If my life is mine, what shouldn’t I do? I get wherever I’m going, I get whatever I need.

As a homebody, it would make sense that I’d feel best at home. But, truth be told, I feel better when I’m away.

Edmonton has never really felt like home for me. I’ve made a home here, but something inside me got buried when I did that — the longing to be in a place that really spoke to me. This isn’t Edmonton’s fault. Edmonton’s fine. I spent years dividing my attention between living in Edmonton and working in Sherwood Park, so really, it’s my fault I couldn’t commit to either place. But Sherwood Park was no better in my mind. It didn’t feel like home either. Growing up in a small town, I always felt a sense of community, some sense of belonging. I left there when I was 18, and I haven’t felt that since.

I’ve felt lonely and disconnected.

I know people say that home is where your heart is, so it doesn’t matter where you live — you can make any place your home. After 12 years in my condo, I can say with certainty that my heart is not in it. I have feelings of nostalgia towards it and have a hard time thinking of letting it go, but that’s because I’m sentimental.

To distract myself from the feelings of disconnect and subsequent sadness, I’ve mastered the art of being busy. If I am busy, I don’t have time to sit at home and think about how I wish I had other things to do or people to spend time with. If I jam-pack my life with work and training and obligations, I don’t ever have to sit down and address that void within me. I pour myself into the needs of others and wait for something or someone to fill me up. I branch out with other activities to see if maybe that’s where I’ll find my people. If not, hey, at least I’m busy. Unfortunately, this can also leave me feeling worse off when it doesn’t magically fill the void.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last six months wondering where my heart really is. Down in Red Deer with my family? Maybe. Back in Ireland? Probably not. Maybe it really is wherever you decide to make it. Maybe I’ve just spent so much time making it not Edmonton that I haven’t thought maybe it could be here. But you know, I’ve learned to really trust my gut, and I don’t think it’s wrong for me to want more. My sister sent me this link to a post by Elizabeth Gilbert that couldn’t have summed up how I feel any better. Basically, she says that you might know in your heart, body, and soul that what you need is “not this” — you don’t know what it is, you just know it’s not this. Logically, you feel like you should stay where you are. It doesn’t make sense to up and leave.

But that’s when my void feels manageable, when I’m in a new place figuring things out. Exploring. Taking chances.

I have this insatiable desire to get the hell out of here, but my need to be around my family keeps me firmly planted close by. When I moved to Ireland, I was excited about all the possibilities. I missed Canada and my family, and that ate away at me the whole time I was gone. Ireland was amazing and life-changing, but my heart wasn’t there either. I loved it, but it wasn’t home.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many places across Canada and some in the US and abroad, and I’ve loved aspects of every place I’ve been. Arizona has a piece of my heart, I know that. I’ve been there twice, and despite my affinity for cold weather and snow, I thought I could actually live there. Victoria and Montreal are two places I would visit again and again, though I can’t put my finger on exactly what I loved about either place. Everything? Whereas with Vancouver, it wouldn’t break my heart if I never returned. I made wonderful memories in my visit there, but that’s all it will ever be for me. Maybe I’m still too small town for a city like that. I’ve visited Ottawa countless times, and a small piece of me is there too, though that probably has more to do with my sentimental ways.

It wasn’t until a last-minute trip to Halifax that I finally understood that a place can feel like home even if you’ve never been there before. As soon as I left the airport, I knew this was a place that spoke to my heart. Maybe it was the ocean. Maybe it was the salty breeze. Whatever it was, it stirred some dormant part of me. I spent just over a week feeling not like a tourist, but like someone who had returned home from a long journey. I walked around Halifax and sat in parks and on the harbour. I drove around neighboring towns and soaked in the history and architecture that we don’t have here. And then when I left, I shed a tear. Actually. I have never cried over leaving a place. People, yes. I’ve cried over leaving them. But never a place.

Maybe I found where my heart is. Or maybe all I found was a feeling I’d been missing all these years. Something to show me that a place exists where I don’t feel this way.

A place to remind me that I’m not wrong in saying not this.

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There is love in your body, but you can’t hold it in. It pours from your eyes, and it spills from your skin.

As someone who is deeply empathic, I am aware of people’s feelings and experiences before I should be. I understand where someone is coming from without knowing the details of past situations. I see the needs of someone before they’ve opened up to me.

Because of this, I have a tendency to repel people. I haven’t mastered the art of knowing things and not saying them. Turns out people don’t generally appreciate you telling them their feelings before they’ve shared them. Shocking, right?

I’ve gotten a bit better at waiting for people to come to me and open up about the things I know they need, but once they do, I have a hard time reigning in my acceptance and understanding. Turns out that’s really overwhelming to people who don’t know how to be accepted unconditionally. So shocking!

I have a fundamental need to help others, so it’s a constant battle for me not to be overbearing when I feel a need from someone. Sometimes, they don’t even realize that they seem “in need” — it’s just something I pick up on (which, let’s be honest, is much worse). And because I hate to see people in pain, I usually can’t just let it be. I take a lot of shit from people who I know are struggling because I want to help. I let them be total A-holes to me because I know they’re hurting in some unseen place. I want them to feel safe to open up to me, so I let them lash out at me or ignore me or break my heart.

It’s a flawed system.

It’s caused me to spend a lot of time around people who need me but are incapable of giving back. I either help them heal, or they can’t accept it and push me away out of fear of being vulnerable. I spend all this time trying to make sure people feel understood and safe, when what I really want is for someone to do that for me. To connect with me. To understand me. To open up and let me in. To give me the kind of love and acceptance I freely share with others.

I’m not talking romantic love. I care deeply, and I long to connect to people. And not just in a “please let me in so I can help you” way. I don’t try to befriend people strictly to help them (what kind of relationship would that be?). But because of how I am and how desperately I want meaningful connections, people seem to question my intentions. Just because you’re a guy and I’m talking to you doesn’t mean I’m trying to date you. And just because you’re a girl and I’m talking to you doesn’t mean I’m trying to compete with you.

Making friends as an adult is basically the worst. It’s worse than trying to date. I’ve found some people recently who I loved talking to and wanted to spend more time with, but what then? Do I ask them to have coffee and risk them thinking I’m trying to date them? Do I keep initiating conversations in the hope they’ll talk to me long enough to realize I’m looking for a friend? Do I open up and risk oversharing? I don’t know. I literally don’t know what to do.

I find it incredibly hard to walk the fine line of trying to open up while not overwhelming people with my personality. I know when they’re feeling uneasy about opening up to me, but how do you say to someone, “Hey, listen. I think you’re cool and just want to chat/hang out. Stop feeling uncomfortable about that.” Sometimes the blunt approach of just saying it works, but when you shouldn’t know that someone is feeling uncomfortable, it sort of has the opposite effect.

So, I just keep throwing myself out there and hoping someone will pick it up. In that way, I guess it kind of is like dating.

You better run, you better do what you can. Don’t wanna see no blood, don’t be a macho man.

I was in horrible shape when I first started doing Karate. I was probably the unhealthiest I’d ever been. Shift work, eating poorly, and not exercising had taken its toll on my body.

When I say I was in horrible shape, I mean that I couldn’t make it through a 10-minute warm-up without wheezing or dry heaving or generally praying for Death to take me. It was an awful and embarrassing time for me. And showing up every day took so much courage — courage that I didn’t always have.

Going to class was basically humiliating. I felt this intense shame of having let myself get so badly out of shape, and I was sure everyone around me was judging me for how bad I was at literally everything. I felt like a massive failure for not being able to keep up in class. Sometimes, I’d be so embarrassed by something that had happened in class that I’d get into my car and just cry. I’d think about the situation over and over again and hate myself a little bit more for all the poor choices I had made.

I never felt like I was being mean to myself, but those thoughts and so many more were on my mind regularly. Daily self-deprecation. What a way to live.

January marked three years since I stepped into the dojo for the first time, and the transformations I’ve experienced throughout my training have been life-changing. I noticed physical changes within the first three months, and eventually, I started doing more work outside of class. I wanted to train better. I wanted to be better at Karate. So I worked at it, and my body responded.

But as time progressed, I found myself hitting certain roadblocks during training that I felt like I should have been able to manage. No matter how much additional training I did outside of the dojo, I still often struggled during warm-ups or felt sick during training. I was working really hard, and I was really, really frustrated that my progress didn’t necessarily reflect that. While I’d made a lot of mental progress and had stopped berating myself constantly, I couldn’t help but feel like I was failing myself.

I found out about half way through last year that the reason for my struggle really wasn’t something I could control. I had a physical problem that had gone undiagnosed for years, though my unhealthy lifestyle probably hadn’t helped the matter. Armed with this new information, I felt less stressed about my progress because there was finally an explanation — and I knew I wasn’t crazy for how I’d been feeling.

Except knowing there’s a reason for something doesn’t magically make it better. I was struggling more than ever during class, and knowing there was a reason for it just gave me somewhere to direct my frustration instead of towards myself. I was also more determined than ever to train harder and get better…but I couldn’t. I physically couldn’t. I had all this intensity brewing inside me that I couldn’t unleash because my body physically couldn’t keep up with me. The more I pushed my body, the worse it would get, and the angrier I would feel. I kept pushing anyway because I was determined to not give up, but it was painful and hard, and I eventually broke. I had so many breakdowns in class that I was taken back to my initial training — I felt like an embarrassed failure again. Even though I knew that I wasn’t.

I’ve had to reflect on this several times because I was having a hard time looking past my frustration. I had a few conversations with Sensei Ryan about it, and what I realized is that my body has specific limitations right now, and all I can do is train at the level that it will allow me. I can either continue to get angry about it, or I can respect it and train around it.

So, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. I mean, still with a fiery rage fueling me. But I’m training around it. I’ve been going to the gym and trying to push myself to the edge of where I start feeling really bad so that I can learn how to cope with it during class.

It hasn’t been easy, but I’m not going to let myself and my training be totally dictated by something I can’t change. I’m not giving up.