Diane Lee - On Purpose

Languishing On Purpose: A List

1. I’m still somewhat out of sorts. It’s got nothing to do with depression because I’m not depressed; I have no trouble getting out of bed, and there is no black cloud hanging over me. It’s got nothing to do with motivation either: I’m committed to being able to run at least five kilometres by the beginning of spring, and to that end, I head out three times per week, rain or shine, to make this happen. And I’m productive: law school has seen to that. I attend my lectures and workshops and submit my essays days ahead of the due date. And the point of going to law school is to fight the $3000 hotel quarantine fee forced onto vulnerable Australians, so I’m focused.

2. What I’m not is driven. I can’t seem to find my purpose. I’ve lost my why. I used to know, but now I don’t. I used to think it was about brave writing and self-publishing and travel photography and rebelling against shitty management, despite the personal cost. But not working (and finding it difficult to get work) means I have nothing to rebel against. And I could write and publish and take photos, but the joy is not there. Not like it was in Vietnam.

3. When I was in Vietnam, my purpose was clear: to become a freelance writer. And I did for a time, but I couldn’t sustain it. The hustle — finding stories, researching sources, sending pitches, following up pitches — was a grind. And that was even before the writing. And chasing up getting paid was even more of a grind. Why are creatives not valued?

4. When I was coming home from Vietnam my purpose was clear: get Bella and myself out of the country. It was difficult and challenging and awful because of the Stupid Fucking Virus™ but it was my focus from November 2019 to September 2020. And when I eventually got home to Australia, I had to find my feet, which took the better part of 12 months because I felt like I was an alien, who didn’t belong. Some days I still feel that way.

5. Before Vietnam, I was driven to travel, to explore. I’d save most of my salary and head off overseas. I’d take leave without pay and be away for weeks. I cruised the Mediterranean, travelled India by train and did the same in Japan. I had a short-lived and ill-advised affair in Bali, and did the same – twice, although neither affairs were short-lived and they should have been – in Vietnam. I soaked up the cultures and landscapes and food and people, revelling in my difference and aloneness.

6. Travel is off the cards because it’s almost impossible and incredibly unpleasant now. Who wants to subject themselves to all the risk management shit around the Stupid Fucking Virus™? Plus being locked out of the country has made me gun shy. If politicians have done it once to the cheers of the masses, they can do it again.

7. I thought that to rectify feeling out of sorts, it was simply a matter of addressing — because my finances are taken care of — that three-legged stool of well-being: mind, body and spirit. Body was being addressed by running, cycling and walking. Tick. Mind was being taken care of by law school, the occasional writing workshops and reading. Tick. The spirit was where I struggled.

8. Not being at all religious, I loosely defined the spirit through community, creativity and connections. I joined a community garden that focused on gardening but, I discovered, minimised the community aspect. I drifted away, like dandelion seeds on a breeze. I volunteered as a barista in a hospital café until the Stupid Fucking Virus™ demanded that I get jabbed. No thanks. I found a walking group that I had hoped would make me feel connected. It didn’t, because members were mostly old and talked mostly about their COVID vaccines and grandchildren. I have neither. Ditto the mah jong group I found, which also forced masks on players. No thanks.

9. It’s not that I don’t have creative interests and hobbies: I do, but they aren’t passions. They are activities I dip in and out of when the mood or inclination takes me, which is probably why I’m doing passions all wrong. Writing. Photography. Sewing. Embroidery. Gardening. Crochet. Art. I am creative. But it’s not enough.

10. I envy those who know what their purpose is. Those who know from birth that they wanted to be an actor or comedian or singer or war monger. I don’t care whether your why is to make the best widgets in town, or to save dolphins from culling in Japan, or get the government to drop its cruel and inhumane refugee policies or to sew beautiful products repurposed from jeans, or to clean up Hanoi or drop bombs on Hiroshima. I envy that you know what you want to do, and are doing it, even if it’s evil (which, I know, shouldn’t be revered, and ordinarily, I don’t).

11. There’s a name for what I’m experiencing: languishing. Apparently one of the many antidotes to languishing, and to move you into the highly prized flourishing space, is to concentrate on one thing that’s achievable and meaningful and focus on doing it well, for example, fitness. Or finishing one project that has been languishing unfinished for a while and build it into a daily routine. When I think about such a project, I have so many that are unfinished, yet achievable. Where do I start?

12. I have assumed loner status, so my connections are missing. I do socialise, but I don’t have many real friends, if any. Since my later months in Hanoi where I discovered I was surrounded by toxic people who camouflaged as friends, and since returning to Australia where I and a hundred thousand other expats were thrown to the snarling wolves, I don’t trust many people. Why would I? And being an old lady, I am invisible. Conversations are had with me on the periphery as a passive fringe dweller, my thoughts and opinions and experiences unimportant, minimised. I am seen merely as an opportunity for others to impatiently talk at me, about themselves. I yearn for deep and trusted conversations where my layers are pulled back and exposed. But I can’t be bothered saying anything and simply let these people slide away.

13. Family is not to be trusted either. My daughter hasn’t spoken to me since her wedding in March last year. She has a new family now, and I am of no use to her. My sister, who I love dearly and means well, doesn’t understand and can’t empathise. Because she doesn’t understand and can’t empathise, I now don’t talk to her about what’s going on with me because I don’t want my vulnerability to be misdiagnosed and judged. I have told her this.

14. I think I may have PTSD as a result of a complex combination of my difficult return to Australia and detention in a hotel, the narcissistic abuse I experienced at the hands of my Vietnamese exes, and the physical and emotional abuse that rained down on me as child from my mother that has ricocheted across my life and impacted it in ways I haven’t been able to imagine. Three crosses that I try to bear with as much dignity and grace as I can.

15. I tried to get help from my GP early last year. I wanted a referral to a counsellor to talk through some things. My GP told me to stop being angry and just be grateful I was back in Australia. I didn’t go back.

16. Maybe it’s just winter. Maybe it’s the bleak weather. Maybe I’m supposed to languish in winter. Maybe this time, this rainy, windy, bleak time, should be used to think about my purpose, to rediscover my why.

17. I miss my why, and I want it back. I want to find my purpose and start flourishing again because this languishing thing is bullshit.

Image credit: heathergunn from Pixabay

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