This isn't directly about languages, but it's about something we all have to face at times in our lives. I've generally tried to keep this blog centered on topics specific to language learning (hence my disclaimer) but I think there is value in sharing it with others, including value to myself for opening up.
Two years ago, I was at the high point in my life. I had just returned from amazing travel experiences. I had begun training for a marathon. I had cleared all the distractions from around me. My finances were good. I was surrounded by interesting people. I was in the best health of my life. And I had just decided to take on an exciting new job.
At that time, I was full of optimism. There was nothing I couldn't do, and I saw the best in every situation and in every person around me. And one day I saw this girl and it was love at first sight. I decided I would make her mine, and with so much confidence, you can surely imagine that I did not fail to do that.
Nothing is ever perfect, and there were bumps, but I was happy — happier in this relationship than I had ever been in the past. I credited most of that to her, and found myself wanting to spend as much time together as possible.
The slippery slope
The first problem was that I began to compromise little pieces of the things that had brought me to this high point in my life. She liked to socialize at bars and clubs, so by extension I began spending more time in bars and more time drinking, because I wanted to be with her.
Gradually, I stopped doing the things that made me happy on my own. I paid less attention to languages. I stopped running as much. I started eating foods less responsibly. I even picked up a smoking habit.
Eventually, I wasn't working out at all. I had let my language studies go silent. I was spending every night drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, eating lousy food. I was sleeping poorly and my quality of life had diminished greatly, but I was still with this person who made me happy so I thought maybe it was just time to shift my priorities in life and start a new chapter.
Nobody is perfect, and eventually the shine wears off. Slowly I started to see the blemishes, and when the rose-colored glasses came off, the fights started. Without all those other things that made me happy, all of my eggs were in one basket and that basket wasn't enough anymore. And when you're getting your happiness from just one source, the ripples in that source are amplified in how you feel them.
I tried to put attention back onto some of those old habits, and to re-gain some of that consistency I used to have, but now the addition of other activities was seen as competing with the 100% attention I had been giving to her, so those things never lasted. The stress never got easier, and the fights got worse.
All of my time, energy, and attention was directed into one place. The happiness I got back was diminishing, and the stress I got was increasing. You might think that's bad enough already, but it's precisely at this point of weakness, with no support around me, that I had four deaths around me — two cousins, an aunt, and a friend of the family — all in just a few months.
For several months I've been an unhappy person, spending afternoons talking to a counselor, spending evenings getting drunk at a bar, and then going home at night either to fight or to just ignore reality and pretend nothing exists. (And torturing my Facebook friends with cryptic, moody status updates that revealed how unhappy I've been.)
At the end of the tunnel
A lot of things get put into perspective by a simple reminder of how temporary this life really is, but even that perspective can be skewed when you get more than just a simple reminder, so it took some time to sort it out.
What eventually did it for me was space. First a few days I spent on a trip out of town helped me to clear my head. Then, a week she spent out of town gave me the time to figure out that I was involved in an unhealthy relationship. Not because it's anyone's fault, but because our two realities are simply too different to work well together. Being together required each of us to sacrifice too much of who we are, and I finally realized and accepted that it doesn't have to be that way.
This experience centers around a toxic relationship, but the lessons learned are good in many parts of life. Diversity is vital to consistency. Any good economist can tell you about how a stable, diverse portfolio is better able to absorb the impact of one bad investment. Economists can also tell you about the fallacy of sunk costs, and why loss aversion can hold us to a bad decision far longer than what is rational.
But to me, the most important lesson starts with defining for myself who I am, and then not compromising that for anyone or anything. It's letting everything else in my life find where it fits based on a clear understanding of who I have chosen to be.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. I still love my job. I'm still debt free. And I've still got this blog. It shouldn't be hard to return to my other habits as well as to find new ones, and to grow from this experience.