Whenever my birthday rolls around, I tend to reflect on the last five years of my life and the upcoming five years. The question of “Where do you see yourself in five years?” has always brought about mixed feelings. I am definitely a goal-oriented person. I do well with deadlines. I like to have a skeleton of a schedule or plan. I like to know when things are going to happen. And at the same time, I like to go with the flow. I enjoy occasional moments of spontaneity. My motto is "If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't." No hard feelings, Universe.
But when it comes to my life, setting long-term goals (like, more than a month) feels like a roadblock. My brain has a hard time processing an answer to that question. And I think a lot of that stems from the fact that I spent a good chunk of my life not thinking so far ahead because I didn’t think I was going to make it that far.
CONTENT WARNING: SUICIDALITY; DEPRESSION -- READ AT OWN RISK.
For about ten years of my life, I struggled with suicidal thoughts. Personally, I didn’t see the point in planning for a future I wouldn’t live to see. And even more than not having a point, I just couldn’t see that far ahead. I could never envision an adult version of myself living with my boyfriend in our own apartment with our pets (spoilers: that's my life right now). Whenever I looked ahead, I saw nothing, because I felt nothing.
In middle school, the thoughts were so intense, I wasn’t sure I’d make it to high school graduation. During my senior year of high school, I couldn’t pick a college because I didn’t think I’d live to see college graduation — I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time or money; something I was told by my parents I did often. "Don't have children, Marisa. They're a waste of time and money."
In so many classes we had to write down long-term goals: Where do you see yourself in the next five, ten, or twenty years? While my friends said things like “Get my Masters” or “Get married” or “Have three kids,” I wrote down what seemed like typical milestones to check off the “life checklist,” such as "graduate high school," "graduate college," "get a full-time job."
In reality, my “goals” were to just get through the day. Sometimes it was just to get through the next hour, the next minute, the next second.
But after choosing to take back control of my life from the dark, suffocating thoughts, these questions about my future seem less daunting. And I find that instead of answering with things I want to do or accomplish, it’s easier to answer with how I want to feel.
I turned 25 this year. Five years ago, in 2015, I was going to therapy and taking antidepressants in secret from my family. I was in my second year of college, working three jobs, and participating in a sport. I spread myself so thin to—what I thought was to—get out of the house for as long as I could to be away from my abusive mother. And while that was true, I realize now that I needed to be constantly doing something so that my dark thoughts and feelings wouldn’t drag me under. I was trying to outrun my mind.
It was also in 2015 that my parents found out about my secret therapy sessions — which is a whole other story. Thanksgiving of 2015 was probably the second most pivotal day of my life (the 1st being the day I admitted I needed help with my mental health). And within five months of that day, I was living on my own, in my own apartment, with no roommates; free to come and go as I pleased; able to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted; I could take up space. I didn’t have to tiptoe around anymore. I could finally discover who I was under this veil of secrecy and conditioning.
And now, at 25, I live with my boyfriend in our own apartment with our pets. I wake up every morning with a sense of purpose, of excitement for the day, of life. I’m still able to come and go as I please; I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want — usually with my boyfriend right there beside me. I can take up space. I don't have to tiptoe around the apartment or ask permission to turn on this light or eat this food. We stay up until 3am playing video games because we choose to. We don’t change out of our pajamas all day because we choose to. We give ourselves permission to do what we needed external permission and validation to do before. This is the better people had always talked about.
To be completely honest, I haven’t healed every single one of my wounds yet. Yes, it’s been five years since I began my healing journey. But for a good portion of those years, I thought I was healed simply because I had accomplished my therapy goal of moving out. I didn’t know until a little over two years ago what any of the terms self-healing, c-PTSD, or reparenting meant. And I’ve learned that healing isn’t a checklist that can be accomplished in five to ten years. There’s no time constraint. It’s not linear. It’s not a step-by-step program. Healing is recognizing your wounds and toxic or harmful behavior, and observing your emotions rather than reacting. But there’s a lot still left in my life that I’m not sure how I’ll react to or what wounds will reveal themselves. And very recently:
I’m looking forward to see what life has in store for me.
So, where do I see myself in five years? I see joy and laughter. I see love and security. I see confidence and courage. I see freedom and independence. I see adventure and curiosity. I see a future that past-Me would be so proud of.
Sometimes answering questions about the future is scary and anxiety-inducing. And sometimes it can be helpful to shift the framing away from a productivity viewpoint. Instead of thinking about all that needs to be done or accomplished, think about what an ideal future feels like. And instead of answering for years and years away, maybe simply wonder about what you want your day or week to look like instead. And then next weekend, think about what you want the following week to look like, and so on.
If you were to ask me about the next five years tomorrow, I might not have the same answer. I might have more “concrete” goals like running my own business, publishing a book, owning a Golden Retriever, or living in a two-bedroom apartment that’s bigger than 490sq ft. I might not even be able to give you an answer about five years, but we can talk about what I want to accomplish that day, that week, that hour.
There is nothing wrong with taking life minute-by-minute, or day-by-day, or year-by-year. Both can be helpful.
And ask yourself: Is what I’m doing now propelling me into the future I want in five years? Tomorrow? Next week? Three months from now?
Dear reader, my hope is that in five years, we are all where we need to be.