Overcoming the Urge to Run: Your Life Isn’t the Problem — It’s You
“I’ll be happy when I’m skinny,” “I’ll be happy when I’m in a relationship,” “I’ll be happy when my blog takes off,” “I’ll be happy when I have tons of money,” — this has been my narrative for as long as I can remember. As if at some arbitrary point in my life I would finally decide, “Yes, this is it. I’ve made it. I’m good enough. Now, I can be happy.”
I was always busy working on the dream me. My waking moments were filled with daydreams of a shinier, skinnier, and more successful version of myself. At night, thoughts of failure consumed my mind — “I haven’t been productive enough today,” “I could have done more.” I felt that the person I currently was did not deserve happiness. I was living like I was waiting for my life to start.
Because I was so unhappy with my life, I had this intense need to escape. I was scared of commitment, of putting down roots. I was flighty and impulsive, ready to run at a moment’s notice. I hated being in one place, or doing the same thing, for too long. I wanted to continually be on the move. I needed that false sense of happiness that came from consistently hitting my system with novelty-induced doses of dopamine.
For a long time, I only felt happy when I was travelling. I needed trips to look forward to in order to get through life. As soon as I got back from a trip, I would immediately start planning the next one. I spent my time at work lusting over foreign lands. Whenever I didn’t travel for a while, I started to feel anxious and restless — trapped. The feeling would start as a dull itch in the back of my head, then progressively creep down my spine, setting fire to my nerves, and, eventually, taking over my entire body.
Turns out this incessant urge to run away was caused by my fight-flight-freeze response. My inability to cope with my generalized anxiety disorder had resulted in my central nervous system constantly being activated, and flight has always been my preferred acute stress response. I tend to ignore problems in hopes that they will go away. I love running from my thoughts and emotions, and, of course, avoiding confrontation. I thought the only way to deal these thoughts was to leave the city, the province, the country.
Turns out plane tickets are expensive. My credit card bills rose in conjunction with my anxiety. Out of frantic desperation, I started spending money I didn’t have. My coworkers praised my travelling habits, wishing they could be like me. I hid under a facade of wanderlust, all the while knowing it was something much deeper. Eventually, life got so overwhelming that travelling was no longer enough, I wanted to run away permanently.
I hatched plans to save up money and move to Thailand, to start over. I fantasized about living in Chiang Mai as an entirely new person. Thankfully, I have great friends that are far more rational than I am. They told me to try and make it through the next few months. Then, if I still felt the same, they would back my idea to move to Thailand. I conceded, and dove into bettering my mental health. I started going to talk therapy and worked on figuring my shit out.
I was simultaneously stuck on another big decision — should I get cats or not? On one hand, I was pretty sure that having cats around would improve my mental health. The family cat, Bella, had been a constant source of comfort throughout my teen years and early adulthood. On the other hand, if I had cats, there was no way I could bring them to Thailand with me. Or travel the world like I wanted to. Eventually, my friends managed to convince me that I was being ridiculous for choosing a hypothetical situation over what was my reality. So, I got the cats.
Unfortunately, they were not an immediate source of comfort. My commitment issues and I were still going strong, and having to be responsible for these two lives made me incredibly anxious. In addition to that, because I lived in a 475 square foot bachelor apartment, it felt like they were constantly in my zone. And what was left of the already limited space, was now being taken up by cat things. They are also very snuggly little guys. I love this about them now, but at that point in my life, I just wanted to be left alone most of the time.
Slowly but surely, Ossy and Poe melted the ice palace surrounding my heart, and I could no longer imagine life without them. They taught me how to care for something other than myself, how to take responsibility, and how to love unconditionally. Other areas of my life improved as well. I was going to therapy consistently, I found a workout (and community) that I loved, and I moved to a bigger and better apartment with my best friend. It seemed like things were looking up. Then, half my coworkers got laid off — including me.
I spiralled again. I realized I was still ignoring the bulk of my problems. I had no money, no goals, and no direction in life. The urge to run returned.
Thankfully, I got another job within weeks, but I ended up hating it even more than my last. After a huge fight with one of my close friends and the worst trip of my life, depression came knocking at my door again. As the nights got longer and colder, I retreated further into myself. I was often sad or frustrated. I felt stuck. I became obsessed with figuring out the meaning of life. Everything felt so meaningless. This couldn’t be all there was, right? These thoughts encircled me at night, snaking around my windpipe and squeezing until I couldn’t breathe.
I guess I got tired of being the victim. I decided to take control of my life and fight my demons. I start this blog and my YouTube channel. I starting applying for jobs with a unheard frenzy. I threw myself into work. I had concrete goals! Dreams! A path! But I rarely socialized. I was always either working or working out. This didn’t make me happy either. I was burnt out, and had nothing to show for my efforts. My satisfaction with life was barely higher than it used to be, and, on top of that, I felt like I could no longer connect with people. Like I had built up this wall to keep everyone out.
Then, a lot of things happened at once. The days got longer. My new SNRI medication started working. I returned to my pole dancing community, stronger and more confident than every before. Hannah Witton posted a video explaining how she made money online, and this made me realize that I had zero interest in working in an office, no matter what the job was. Oh, and, I fell in love.
I didn’t mean to, but turns out that’s not something you can control. Remember that close friend? After our huge fight, we didn’t talk for a months, but he eventually reached out to rekindle our friendship. We grew closer than ever before. Then, one fateful evening in April, after a night of drinking and flirting, we said goodbye to our friends, and I invited him up to my apartment.
There was a palpable sexual tension as we drank wine and talked late into the night, slowly getting closer, until we were standing with our arms wrapped around each other, in the middle of my living room. Like a scene from a movie, our conversation paused, our eyes lowered, and our lips locked. All the feelings of the past couple years rushed through my head, along with all my fears and hang ups about intimacy and commitment, and I had to break the kiss and stop things from going any further.
He was a perfect gentleman. He brushed my hair out of my face and told me it was okay, there was no rush for us. The next few weeks, I was a nervous but excited wreck. We started going on dates and texting regularly. I thought this would just be a fun, casual thing that would eventually fizzle out. It was just nice to finally feel wanted.
But of course, life never really goes the way you think it will. The more we opened up to each other, the harder I fell. Everything felt right with him. Like this was the way things were supposed to be. He also helped me see myself in a new light, and finally all the self-love I’d been working on over the past few years clicked into place. I could finally see a future in which I wasn’t alone. I went from being scared of intimacy to craving it.
Our whirlwind romance came to an abrupt halt near the end of the summer.
Even though rationally, I knew it was for the best, I was crushed. But I was able to handle my pain a lot better than ever before. Something had changed. This breakup didn’t break me. I was sad, but I wasn’t spiralling. I wasn’t itching to run. I realized that alongside this relationship, I had been tending to various other aspects of my life. Watering my friendships, weeding my mind, fertilizing my hobbies. I managed to find little joys and bits of fulfillment in my job, even if it’s not exactly what I want to be doing.
When you’re always chasing the next thing, you forget to take the time to appreciate the things you have now. I kept trying to run away from my life, because I thought everything around me was crumbling. Well, turns out, I was the problem. When I began to shift my attitude and my perspective, everything started to fall into place. Happiness is so much deeper than what you have and what you’ve accomplished. True contentment with life starts on the inside, with you.
I took a well-timed vacation shortly after my breakup, and it cemented my sense of contentment. I enjoyed my travels, but I also couldn’t wait to come home to my life. I slowly and unknowingly built up a life that I love. A life that I miss when I’m travelling. A life that I’m excited to come home to. Sure, I still sometimes catch myself daydreaming about all the things I don’t have and could be. And I’m definitely still working on all that self-doubt bullshit. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that my goals will take time. And that the journey is meant to be enjoyed. There will be things I miss if I don’t appreciate them in this moment. I’m no longer waiting. This is my life, and I’m finally living it.