time, and realise not getting what we wanted was the best thing to happen to us.
I often feel like nothing happened at all during second year. First year was a rollercoaster, and second year was a straight road with a few bumps along the way. Sure, there was depression and disappointment and heartbreak, but even most of that happened during the first semester. These first five months of 2018 have gone by swiftly and steadily, and I can barely recall what happened.
Somewhere within this quiet life I lead, I changed entirely. My friends tell me how much I’ve changed, how my confidence has grown, how I had such a “glow up” since even a few months ago. It’s something I feel within myself. During this past year, I learnt my self-worth has to come from me, rather than any other person. And I blossomed. I made beautiful friendships, I lived true to myself. I no longer felt the need to apologise for the person I am.
There were two occasions within the past couple of days where I found myself in social situations where I barely knew anybody. The first was a friend’s birthday party, where I knew no one other than that one friend. The second was a Vegan Society picnic, where the only people I knew were vague acquaintances, and the rest were strangers. It had been a long time since I last felt socially anxious. I spend so much time hanging out with the same group of people, that I forgot how out of my depth I am around strangers. I don’t feel at home in my body. Every movement feels awkward. My silence feels awkward. Small talk is painful to me, and I don’t know how to act.
After both of these occasions, I came home and just wanted to huddle up inside my shell. But, unlike how I would have reacted last year, I managed to talk myself out of feeling bad. In such situations, it’s easy to feel like I’m the problem, like there’s something wrong with me for not being “normal.” But yesterday morning, before I went to the picnic, I’d printed off the latest draft of my novel. So I came home and saw the massive book manuscript lying on my bed, and I was filled with the warm ooey-gooey feeling of “I CREATED this.” Suddenly it didn’t matter that I was awkward at parties or bad at making small talk. Because I knew what my strengths were. Maybe I don’t have the words when I’m talking to strangers, but I have a 153,931 word long novel, and that counts for something.
Since last year, I have learnt to be more compassionate towards myself. Where my internal monologue used to be a constant stream of “for fuck’s sake, Eliza!” it’s now more like “you’re doing fine, everything is okay, you’re doing great.” Progress isn’t linear, and it’s so important to be kind to yourself throughout the journey of your life, because there will be times when you screw up, times when you disappoint yourselves and those around you, and you have to keep moving forward. This year I learnt to pick myself up off the ground, to take my own hand and guide myself in the right direction. I learnt to take care of myself in practice rather than just in theory.
I’m realising now that 2018 is a year of growth, rather than a year of events or adventure. I still want to run away, I still want to catch the next plane to the Baltic States and lose myself for a while. But this year I’ve learnt that some of the most important journeys are internal. I don’t need to travel halfway across the continent to become my best self, as much as I’d like to.
I spent nineteen years living as a caterpillar. At twenty, I withdrew into my cocoon to grow. I don’t know when I will emerge as a butterfly. It could be in a month, and it could be in a year. But I know it will happen. I have grown so much, and so swiftly, that I have no doubt change will come. I am often impatient, wishing for things that are out of reach to me. But as I grow older, I’m learning the virtues of trust and patience. And I know that my future self is someone worth waiting for. She is strong and smart and brave, she is an ambitious achiever, she is going places.
So I will spend this summer in my cocoon, editing my novel and editing my life. Slowly but surely, I will be reborn. I have grown so used to seeing my friends several days a week, living a life which runs parallel to the lives of others. Most of my friends are going, or have already gone, home for the summer, and for the next few months I will spend a lot of time in solitude. Perhaps a lot of the growth I attribute to time spent in other countries came from the fact I was in those countries alone. Perhaps the same level of growth will come to me during the time I will spend on my own in Glasgow.
I am responsible for my own happiness. I am responsible for my own happiness, regardless of where I am in the world. I often choose to forget that I was depressed for most of the time I spent travelling last year. I look to the past through my rose-tinted glasses and view it as a better time. I look to the future in the same way. My happiness won’t come from the past, it won’t come from some faraway country, it won’t come from the future. My happiness can only come from the here and now.
One of the mistakes I made last summer was wishing my life away, waiting for the months to pass, because I believed my life wouldn’t start until September. I travelled alone through seven countries, the kind of journey I had only ever dreamed of, and I wasted that time living in the future. Come September, the universe had the last laugh. My plans fell through, in many areas of my life. Whilst the two things are perhaps unconnected, I still try to take from it the important lesson: don’t take the future for granted. You don’t know when it’s the last time you’ll see someone, you don’t know whether agreements you’ve made will be kept, you don’t know which friendships will fizzle out. You don’t even know what person you’ll be in a few months from now. Don’t spend your life waiting for the future, because the future is now.
This afternoon, as my best friend and I walked back from the city centre, the sun shining down upon us, iced coffees in hand, we talked about how our younger selves would react if they could see us now. My thirteen-year-old self would be impressed I’d written so many novels. My sixteen-year-old self would be amazed that I have so many friends (or any friends at all). My eighteen-year-old self would be like “we’re STILL single?” My nineteen-year-old self would be surprised at how things turned out, but I think she’d like the person I am now. One day I’ll look back and wonder about my twenty-year-old self, and reflect on how many of her expectations came into being.
I am constructing the life I want to live. Sometimes the progress is slow, sometimes the progress stops entirely. Sometimes I can’t get a permit to build in the places where I try to lay down my foundations. Becoming a person is hard work. There are days when I still feel like an alien. But I continue to build myself up, I continue to grow. Because I believe in the butterfly, even when the cocoon stage feels like it will never end.
My life hasn’t been put on pause. As slow as the progress feels, I am still moving forward. I’m not going to waste this summer being unsatisfied with where I’m at. I will live my best life. I will find a job and work hard. I will continue editing my novel. I will experience life and have fun. I will radiate love and light and happiness. I read recently that we don’t attract what we want, we attract what we are. In order to grow, I must become growth. In order to be loved, I must become love. My life is stagnant because I feel stagnant. It’s time for that to change. It’s time act like the person I plan to become.