Things That I Know About Change

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Decisions and changes rarely come at me one by one, patiently waiting in line for me to get to them.

Instead, change comes all at once, hitting me like a tidal wave while I struggle to stay standing.

One such wave came in 2013, when over a 6 month period, I broke up with my long-term “we’re going to stay together forever” boyfriend, moved to a new city, cut off my hair, had my nose pierced, got myself a new friendship group, and planned my first tattoo.

I went from being cautious, careful and cripplingly self-conscious, to somebody who drank a little too much, had casual sex with strangers, but who finally felt like the person she wanted to be. Sure, a little chaotic, a little reckless. But also brave. Unapologetic.

It turned out, that when by boyfriend left he had taken my credit card, and ran up thousands of pounds of debt before I noticed it was gone. I scanned the bills: he had taken her to all of our favourite restaurants, and I had paid for it all.

The job I had chosen over him disappeared in a round of budget cuts and department restructuring.

My Grandad was diagnosed with cancer, and all at once our lives were governed by hospital visiting hours. A few weeks later, he died.

I felt all adrift at the funeral. So much had changed. Did my family even know who I was?

I remember that I had a cough and one of my cousins kept joking that it must be those cigarettes. I remember thinking, he thinks that it’s funny because he thinks I don’t smoke. I spent the whole week pretending that I didn’t, desperate to light up.

At some point between Christmas and New Year I returned to Oxford to meet the men I’d been talking to on Tinder.  I doubled and then tripled my number of sexual partners.

*

I remember having a conversation with my mum during this time. We talked about resilience. How she felt that it was the most important thing that you could teach a child, because while you have no way of knowing what will happen in their life, they would be ok if they were able to adapt.

I claimed that word and staked my identity on it. Whatever else I might be, I knew I was resilient. I knew that whatever happened, I would survive.

*

After a while, life settled down. I found a more permanent place to live, a job that I liked, a relationship that was good for me. Things ticked along.

Now I’m thinking about resilience again, because the last 12 months have brought a hell of a lot of changes.

Some changes were planned. We both started masters degrees, him moving to Amsterdam to make use of EU student fees before Brexit, and me choosing to keep my job and study on the side. And so also a long distance marriage, and the adjustments that brings.

Over a couple of months, four of my colleagues found new jobs, and all of my housemates moved out. I found myself surrounded by a completely new set of people.

And then, of course, the other things that life throws in on top.

A promotion, more training, less time.

Daily struggles with depression and anxiety, and the resulting medication, therapy, and fear of falling off the edge.

We’re slowly losing Grandma to dementia. Her eyes look towards you, but she isn’t really there. Mum has become a carer, and now all our conversations are about medication, hospital visits, good days and bad.

My husband has fallen head over heels for one of his other partners. I like her too, but it’s forcing us to re-evaluate what we assumed about our marriage.

It looks as though my job is changing again, but there are still decisions to be made about that.

The landlord is selling our house. We need to be out by August.

*

Age brings some benefits. I am navigating these new changes with more confidence and self-assurance. Sure, there has been some drinking and casual sex. But less of it this time around.

I have different coping mechanisms, as the growing pile of knitted items in my room is a testimony to. I am talking more and hiding less. Just about.

I appreciate how important it is to keep to a routine of eating well, exercising often and sleeping enough. The worst days are the ones after a late night.

And of course, I’m never alone, cast off in a sea of bewilderment. Grit is my rock (husband, best friend) who helps keep me tethered to the shore. He knows, almost before I do, when I’m about to have a panic attack, and how to calm me down. He listens with patience, and when I’m done with overthinking and there is nothing left to say, he just holds me, and it feels like coming home.

*

It’s important to keep some perspective. Looking back, these periods of dramatic change have also been the periods of accelerated growth – where I’ve stepped up and become the person I’ve needed to be.

Because that’s what matters isn’t it? That life doesn’t stagnate. We change, we grow, we cast of old relationships and form new ones.

We recognise when we need to stand stronger against the tidal wave, and when we need to just let go and enjoy the ride.

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Things That I Know About Change

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