Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Melancholy Months, Part 2... Discovery, Fighting Back, Turning Point

"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." —James Baldwin
*Why am I crafting a retelling of my post-college triumphs and letdowns? I'm not sure if it will benefit you in any way. I don't even know if many people will read this. Nonetheless, I think there's something to be learned by sharing a story. This is the longer, second part of this story that covers a long 5 months. I hope you'll bear with me. I'm learning more about myself in attempting to write this out; and in some small way, I hope that other struggling post-graduates reading this may realize that we aren't alone in our challenges.*

... Continued from The Melancholy Months, Part 1


It began on the ski slopes in January. It came full circle on those same slopes a month later. 

It’s where I discovered a blooming weed in my life’s garden, and I wondered if I could find the strength to rip it up by the roots and toss it out.

I did, but it's been a long process. And first, I had to face my foil.

What do I mean by ‘foil’? No, I’m not talking about foiled (as in frustrated) plans, and I’m certainly not talking about tin foil for cooking... 

Let me (re)open your literary dictionary (…you know, the one that got buried the moment freshman English in high school was over and done with): a foil in literary terms usually references two characters in a story who are strikingly opposite. This may be in appearance, personality, moral values, and so on. 

As for me, I think God deliberately presented me with my own real-life foil. This person isn't my polar opposite by any means. We actually have a common moral foundation and many similar interests. After all, we’re friends.

Take me and this friend. Add my two siblings. Place us at a ski lodge on a January Saturday. It’s the perfect setting for a soul-searching confrontation, right?

Skiing and Snowboarding, Montana and Idaho

“I’m so happy and content,” my friend said. We were on one of the chairlifts heading halfway up the mountain, and he'd been in Montana for about 5 months. He started talking about how much he likes being here, the interesting people he was meeting, and all the learning opportunities he was experiencing. He would only be here for a full year, yet he’d been enjoying every minute to the fullest since he’d arrived.

It was the contentment that got to me. 

I wasn’t angry—if I had felt that way in the slightest, it was a static shock that disappeared in the same instant it came. I wasn’t initially sad either, though that would hit me later. No, what shocked me was the gaping hole I felt within myself. Like being doused with cold water, I was stunned—not that he was content, but that I was not.

I was upset that I hadn’t realized it until right then. I was frustrated with my life. Which is ridiculous. Which ticked me off even more. I’m only 22! It hadn’t even been a year since I graduated college. I still had all the potential in the world at my fingertips. None of that had changed. Yet the contentment I’d had a year ago had evaporated, little by little.

That first realization was followed by a rush of more revelations, though less than a minute had passed and we were still on the chairlift carrying us up the mountain. Everything I had been feeling and carrying with me in the last few months was starting to boil over.



In all of this, I had also been fighting against my own notion of feeling ‘stuck’. I dearly love the Montana community I have grown up in: the familiar, breath-taking sights; the familiar, friendly faces; the same small town quirks that become more endearing than annoying. 

Yet I felt stuck because I expected to be somewhere else in the world by now (not necessarily defined by social standing or defined by an unmet career goal). I felt stuck because I thought Montana was supposed to be my refuge when I needed to escape the routine of a big-city lifestyle. I hadn’t planned on Montana being where I would start my post-grad life. Montana is home in a way that no other place on earth will ever be, if only as the place where I can step outside my door and be ready to walk straight up a mountain trail. I hadn’t expected my safe haven to become a semi-permanent residence so soon. For all Montana’s inspirational beauty and engaging rural/city culture contrasts, I thought it was more ideal state for engineers or foresters. I didn’t think it was practical for me anymore.

What was I going to do about this 'stuck' feeling? That was the overall question. Did I have an answer? Well, I didn't at that moment. At the time, I didn’t know whether I had truly hit rock bottom on an emotional level. Yet it didn’t really matter whether I had or not. This was far enough. I determined that this was far enough. I was going to change my outlook, and I knew it would be work, but I decided that I could no longer handle the alternative. Feeling depressed and discontent was no longer an acceptable option.

Many things in life are out of our control, much as we often wish it was otherwise. Life is hard. We face many challenges, and the minute we overcome one is when another crops up to take its place. If it’s not getting through high school and into college, it’s surviving/thriving in college and getting to another graduation. If it’s not applying for jobs and working up the corporate ladder to land the 'dream job,' it’s fighting to get into graduate school. If it's not searching for 'the one,' it's maintaining our current relationships with family or friends, many of them over long distances.