Growing up, I moved back and forth between my parents’ houses for as long as I can remember. I spent hours every weekend packing up all my belongings: school binders, dance clothes, birthday cards, cookbooks, and everything else that would fit into the trunk of my dad’s car. I didn’t want to leave anything behind. As I accumulated more material things over the years, I carried more bags back and forth with me each time I moved.

I thought of this like a cleanse. Once I got to either house I would clean my room top to bottom, reorganize drawers, or push my bed to the opposite corner. Anything to make the space feel like it belonged to me. I spent each week meticulously lining up books along my shelf and taping photos to my wall, but before I ever finished unpacking, it was time to move again.

As years passed, it became increasingly disheartening always trying settle in somewhere so temporarily, so I started to leave things behind when I left. It stopped mattering if I got into a fight with the parent I was living with or if my room got messy mid-week – I was able to pack up and move a few days later.

I began to use this routine change of environment as a coping mechanism. I associated thoughts and feelings I had with specific locations and then tried to forget them when I was no longer present in the places they were conceived. I ceased to ever fully pack and unpack the things in my life and instead carried a suitcase wherever I went.

When I moved to Montreal to start university, I experienced a problem contrary to most friends: my new room suddenly felt too permanent. I wasn’t used to having a single space where my life belonged, where I cried and laughed and slept and had guests over, and it terrified me to exist in one place where all my thoughts existed too.

I tried to combat this by moving around constantly. I stayed in friend’s rooms often, walked up and down Mont Royal in the middle of the night (this was probably unsafe), and left on weekends to visit other schools as much as my freshman budget would allow. My things were always scattered, my brain was always working overdrive, and I never unpacked my bag from my previous trip to someone else’s residence before my next trip came around. I spent many months that year in incredibly poor health with little motivation to work or study, and I naturally thought a change of scenery was the solution.

Transferring schools has improved my life in many ways. I love my program and extracurriculars. I’ve grown to love Kingston too. Despite this, it dawned on me almost immediately that the health complications and emotional turmoil I thought I had left in Quebec had followed me across provinces, and this time, I knew continuing to move away would be merely a band-aid fix.

I have realized a lot in the last while about my inability to acknowledge feelings – I just never get around to unpacking them. It isn’t a coincidence that I’ve danced my whole life, that I started a travel savings fund when I was eight, or that I’ve experienced claustrophobia since early childhood. My first instinct every time I am faced with my own emotions is simply to move around, to be where I am not.

These trips have started to exhaust me. Over the years, I’ve tried to replicate the same sensation I had setting up my new room each week by continuously cleansing myself of every physical environment that has hurt me, hoping to leave the baggage behind. Instead, the suitcase I brought between houses as a kid has grown bigger. It fills with more souvenirs each time I move.

I think it might be time to sit down and unpack.


Maddy Wintermute is an online contributor for MUSE. 

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Mental Health and Us: part two