08.31.18 // Rules.
I used to be convinced that I had it all figured out.
This life thing everyone seems to be struggling with? Nah. I knew how to do it. I thought that the key was to stay (horrendously) close to as normal as possible, follow the rules that were given to you, be an infinite people pleaser, and follow the Western formula for success; school, more school, a little more school, job, family, retirement.
It didn’t occur to me that anyone was even trying to live a different way, and if they were, they had to be doing it wrong. Because really, there’s nothing more satisfying in life than a 401k and external validation right? Now, this is in no way an attack on stability, rather a realization I came to that even stability is as fragile as living on the fringe.
I followed the rules, that is what I was good at. Being exceptionally average at most pursuits (like being the best, of the second string, on the soccer team), I knew that I could always count on my ability to be the best rule follower I could be. My nature was to please people, to put others needs in front of my own, to make sure that everyone else was okay. And obviously, there isn’t anything wrong with these traits, but being so convinced that the rules were the only ones I should even think of following had me living a really restricted life. And when the eating disorder hit, literally a restricted life. Dark humour eh?!
I grew up in a privileged area in Toronto, and went to a school where people we’re not only expected to go to University (always University, never college, heaven forbid no school), but expected to go to the top school for commerce. I already felt a little “behind/dumb/not good enough” for pursuing humanities, but when my mental health got so bad I had to drop out of school, I thought I failed (also good to note I was reading a lot of philosophy at that time so I was very dramatic).
Going into rehab on my year off, I met people who had insanely different life stories, and they were amazing. All of them, whether formally educated or not, whether total hippies or ex-soldiers, whether freelance workers or 401k junkees - were all equally capable and beyond talented. It was one of the first times that I truly saw that there weren’t only different career paths to take, but completely different life paths to take, and yes; that was totally fine to do. The absolute beauty in the diversity of life revealed itself to me during that time period, and I was hooked.
Obviously, as hard-wired as the brain is, I wasn’t ready to completely quit the rules just yet. But every single day I started to challenge the notion that there was not, and is not, just one way to do life. I started to do things that I really wanted to do. I accepted that taking time off wasn’t lazy, it was just me living. I had random adventures around Toronto, listened to the type of music I thought was “bad”, and surround myself (for the most part) with people who were completely genuine in living the kind of life they wanted. But this isn’t a story about me becoming some weird remix of a beatnik (writing this I’m wearing an overpriced “vintage” rolling stone tee from free people, okay?), I wasn’t going counterculture, rather I was becoming more independent and creative.
I started giving myself permission, instead of waiting for others, to do the things I actually wanted to do. All this came with the realization that the scope of life is so much broader than you think it is. There isn’t one way to live. There isn’t a “bad” way to go about getting a job or even having a job. When you take time off, you’re not taking time off from the “real world”, the most real forms of life, for me, were when I was hearing about the stories from people I met in treatment.
It seems horrendously cheesy to say that you have to be yourself in order to be happy, but you seriously do. I tried to follow all the rules, all the time, and everything (and by everything I mean shit) hit the fan.
In a complete plot twist move, having a conventional “fuck up” and dropping out of school, getting treatment, embracing the things that make me ever so awkward, has let me feel like I’m actually doing what I want with my life. Every day, I have to remind myself that there is no one way to live, so whatever you feel like doing, go for it. Life is more than a set of rules, and the only way you learn that is by breaking them.