by Julie Dickson
Underwater, I can sink until I hit the bottom. Then I can’t sink any lower. And when I can’t hold my breath anymore, when I can’t fight it, my body instinctively rises to the surface for air. On land, it’s a different story. It feels like there’s always water in my lungs—some days it’s a little, some days it’s a lot, and I struggle to breathe. There’s no clear bottom or top. I can keep sinking because there’s no limit.
This quote is the first paragraph of my YA manuscript work-in-progress. I’ve been working on this novel on and off for a while now. This paragraph is my protagonist using a metaphor to describe the grief she feels about her younger brother’s death. But I find it’s a fitting metaphor for the way I’ve been feeling recently.
Almost a month ago, I got back from a six-week trip to Europe. I was there to compete in the World Dwarf Games (WDG) in Germany. In Writers Victoria’s Writing Up a Storm anthology, I talked about the lead-up to the WDG. They’re the Olympics – but for people of short stature.
My flatmate, who’s also short-statured, has attended the WDG four times. It was handy having someone to ask about what to expect. One thing she said that stuck with me, was about the slump you fall into afterwards. She said that in the lead-up, the games are a big, exciting thing you look forward to and work towards – training, fundraising, holiday planning. Then, BAM! It’s over. You return home, and you’re catapulted back into everyday life – you’re expected to fall back into the routine your friends and family have been carrying on without you. You have no holiday to look forward to, no games to train for, and no fundraisers to plan. But it’s not that easy to fall back into routine. My friend said every time she’s returned from the games, she’s found it challenging to readjust and went into a slump because work didn’t seem that appealing. All she wanted to do was to continue travelling. But it soon passes, she said, and you get back into a steady routine, enjoying your life again.
When I arrived back home, the waves hit me … they hit me hard. They pushed me under, and I kept sinking, and the water stayed in my lungs. It was reassuring knowing this was normal, so I let myself tread water in this murky territory. I’d met a guy at the WDG, and I just wanted to go back to Europe so I could see him again. I was tossing up between going on a holiday or moving there.
My flatmate suggested I create something to look forward to, like a weekend away. Having little things to look forward to helped her cope. Although I appreciated the suggestion, I immediately rejected it. Weekends away cost money, and I was adamant about saving my money to return to Europe as soon as possible.
I told myself I couldn’t afford any fun experiences – no weekend getaways, no outings, and – the worst of all – no visits to the nail salon. The waves rose higher and higher, and I sunk deeper and deeper. I wasn’t treading water anymore – I was drowning. Without realising it, I’d banned joy from my life. I tried writing my novel. I tried reading. They were two of my favourite hobbies, but I couldn’t focus on the words on the page or the ideas in my head.
I slowly eased myself back into my gym classes. After a 45 minute Dance Fit class, I was buoyed – that’s the magic of the gym. I focused on getting the moves right and keeping up, and the music drowned out everything. We laughed when we mucked up, and we kept going. We owned it and had fun too.
That dance class became a regular part of my schedule. I found myself looking forward to it all week. The waves were persistent – they kept rising higher, and I kept sinking lower, but in that dance class, the waves kept me buoyed up for 45 minutes.
Then I heard from the guy I’d fallen for. He told me he had a girlfriend. I was crushed, and so was my dream of going back to Europe next year. I still wanted to go back. I’d loved Europe and there was so much more I wanted to explore, but it no longer seemed so urgent..
My birthday, was coming up, and I asked my parents to shout me a weekend trip to the Blue Mountains Writers Festival. As soon as I booked the trip, I felt excited. My flatmate was right – creating little things to look forward to made a real difference. I had something to look forward to, and I hoped the festival would help get me out of my writing rut.
Although the weekend away was great, my weekly dance class showed me how much joy there is to be found in my everyday life, right here, right now. I don’t need to always be living for the future. It was around this time that I discovered the song ‘You’ve Already Won’ by Gretta Ray, a manifesto of all the little things to appreciate in everyday life. I listened to it on repeat. It was a mantra to myself, reminding me of the little things that make me happy, like treating myself to a cinnamon scroll for breakfast, reading in the sunshine, and laughing at jokes.
It’s like that old saying: don’t save your favourite dress or your favourite candle for that special occasion or perfect moment that will never come. That dress and that candle will just go unused, gathering dust forever. You can always buy another candle or another dress, but you will never get those special moments back.
I will go back to Europe one day – for me, not anyone else – but in the meantime, I won’t rob myself of the joys of everyday life.
Julie Dickson is a writer and editor based in Naarm. She enjoys reading and writing contemporary young adult novels. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) at Deakin University. In 2022, she received a Write Space fellowship from Varuna and a Hot Desk fellowship from The Wheeler Centre.
Next: Crash by Liel Bridgford