#summerstories: On Taking a Hiatus from Purpose

By Mishal Bandukda

This is my summer truth: I’ve been bored, broke and alone for two months. The summer vacation crept up on me and before I knew it, I was about to spend ten weeks at my parent’s new home, in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, with practically no money to speak of. Now, as September approaches and I prepare to move into an attic room in Cambridge and softly weep into a copy of The Canterbury Tales, I feel happier and more like myself than I can ever remember being.

The anticipation of seeing my home friends morphed into disappointment when one by one they told me they had fully-booked summers. There was nothing to distract me from the inevitable spam of people pretending not to hate their lives which Instagram relentlessly seems to regurgitate at this time of year. The initial weeks of my boredom were not only frustrating, but painful, as I was suddenly confronted with the strained family dynamic I had been avoiding all year. Living at home for three months with your parents when your views on every topic known to man are at odds with each other means that the safest mode of conversation is small talk. It killed me to sit through dinner-table discussions about groceries, the weather and the never-ending saga of my extended family. I became so under stimulated that I started reading for my dissertation as a means of diversion – and that is perhaps the most worrying indication of my mental state.

On top of this, my parents began pestering me to re-start driving lessons, having moved to a place where the public bus is basically a glorified mobility scooter for senior citizens going to and from the local Spar. My desperation for some form of stimulation began to drive me mad. I used Google Maps to direct me to a gym a couple of miles’ walk from the house in a downpour. Hoping to regain some sense of purpose and independence, it turned into a scene from a horror story when:

  1. My umbrella collapsed.
  2. The spare umbrella I had so cleverly brought along also collapsed.
  3. My damp socks slipped down my ankles, prompting my trainers to cut into the back of my feet and draw blood.
  4. Google Maps played Judas, leading me astray for 40 minutes; the deep gashes in my ankles now making me cry out in agony (in the middle of the pavement).

My public humiliation peaked as I stood in my driveway and cried “I hate my life” and was greeted by a nod from a surprised gardener emerging from behind a hedge. It was finally time, I decided, to find myself a driving instructor and ensure that such horrors were never repeated.

Yet a surprising reality hit me as I sat bandaging up my feet back at home: I had been granted the luxury of a summer with nowhere to be and no one to impress; with nothing to do but get to know myself in the most basic, honest capacity. Accepting that fact allowed me to turn my boredom into the most effective kind of mindfulness I’ve experienced. I’ve tried mindfulness techniques before, where I felt that the process of listening to meditative tapes had done nothing but make me overthink every intake of breath and half-formed emotion. I never bought into the voice from the audiobook encouraging me to go to my ‘happy’ place – all it ever did was make me resent the reality I knew I’d be confronted with when I opened my eyes. Sometimes the concept of ‘taking time out’ or ‘making time’ to be mindful in an otherwise hectic day is just another thing to tick off.

I have found creating a ‘happy’ place is in no way helpful to dealing with reality, and as much as I wish I was wrapped up in a pink cloud with a mind as clear as the miles of sky beneath my feet, I’m not. I’m in my living room typing up an article, my lips are chapped and I’ve just worked my way through a family-sized bag of Doritos. I can hear the faint sound of car tyres as they hit the speed bumps on the road outside and the soft slaps of slipper-fabric as my mum rearranges clutter in the conservatory. That’s my reality, and the more actively I allow myself to encounter it, the more my mind feels an overwhelming sense of balance and restfulness.

Not that this is how I want to live. I think, if anything, this hiatus from ‘purpose’ has made me keen to return to my normal, hectic life with more energy and drive, and for once not resent the idea of the holiday period drawing to a close. I feel like I finally know what being well-rested really means, and all it involved was stopping, for a period of time, and not expending energy in chasing a good time, or anyone’s approval. Despite not looking, I somehow managed to find myself this summer, and it wasn’t in Cambodia or Vietnam, it was in Hazel Grove, Greater Manchester.

Song for the summer: 

Images are author’s own

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