In the middle of a particularly stressful week, I was lucky to come upon this lovely poem, “Uns, com os olhos postos no passado”/“With one eye on the past” by Ricardo Reis at a time when I needed it.
I have struggled my whole life with perfectionism, and I hate to admit grad school has summoned the perfectionist in me. The worst part about wanting everything you do and produce to be perfect is that it never really is, and it’s easy to neglect other important parts of life. It’s a cycle that leaves no time for repair or reflection, no time for rest, and all that mental spinning does is breed a feeling of inadequacy.
This insecurity has challenged how I feel in all of the roles I have. It’s made me feel below my own self-imposed line.
Yet, in the middle of it all, this poem helped me erase that line. Or at lease make it fade away a bit. I felt myself be present, more still, rather than swimming upward. Alone in the quiet of a late night, I could look at how I felt and accept it for what it was. The pressure of changing it by being a better, more self-aware future version of myself lifted, at least for the moment when I needed to feel lighter.
It has been over a month since I moved to Champaign, Illinois, for grad school — the longest period of time I’ve been out of Florida.
Champaign is a charming city in the middle of the state that reminds me a lot of my hometown. I’m confident that I chose the right program for me, and I have the opportunity to practice what I’m learning in a supportive environment. On top of all of this, I’m lucky to live with one of my best friends and experience this new beginning with her.
All of this, and still, I don’t deal well with change.
I had about a month between arriving to Illinois and starting the semester, and I thought time truly stopped. In the weeks leading up to my move, I was in a haze of preparing for the move, throwing away my old, broken furniture and making decisions like which spoons I would be packing in my car. I was coming off of months of little sleep and put off the thought of actually driving 16 hours across the country.
Then I arrived, and time became wide open. I recovered from my sleep deprivation by sleeping late into the morning and made a habit out of it. That month, I woke up in the middle of the night almost every day. I would stare at the crack of light on the wall from the window and wonder when I would really rest.
I felt too idle during the day and experienced anxiety over every logistical housekeeping task I took care of, and over everything else. My mind was brimming with worry constantly. I had little relief. One worry would just trade shifts with another.
Yet, I wasn’t completely idle, as restless as I was. I ran and ran and ran. In those few weeks before my orientation, I ran nearly 54 miles over 14 tracked runs. I was searching for calm in the open fields south of my new campus, exerting myself until at least my body would relax. But it still wasn’t enough to finally let me sleep for a whole night.
At the end of those first weeks, I was upset that I spent my time the way I did. I could have been doing so many other things instead of worrying and focusing on my fears — crafting a care package for my parents, writing letters to loved ones at home, getting to know Champaign.
But I didn’t, and that’s okay.
I am transitioning, and my gratitude for even being where I am also means accepting change. It means accepting how I experience change. I never thought I would leave Florida for school, but actually making the decision to do it has shown me what I’m capable of, that I am pliable. And that gives purpose to the shift.