Years ago, a friend posed a question that will linger in the back of my head for the rest of my life. And when I share it with you, you’ll never be able to forget it.
“Where am I the best version of myself?”
The friend in question had recently moved to Hong Kong from Washington, D.C., where I also lived, to pursue his dream of working in the film industry. A few months after he moved, I asked what had inspired him to pick up and leave a comfortable life in Washington.
After hearing his story, that question—”Where am I the best version of myself?”—haunted me every day. Because for the past several years, I had felt a creeping feeling that I was not at my best where I was.
Living in the nation’s capital was an amazing way to spend my twenties. When I arrived in Washington, D.C. at 23, I quickly fell in love with the city and its quirks. Washington’s vibe toed the line between nerdy and trendy, and there was always something to do: a new art exhibit, a rowdy embassy party, and an endless number of bars and restaurants to try.
But after a while, I started to feel stuck. I wasn’t moving in any particular direction. I used to take risks and have big adventures. I went hundreds of miles away to college without a second thought; after college I moved to South Korea to teach English for a year; after that I bought a ticket to India because I really liked Indian food and wanted it from the source. Travelling allowed me to lose myself in a moment and in an experience—and to feel moments of true happiness. And while I always assumed the things that happened to adults would probably show up along the way, now I felt like I was trapped in a rut, watching from the sidelines as my friends hit the big milestones: graduate school, marriage, home ownership, children.
So I surrounded myself with distractions. I threw myself into my job (I was a leader at a non-profit). I was constantly travelling for work. I got into a relationship that I knew wouldn’t go anywhere, yet occupied much of the free time I had. I made myself so busy that I didn’t have time to really deal with the fact that I wasn’t happy.
At the encouragement of a colleague, I started seeing a therapist. But I wasn’t ready for the real work it requires. For months, I treated therapy like a gab session with a girlfriend instead of applying what I was learning there to my broader life.
Flash forward six months.
I was travelling less for work and spending more time in Washington. I was no longer in a relationship after enduring a breakup that left me more broken than I thought possible.
All of a sudden, I had loads of time on my hands. I was finally forced to confront what I had been repressing for a long time—that I wasn’t the best version of myself in Washington. I wasn’t even close.
The fallout wasn’t pretty. I stopped eating. I’d wake up at 4 a.m. to my heart racing and a wave of anxiety-induced nausea forcing me to run to the toilet. I couldn’t motivate myself to cook or do laundry or clean my apartment. I was miserable. I dropped 20 pounds in less than two months. Always a morning person, suddenly I found myself hitting snooze three or four times every day, simply because I couldn’t get out of bed. I stopped reaching out to friends and relatives because I just couldn’t bring myself to pick up a phone.
I always thought rock bottom was a singular dark moment from which you pick yourself up. But rock bottom wasn’t a moment. It wasn’t a day or two. Rock bottom became my new norm.
I wasn’t “doing me.” I wasn’t “living my best life.” And the whole time, that question lingered in the back of my head: “Where am I the best version of myself?” I had no idea. But I was never going to find out unless I started taking care of myself.
I began putting into action the things I had been side-stepping in therapy. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, both of which had been triggered in recent months. I went on antidepressants and began to see a change in my mood within weeks.
It wasn’t medication alone that helped me out of the darkness, though. I also starting making changes to my lifestyle that put my well-being front and centre. I cut back on alcohol and caffeine because I didn’t like how they made me feel. I downloaded a meditation app and committed to a regular morning practice. I turned down invitations when I just wanted to stay at home, and accepted invitations when I felt social.
The final step was choosing to leave the city I’d called home for seven years. I knew that without that big change, I wouldn’t be living or thriving. I would simply be getting through each day just to get to the next one, and that wasn’t a way to live. I certainly wasn’t willing to live that way.
That question—”Where are you the best version of yourself?”—still haunts me. I certainly don’t know the answer. But I do know that travelling has always brought out the best in me and given me the clarity I’ve struggled to find in day-to-day life, and I welcome all the challenges that lay ahead. Travelling dissolves the very idea of a comfort zone, forcing me to face my biggest fears and confront my greatest obstacles.
So I quit my job. I gave notice to my landlord. I’m moving my cat and my belongings to my mother’s home in upstate New York, where I’ll spend meaningful time with my family. And after that I’ll travel, using the money I saved for a down payment and whatever I make picking up odd jobs along the way. I don’t know where I’ll go or who I’ll meet along the way, but that’s part of the adventure.
I don’t know what my life will look like in six months, and that’s okay. I don’t know what will bring out the best version of myself, or where I’ll find her. I don’t know if she’ll surface in a foreign city or in an unexpected friendship. I don’t know what she’ll want to do with the next year or two or five. I don’t know if she’ll develop new passions or look to the past for inspiration.
One thing is for certain—I can’t wait to meet her.
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health
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