The Anxiety of Staying Put
Bent double in a busy public shower block. There are children screaming, stressed mothers, multiple showers fighting for the hot water supply. The clatter of pipes, the whirr of extractor fans, the raucous hairdryers. I am having an anxiety attack in a very public shower block. One of the same shower blocks I have been using for almost four months.
With almost everything I ever desire I still do not feel fulfilled, I am not calm; ‘stayed put’ in North Devon for fifteen weeks. Three weeks was the previous record for the longest time spent in one place. The reasons for sticking around are simple although unnecessary right now, so I’m using this blog post to cathartically work through the anxiety of ‘staying put’
For me, the idea of constantly moving is perfect to settle my nerves about building and maintaining relationships of all kinds. In my previous post about my own life events that lead me to take up a nomadic lifestyle, I remembered how continuously changing my whereabouts allowed me to make friends all over the country without maintaining physical closeness. I love meeting new people but I dislike seeing the same people everywhere I go-my heart sinks when I see the same person at a checkout in the same supermarket I shopped at previously. When I (rarely) see my friends who are far away, our days together are exiting and loud, our company not forced but genuinely happy to be reunited however briefly. When you stay put for a while, especially in a small community, you see the same people repetitively, your meetings become strained, your ‘friendships’ turn into ‘acquaintances’ and the tiresome burden of staying polite with those you’d rather run away from becomes exhausting.
Similarly, when you work in the same place for a prolonged period (in my case, longer than three weeks) you develop strange relationships with your colleagues and your work-wives. Ok, perhaps not everyone, but I have felt this heavy anxiety since maintaining a job for over three months in Devon. I saw my colleagues more than I saw the man I moved here for. I worked, and still work, everyday of the week to afford staying here, and I have somehow managed to survive an all-female workplace. See, when you must stay somewhere, and the option to just walk out and drive away is not available, you are forced into a semi-professional attitude of duty and an un-professional mode of gossip and ‘banter’. On the flipside though, working in the same place has allowed me to make some friends that I will cherish for life. In the few months I have worked in this one place I have got to know some interesting characters, shared stories and secrets with new friends and received training and guidance from skilled and kind humans that have put up with me for over seven hours everyday- that’s longer than the man I love gets to see me awake each day.
This week, I handed in my notice at a lovely job in a Holiday park in North Devon. For the first time in over a year, instead of just quietly disappearing or loudly making a scene before a dramatic exit, I agreed a 4 week notice period to be worked before I could be free of a job that was enjoyable although unchallenging. Every bone in my body is itching to run away- the awkward-ness between my boss and I, the telling each of my colleagues, individually, that I am leaving because…. well, just because, that’ll come later. I can see there is no future here, yet I must stay, and its contradicting everything I live for, everything I built my life around.
Also, I realised this week, that if the plan is to stay in North Devon for a while longer, and a considerable while longer, the excitement of having to hurriedly visit places and meet new people diminishes. When the option to spend another six months exploring is available, the moment of ‘Now!’, becomes less important. Undoubtedly, I have enjoyed lazy days, lie-ins and lazier evenings since settling in North Devon, and perhaps the hectic work schedule is also to blame, but I feel so unbelievably unfulfilled here. Right now, instead of crying on the shower cubicle floor, I’d rather be passed out with the exhaustion of an amusing day spent outdoors.
When the threat of settling is becoming more and more of a reality, the anxiety kicks in. Assuming that most people would feel anxious when moving to a new place; not knowing anyone else, not knowing where to go, what to explore or anything at all. But for me, I relish in the not knowing, I adore the research in the libraries and in the pubs, I love to get chatting to new people, to try new foods and drink new drinks, copious amounts of new drink. And the most enjoyable part of going somewhere new is knowing that part of it will forever be a mystery- it will never be mine, there will always be another place to explore or person to meet, that I have the option to return whenever I desire but that, in essence, my relationship with this new-ness is only good because it remains new and the moment that it becomes familiar and safe I have already moved on.
And now, the most confusing aspect of the anxiety of ‘staying put’ is that I want to stick around. I want to visit more areas here. There are beaches less than six miles from my location now that I am yet to explore. There are coastal walks I still have not marched on, parties I’ve yet to dance at, trees that I want to stick around to see change colour with the seasons, waves that I want to see crash in a midwinter storm and beaches I want to walk on empty and alone on the darkest and coldest days. There is a man I want to lay next to every night of the year for years and years to come and dinners I want to eat in a kitchen, a familiar kitchen, the same kitchen that we will share in a home that isn’t inside a van. And these things, these beautiful, albeit mundane things, that I want, that I desire, are the very things topping up the anxiety that has led me here; rocking bent double under the public shower with the indecisive temperature gauge. I raise my hand every ten seconds to press the magic button that keeps the water beating down on my head, not sure if I am crying or just pulling faces. And here, reflecting on the professionalism that is demanded of those who cannot run away, on the laziness and its accompanying bliss and of the threat of boredom simply because it is familiar, I realise this sickening feeling may be here to stay. Perhaps I had been driving away from my problems after all; my problem being that I am scared to be left alone for one minute with my own thoughts, petrified that one day here there may be nothing new left to do, terrified that for one day I may be unhappy or frustrated or stuck and not be able to switch on the engine of my home are drive away. The restless traveller is stayed-put.