I first began planning a move to the Southwest when I visited Abiquiu, New Mexico in 2014. Driving up from Santa Fe, my first impression was that of the sun alighting on an endless expanse of hard-packed, red earth and golden scrub, dotted here and there with the bright yellow of chamisa and the thorny arms of cholla thrust triumphantly toward the sky—as if daring you to cast down roots here, to thrive in this land of wanting. Land of Enchantment, indeed. When I returned from the trip, I went so far as to apply to school in Arizona—pre-ketamine, believe it or not. But depression has a way of robbing you of your plans, of your very future. What is the point of a future when you cannot hope? When ambitions wither before they’re even ripe? God forbid you dare to dream, depression will tear those dreams from you, stomp them into submission and spit on them. Maybe even do a little dance for good measure. You learn to live from moment to moment because that is all you can manage, stripped to your base instinct for survival. And sometimes even that fails you.
I avoided planning anything, large or small. The idea of school was shoved to the back burner. How could I want to go back to school when I was incapable of wanting anything? Desire was not an emotion I was well acquainted with. I never knew how I would feel day to day, hour to hour—would I have the energy or the mental capacity to see friends? To make it through the work day? To merely get out of bed and feed myself? When those are questions you can’t answer, you stop asking and have no choice but to assume the answer is no. And often it is. It seemed simpler never to plan social events rather than continuously cancel and risk being branded a flake. Taking on extra hours at work was too weighty a gamble when I’d likely feel too ill to show up—better my boss think I’m busy than irresponsible. Depression steals any hope of something beyond your miserable existence, and the relentlessness of it all begins to dim the lights on your future until you’re left blinking into the darkness, unable to see your own hands before your face.
Because I was unable to plan for real life, I began planning things as an idle hobby—daydreams that would never come to fruition, but were pleasant to bask in all the same, if only because they existed outside the realm of my current reality. I researched airfare for trips to Iceland and perused job listings in Hawaii, investigated weather patterns and hunted for apartments in cities all across the country where I would never visit, let alone live. I did all of these things with my eye toward a better life that I didn’t actually believe I could attain. It was nothing but a self-indulgent fantasy, a pitying look at “what might have been,” had I been fortunate enough to be born with a different brain.
Now that I’m making plans for real, it still feels like something of a game—a bit of make-believe to pass the time. Discovering what it means to hope, to want things for your life and then take actions to manifest those aspirations, is a wondrous and terrifying thing. Little thoughts keep popping into my head. I need to buy an espresso maker. What if the grocery store doesn’t have the bread I like? What if going back to school after ten years is a catastrophic mistake and I’ve moved all the way across the country on my own only to crash and burn in a towering inferno of failure? You know, casual musings of that nature.
In some ways I’m lucky. Because I have never dreamed, those dreams have never been crushed. There doesn’t exist in me that calloused crust of unfulfillment that carefully guards the longing of adults. I am free to dream with an openness and confidence more befitting the unfettered wonder of youth—that childlike, unquestioning belief in life’s possibilities shimmering before me, new and, as of yet, unhardened. Learning to want at such a late stage in life, a stage when you have the autonomy to realize those wants, is something of a novelty. I hope not to squander it. I plan not to.