Life before now
Looking back, I have lived most of my young adult life trying so hard to fit into the set societal norms which sometimes can be oppressive and crippling as I have come to learn.
Born in the 80s, in the tiny Meditteranean island of Cyprus, I grew up in a society that was still reeling from the wounds of the infamous Turkish invasion of 1974 accompanied with strict religious and societal etiquettes. My family, just like many others, followed these set norms. These rules as well as the effects of the war predisposed parents and the society at large to be highly protective, loving and very competitive. I was smothered with love, now that I think of it.
As a teenager growing up in Cyprus, I found myself trying even harder to prove that I was better than the next kid. I suffered self esteem issues which reflected on poor choices of friendships, lack of confidence and poor grades at school. I found myself becoming a people pleaser from family to friends all in the name of trying to fit in. Luckily, I managed to get good grades which enabled me to pursue university education in the field of statistics. As expected, after high school, I joined the army. Everything was falling into its place as is in my society. My family was very proud and so was I. By now, I had already fallen in love with one girl and this gave me some sense of confidence. I was in a happy place.
Finding myself in my 20s
Immediately after the army, I found myself in Athens for further studies. Athens, the capital of Greece with a population of about four million at the time, became home for the next six years. I ended up pursuing a master degree in the same field.
Away from the comfort of Cyprus, I decided to pursue extra curricular activities such as writing, archery and attending seminars in theatre, these gave me so much pleasure. In the end, I had written several plays, participated in theatrical performances and even took part in some creative writing activities. It was great to finally make decisions on my own. I enjoyed the creative world more than the structured life I had previously known in my country. In this foreign land, I enjoyed some form of freedom.
At this period, mobile technology was taking over the world. The internet was quickly changing the world and making communication easy.
Life was looking promising. Soon, I completed my studies and it was time to return home. My plan was to get to Cyprus, spend a few days with family and friends and then travel the world for a few months before embarking on job hunting.
Upon returning to Cyprus, however, I was quickly sucked into the system and I could not leave the country as I had previously planned. For two years, I struggled settling at jobs. I found myself changing from one job to another looking for some kind of satisfaction. Back in Cyprus, I tried to reconnect with my former classmates, but I quickly learned that in the period I was gone, they had moved on. I started rebuilding my life again. Eventually, I landed a job where I worked for 8 years. At this time, I got involved with salsa dancing, which I enjoyed. My life revolved around work and salsa escapades. Although I felt mentally unsettled, I followed the unwritten life rules: go to school, find a job, get a family and live life!
Taking the big leap in my 30s
Late 20s and early 30s found me living with a girlfriend in one city and working in another. The journey to and fro added to the strain I was already feeling at my current job. I came to learn about energy healing and massage therapy which somehow grounded me for a while. These two activities kept pulling at my inner core and I felt I could be able to help other people to reconnect with themselves like I had done. Again, I started feeling uneasy with my kind of life.
In my mid-thirties, I made the biggest changes yet. I quit my job with hopes to venture into my new dream. The relationship with my girlfriend also came to an end. I was ready to soar, or so I thought. Soon however, my optimism was quickly deflated by family and friends. They could not accept that I had left a good job to start a new venture such as massage and energy healing. This sent me into an emotional and psychological distress.
The rollercoaster turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Soon after, I left Cyprus for Europe. I was finally able to do what I had previously planned to do prior to starting my career life. For about two years (not consecutively), I volunteered at several places and got to travel to different cities in Europe. It was a great break from the ‘normal’ back in Cyprus.
At 37 I returned to Cyprus, with a feeling that this place would never make me feel at home. Again, I went back to the routine: find a job and try to make life happen for the hundredth time. I changed from one job to another working as a waiter, labourer, statistician and a few others here and there. I struggled to resettle in Cyprus. At the same time, I met a girl who is my current girlfriend. I got a ‘stable job’ and I was somewhat enjoying life again.
And just as I thought life was good, COVID-19 hit. I lost my job due to the economic crisis. During the several months of unemployment, I re-evaluated my life once again. I decided to eventually focus my energy to pursue massage therapy. I enrolled in a massage school during the pandemic. I had put this dream on hold for over thirteen years. Secondly, I decided to give the relationship with my girlfriend more attention.
The second part of the plan has not been easy. Due to the pandemic, and the fact that we live in different countries, we have not been able to meet in the last five months now. We try to be optimistic and hopeful. It is not easy to keep a long distance relationship alive. But we are trying.
Something I’m most proud of
After all these years, if there is something I am proud of is that despite the lack of self esteem to pursue what I really wanted in the beginning, I was not afraid to make a few changes, step back and start all over again.
On the other hand, I wish I could have been able to snap out of my reserved world faster than I did. I wish I could have taken more risks to pursue what I wanted when I wanted to. If I were twenty again, I would travel more, meet more people, learn to take life more lightly and go all-in in my relationships.
I sometimes feel like I am 20 again. So, I plan to ensure that the next part of my life, I am more present.
My wish and plan beyond 40
Following the outbreak of the pandemic, I feel strange making plans and wishes for the future. Nevertheless, my plan is to open a massage studio in the near future. Moreover, I hope that my partner and I can be together soon and create a life that we desire.
All in all, I feel very good turning forty. I am more confident. I feel healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I plan to keep a positive attitude, eat healthy, exercise regularly and pursue a life full of love and optimism despite the challenges.
Story as narrated by Anestis Panagiotou,
At StoryMolly, we wish Anestis a happy birthday and many returns!