I had a bit of a breakdown during my junior year of college, if “breakdown” is the right work for an episode that ended with me not sleeping for six straight days and getting to know the staff of Psych Services quite well. It was triggered by a number of things. A boy, the first one who I’d let see the real me and didn’t think it was all that fabulous. The realization that I was mostly done with schooling and still hadn’t found something I cared deeply about. It was probably also time; I hadn’t had a breakdown yet in my life, and it’s sort of a rite of passage on the way to emotionally entry-level maturity.
But one factor in the meltdown was my semester-abroad plan. I had picked Russian as a freshman because the Berlin Wall had come tumbling down and this vast, new powerful country was opening up. Also, no one else studied Russian, and the Cyrillic alphabet was sort of like a secret code, both of which made me special, which I remember being of importance in that era of my life. After two years of study, though, I realized that my Russian professors were all both oddly depressed and slightly manic, that I wanted to slap all the characters in Anna Karenina for their whiny fatalism, that Soviet politics were tediously irrational, and that nothing about Russian food, art or literature spoke to my heart. And I was getting weekly letters from a good friend spending a year in India on exchange, letters on tissue-thin blue airmail paper covered in cramped handwriting detailing the loneliness of her much-more-serious breakdown.
But I had already filled out all the applications. I’d shown up five days a week at 9am — so early in college! — to study Russian. I had plans. What was the point if I just stayed in Providence? Besides, how could I tell everyone I chickened out?
I realized, on night four of listening to ‘70s light rock at 4am on my alarm-clock radio, that I didn’t so much want to spend a semester in Russia, as I wanted to be the type of person who spent a semester in Russia. I wanted to be brave, and self-sufficient, and adventurous, throwing a casual, “When I was in Moscow….” into conversation on a regular basis. I wanted to have had that experience, but I didn’t actually want to have it. In the end, with the help of my friends at Psych Services, and my parents (who were freaking out a little about my mental state 3000 miles away), and mostly an ex-boyfriend who when I confided my deep unhappiness basically told me to grow up and stop whining about my practically perfect life, I decided not to go. And promptly began sleeping again.
But that little breakdown has left some scars, as breakdowns do. Now, as we’re crossing the Rubicon of going — listing our house for rent and telling bosses — I am worried we’re making the wrong decision. What if it’s awful, and dangerous, and someone gets hurt, or kidnapped? What if our stuff gets stolen? What if my co-workers figure out they don’t need me and then I can’t get a job when I get back?
So I’m watching myself closely. I haven’t been sleeping well; is that because Eric has taken up snoring? That our bed is old and starting to get uncomfortable? Or is it because I am making the wrong decision?
I don’t remember this level of anxiety for our year-long trip. In fact, I don’t remember anything in the wind-up to leaving but, “Get me out of here!” and “This is the coolest I’ve ever been in my whole life!” I hated my job. And all my twenty-something friends were jealous, sighing, “I wish I could do that…” to which I unhelpfully responded, when my patience ran out on their third sigh, “I don’t see a piano tied to your leg.”