My pattern with escape began as a kid.
I am 14 years old and in my pediatrician’s office. My family has just moved back to New York City after a 5-year stint in Massachusetts. I’m turning into one of those surly teenagers. My mother has read
SavingReviving Ophelia and now my father is reading it, too, and I see the sad face of that wispy-haired girl staring up at me from her wrinkled paperback cover every time I pass his bedside table. Dr. Sedlis is asking how school is going. My mother is in the room and she says, “Not too well. It’s a large public school.” This is true. I hate it there. I am lost and they are making me take oboe lessons even though I signed up for piano. The girls are goths and punks and I am neither. Dr. Sedlis advises putting me into private school.
A year later, I am back in the doctor’s office for a check-up. I have been in private school for a year, but am still unhappy. Dr. S makes a list of girl’s schools, and ones she knows that would be particularly good and nurturing for an overly-sensitive teenager. I fill out applications, my parents put down a deposit, and I’m ready to go. Something changes over the summer, and I end up staying put, focusing instead on plotting my escape to college.
That’s how it started. And the propensity to just escape has followed me throughout my life. As you have probably guessed, I was a depressed young adult and still suffer with depression. My downfall? Never being able to live in the present. My constant coping mechanism? Making plans to get out of the present.
The hardest thing about this instinct is that it’s actually healthy. If you’re unhappy, you should be making steps to change this. If you are unhappy in your relationship and you want out, you should be able to get out. If you hate your job, you should be able to find a new one. (Images of “weak” women flood my mind, ones who won’t stand up for themselves.)
This leaves me in the confusing position of questioning the times I actually am doing something good for myself in a “starting over”-type situation, or if I’m just falling back on old habits—those times I tried to transfer colleges; the summers in college when I would create the most opposite lifestyle I could; the quick out I took in my first real relationship when I just packed up and left.
Take the following as an example: after finding myself miserable during my first job out of college, I somehow saved enough money to move to Paris for a year and a half. This felt like a strong, almost feminist, thing to do. The power I felt with saying, “I’m giving my two-week’s notice.” The knowledge that I had actually stuck it out there for over a year. The feeling that the life I was living at the time was truly toxic and that I was about to construct something greater for myself. And yet, now, looking back, it often feels like one of the most escape-y things anyone could do. Quit your job and move to Paris? Did I think I was a character in an Eat, Pray, Love-esque book?
A year and a half later, I’m back in reality and somehow in a completely new life. I have furniture and a house. I have a car. I have debt. My boyfriend is leaving to go back to France. I was happy before but not sure I can be now. And the first moment I felt this, I thought, Well, I could sell the car, sublet until my lease is up, I could move somewhere else… What I realized then was that I actually possessed a ton of power. Not financially, per se. But that I somehow had little fear in making things happen and making things change. And just knowing that the possibility of change was there—that I could be strong enough to call on it whenever I’d need—somehow made everything a bit better. I could stay put and deal for a while and things would be okay. At least, until the next time they weren’t. And then maybe I’d do something about it.