I've been running for too long
I’ve finally returned to Durham after over a year travelling the world. From 10 months in Belgium, a month in Italy, another month in Bali and finishing off with 10 days in Hong Kong. It’s been busy and beautiful and wonderful and I have met some lifelong friends that I’m thanking my lucky stars that I’ve been so fortunate to have. That being said - I’m still not happy. Don’t get me wrong I have days where everything clicks into place where I have a meeting with my diss supervisor and I know that I’m on to something or have a good catch up with an old friend or even just derive pure pleasure out of rubbing my dogs belly whilst sipping a cup of hot chocolate. But at least half of the time I’m just okay and I’m trying to learn to be okay with that okayness.
When I was in Bali I was lucky to be placed with a mentor. In theory, she was supposed to be helping me carve out a non-traditional career path through her experience in coaching. In reality, we crossed a lot of personal boundaries and she helped me work through some lingering bs I’ve been struggling with. Talking through some ‘problems’ she introduced me to what she terms ‘The Pacifier Affect’ (I’m not sure whether she invented this or not). Basically, in life we all have pacifiers that help us get through the discomfort of uncertainty, which is the human condition. Common ones include comfort eating, drinking or smoking. Unfortunately, some of the more sinister ones are those that are hiding in plain sight.
As she described this phenomena and divulged her own pacifiers, I quickly registered my obvious ones: cheese pizza, ice cream, rosé, Netflix, online shopping, obsessing over boys etc. But a few weeks after this conversation, I was sitting on top of my friend Jasmine’s bed in HK and I had an sudden realisation. Fed up with living out of a suitcase and the low-level anxiety of travelling so much it clicked. Travel is one of my pacifiers.
On the surface, there’s no harm in leaning on travel as a crutch - aside from the inevitable expense. But, the truth is I’ve never been comfortable staying in one place for too long and eventually I start post-poning my happiness to the nearest time I get to escape. I believe this coping mechanism developed from a young age. You see, my parents are massive travel bugs and I’d been around the world before I could talk. Being born in Japan and then moving to Canada and finally to England. Until I was 13 the longest I’d lived anywhere was 4 years. Not to mention, that my family plans our whole year around our next getaway. We prefer to spend our money on travel more than everything else and it’s rare that I spend more than six months without hopping on a plane.
Even now, I’m looking forward to going down to London in a few weeks instead of enjoying the time I was craving in Durham. It’s like being on a hamster wheel of delayed gratification that I can’t get off of. This is a privileged problem to be sure. Most people are used to having one home that they’ve lived in most of their life and are very used to feeling bored there. Me, I never stick around long enough to hit that threshold. It’s incredibly addictive. As much as I complain about the anxiety that travel and the inconvenience that moving around a lot has - I’m kind of addicted to the rush.
To be honest, as I sit here in my amazing new flat in Durham my hearts pounding at the prospect that in theory I could stay in England forever. For the first time in forever I have no foreseeable plans to move and aside from needing to get a job there’s a big possibility that my life won’t change drastically again for years. Why does this scare me so much? I feel trapped in the stability I always craved. In fact, the way I’ve adapted over the years is to live as though any situation is temporary. From making new friends quickly and not crying when they say goodbye. To running away from my problems to foreign lands in the bid that newness will be the magic pill.
I first started to realise how I was using travel for these reasons when I was 18. Leaving school I was terrified, I’d spent most of my life working as hard as I could and keeping busy in order to get into university. You see, young Sam, who wasn’t very happy, always imagined a perfectly magical place called going off to college as the solution to all her problems. Yet, here I was at 18, having delayed my university application for one year in order to have a shot at the much coveted Oxford application. I had no idea what I wanted to do and I’d never had so much time on my hands.
Long story short, I ended up moving to Canada, then Turkey and then back to England. All the while, trying not to worry about how miserable I was now that I had nothing to fill my time with and leaning on the promise that university would be the golden ticket. I spent most of my gap year either preparing for my Oxford interview or preparing for the reality that I was going to have to choose a second choice and then finally aggressively stalking Durham online. I was insatiable. What followed, was two years never truly settling in because I knew how temporary it all was. The compulsory year abroad was all the re-assurance I needed that I had an escape route if everything went to pot, which it kind of did.
By the end of my second year I was the unhappiest I’d been in a long time. Suffering with so much pain inside my heart, the only re-assurance was the promise of meeting new people and new places on my year abroad. Another chance to re-invent myself. Another chance to portray the version of Sam I wanted to portray. Another chance that could only ever last a year before I could escape again. The only difference this time was the fact I didn’t want to go back to Durham. I didn’t want to return to the place with so much pent up emotional pain and quite honestly is plain uncomfortable. If I’d been given the option to finish my final year somewhere else I definitely would have taken it!
I suppose the biggest factor in knowing how I use travel as a pacifier is my discomfort in returning to old places because if I really loved to travel for the sake of travel - returning shouldn’t be a problem. So, here I am still sitting on a classically broken student couch wondering how I should eat my halloumi for dinner and I’m starting to panic. I want to run away. I want to use all my remaining pacifiers in tangent because I can’t fly my way out of this problem. Desperately seeking a new Netflix series to binge watch with a glass of wine and cheese splattered over a well-worn hoodie. I don’t know what to do with these feelings because I’ve never let myself just feel them before. I don’t know what’s on the otherside when I sit in the discomfort rather than run away or numb it and that’s terrifying.
All I want to do is return to my old coping mechanism or find a friend/lover to occupy my time so I don’t have to be alone with these feelings. But, the time has come. This has been going on for too long. My bank account and my nerves can’t afford another adventure. It’s now or never. Fingers crossed I last longer than the 10 minutes it took to write this piece. Who am I kidding? I’ve got a pint of ice cream sitting next to me - this could be harder than I think.
All my love, Sam