When I was in college, when I found life too challenging, and I felt too overwhelmed to face and handle everything coming at me, I often did something that the adult me now knows wasn’t exactly safe. I would often, usually in tears and exasperated, in the wee hours of the night, grab my keys and head to my car. I didn’t have a planned destination, a map, a route, or anything other than my pain as my guide. Very often the gas tank wasn’t full, but I took my chances, driving into the night, the windows down, my radio blaring, and tears flowing.
It all sounds melodramatic. It wasn’t done for dramatic effect. This was before the days of cell phones and selfies. No one knew my whereabouts. I definitely felt I was running away, or rather, trying to out run everything. Pain, depression, loss, my family, my own failures, the very life I was leading. Sometimes I dreamed of just driving and driving until I ended up in a new, unknown town-- leaving everything behind and starting over.
In my heart, I knew it wouldn’t all work out as easily as all that. I couldn’t ignore all that was behind me—college courses, work, bills—it would all still be there even if I took up residence in some other zip code.
Ultimately, and usually depending on the amount of gas in my tank, I would decide it was time to turn back around. I would drive slower on the way home, letting the cool air dry my tears, trying to breathe in slowly and take in the night’s movement, the weird, lonely pace around me. I would finally make it back home, exhausted, spent, and fall into bed.
I can often remember dropping my keys on my nightstand and laying down and just hoping beyond hope that I would make it to a time in my life where I never felt this way again. Where I felt settled, safe, and happy. Where I didn’t need to run or out run anything.
The funny thing is, for so long, I thought I had. Then, over the last five years, even in the best of times, there are moments where I would think about those midnight drives in college and feel that tug. Sometimes it was because of work stress or life stress. Sometimes it just felt like I was lost and needed to go looking for something…myself maybe?
Recently, especially, there have been nights where I try and go to sleep and my mind won’t stop racing, won’t stop fretting, thinking, turning over every little thing. Sometimes it’s after a bad day, sometimes I am worried about our bank account or my career, but some nights I just get myself into a spiral of thinking that is beyond anything I could possibly catch up with by pacing or normal worry. I start to wonder if I will ever really finish my book—the dream I have wanted forever—to be published. Then I wonder what I am doing with my life. I feel so far away from the core of who I am and who I want to be. I start feeling like I am paying the bills and losing pieces of my soul more every day. I try and remind myself that we all have to work, that everyone feels this way, but I feel a clock start ticking so loudly that I mentally start searching for my keys. I want to jump out of bed, into my car, and drive quickly into the inky dark night. I want to roll down the windows and feel the night air. I want to drive until I can smell the Pacific and hear the waves and see the moon reflecting in my windshield. I want to drive and drive and drive until the sun rises in a new place altogether.
It won’t solve anything. I will end up right back here. This isn’t a bad place to be. Everything and everyone I love is here. I just wish I was sure about the choices I make every day.
I have said so many times that I don’t have regrets—that however I ended up where I am, I have made peace with. As long as I ended up here, I am fine. That is not all completely true. I am thrilled with where I ended up—and I believe this was fate—and exactly where I am meant to be. But I do have regrets. And a part of me believes that I would have ended up here (since this is my fate), even if I had made different choices, and maybe after not having gone through such a painful journey.
At one particularly low point over 10 years ago, after our company had just gone through a series of layoffs, I found myself unemployed and unsure of my next steps. I had just enough money in the bank to survive another few months or so where I was, or, I thought, take a leap. I seriously considered buying a plane ticket to Paris, landing, and figuring out the rest from there. I was going to leave everything—my apartment, my belongings, my life—everything behind. I couldn’t decide if the plan was brave or stupid. Now, looking back, I know that it probably would have been disastrous. I was depressed at the time (never a good time to make decisions) and I didn’t have nearly enough money to take a chance like that. I had nothing that even resembled a plan B, and the list goes on. I know all of that. But there is a huge part of me that wishes, very deeply, that I had bought that ticket.
I think my late night obsessive thinking and worrying sessions are a bit of a mini-mid-life crisis. I am just realizing that there is so much I want to do, and I am not making progress on a lot of the things that matter to me. I look at my life five years down the line, and I am so afraid I will still be in this same place. I worry about the person I am, the wife I am, the human being I am. I want so much to do more, to give more, to be more. I worry.
Back in college, on those midnight drives, I was truly trying to run away, out run things, drive towards another place. Part of me wonders now, if when I am dreaming of grabbing my keys and driving, if I am not trying to go back, take the wheel from that younger me. I want to take control, change the course, lead her in a different direction.
I want to tell her: We will end up here, in the same spot, I promise. The way we get there will just be far less rough, dangerous, and painful.
I can’t go back, I know. I can only worry about the road I have left-- it stretches out before me. I can chart the course from here. I have to remember that, when I am laying here worrying. My hands are on the wheel. I can only plan so much. I can only worry so much. For now, I will sleep, and try and reassure myself. At the end of the day, I will end up back here, right where I am supposed to be, with everyone and everything I love.
Oh, and to that younger me, so sad, driving in the night, I also want to say, No matter the path we took to get here…we made it. Somehow, we made it.
The beautiful photograph at the end of my blog post is entitled "Time Reverse" and is by Amy M of TruBlissPhotography. Check out more of her amazing work here.