Staying Aware in Stagnancy

On the final days leading up to my first winter break of college, a ferocious excitement was in the air. People constantly referenced the dwindling days, their vacation plans, or simply how they couldn’t wait to be home. My own voice, tucked in the melody of an ecstatic chorus, was one of contrast; I wasn’t ready to go home. I deeply feared what waited for me there.

Dramatic as it may sound, unstructured time feels, to me, like a personal nemesis. In the face of relaxation, I grow stressed; time to collect myself makes me feel restless. I feared the month expanse of free time despite how lucky I was to have a home I could easily return to. Knowing this, I worked hard in the weeks leading up to break to ensure that the month itself was broken into manageable chunks of time. Two weeks after I returned home, I planned to leave on a road trip to Canada. The week after that, I would endeavor to visit my friends in New York City.

I was proud of myself for understanding the weakness I felt in my stagnancy. To work around that hopeless feeling I feared, I had planned extensively. I had scheduled myself in a way that felt productive and felt as if it was making use of the world around me. It had taken a lot of effort, countless hours of budgeting, researching, and planning, but I knew it was all worth it. Even in the exhaustion of planning, the image ahead of me kept me motivated. It exhilarated me to imagine all the adventure ahead as I sat at my computer figuring out an ideal itinerary. I knew that, when I reached Montreal, the first stop on the trip, I would feel rejuvenated in a way only exploration can create.

However, I never made it to this moment. One of my first days back from break, I was in a car crash that ruined the car I was planning to take to Canada. Two weeks later, as I packed for the trip, I started to feel exhausted, dizzy, and nauseous. The day before the trip, I fell asleep at 6 PM with a 104 fever. My parents and friends effectively banned the trip at that point even as I woozily assured them I would be fine by tomorrow.

As they suspected, I was not fine by the next day. I was devastated. The next week was spent being too weak to leave my bed except for the occasional doctor’s visit. Each day, I woke up hoping it would be the one where I could finally start a condensed version of my road trip. Yet, the week passed, and the potential for a road trip passed along with it.

This unfortunate circumstance seemed troublesome for my relaxation guilt-complex. At first, it was. I miserably laid in bed in a state of emotional and physical anguish. I complained to my friends through the phone I aggressively occupied my mind and thumbs with. TV show after TV show blared in the background, never quite loud enough to drown out my personal pity. All of this negative sentiment culminated in a single question from my mom: “Why are you so unhappy to be home?”

I thought on this question, contemplating which of the many reasons I should give her: my car (my freedom) was broken, I was sick, I was missing a trip I’d been waiting for, etc. In the end, I gave her all of these reasons and more. In the moment, it didn’t feel like a breakthrough. However, as I healed, I thought about her question.

When I was finally able to leave the house again, a friend picked me up and a few of us went out to dinner. It was a short trip to a place in a neighborhood adjacent to our own. We ate sushi and got ice cream a couple blocks up the street after. We drove around for a bit before saying goodbye to a friend who was headed back to school. I returned again to all those negatives I had told my mom about. Around me, I still saw their effects, but I began to see the positive aspects of being home too. I saw my friends and the places I grew up, little fragments of memories swirling throughout the present. It wasn’t Canada, but it was something.  I realized, rather obviously, that my time was passing in these ‘typical’ moments just as it would have in Canada. Maybe the activities were different, but I realized that, second by second, the time itself was moving the same way. In that, I knew both my reality and the potential of Canada would fall into the past at the exact same rate. I knew they would both steadily fall deep into the crevices of my memory. I felt a lot better after thinking that.

It may be harder to ‘enjoy’ stagnancy. At home, it is easiest to fall into a couch and let the pillows engulf you, the home-cooked food fill you, and your family’s affections surround and then smother you. Yet, for a mind willing to work, there are escapes from the confines of the couch, even if your body isn’t moving across the world with it.

Explore the world you think you know the best. Find the hidden gems beneath your hidden middle school diaries. Let your mom’s parenting evoke nostalgia, not angst. Work your mind even as the body sits quietly.  It is easier, in my opinion, to be happy when the body and mind are exploring the world together, with new steps corresponding to new experiences, but still, there is something in retracing the old footsteps and realizing the temporary nature of ‘staying.’ It took me being emotionally upset and physically sick to understand that. Hopefully, you won’t have to fall sick to refresh your opinions on your normalcy. Rather, I hope this story shares the potential for glory in the everyday, even when that everyday doesn’t appear very glorious.


Edited by Isabel Astrachan

Photograph by Alina Husain