Somewhere in the back of my mind, there is always a timer ticking down. Often there’s several, all clicking away in an eerie harmony that keeps me awake some nights.
Many of these timers are unhealthy – the perceived time left until I am unwanted in a friendship, how long I have until I’ve officially failed at achieving my career goals, the countdown until my inevitable transformation into Miss Haversham but with much less money, etcetera. These are kept in a very dark cupboard far away from my logical mind, yet they are there nonetheless.
Many are practical – work deadlines, rent payments, social events, the amount of time remaining before not replying to those messages and emails just becomes rude. I often lose track of these countdowns or mix them up. It’s not uncommon for me to forget about them entirely and then wonder where the overwhelming blanket of anxiety only created by forgotten tasks is coming from.
There’s one I’ve been ignoring for a while now. Well, not ignoring…underestimating, perhaps. It’s been getting louder and louder since I handed in my final assessment for my undergrad degree in May. Always there, clicking down, through staggered heartbreak and holidays, in long nights spent working and scorching days sprawled in the park.
And now it’s here.
I move out on Tuesday.
I leave the little flat I’ve spent the last three years in, the flat where so much has happened, it’s limited square footage straining to contain the memories of first love and best friends, of losses and academic triumphs, of dance parties and drunk baking with friends, of tears (dear god so many tears) and incandescent joy.
I leave it all on Tuesday and, in two weeks, I move to Edinburgh to start an MSc in Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University.
That’s what the looming countdown has been for. After existing as a nearly abstract notion through the previous six or so months, this giant fucking clock has materialised with only two weeks to go before my life evolves completely.
Just so there’s no misunderstanding, I am excited about this move; I am unequivocally ready to take on this degree. I want to go.
But here’s the thing.
I’m also terrified that I am stepping into a world where I will not belong.
Feeling like I belong has always been a challenge, a feeling with which I’m sure many others can commiserate. I’ve searched many places for a sense of belonging, of fulfilment; in churches and friendships and education and disastrous love affairs, in travel and fandoms and food and sex. Some worked. Some very much didn’t. Some worked for a while, then tore my world out from under me as they imploded. It’s been a case of trial and error.
Now here I am, facing a new degree, a new city, a new life, and I’m plagued by the fear I will not belong there. I could be making a mistake worth, minimum, £10,609. Or it could be the best thing I ever do.
Right now, however, I belong nowhere. The space I used to fill when I lived at home can no longer hold the person I am now. Everything that made my home in Cheltenham feel like home now sits in bags and boxes. Edinburgh is so far away and so ephemeral right now I cannot yet call it home. The countdown, that incorrigible countdown, is dragging me into the unknown.
This state of suspension has led me down some interesting paths of thought. How many times have I needlessly hurt myself by trying to belong somewhere I did not belong? Just because I once belonged to a person, in a place, or with an ideology, doesn’t mean I should cling to it. As difficult as it can be, realising that I am no longer wanted by someone or that a place or ideology is longer healthy for me, will allow me to step forward unburdened into whatever awaits.
Life doesn’t have an off switch. I can’t halt that countdown.
Life doesn’t have a redo button. I can’t go back and take steps to avoid all of the bad.
Life doesn’t have a preview. I can’t look ahead to what awaits me in Edinburgh and beyond.
Tuesday will arrive. I will leave Cheltenham. On September 2nd, I will catch a flight to Edinburgh. I will move into a new flat, with people I don’t know yet, and start a degree in a subject I want to make my career.
Will I feel like I belong? Who knows? Maybe it’ll be terrible. That’s what my anxiety shrieks at me in quiet moments (I’ve taken to listening to music and podcasts nearly 24/7 to drown out that little fucker) but, you know what, I think good things are waiting.
My best friend is coming with me so a piece of home will be with me at all times. The part of my soul that glowed warm and content as I walked around Edinburgh during my visit this past April will, I’m sure, bring me a certain sense of belonging as I settle into my new home.
My new home.
It didn’t feel bad to write that all.
Perhaps that countdown isn’t as scary as I thought.