Physically, I hate running. It takes me back to middle school P.E. — feeling fat, slow, unathletic, and sweaty.
Metaphorically, it’s all I’d been doing for years — ever since I graduated from Whitman, and especially since my rape.
And my endurance was running out.
By the end of July, I’d hit an all-time low.
I hated au pair-ing. I hated living in the Parisian suburbs. I hated feeling constantly foreign and self-conscious and lonely. I hated that I hated it.
“To be melancholy is to be self-haunted…there are no good stories to tell of your bleak time in a beautiful place, and no specter to blame for the fact that happiness, though it should have been inescapable, evaded you.” – Heidi Julavits, The Folded Clock: A Dairy
I was in the beautiful place – the place I’d told myself I wanted to be – and happiness evaded me.
In August, my mom came to visit me. We went on a fantastic whirlwind trip through Eastern Europe. A trip punctuated by breakdowns that found me curled up and sobbing on couches and beds — one time in a restaurant in Budapest silently crying into plum crumble topped with chocolate ice cream.
In August, I also found, applied for, and was offered a dream job — one that would have allowed me to quit au pair-ing, live independently in Paris, and do work I find exciting and meaningful.
And I turned it down.
I wanted the job — more than almost anything. But I didn’t want the life that came with it. I didn’t want another cold and gloomy Parisian winter. I didn’t want to smell the stale pee smell in the metro. I didn’t want to come home after a thrilling or downright awful day at work to the tiny, crappily furnished, under-heated, over-priced studio apartment I would undoubtedly have moved into, and sob into a microwavable Picard meal, engulfed by the emptiness, loneliness, anger, rage, disgust, disappointment, insecurity, and hatred that I’d gotten so good at covering up.
I wanted the job — more than almost anything. But the one thing I wanted more is what I’ve committed myself to pursuing in its place: to love myself, and to feel excited by and actively engaged in my life again.
At the end of September, I stopped running.
I ended my au pair contract 3 months early. I moved back to the United States. To California. To Hermosa Beach. To my childhood home.
I chose to be closer to the people on this planet who love me. Because it’s stupid and stubborn to turn down help when you need it and it’s offered.
I chose to be in a place where I understand how everything works, where I fit without trying, where there are no complex French verb conjugations to contend with. I chose to be in a place where the external day-to-day circumstances are easy. Because the internal ever-present ones have been hard to face whenever I drag them out and look at them in direct sunlight.
And I chose to really look at them. To start gently and carefully picking up the pieces of myself — even the ugliest ones and the sharp, jagged ones dangerous enough to draw blood.
I chose me.
Since moving back, I’ve been moving forward. I’ve been making conscious and intentional changes. I’ve been upgrading.
I’ve been upgrading my mental health by getting serious about therapy. By challenging certain destructive behaviors and thought patterns. By really examining and understanding and accepting the me that I am.
I’ve been upgrading my social life by reconnecting with high school friends and college friends. With phone dates and Skype dates and dinner dates and parties on Halloween and New Year’s Eve.
I’ve been upgrading my romantic life by spending time with a person who’s smart and funny and adventurous and intellectually curious. Who’s communicative and considerate and giving. And attractive — man, is he attractive. Who treats me respectfully and courteously. Who sees me as a sexy, confident, and assertive woman and as a whole person with valid thoughts and opinions and passions, too.
I’ve upgraded my professional life by landing my first corporate job as a creative coordinator (a.k.a. copywriter) in the marketing department of a staffing agency. It’s a job that gives me agency and purpose. New friends and new mentors. New challenges and new victories. And someone is paying me to be a writer.
I upgraded my car because my job requires a typically nasty LA commute, and while I was in France, my brother bogarted my trusty 1997 Camry. So my dad leased a new car and I got his 2005 Prius as a hand-me-down.
And I upgraded my electronics, treating myself to a new MacBook Pro and iPhone.
I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time. Happier than I thought I would be living in my parents’ house. Happier than I thought I’d ever be in LA.
I’m just plain happy.
I think I had to run away to France last year — to be melancholy and miserable in the place I’d always felt invigorated and alive— in order to really learn that running wasn’t getting me anywhere.