As much as I self-reflect and begin to know myself better and better, there are still events that come up in my life I react to in a way I had not expected.
Being stuck in my head for good portions of the day, I often think about what’s coming up and how I will handle each challenge or task that comes my way. I can usually get an accurate sense of how my mind and body will feel because I listen to its every murmur.
This is both a blessing and curse. I lean back and forth between my belief in the self-fulfilling prophecy idea. The theory claims that if I think my mind and body will react to an event in a negative way, it most likely will, and likewise with positivity – you think positively and positive things will happen.
The theory is so widely believed that it’s easy to accept it as truth. But what happens when you channel positivity toward something and its results are negative? How are we left feeling then?
Probably something like how I was feeling on Thursday night after returning from my old university campus.
As many of you know, I have been missing my life at UBC a lot since I left my job there in September. The loss of my previous life as a university student, and the identity I had built for myself there has turned my life on its head over the past few months. Though I had expectations the transition wouldn’t be easy for me – I didn’t have that urge to graduate like many of my friends did – I did not expect it to totally gut me in the way it did.
You know when you were a kid, how you’d go to the beach and build sandcastles? You always had to build them near the water so the sand had the right consistency. You’d erect a masterpiece, complete with a mote, an underground tunnel, and a draw bridge. Then all of a sudden, a wave would come out of nowhere and flood your castle, pulling the sand down back toward the ocean. The shape of your structure would still be there, but everything that made it unique, all the fine-tuning, had disappeared.
Some of us might have given up and gone home, some of us may have started over and hoped the wave was a rarity, and some of us might have started to rebuild a little farther away from the shore, out of the danger-zone.
In rebuilding my identity since leaving UBC, I’ve tried all of the above. I went through moments of paralysis where it all seemed hopeless, I tried to go back to what I had, and I’ve tried to distance myself. The combination of all three has left me where I am.
I was excited to return to UBC, albeit for an afternoon.
I felt anxiety as soon as my bus passed Alma St. on its way up the hill to campus. I immediately felt like a student again, as though I had never left. When I got to campus, everything felt the same. I felt as though I could just pull out my laptop and get back to work, like I’d been on an extended vacation. But with all the joy and excitement the stimulants caused, there was tension beneath the surface. I knew I had to leave in a few hours and not return.
But I was a little proud of myself for being able to move onto the next activity without dwelling on the negative. I met up with a good friend and then visited my old summer office and the REC office, but it was there in the office that I lost my grip for too long.
Being back in my home – I had literally felt like the REC office was my home for three years, including mistakenly telling people I was going home when I really meant the office – was like what it must be like for a drug addict to get a long-awaited hit. For the 20 minutes or so I was there, everything else fell away. I felt like my true self again, my identity back as though it had never been hit by that damaging wave.
I laughed and joked and felt a warmth inside me I had not felt for months. Again, I felt like I could just sit down and get back to work, yet there was nothing for me to do. I was happy right down to my deepest core, during a time in my life when saying the words “I’m happy” felt like swallowing a stone.
I had not one shred of worry, or hope, or longing. I was in this incredible moment that I wished could have lasted forever.
But it didn’t.
I got home that night and felt the wave crash over me again, tearing away what could have been. Just a vague shape was left behind, and I began to mourn, once again, all that I had lost.
It saddened me how the happiness I felt on campus was so fleeting, and how as much as I tried, I could never have that identity again. And it worried me how long it would take for me to feel that kind of happiness again. There seemed to be no hope that I’d ever get it back. My sand castle had been washed away once again and I wasn’t sure how to start over.
I had not expected to react this way. I thought I was stronger and I didn’t expect all the familiar feelings to come rushing back as though they’d never left me. I had gone into the day with so much positivity that I hadn’t expected to feel so negative. I was positive good things would happen and my mind and body would react accordingly.
I thought the waters had calmed and the wind had died down. I thought it was safe for me to get closer to the shore. But it wasn’t; not yet.
And so on Friday, I returned to the castle I had begun to build a little higher up the beach. It isn’t nearly as good as my original. The sand is too loose and my mote is dry, but it’s what I have. I know I might end up loving it too, maybe more, and I know the tide might rise and wash it away too, but for now I can’t go back.
So, this begs me to ask the question, when do you stop missing something you can’t have anymore? When does a loss start to feel like a gain? And if the self-fulfilling prophecy is true, what comes next?