Roll back the clock two years and I remember an incredibly depressing point of my life in which – whilst all of the important things (family, friends, health) were thankfully intact, I was struggling to cope with being in a new town where I had no job, no friends and no money to do anything with. Much of the Summer was spent at home, trawling through job websites trying to find something, anything to apply to. Lack of employment meant I didn’t have the means to go back home to see my friends often, meaning that I seldom did anything social and over the Summer pretty much forgot how to orally communicate with people unless I’d known them for considerable time, due to the lack of opportunity to interact with people in person.
In that kind of situation, you are very limited with the things you can do to pass the time. For me, it seemed as though every day would revolve around waking up at noon, eating some breakfast/lunch, going for a coffee in town – “table for one, please”, maybe reading a book, having dinner, listening to music and then watching The Simpsons in bed with an ice-cream… I generally worry about things a lot more than I should, but seldom do I feel dispirited to the extent of tears, yet back then crying was something I did every day. I always knew my problems weren’t the worst in the world and that one day far worse things will happen to me, but it was hard to get any joy from that all the whilst I felt as though I had no idea when things would change. Canterbury is one of the most beautiful places in the UK yet for a while I really struggled to like it; at least back in Watford – the ugly duckling of English towns – I could find work, and had friends.
Yet there is one thing about that hard, sweltering Summer of 2011 which I will always be grateful for. Indeed, as with any difficulty or problem that seems to stick around for much longer than you’d like, you eventually have no option but to try and find a solution – or if you can’t ‘find’, you ‘make’. Not every problem will resolve itself in time; you have to take action. My solution of choice was focused upon trying to understand myself a bit better; to be at peace with myself and be on my own team rather than repeatedly taunting myself with negative thoughts about how crap a person I must be for being unable to sustain a conversation with somebody I don’t know very well, or for failing to land that part-time job as a window-cleaner which had seemed like such a beacon of hope one desperate, grotty Friday morning at the Job Centre, or ‘Nob Centre’ as I preferred to refer to it.
Towards the end of this unhappy phase, after a small little journey of self-discovery, I had managed to re-discover a sense of positivity about everything and find pleasance in even the smallest or simplest of things. The facts were that the people I cared about the most were all still alive, I had a roof over my head, there were some great people in my life albeit not around here, I’d learned that Chom Chom in town does the most amazing panang curry, and that the sun-setting over the North Downs Way is one of the most beautiful environments in which you can cycle: a thrill that is not only free, but natural. I still had no job, and no friends in Canterbury, but finally I was looking at the larger picture as opposed to the smaller, day-to-day one. It’s funny how you can attribute such varying levels of value to something depending on your personal circumstances at the time. Once I felt as though I had embraced the initial difficulties, I began to find that the more time I had to myself, and the harder the difficulties I felt like I was going through, the more I was beginning to appreciate even the smallest of things around me.
Which is what leads me to the main point of this post, which is essentially to emphasize just how quickly we can begin to take things for granted the second we get tied up in the regular, day-to-day, rat-race life that is so prominent here within our society.
Two years on, my life is very different. Contrary to the Summer of 2011, time to myself now feels like something of a rarity. Indeed, the time which I do spend alone is normally spent thinking about the concerns going on immediately around me – this piece of work, that piece of work, arranging that outing, why did the man on the train look at me strange, setting my alarm clock for tomorrow, wondering what that message really meant, preparing my bag, what train do I need to catch to get to such-and-such place on time, I think I’ve pissed so-and-so off, I need to book a hair appointment, the money hasn’t reached my account yet, how much longer do I leave the potatoes in for, I can’t find my purse, I don’t enough have enough pairs of clean tights to last the week, I’ve run out of butter…
If we’re not careful, then the busier life becomes, the more we take for granted. The bigger picture can quickly become warped into a sense of tunnel vision whereby we focus only on the most immediate things around us, simply because they appear to become the most urgent of our priorities. We have more things to do and as our spare time consequently shrinks around us there is less opportunity to think about anything else, and it becomes much harder to find that fifteen or so minutes a day where you can sit back and take some deep breaths whilst breathing in the relaxing vapours of a joss stick named after some kind of magical entity from a faraway country whilst reflecting on the truly important stuff. The daily grind swallows us whole and we have less time for the basics. It becomes a big-wow moment if we can spend a few hours a week amongst nature, and we have to schedule in appointments with our friends months in advance. Before we know it, it’s Christmas again and the start of another New Year in which we will make resolutions only to find that a couple of weeks later, it’s time to make them again.
It can become so easy to feel like a passenger in your own body; going through the motions without really thinking about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Doing life rather than feeling it. Why? Simply because you have a billion other things to think about, too.
All this does is serve as a reminder as to why it’s so important to have that time out to ourselves occasionally, a time to re-connect with ourselves and our values and make sure that they’re not being lost within that grand melee of day to day activities that can so often fool us into thinking that there is ever anything more important than those root things without which we would truly struggle – our nearest and dearest, our key values, our dreams and desires and our passions.
Whilst I wouldn’t wish to experience the Summer of 2011 ever again, I am grateful in a sense for the opportunity to have had that ‘time-out’ to work things out and understand myself a bit better and realise what’s truly important in life. If you can only whip that bigger picture out at intermittent points throughout the day, week or month, you’re still keeping check on what matters the most. Just make sure you give yourself the time to do so…
Song of the Day: The Grammar Club – Underbeard
This is a novelty U.S band singing a novelty song about unwelcome facial hair. It has been stuck in my head for weeks. Hopefully now it will be stuck in yours: