It was over a year ago now when I wrote my last post on here saying that I had dropped out of university. It quickly reflected on what a degree meant to me growing up and hinted at how those childhood expectations were punctuated by, as I put it back then, ‘a series of personal setbacks’. Reading it back over now, I realise that I never actually elaborated on what those setbacks were, which I guess makes the whole piece feel a little cryptic.
But believe it or not, the original idea upon finishing that last post wasn’t to then immediately abandon this blog altogether. Rather, I was meant to chronicle my time at university like a retroactive diary from start to end, or at least from the point when things started to go a bit wrong. The hope was that it could be a method for me to order the chaotic and painful memories I have of that time, and in the process understand the rationale behind my erratic behaviour. Needless to say that wasn’t entirely successful. I spent countless nights throwing up my most intimate experiences, recounting thoughts and feelings that I had left unsaid, and remonstrating myself for acting so sullen for so long. It was therapeutic, and it spilled out readily enough onto the page, but it was a fractured and confused mess. I couldn’t bring myself to send it out into the world and let my digital footprint be this warped, melancholic echo. Maybe it was just too soon for me to reconcile emotions that still felt so raw and contradictory, but the irony wasn’t lost on me – I had just left my degree studying English Literature, yet couldn’t muster together the words to express my own story.
And in a way what happened to that idea also happened to my life as a whole. Caught between lingering after the past and realistically planning for the future, I’ve let myself become a shambling shadow of my former self, drained of energy and simply tolerating the routine of the present day. It’s a coping mechanism, but a horribly ineffective one. Like clockwork I have tremors of grief and inwardly rail against the inertia and repetitiveness of the days gone by, and every time those conflicts are placated with hollow promises for what I’ll do in the days to come. Before you know it the week’s over. Next week for sure. And so the pattern goes. So much wasted time, I can almost feel its weight accumulating by the minute, grinding me to a halt.
I should fill in the blanks. What were those ‘personal setbacks’ that made me seize up and refuse to acknowledge a world independent from my own? I could sit here all day and tell you about every little thing that went wrong, perceived injustices that have been magnified and blown out of proportion over time. But in reality it all turns upon one event: in 2013 my dad died to Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. What should I say about my dad? How can I faithfully summarise who he was, how I perceived him, in just a few sentences? After many failed attempts, I concluded that whatever I write would be inadequate. It feels absurd to even attempt to contain his life within these words, the task is too huge and I refuse to do it. Sorry. Besides, the time for eulogies passed years ago, no need to dredge up childhood memories now.
What I will say is that university ended for me the day he died, I was just too stubborn to admit it at the time. Instead I returned to my studies almost immediately after his death, believing that the best way to move past my grief was to refuse to acknowledge its existence; only after I had graduated could I say I had reached a resolution to my emotional turbulence. It was this frame of mind that drove me to systemically box myself away and mount pressure on myself to get by. Unsurprisingly my adherence to this tactic was disastrous, and what followed was a difficult year or so of deferring deadlines, severing relationships, and shunning just about anyone else who could help at a time when I needed it most. In the end I was a nervous wreck, riven by contradictions. I both craved my self-imposed isolation and despaired at it; the mere prospect of being in a room full of strangers was enough to set me off in a nervous fluster, and I would conjure excuses for missing yet another commitment, berating myself the entire time for acting so ridiculously. When I eventually, inevitably, found myself crushed under the mess I had created, I gave up and quite literally sneaked away.
This pretty much brings us up to speed, but why I am sharing all of this now? Simply put the answer is that I’m tired of my own complacency, and I don’t want the rest of my life to be dictated by regret. I felt like an abject failure when I left university, but it was only when I came home that I was able to confront the grief which I had suppressed for so long. Nowadays I’m simply mourning lost time. I want to move forward, but I’m out of practice, and a little unsure of where to go from here. It is this feeling that is driving me to walk the Wales Coast Path and Offa’s Dyke, which together make up a complete circuit of Wales at 1,047 miles. Originally a daydream of a challenge, this is a hike that has been in the planning for months now, and after more than a few delays I’m finally just about ready to depart. The idea is that in the 60 – 70 days I’ll spend hiking, I’ll stumble across just what it is I want to do with my future, and hopefully put the past to bed. Make no mistake this will be a monument of a challenge for myself, both physically and mentally, but already I’m feeling the benefits of the purpose it has provided, and am now raring to go.
I’ve set up a JustGiving page here where you can read more about the hike and donate to Bloodwise, a charity which specialises in helping the fight against blood cancer. In the meantime, if you see a tired looking guy walking along the Welsh coastline whilst wearing a giant rucksack and Bloodwise t’shirt, feel free to stop me and say hi. Anyway, I’m sure I’ve been rambling for far too long now, but I guess all I have left to say for now is that it feels good to be writing again.