In high school, I dreamed so much about going to college. I identified my top choice university my freshman year and worked my butt off the next four years to get in. I took tons of honors and advanced placement courses, I studied SAT vocab words while running on the treadmill to Lady Gaga and 2NE1, and I talked with my friends all the time about this school. While on one hand I saw college as the next step in my dream to becoming a psychologist, I also viewed it as an escape from my abusive mother. I saw college as a dreamland where I could free myself from her endless shouting and screaming and escape into freedom, into pure bliss.
I got into my dream school. But it turned out that college kinda like, sucked though. I spent my first year and a half in an unfulfilling, borderline-abusive friendship. Then when that friendship ended, post-traumatic stress disorder hit me like a brick. I cried in a lot of bathroom stalls and meditated in the midst of panic attacks in many others. I wanted pure bliss and got a ton of mess instead.
But not all of college sucked. I went to therapy with my beloved therapist L, where we unpacked my trauma and watched several Ariana Grande music videos together. I made lots of cool friends, two of whom I consider my closest friends today. I read Appetites by Caroline Knapp which inspired my feminist and social justice journey. I made out with a guy for the first time on black and grey bed sheets in my sophomore year dorm room, after worrying for hours about whether he was a real person when we first made contact online. I met mentors who inspired me with their deep compassion, empathy, and intelligence.
I share all of this because I want to honor both the loss and grief that accompanies unmet dreams and expectations, as well as the beauty that life can bring even when we least expect it. In high school, I had literally no clue that I would watch Ariana Grande videos with a therapist in a few years – heck, I didn’t even know who Ariana Grande was. I didn’t know who Caroline Knapp was, and I had no clue about the debauchery I would engage in in college. I thought that, when I got to college, my life would work itself out all smooth and neat. Instead I got a beautiful mess.
This same theme rings true for me in the closing of 2019. At the beginning of the year, I fantasized that at some point I would get to know Attractive Writer Labor Organizer Boy (AWLOB)better. I envisioned that a few of my friendships that have ended would stay in my life for a long while. I put so much energy into these relationships yet all of them collapsed, and even though I have processed and moved forward, the grief remains.
But 2019 also brought much joy into my life. In 2018, I definitely wouldn’t have predicted that I would fly to Charlotte, North Carolina and burn a random boy’s essay on a grill with one of my closest friends Natasha while dancing to Ariana Grande’s song “bloodline.” I definitely wouldn’t have guessed that Ari would release her hit “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” which would subsequently inspire this super weird yet oh-so-me blog post about body image. I had little clue that I would sit in an office in Washington D.C., thinking about this blog post, listening to this live version of “no tears left to cry” while wearing a bright pink sweater and basking in the afterglow of providing social justice-oriented therapy.
In sum: if you’re out there mourning a dream, I’m right there with you. Over the past few days I’ve been sad as heck about relationships I wanted to work out and didn’t. And, while honoring these emotions, I’m making space for the joy in my life – spending time on my friends and my little cousin, my hobbies, my meaningful work. I’m making space for all the joy that’s to come, too.
As 2019 wraps up, what dreams are you mourning, if any? What in your life has taken you by surprise, for worse or for better? General reactions to this post? Until next time, readers, until next time.
10 responses to “Dreamland”
For most of my life I wanted to be a librarian. Like I made little cards when I loaned books out as an eight-year-old. I was going to be the town librarian in a seaside town. I studied English then did my post-grad pre-library school working year, applied for library school … but my then-boyfriend wasn’t going to finish his PhD in time to support me through it so I supported him and me through his PhD and my post-grad diploma a few years later, didn’t do my dissertation as my job on a dictionary got to … Z (honestly!) and I had to find a job. Moved to London, worked in a library supplier for 8 years. Came back here, applied for library jobs, got an entry-level, non-qualified job basically buying books (OK, in all the romance languages as well as English, so that was cool) and doing cataloguing. Cataloguing got taken off us. Got turned down for professional jobs because I’d been out of the exact field of library work to save up to go to library school / when I worked at the supplier. Gave up, moved into my current self-employed role, am much happier now. But goodness me I mourned that, more, I think, than I mourned not being able to have children! My career, gone! So yes, there’s that. Also university was indeed quite disappointing at the time, although I still have a significant number of the friendships I made there, which is a massive win.
Much love to you as ever. You are doing SO WELL in your life. A decent and caring person, who is a good friend to others and themselves.
Thank you so much for sharing your career journey here Liz, your vulnerably means a lot to me and it’s really reassuring to hear about how even though were definitely ups and downs, you were able to persevere and settle into a path in which you feel content. I appreciate you naming the notion of mourning, too, that’s so important. I’m grateful for your assurance that I am doing well, as I’m doing my best in every single moment. (:
My life is not at all what I thought it would be. And I’m mostly okay with it. In undergrad, I thought I would be a art museum educator or curator and eventually get married, have a family and get a house live happily ever after the end. My perfect hetero marriage failed, turns out I’m bisexual (nothing wrong with this just a fact), I have an ADHD kid, am a single parent and working as a paraprofessional in a library despite having a Masters degree because my interview skills suck. My first relationship after my failed marriage ended this year, but I know it was the right decision. I love my son and will do the best for him and am figuring out the single parent thing as I go along, asking for help where I need it. A lot happened in 2019 but I’m glad to be in my own place and that I’ve survived another year. And I love reading your posts and hearing about all the awesome stuff that you’re doing.
Aw, thank you for sharing your life journey so far, I’m glad it sounds like you are hanging there in even though life did not turn out the way you envisioned it. I appreciate you doing your best as a single parent and asking for help when you need it, I feel like knowing when to ask for help is so courageous and wise. Congrats on surviving another year, and thank you for making the time to read and comment and check in, I’m grateful for it!
“… the debauchery I would engage in college.” This was the only line that got my attention.
I think what has disappointed me this past year is how lazy I can get. I need to fix this.
p.s. love the pink sweater and the pink ear buds.
Haha I don’t blame you, it’s a scandalous line! Thank you for your love for all my pink. (: And I hope that addressing your laziness in a self-compassionate way goes as well as it can, I’m here to support you. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, that’s all I want to read – nothing but debauchery. Give the readers what they want. Please?
It’s such a joy reading this by the end of the year. Thank you Thomas. I love how you reflected on your college years and the year of 2019. It reminds me of my own little messes, sadness, disappointments. I too, have been grieving for relationship; for losing trust from a family member I used to be very close while at the same time, I am feeling some level of shame for not setting up some proper boundaries…
But I am very grateful for my close friends, and somehow we maintained our deep connections through the ups and downs in life. And I appreciate that I can talk with you and hear from you from time to time, which is an amazing experience.
I smiled when I see AWLOB pop out again. I am glad you have processed it so well. It’s a great comfort to see that we can still seek compassion and find creative,fun ways to let go of things, after these disappointments. Thank you for being there for us! See you soon in 2020. 😀
Xin, thank you so much for your encouraging comment as always! Glad this post has helped in your reflection process and it’s wonderful that you’re spending some time to introspect on what has felt hurtful and what has felt healing or hopeful this year. Grateful for your kind words about my processing of AWLOB (lol) and yes, I love the idea of seeking compassion and finding creative, fun ways to let thinigs go even if they have been difficult. Thank you again, for being here for me, and see you in 2020!
Hi Thomas (:
I was in dreamland too when it came to going to university. I worked hard in school to get good grades because I too longed to escape an abusive mother, yet university was bewildering for me and I struggled with depression for a lot of it, which was not helped by a ‘friendship’ that I made with an emotionally abusive narcissist.
When I first realised that I was gay I struggled with it a lot (and yes I went through that stage of trying and failing to convince everyone but most importantly myself that I was ‘bi’, when I am not). I realise now that I needed to go through a stage of mourning because I will not have a heteronormative life, or more simply that I will never have a ‘wife’. But slowly I moved away from the grief and now I am really glad for my sexuality and the freedom it has allowed me to embrace. With the help of my therapist I have uncovered the need to grieve over my childhood which was lost to abuse, your resources page is really helpful in that regards.
I came across your blog whilst searching for someone who understands or writes about the challenges of being gay and Asian (or minority). Thanks for sharing your struggles and journey on your blog as I can relate to so much of it and it’s helping me persevere through my own struggles. I feel full of warmth from reading your blog (and by the way I share in your grief over the cancellation of Sense8).
I hope that your year goes well and know that this gay Asian is supporting and very grateful for you in England.