Man's Search for Meaning talks about three mental stages of imprisonment in the concentration camps. What happens to the prisoner just after being put into the camp, entrenchment, and the third being what happens to the prisoner's mind after release. I'm out of my own little prison, but what does that mean for me moving forward? Half of the book is recounting the details of what happened, and the other half is about analyzing and studying those experiences. Even though I wrote a lot throughout my counselling, I still have a lot to sift through in order to truly complete my growth. Carrie just had her convocation, so a school-related analogy would mean that this stage for me is equivalent to the time after finishing final exams and packing up my belongings in order to move on to the next project in life. Even though the hard part is over, there's still a lot of baggage to put away and people to connect with before moving on.

I suspect that when most people read a book like this, they all experience it differently from how I did. They feel appalled, they think "how interesting," or "wow, I could never go through that." My predominant feeling while reading it was empathy. Even though I was never technically imprisoned, I found that I could relate to a lot of the feelings he described. Where some people might read through and express shock and horror, I went through certain passages nodding my head in agreement, thinking "yep, I know how that feels." Emotionally shutting down, becoming numb to the suffering of others, embracing the pain, finding meaning in the darkness. I had tried reading this a few years back, and it was too traumatizing to make it past the first few pages. It's a short book, and I'm about halfway through.

What else is there to do now that my counselling is over? I already wrote a few posts about how I'm different from before I started, but that's only scratching the surface. My analogy of choice throughout that time was of drowning. Say I fell into the ocean, treading water like Jack in Titanic, and just when all hope seemed to be lost, I was suddenly rescued. The process of returning to full health can involve many things like treating the hypothermia, changing out of the wet clothes, sipping a warm drink, and eating some food. What does that mean for me with regard to my counselling? Just because I stopped suffering, does that mean I'm ready to embark on the next adventure? I thought that's what it meant, but I'm getting signals that there must be loose ends I'm not done with.

May was entirely a transition month. Carrie and I tried to stay out of trouble. Stayed home, rested. Didn't really go out, didn't enjoy any patios. Slept lots. I could have gone crazy celebrating, but instead, I just wanted to sleep. We got really bored, but before long, we found lots of little cracks that needed to be filled in, lots of little tasks that piled up from procrastination. We put away Carrie's desk into storage, just to get the associated feeling of school out of the home. That freed up a lot of space. Then we cleaned like mad. Donated or consigned unwanted clothing. Sifted through storage and discarded a lot of stuff. I did a brain transplant on my 3D printer. There was a list that piled up of about a dozen fixes and upgrades I wanted to make to it, but I only found the energy during May even though I always had the time to perform them. Mopped, swept, redecorated. We built a new shoe rack from IKEA. Carrie sold some jewelry and bought books with the money. Upgraded our record player and bought some vinyls. Shuffled the coffee equipment on the counter. We put the toaster away. That one may not seem like much, but when you live in a space this small, anything that isn't being used regularly quickly becomes very annoying and somehow gets in the way all the time. We've settled into a quiet quotidian routine. Now that it's June, busyness has spiked quite quickly, so now Carrie and I are transitioning to that pace. It's funny how clearly delineated our lives are with the changing of months.

Counselling made me a lot stronger than I realized. There's a confidence that comes from hitting rock bottom. You know how bad it can get, and you also know that you survived. Even though I thought I had duct taped together a nice little comfy life by my mid 20's, I almost lost it all. That's made me less afraid of the world, and it also deepens my gratitude.

In a practical sense, I need to find full-time work that makes me happy. I quit my last job, and EI lasts until the end of September. I was just offered a full time position at work, so that's a step forward towards the conclusion of this story.

One other way I know I shouldn't rush to my next story is because I'm still tired. I still see the world through weary eyes. My posture is that of a broken man, exhausted from the beating he took throughout the counselling. Viktor Frankl talks about negative happiness, or freedom from suffering. In that sense, I'm experiencing negative happiness right now. Bad things have stopped randomly happening to me, like that one time several months ago at the gym when whoever showered before me decided to turn up the heat all the way up and point it where I normally stand out of the way when turning on the water, scalding my face on an already rough morning. I also experience positive happiness now, where good things happen to me, but I still feel drained. You can see it in my face. There's still that slump in my shoulders. I haven't fully recharged.

One of my guiding principles is to stay put until you know when to move on. Suppose I went for a walk on one of the many nice days we're seeing here in Calgary. I'll walk along the river, find a nice place to sit, and then relax. I'll think some thoughts, check some online feeds, maybe take a picture, then sit some more. After a while, I'll get self conscious. Should I just keep sitting? When should I leave? Does someone need this spot later? A previous version of me would have gotten awkward and nervous, leaving for no particular reason other than feeling unsure of how long he should sit. What I do now is stay put. It's an extension of the idea of simplifying my life. Why move if you don't have to? Instead of letting my anxiety get the better of me, I stay planted until I know I need to go. Maybe I'll need to go to the washroom. Maybe I'll feel hungry. More likely, I'll remember that I'm allergic to grass and I shouldn't be outside in the first place because I have bad hay fever. This principle has been the antidote I needed against the insecure drive to optimize and maximize every part of my life. There's a fear of missing out built in to that philosophy, which conveniently exacerbates my anxiety. I was at the farmer's market last weekend, and when I was standing in the aisle, I realized I was blocking this woman and quickly shuffled out of her way. She thanked me but also gave me a stern warning: "Don't ever rush through anything in your life. Take it from me. Take your time." She was very adamant. It's a message I've told myself over and over to little effect, but it's starting to sink in now that I've cleared a lot of garbage from my life.

I know I can't move on to the next episode until the credits roll through completely. Netflix likes to skip the credits when it can, giving you that 15 second timer before it auto-plays the next episode. I gotta cancel that and wait to the end. Maybe there will be a special scene after the credits like in The Avengers.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le