This article originally appeared on Outside
Welcome to Tough Love. We're answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Small Game and Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at email@example.com.
I am in the process of completing my master's degree, and recently found out that I've been accepted for my dream position after I graduate this May. I know I should be happy, and I'm truly thrilled about the position, so I don't mean to seem self-pitying. But the problem is that I'm having a very difficult time here in this program, and instead of things getting easier as I get close to the end, it feels like they're getting harder. I'm so unhappy here, and eager for the future, that making it through the next five months seems daunting to the point of impossibility.
The program I'm in is cliquish, and the cliques have only intensified this year. Nobody even pretends to include me anymore. It's not that I have enemies, but I've never been on the same wavelength as my classmates, and I'm lonely. I work part time and also have a small graduate stipend, which is enough to pay for rent and groceries, but not much else. It's not like I can cheer myself up by "getting a massage to pamper myself," as one of my long-distance friends keeps suggesting. I am also not interested in dating because I'm leaving so soon, and I am not the type of person to enjoy dating casually. To top it all off, I am normally quite active outdoors, but I hurt my foot in November and have to stay off it to heal. It's gotten to the point where every single day here feels lonely and depressing, and I am truly dragging myself through. The end feels far away. How do I get through these next five months when all I want is to be living in the future?
First off, congratulations on landing your dream gig after you graduate! That's incredibly exciting--it's a culmination of everything you've been working for, and a big step on a wonderful life path. I'm really happy that you have that certainty to look forward to. And it must be reassuring to know that the discomfort you're going through has an end point, even if it feels frustratingly far away.
You will get through this. The time will pass. Think of all the other five-month increments of your life, and how they're all behind you now. It might seem impossible, but I promise that someday all of these tedious moments will be long gone, too.
A friend recently suggested to me that when she's feeling down, she imagines that her future self had chosen this exact moment to time-travel back to. Her point was that even when days are hard, she can always find things that she'll someday miss, whether it's her dog's snores, a friend's chatter on the phone, or the way the winter light looks through her kitchen window; and observing these things from the perspective of her (imagined) back-from-the-future self helps her to appreciate them more fully. I'll confess that when I tried this exercise, it made me nostalgic and vaguely terrified, but I also felt grateful for the perspective. It's a good reminder that even small, unappreciated things are often what we'll miss the most. I don't mean to say that you are secretly happy right now and will miss this time period when it's over; it sounds like things are genuinely rough. I only want to suggest that if you can notice the tiny things that you enjoy about this period in your life (for instance, I still think about a particular soup that was sold on Tuesdays at a co-op near my former grad school), it might make the days more bearable, and could help them to pass.
I'm sorry that you're feeling so lonely. We need connections as surely as we need food and water, and even the promise of an end in sight doesn't make up for the difficulty of isolation in the here and now. I'm glad you're staying in touch with long-distance friends. Are there other people you can reach out to more regularly? Set up weekly phone calls, or dinners over zoom?
I also think that your friend isn't necessarily wrong when they suggest "pampering yourself," even if their ideas are out of touch. We do ourselves a disservice when we think that "pampering" or self-care means buying or acquiring things, when it can also be far simpler: Saying no to something you don't want to do. Making your favorite breakfast. Talking a walk--or nap--in the sun. Ask yourself: If today were to feel as ideal as possible, given the circumstances, what would it look like? Would it mean connecting with family? Going to a park? Having a clean living room? Are there things you can do outdoors that don’t involve your foot? These steps might not be everything, but they're something--and sometimes we have to hold onto every something we can get.
You might ask yourself, as you wait for the future, whether there are skills or habits you can build now that will help you in your new life, or even chores and tasks you can get out of the way. For instance, although this is incredibly un-sexy advice, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard lament that they wish they’d taken advantage of cheaper medical and dental care while they were in school. It might not be fun to slog to the dentist’s office after class, but you could think of it as giving a gift to your future self, who will have cleaner teeth and won’t have to take a break from their dream job and new life in order to, say, get a root canal.
The last thing I want to caution about is over-idealizing the future. And I know, this sounds like such a downer. Your life is about to change in many ways, and many of your problems will melt away, because you'll literally be leaving them behind. It's totally possible to leave one situation and, like night and day, suddenly find yourself 100 percent happier. But if that doesn't happen immediately, or quite like you expect it to, I don't want you to despair or think that all is lost. Adjustments can take a little while, but you're making the steps to change your life in the ways you want. You're moving forward, day by day--and that means everything.
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