The unfortunate truth about life is that “this, too, shall pass” also applies to the good things. As my time at university comes to its premature end, I gaze into the abyss of my empty future and think “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck”. I am a planner: my goals may change, but the intention behind them is the most consistent thing about me. I gamble with my life choices every once in a while, but only when the odds are stacked in my favour. All in all, I’ve spent 22 years analysing the shit out of everything and everyone – much to my detriment.
They say “if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans”, and boy does God/the universe/whatever’s out there love to laugh at me! I’ve felt for some time now that my life is a TV show, but lately they’ve stopped filming. The show was cancelled midseason, with no resolution. I read my old diaries as if I’m watching a rerun. The one thing I have in my favour as a chronic overthinker is that I tend to learn from my mistakes. And my diaries? They are a 26-month-long manual for what to do differently.
Last night, I picked up my diary from the first few months of 4th year, flipping back and forth and ignoring chronological order. I started with November, which, at the time, felt like the most stressful month of my life. Aside from the occasional stress-induced rant, most pages of that diary are so filled with love and affection and gratitude. I knew what I had, before it was gone.
Time is a funny thing. There were so many things I was uncertain about, so many lessons I needed to learn within the past couple of months, but I had already learned those lessons. I would have known exactly how to handle some situations if only they’d happened a few months earlier. I had the knowledge I needed within me all along, and it’s so frustrating to look back and be like “why didn’t you make different choices, dumb bitch?”
I don’t know how much I believe in fate. I think certain things are up to choice, but fate works as a kind of skeleton for what will happen, and our choices flesh it out. Apparently, that argument doesn’t stand up to logical critique, but I can’t remember why. There have been moments in my life that felt fated – people, places, connections that I knew were meant for me. Sometimes I wonder if the choices we make are fated too. If I knew how to do better, why didn’t I? Why did I waste months of my life paralysed by indecision? Why am I writing this blog instead of my dissertation?
This is probably the last thing you expect to hear from a writer, but communication is the area of my life where I most often feel disempowered. Everything I say is carefully cultivated. I sometimes take days to text people back because I want to say something meaningful and give them my full attention. I can’t write my essays till the last minute, because the pressure of an imminent deadline is the only thing that gets me out of my head long enough to be productive. I love writing – there are days when the words flow and each piece of punctuation brings the page to life, makes the sentences dance before me. What I don’t love about writing is the permanence, and the pressure it brings. Once something’s been said, you can’t take it back. I’ve lived my life with a painstaking commitment to honesty, but every time I’ve reached a moment of “speak now or forever hold your peace”, I missed the deadline. I stumbled backwards off a cliff and screamed my truth as I hurtled to the ground below.
There is a giant pandemic-themed abyss between my past and my future. I feel like I’m swimming blindfolded through a lake of treacle. I can’t see where I’m going, and I couldn’t get there even if I did.
I want to write something positive. I want to have a conversation about anything other than goddamn coronavirus. But what even is there to say anymore? Last night I phoned my best friend, and we spent an hour gossiping about stuff that happened months ago, because life is at a standstill now and there is no new gossip, no drama, no silly meaningless things to distract us from reality.
There is so much I want to write about, and so much of it seems silly and futile. Part of me wants to say: if you want to read something hopeful about an apocalyptic world, read my novel. I’m a firm believer that there is more truth in fiction than any personal essay. We are all constructs of ourselves. But I also want to write about the life I once lived. If I can’t give myself hope for the future, I can at least celebrate the past.
My life isn’t over, so this is not a eulogy or a post-mortem; this is a love letter. A love letter to everything Past Eliza built, and everything she broke. Past Eliza is a romanticised construct—like all things in her life are—but she is also a brick that helped build Present Eliza.
This is a love letter to the life thus far of the most impulsive overthinker to ever grace this earth. I planned everything to a T, and threw it out the window and lived on a whim. I told people I loved them when I did, wore my heart on my sleeve and my forehead and my tongue. I told the world who I was, though my words often got lost in translation. My favourite colour is purple; my favourite song is Wolf Alice’s “Don’t Delete the Kisses”; I write about my pain to make it beautiful. I am motivated by love as much as I am motivated by success. I didn’t know who I was until last summer. I am a writer, but words often fail me. I wish I could communicate my emotions exclusively through memes and playlists and meaningful eye-contact. I’ve done improv for so long that “yes, and—” is permanently engrained in my brain. There are two kinds of freedom: looking into another person’s eyes and trusting them completely, and travelling alone without a plan of where you’ll end up – I need both those kinds of freedom, even though they’re the same thing. I’m always surprised when people say my name; it makes me feel seen. I’ve spent most of my life waiting for something; I don’t know if it’s success or answers. The truest way to know me is to read my novel, not my blogs – it contains my hopes, my fears, my philosophy. I prefer phone calls to texts, television to films. I have a good memory; I’ll remember your allergies and favourite kind of herb tea – and every compliment you’ve ever given me. I am a collection of disconnected sentences, with no inherent meaning – to know me, you have to see all the parts of the whole, recognise the jigsaw puzzle. I am neither trees nor forest, I am the duality of both.
I’ve spent 22 years striving to live an intense and passionate life, and it has never felt like enough. There was no balance, no 50/50 of give and take. Passion is finite. I don’t want to invest in something temporary. I want security. I want relationships that aren’t going to pull the rug out from under my feet when I least expect it. I want my life to be more than just a good (or sad) story; I want it to be meaningful. It does not feel meaningful right now.
My life thus far is a list of unanswered questions. Everything I’ve been working towards seems futile. I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack every time I sit down to write my dissertation, and it’s not because I’m not intelligent or capable or don’t know what to write. It’s because it is the last thing standing between me and the meaningless abyss of lockdown life once university ends. I’m scared about the future; I’m scared I wasted the past. I don’t want to be productive; I don’t want to spend this time losing weight or writing a novel or learning a language. I want to lie in bed and wallow, I want to eat chocolate spread straight from the jar, I want to overthink every choice I’ve made within the past six months and ask myself if there was anything I could have done to avoid being where I am right now.
Months of my life are now vacant, and I have no control over it. There is nothing I could have done differently, there is nothing I can do to control the outcome of my future. I feel lost, and empty, and depressed, and the internet is a constant bombardment of productivity tips that make me want to scream. I have lived my life as an overachiever, and it is meaningless now. I am a human, not a machine. I don’t owe anyone productivity. At the same time, my dissertation deadline is 26 days away and I have another 7,000 words to write, so productivity isn’t so much of a choice as a necessity.
I don’t know what happiness looks like anymore. I find it in brief moments—dancing to Dua Lipa’s new album, reading my diary entries from a happier time, watching Grey’s Anatomy, hanging out with my cat—but it doesn’t last. “This, too, shall pass”, they say about the virus, the lockdown, the uncertainty, but it is also true of my happiness, of everything I built that I thought was solid and stable.
I have measured my life in usefulness, productivity, achievements. When I didn’t, I measured it in loves lost and gained, in friendships, in travels, in experiences. All these things are out of reach to me now. I know who I am without these things, I can separate myself from my habits. But they are also my choices. I chose what to achieve, I chose who to love, I chose which countries to visit. This is not some peeling back of layers of external influence to reveal the true Eliza, this is simply a removal of the life I have chosen for myself. And boy am I bitter about it. The abyss, too, shall pass. Until then, all I can do is trust, and swim blindly through the treacle lake, hoping I’ll one-day reach the shore.