I’ve been missing from this blog for a while. In the several weeks of my absence, in terms of my physical location I’ve left China, travelled to Hong Kong, and then landed back in Australia. In terms of how I’ve been doing emotionally, well, let’s just say my first few days back in Melbourne were hard. Chalk it up to post-holiday blues if you wish, but it felt like something more. All of the signs of a depression were waiting for me in the arrival hall. As we landed down, I put on a coat in preparation for the cold weather and with it, layers upon layers of heaviness, angst and confusion. Welcome back to winter – white skies, dreary days, cold nights – and welcome back to your real life.
I really fell in love with China. I’ll be the first to admit it – I was bedazzled by the dynamism and the breakneck speed of that country. I loved slipping into the life of the younger, affluent generation there. I left behind my love for nature, for wholesomeness and for authenticity, and replaced them with the glittery lights of a rapidly developing city. Judge me if you will, but there was something so enticing about racing through the streets of Shanghai in my cousin’s sports car, out for a day of tailor-bought, costly and consumeristic fun. I felt like I had reached the land of the Great Gatsby, and I was hooked. It was so other to my life back in Melbourne, and it was something I (and billions of other people around the world) never had. Affluence. Hedonism. The power that comes with money. And so I cleared out the clutter of the old in my heart and made room for the new.
Coming back to Melbourne then was like crash-landing into the mortal world of my own making. I drove the streets in my dingy car, lamenting how ordinary things felt. I went out with friends and noticed how poor I actually was. I cleaned and cooked and walked the streets and took public transport – all the makings of an ordinary life – and felt unexcited by it all. I set my room back up again, and whilst the feel of my sentimental belongings reminded me of me, I noticed I felt different. I had changed. I began to question myself consistently with an intensity that should only be reserved for lonesome Sunday nights. What was I actually doing here? What was I passionate about? Why am I living in Australia? What is meaningful to me? I came up with nothing, and yet my faded memories and hopes of what life could’ve been like back in Asia continued to haunt me. I was losing touch.
Then an opportunity came along. I had been planning on going to Sydney for a weekend workshop only a week after my arrival home and I was rethinking the decision. “You’re ridiculous,” I told myself “you have no direction in your life and you’re just running around like a chicken without a head. Why do you need to go to Sydney? You shouldn’t go.” My inner critic was running the show, and I was listening. But then, I thought of what would be waiting for me there: self-development, a tribe of loving friends and acquaintances, escapism, foreignness, warm weather. It was just what I needed. I let myself off the hook and booked my tickets straight away. Because honestly? Fuck what I ‘should’ be doing. I judged myself all right: “you’ve just come back from six weeks away, you don’t get to complain” but in all that judging I had no better idea of what I should do. All I knew was that I was going through a rough time and I needed a little bit more of an escape. Excuse me for being human, I guess.
So on the way to Sydney I wondered about what I might find there. And upon landing I reconnected with my innate Melbourne hate of the city, and I loved every moment of it. Whilst outwardly complaining about the people, the city or the culture of Sydney, inwardly I secretly enjoyed the foreignness of it all. The challenge of trying to navigate someplace new, where even taking a train becomes an event to be remembered. And then on top of that, I found myself in a community. With the generosity of a friend who let me stay at her place, she lent me her knowledge and experience of the community she lived in too. And I slipped into that for a while – it was nice. And then more friends appeared on the scene, and I found my place in amongst them. That was nice too.
The workshop on the weekend was about rapport-based relating – how to relate to someone whilst valuing and nurturing your relationship with them, even through the tough times. It reminded me of a lot of the stuff I’d learned in my masters back in Melbourne and I gained a renewed appreciation for my line of study. I felt excited to get back into uni, and I remembered the reason why I was studying art therapy. I also deepened some existing friendships with acquaintances that I knew in Sydney. Getting to know these people better, I started to come to value my own personal relationships again. I started to remember why I loved working with, spending time with and being around people. They, in all their realness and authenticity, were such fascinating, beautiful and amazing creatures, and in navigating my relationships with them, I slowly started to see the superficiality of the friendships I’d seen in Asia. There, money and status often play a large part in how many friends you have. In Sydney I also had conversations with artists and makers and doers and innovators, and I felt inspired by their bold life choices to pursue a living doing what they loved, even though at times it was hard, shaky and unconventional. I reexamined my newfound dream to start working full-time, evaluating whether that would actually bring me happiness. Evaluating whether that was actually for me. And I had a lot of time on my own, and like the precious dance of two lovers getting to know each other for the first time, I was starting to get reacquainted back with myself. There was a reason why my scattered, crazy and over-abundant life was the way that it was, and rather than throw it out with the bathwater, I started to understand that there had been a method to my madness. I looked at my life more realistically, seeing the parts that I wanted to change, but also refinding the parts that I knew I deeply valued.
And so it is, that after a week away, I’m back, in Melbourne, for real. Sitting in my backyard under the sun this morning, I ate an abundant breakfast of home-cooked food from the communal kitchen and from the communal garden. Feeling the warm rays of sun on my face and the gentle wind through my hair, I started to gain an appreciation for the simple things again. Spending the morning connecting with friends all over the world, I remembered how much love I have in my heart for people. And sitting at my desk about to get ready for a day of writing for uni about therapeutic human relationships and about my subjective experiencing, I felt lucky again, to be me.
There is something to be said about gratitude. The word gets thrown around a lot but it is a special thing when you have it. Without it, trust me, life is grey. Nothing makes you happy and nothing ever could. I don’t have a do-it-yourself kit or plan to make gratitude enter your life but in my case, through time, kindness and space, it reentered the room. Feeling into what it feels like to have it back again, I nod in agreement. There’s a comfort and a familiarity in feeling that again. It feels like me. And my car may be dingy, my life ordinary and my wallet empty, but at least I’m content. It’s at the same time a lot, and yet not a lot, to ask for.