Five months after graduating college, I had ended up doing the one thing I claimed I never would: working as an over-caffeinated, disposal employee in corporate America. With the same indifferent demeanor I had adapted from weeks of daily routine, I started researching new cities and jobs, the first ripples successful in disrupting my stagnancy. Not longer after came two part-time jobs, agency websites, electronic applications and visa visits, all marks on my to-do list that swelled towards a tangible future. Quit job—check. Pack up apartment—check. Plane ticket to Paris—check. Once at the airport, I sat on my boyfriend’s lap and cried, terrified of being alone. I interrupted the airport security line a dozen times to kiss him goodbye, but still I passed through the gates, drifting forward until too many people had passed between us and he disappeared.
In retrospect it sounds a bit like the beginning of a corny romantic comedy, but I didn’t feel worthy of a lead role even in a made-for-TV movie. It didn’t take long to realize that Paris was not as hospitable as my small college campus. I stuttered over foreign syllables, attempting conversation with disinterested classmates. I spent days shut in my small studio due to the fickleness of that first Parisian winter, calling home almost every day, obsessing about getting back together with my boyfriend and Facebook-stalking my friends. I had thought coming to France would make me happier, but if anything I felt worse than before. I resented the ever-present melancholy that settled like fog between my thoughts. For as long as I could remember my mind floated everywhere except the present, whether it grieved the past or anticipated the future. Why couldn’t I be happy? The question eroded my mind until the emphasis shifted the way syllables do when a word is repeated continuously: why couldn’t I be happy?
For nearly half my life I had jumped from one long-term relationship to the next, craving the affection of romantic relationships to compensate for the love I wasn’t ready to give myself. I followed my boyfriends’ ambitions to avoid creating and pursuing my own. Rather than trying to heal I evaded my problems, letting them decompose until negativity consumed me. I feared happiness and the accountability that came with it but I was tired of waiting for someone to help me actualize myself. I decided to stop listening to the self-doubt and challenged myself to shift the focus. Of course I couldn’t be appreciative of the present if I mourned everything I’d left behind (which couldn’t have been that great, considering I did leave them). I stopped thinking of myself as a victim and started taking responsibility, stopping making excuses and instead made decisions. I forgave myself for the past and identified self-destructive behaviors, vowing to eliminate them. I identified the type of people I wanted to surround myself with, the way I deserved to be treated and all the things I wouldn’t tolerate. I conceded that I needed to take better care of myself physically and aimed for more sleep, a more natural diet and more exercise.
Every day I become more lucid. No longer do I fear silence or solitude. I stopped searching for a new relationship, content to have a relationship with myself. The more at peace I become, the more I recognize the world’s vivacity and open myself to others, savoring moments of aliveness that pass between us. I choose to be optimistic. Moods fluctuate and bad days happen, but since I started loving myself the way I wanted others to love me—unconditionally—my happiness has more or less stabilized. To quote Warsan Shire, “I belong deeply to myself.” It took twenty-three years of traveling, but I’ve never been to such a beautiful destination.