I like to get lost. Mentally.
When I was younger, I liked to get lost through stories and books. Later on, I preferred something a little more numbing—no, not drugs. Something a little more simple, like television or music, but to an excessive and mind-numbing degree. Ever since I was younger, I never really let myself feel negative emotions, even if it was what I needed. When you’re a kid and you don’t understand what’s happening inside you, all you want to do is turn to the good because good is how you want to see the world and live your world. Thus, you invoke your defense mechanisms, the ideal places you turn to protect yourself from reality.
But a while ago, I realized something. I don’t just like to get lost in other stories and other worlds because they act simply as a defense mechanism, distracting me from my current world. I like to get lost in the worlds of people living lives that I want because I’ve established that those are better. It’s probably why I never watch anything sad or scary but instead turn to these nonexistent places like Hogwarts or Stars Hollow that make me feel all warm inside. Like everything is okay, safe.
Luckily, despite being at the ripe old age of 20, I keep realizing that getting older means having the freedom to make my life look like whatever I want it to. I find comfort in this possibility that I can forge my path to look like the ones I escape to. Yet, as I look at adults and older people in my life, it doesn’t seem like they’re relishing in that feeling as strongly as I am. What I see is this residual emptiness, the numbness and constraint that comes from constantly living through life’s stress and monotony. It’s not sadness, but it’s more of this desensitization to life. Living uninspired and bleak in the absence of celebrating life’s moments. Is it money? Jobs? Everyday life stress? I don’t know, but something gets lost along the way, and that feeling of hope—to turn my favorite worlds into my own—vanishes.
I do think something else plays a part in this loss, something that has also made me realize maybe yearning for my ideal escape world isn’t the answer. I think that it’s so easy for people to give up on living their perfect lives that they merely settle for one they just tolerate. People don’t see that an in-between truly does exist—that it may not be a matter of creating the life you want, it may be a matter of creating one around the life you want. The thing is that these defense mechanisms—these desires to only see the good—do continue to live inside us, and the appeal of getting lost when life gets too hard simply grows. So, people surround themselves with unattainable versions of what life should look like, and when they aren’t able to reach these versions, their disappointment fuels an even bigger craving to get lost. It’s a constant loop of unrealistic standards of perfection and disappointment that probably aren’t foreign to any of us.
So what can you make of this? Realize this: You don’t need to match other perfect (or imperfect) versions of life to be happy, you just need to construct your own. An ideal life doesn’t come from escaping into unrealistic worlds and then resenting what’s right in front of us. An ideal life may not even exist at all. But what’s ideal to you is all that matters, and the ideal does not only include the good. There are so many interferences in everyday life that may get in the way of what we have dreamt up in our heads, but those shouldn’t be regarded as obstacles in the way of getting to our perfect life because they ARE life. And failing to realize that we shouldn’t stop enjoying life just because it isn’t perfect is ultimately what leads to us missing it altogether. I think that sometimes, we need to include these “obstacles” into our plans because while I’m all for controlling how you live your life, there are some unavoidable human experiences. Forgetting to embrace those may lead us to forget the good things altogether.
Use that vision you escape to and instead use it as a guide. Cultivate your life around the feelings you get when you watch your favorite show or the envy you get from watching your favorite characters go on adventures, but understand that it won’t look like the movie. Use the worlds you escape to to better understand what you’re attracted to and what you want more of in your life, but don’t neglect the realities that the movies leave out. When we mold our life around inevitable life circumstances rather than just expect every day to be ideal, we’ll have a much better chance of creating peace. And in this peace, we won’t have this constant need to escape.
So remember, it is possible to create the life you want, but it isn’t going to look perfect. Create a balance and find the middle between just tolerable and perfect. Expand your definition of ideal and minimize your standards of perfection. Cultivate a life you won’t want to escape from and see others as guides, not mirrors.
P.S: Yes, this has all been a fancy way to just say “life isn’t perfect.” But, what that phrase is missing is “life isn’t perfect, but it can still be good,” and that second part is what most people forget when things don’t go their way. I hope all this inspires you and helps you remember it too.