WARNING! The following post contains coarse language that may offend some readers and attract others
From 1989 to 1991, I went to university in Canberra, the capital city of Australia.
It was a very interesting and life-changing experience, especially as it involved living on my own for the first time, and I was still only 20 years old when I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree…but for many years afterwards, I mostly regarded those three years as an embarrassment and a failure (and I didn’t even go to my graduation ceremony).
One reason was burn-out. I had gone straight from high school to uni, and by 1991 I had spent 16 years of my life in classrooms. Although I had mostly been a good student throughout my life, I hadn’t liked much about school and especially towards the end of uni I wanted out. For years after completing uni, I often described it as “just another three years of high school”.
A second reason was having the wrong attitude. Again, for years after uni I would say that I was glad that I had gotten it “out of the way” and I could now “get on with the rest of my life”. During my final year at uni, this feeling became so strong that I went from doing all of my assignments at the very last minute to completing them a few days ahead of schedule because I just wanted them gone so I could do other more interesting things like read for pleasure…and read some more.
A third reason was that my twenties, the decade of my life that followed uni, would turn out to suck big-time. To this day, it’s still the crummiest period of my life thus far, filled with little income, some of the worst jobs I’ve ever had, periods of unemployment, constant frustration and an increasing lack of self-confidence…all of which would make me look back at uni and feel that I had accomplished very little by having gone there. This led to another frequent claim I made for several years that I’d gone into uni as a 17-year-old dickhead but only come out as a 20-year-old dickhead.
Finally, another reason was not being able to remain in Canberra. Although the national capital has long been unpopular with many Australians (especially those who live outside of it), I came to like Canberra a lot – its cleanliness, neatness and orderliness very much appealed to my anal-retentive and obsessive-compulsive nature, and I also enjoyed the wealth of history down there. As the end of uni approached, I tried to get a job in Canberra but was unsuccessful – which added more to my sense of failure (as did the first job I got in my hometown a week after finishing uni – filling shelves in a local supermarket).
So the years went by, and I put my uni days and Canberra further and further behind me.
In 2002, I made my first interstate travel for work – and to Canberra of all places, where I hadn’t been since early 1992. It was a somewhat nerve-wracking experience because I went solo with a lack of purpose and resources, but although I didn’t go near any of my old stomping grounds I liked seeing some of Canberra again.
In 2003 and 2005, I returned again to Canberra for work, and those trips were much better…
…but in 2006, I made a useless one-day visit to Canberra that filled me with so much anger, frustration and self-doubt that the following week I began the first of several visits to a psychologist (and fortunately those sessions would do me a world of good).
A few more years passed, and then in early 2009 I accepted a work assignment in Canberra that would require me to travel there for at least the first few weeks (or so the project manager thought at the time).
On one hand, I was excited about seeing Canberra again – but on the other hand, and partly with my 2006 experience still in mind, I was a little nervous (although since mid-2007 when I’d begun my current therapy and medication, I was in a much better state than in the past).
So, on a pleasant Sunday morning before the day I was due to start work there, I caught a coach down to Canberra (I could have flown, but as I’d found from past experience flying down there sucks). After I arrived at midday in Civic, Canberra’s city centre, my plan was to have lunch, do a little shopping and sight-seeing, get a cab to my hotel and spend Sunday evening getting ready for the next few days ahead.
The coach reached Canberra on time. Shortly after, I discovered King O’Malley’s Irish Pub and had a Mexican pizza and a jug of diet cola for lunch (I would later learn that King O’Malley, an important figure in Australian and Canberra history, was actually born in the USA – or Canada, according to some sources – and during the early years of Canberra’s existence he had prohibited alcohol there).
So far, so good…but as lunch came to an end, several nagging voices came to mind.
I had to buy some business shirts – but where from, and how much would they cost?
How long would it take for me to get a cab?
What grocery-shopping was available near my hotel? If there wasn’t any, should I buy some stuff now? But would I have enough room in my luggage to carry it?
And were the next few days going to suck like that dreadful day back in 2006?
So many things to think about…
I left King O’Malley’s and headed into nearby Garema Place, the large public space in the centre of Civic. It had changed very little since my uni days.
Uni…when I’d had little money, and stressful assignments, and worries about what the heck I’d be doing with my life afterwards…
I began crossing Garema Place towards the Canberra Centre shopping mall, which had a Target where I could get some relatively cheap business shirts…I hoped.
The fearful voices in my head became a crescendo.
I became anxious and scared.
And then suddenly, I became angry.
A new voice in my head snarled For fuck’s sake!
I stopped near the centre of Garema Place.
And I almost yelled out loud one word at myself:
All those voices in my head suddenly shut up.
I stood there for a moment.
Those voices remained silent.
I took a deep breath.
The fears from my past, present and future were gone.
And I felt much, much better.
I resumed my journey to Canberra Centre, and about twenty minutes later at Target I found several business shirts for a very good price.
Shortly after that, I rediscovered a bookstore from my uni days that sold remaindered stock at amazing low prices and picked up several very interesting-looking titles.
Some time later, after calmly walking from empty taxi-rank to empty taxi-rank around Civic, I noted down a ‘phone number from a passing occupied taxi, called the cab company on my mobile and soon had another cab pick me up and take me to my hotel.
As I checked in at the hotel, I asked the receptionist about what shopping was available nearby. A few hours later after a delicious dinner at a nearby restaurant, I walked back to the hotel loaded with supplies for the day ahead from a supermarket not far from the restaurant.
That night, I ironed my clothes for the next day, prepared myself for work, and finally relaxed with one of my book purchases from that afternoon – and not only had Rock ‘Til You Drop by John Strausbaugh been the amazing low price of $3.99, it was a thoroughly engrossing and interesting read.
Finally, late that night I went to bed feeling great – especially when I looked back on that moment in Garema Place when I symbolically shouted down my demons and finally got on with my life.
And during the next few days, my visit went well.
And unknown to me at that time, that visit would be the first of eight trips that would see me spend most of the next two months not only living and working in Canberra, but also enjoying one of the most enjoyable and productive periods of my life. That, perhaps, is a story for another time.
And until then, or at least my next post, stay well and take care 🙂