A few months ago, before I took the plunge to quit, I was invited to present my research at a seminar in Japan. The flight and accommodation costs would be fully covered, so basically it would be a free trip to Japan. Just to make things clear, I think the only thing that can excite me even more than the mere prospect of going to Japan – which is and always will be my favourite country on the planet – is the mention of “free trip” with that. So, despite the fact that I was already contemplating quitting, I decided to just take the offer and go for it. I mean, hello? It’s fucking Japan. Even the worst panic attack in the history of panic attacks could not diminish my love for Japan.
I was looking forward to it, for real. I started making a list of all the things I wanted to do and see again in Japan. Hell, I even wrote a preliminary blog post about what it would feel like to be back in Japan again, because that’s what I do. I preempt my own thoughts and emotions. No wonder I have anxiety.
But despite the joyous outlook of a reunion with my beloved, I already had this nagging feeling that it might not be the right thing to do. What if I would actually quit and then still had to present my work in May? That would definitely be less than ideal, especially given my issues with anxiety.
I consulted one of my advisors who told me those three little words I wanted to hear (“GO FOR IT!”) and then decided that going to Japan would always be a good decision. If I would still be doing my PhD, it would be a good opportunity to assess how I felt about it all. And if I had decided to quit, it would be the perfect and most symbolic way to get closure.
Oh, closure. You sweet, sweet, devious thing. How often do we deceive ourselves by thinking that closure is the final thing we need to carry on and feel whole again?
I, too, have been a faithful believer in the myth of closure. And part of me still is. I like the idea of things coming full circle. With my poetry-fuelled mind, I believe in grand gestures or symbolic events that signify the end of a story, and the beginning of a new one. This belief gives meaning to my otherwise random life. It’s what keeps me afloat.
On rare occasions, things actually work out like that. When I felt that my first trip to Japan was coming to an end, taking the boat to South Korea and turning that into a poetic moment was a form of closure. Or when my 17 year-old cat died last year, getting a new cat was a form of closure. The sadness of those (very different kinds of) goodbyes is not completely gone, but at least turning a new leaf helped me to move on with my life. I feel okay about those things now. There are no strong and raw feelings anymore.
But most of the time, life either doesn’t allow you closure, or whatever you think will give you closure just doesn’t work out. And the reason for that is probably that things don’t every fully disappear or cease to be important. They always stay with you.
Every loss I’ve ever experienced still lives inside of me. Every dead cat, every ended relationship, every deceased loved one, every previous chapter. I still feel and love all these things and people dearly. It never really stops.
There’s a term for this type of loss: “ambiguous loss“. And though it refers more specifically to very intense kinds of grief, such as when a person has gone missing, I feel like it applies to so many other things we experience in life as well. Just because something isn’t fully part of your life anymore, doesn’t mean it doesn’t still touch something inside of you.
Catch me on a bad day and I will still be emotional about quitting my PhD – something that was so important to me for a very long time. There may be a part of me that will never fully get over it. Going to Japan isn’t going to fix that for me. So why should I, why now? It would be like eating my favourite dish when I’m sick with the flu: under normal circumstances I would definitely enjoy it, but now it’s just tasteless and bland. A waste of energy.
I continue to feel ambiguous about losing a part of myself that I once held dear. Maybe it will never fully heal. And that’s okay, it really is.
Life is full of goodbyes, and I’m a crier. What gives. Some things never change.