Brushing my teeth, I look absent-mindedly in the mirror and something is missing. Or rather someone, that someone being me, or to be more precise, the lower half of my face. This is when it hits home, the sudden newness of this life that is in fact the result of months of planning; the present started as an idea and eventually became thing, its incarnation the miracle I almost didn’t dare hope for.
After living out of a suitcase for a year, I finally acquired fixed geographical coordinates in the land of impossibly tall people, i.e. the Netherlands. And because I move in on the last day of December, it feels like the entire neighborhood is throwing me a welcome home party. The endless fireworks start at dusk and last well into the night, turning the back-breaking act of schlepping things up and down near-vertical stairs into a celebration.
All around, the atmosphere is so effervescent it is impossible not to surrender to elation. Even when the fire truck turns up because next door is getting a little smoky, this joyful little neighborhood doesn’t lose any of its spunk.
None of the problems I anticipate happen; none of the stress I fear takes hold even though it does torment me. So far, I’ve managed to catch it in time by reminding myself that the steps that led me here were far more challenging than the last few days have been. By habit, I suspect I’m still being more anxious than I should be, still in the brace position I adopted over a year ago; dunk and dive, survive.
I’m never not expecting to sink to the bottom again; I’m never not expecting to struggle for air; I’m never not expecting anything that isn’t pure disaster. While life keeps delivering duress on tap, it is also been padding it with some much gentleness the overall effect has been slow forward motion. I’m trying to remember how to walk with my eyes open instead of feeling my way ahead in the dark as I learned to do when depression felled me.
I don’t really trust I have been making progress until I realize I’m elsewhere, in another country, and on another continent. And at that point, my mind returns a reflexive “Why?” as commentary on the whole endeavor. After all, who in their right mind starts all over again from scratch by choice rather than necessity?
No one is ever ready to start a new life; no matter how many contingency plans you have, you won’t be able to control everything. Worse, this may lead you to try and overcompensate.
Before spending the last year as some accidental digital nomad, I lost the five years before incapacitated by depression so I try and make up for lost time. Whatever I do is never going to be enough to make me feel that it’s not too little, too late. It can be crushing, especially when you start wondering whether you might have run out of opportunities to turn your life around.
It’s not because it is possible that you are doing something but because you are doing something that it is possible. Taking stock of where you’re at on a regular basis is key to measuring forward movement, especially when it doesn’t seem to shift very much. For example, I spent the last year in a daze, my time measured in hospital visits, travel tickets, and words written.
I set out to rebuild a life word by word and it isn’t exactly a speedy process. No matter how much I stretch and push myself, days sometimes blend seamlessly into each other until I lose track of time altogether.
Falling out of your life for years as I did has many ongoing consequences, not least that of having to remember how to be a human in the world. Much to my surprise, this translates into random enthusiasm for simple things, the kind of things that make up a normal life yet went missing from mine for so long I forgot they even existed.
Chief among them is being visible again rather than part of the furniture, having a voice, and being unapologetically myself without having to self-edit out of fear of putting myself in harm’s way. This new environment involves a complete upheaval of habits developed under duress to keep myself safe. And of course I occasionally forget the parameters have changed and old ways take over again.
Resolving to upgrade them isn’t enough; effort, dedication, and persistence are the building blocks of evolution based on everything that makes you you and all you’ve been through to date.
Because you can never leave yourself behind.
This is why New Year’s resolutions that are in any way at odds with who you are never work. They do not take into account the current self, only an idealized one so drastically different it bears no resemblance with you. While enthusiasm will get you places, there’s only so much it can do within the current circumstances.
Considering constraints is key to letting evolution takes its course otherwise you could hinder it. Saving my own life through the strength of my words may seem like a tall order but it didn’t seem all that unrealistic to me when I was still mostly housebound and living in near-perfect isolation. Instead, it was something I could get started with right away and keep doing. Continuing with more of the same the minute I set foot on EU soil also made sense: writing and editing are portable and time zones don’t matter, only deadlines.
For all of us, work, family commitments, and rest are a cocktail whose recipe is forever under development. Now that I am based in the Netherlands, the kind of work I have been doing will once again need to adapt to accommodate frequent trips to Paris.
It could even morph into something else altogether, including something I may not have thought of it yet.
Every fledgling new life is made of many moving parts that contract, expand, shape-shift, and grow over time. Unless it’s pure torture — as was the case for me with major depressive disorder — there will be some discomfort in leaving the familiar behind to venture into the unknown where you have no idea how anything works.
So why not look around and enjoy the ride instead of worrying you might fall off the horse? Human existence is never as complicated as we make it; do or do not, evolution will happen regardless. Life will take you places beyond your wildest imaginings the more room you leave for the unexpected. Sometimes, it will be good; other times, not so much but it will always offer an opportunity for curiosity, self-reflection, and growth.
What may feel like a failure in the moment could simply turn out to be a pointer toward improvement; you thought you knew enough but you didn’t.
We never do.
Although we’re seldom aware of it, we constantly recalibrate and reassess what we do and how we do it to move forward with greater ease so we can be at our daily best. The concept of doing one’s utmost is no more static than we are; our best today will change tomorrow. When things happen to be moving too slowly, I remind myself that evolution is both incremental and inevitable. In my case, a complete life reboot has taken over one calendar year so far to go from idea to thing and I’m nowhere near done yet.
I may have moved out of a suitcase into a new home in time to ring in the New Year but what looks like an overnight change took months of diligent planning. Whenever you falter and start stumbling, focus on where you’re already at because willpower and action brought you here. And as long as you maintain both, you’re still going in the right direction, whatever your speed.
Also, remember that heartfelt enthusiasm is contagious and all this being defiantly rather than reluctantly alive makes for curious consequences and far fewer issues. I may no longer see my entire face in the bathroom mirror when I brush my teeth these days but even the internet that wasn’t supposed to be suddenly was, courtesy of the upstairs neighbor who graciously shared her wifi password. There was also a washing machine where there should only have been a connection hose.
No matter how seemingly impossible-looking the new life you set your heart on may be on paper, let the one you have humble you first and show you the way forward, one epiphany at a time.
The human heart is a compass; remember to treat your current self with compassion and care so it has room to grow along with your desires and goals.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.