If you had asked me three years ago where I thought I would be today I would have answered you confidently and calmly: “Oh, you know probably completing my Masters in clinical pharmacy, coming home to a one-bedroom inner city unit and celebrating my twenty-sixth birthday with a vegetarian picnic in the park with my tattooed, graphic designer boyfriend”.

Ugh. Apparently my restless soul had other ideas.

Fast forward to today.  I’m sitting in my childhood bedroom with the curtains closed and fan blaring in an attempt to distract me from another 40-degree day. I have just completed my Masters in journalism. Yesterday I celebrated my twenty-sixth birthday with my family at Hog’s Breath Café – a tacky steakhouse that I adore – and farewelling them as I leave for New York… solo.

So how did what I wanted from life change so completely?

When I left high school in 2004 I felt grateful knowing what I wanted to ‘be’ when so many of my friends weren’t sure.  I knew it was rare to know what one wants when they’re 17 and it was something I didn’t take for granted. I had a plan and I had the drive to achieve it.

The masterplan was to go to university and become a pharmacist (a decision I made at age 15).  Drugs fascinated me (though I never touched them and had a pill-swallowing phobia) and I wanted to help people, but didn’t want to be a doctor and have to touch old men’s penises. Decision made.

When I was in university my plan was to be a hospital pharmacist for a year, travel for a year and then study to become a clinical pharmacist.

However, when I became a hospital pharmacist, moved out of home and started pursuing worthless indie boy after worthless indie boy, I could not fight the feeling that this was oh so wrong.

I was diagnosed with depression a mere six months after registering with the pharmaceutical board. I couldn’t stop the negative thoughts and questions. How was it possible that five years of study, which included a private battle with a generalised anxiety disorder (and a not-so-easy to hide acne battle), had culminated in a mind-numbing daily routine of sticking labels on boxes, dealing with colleagues’ overinflated egos and promoting medicines I only half believed in?  THIS IS WHAT I HAD TOILED FOR?!

I refused to give up (or should I say give in) as I still had my plan to hold onto. I did what all good millennials do when they have niggling feelings that won’t go away, and filled my life up with vacuous partying, late nights and meaningless crushes. I have a fond memory of dancing to the wee hours, rolling out of bed and driving to work bleary eyed. I bought a giant container of hot chips and gravy from the canteen and sat on a bench in my morning tea break, stuffing the saturated fats into my mouth and thinking to myself  ‘there has got to be more to life’.

At the start of 2011 I got a taste of the world of clinical pharmacy. I was the ‘junior’ pharmacist of the cardiac ward and boy, was I excited! I thought, finally, I would experience the interesting side of pharmacy, the side I would further explore after I had fulfilled my lust for travel.

However- as so commonly is discovered in the world of drugs- IT WAS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED.  It was just as monotonous as everything I had already done, but was also the kind of monotony that would require further studying (the worst kind). When I realised during those months that studying further in a field I had no passion for would surely be the death of me, I could only console myself with the fact that I was about to leave for six months holiday around the world.

But after those six months…what would I do? Thinking about this almost made gave me an aneurism so I tried my best to live in the moment and enjoy my trip.

But at the halfway point of my trip, somewhere in Bristol, England I flipped my lid. My brain would not let me be. I could not stop thinking ‘I DON’T WANT TO BE A PHARMACIST! DON’T MAKE ME!’ I could not sleep. I think these extracts from an email to my dear friend reflects this period well:

So it is currently 12.48am and I can’t sleep-hence why this email will sound quite unhinged as I am tired and sleep deprived as my mind will not be quiet. I am currently hiding under my ‘duvet’. The oxygen is probably running out.

I am officially half way through my trip. Scary stuff. And I have had time to think and I have realised that there is a possibility that I may have to work until I am 65 as ‘getting married and popping out kids and staying home’ might not actually ever happen and would also be a really boring life to me. Travelling has shown me that there is literally an entire world out there full of absolutely anything you could ever want. And one of the things I want is to find a vocation/career that I feel really passionate about, where I get to be creative, where I am challenged and where I would not see it as ‘work’ but as a ‘project’, something I enjoyed that made me feel like I was helping the community on whatever scale. Am I being too idealistic?

Then there is the problem of I don’t even know what it is I want to do! And that I will have no money when I return or work. That my parents expect me to be a pharmacist and have enough money to buy a house. That I don’t want to be in Perth but am not ready to be anywhere else as I have no money/direction. 

All these thoughts scare me. For the first time in my life I can’t see further than three months ahead. I’ve been giving myself pep talks today, telling myself to trust in the unknown and sending prayers to God/universe for guidance and to help me have faith that there’s a ‘plan’ for me or whatever. But clearly it’s easier said than done, hence the insomnia.”

Fast forward to my return to Perth in late November 2011. For the first time ever I had no clue what to do with my life. It was both breathtakingly exciting and breathtaking in an anxiety way. There was one thing I did know though – pharmacy was not the path for me. I needed out.

Needless to say my parents, grandparents and actually most people I talked to had thought I had arrived home insane. Why give up a stable, well – paid career that you haven’t even paid the HECS loan of?

Somewhere in the haze of the searing hot Perth sun my brain and heart had a chat and planted the idea in my head that I wanted to become a journalist. I genuinely don’t know where this idea came from. I do not know my reasoning behind it- it just felt right.  I enrolled in a Masters of Journalism course and on my first day sat in a room full of English, Political Science and Communications graduates. I hadn’t written an essay in seven years, I had no idea who any of the journalists or politicians my lecturer was talking about  were and I was also one of the oldest in my class. But I loved it. I loved the course, I loved the freelance work I was doing and I began to feel genuinely excited about life. Of course some niggling thoughts plagued my year and in fact still do.  Journalism is very competitive and for the most part poorly paid and the thought of chasing a politician down the road wielding a microphone in their face makes me feel nauseous.

So, this brings me to New York. Last year on a whim, I applied for an internship in Manhattan and got it. It is atBust, a feminist pop-culture magazine. I leave in four days. My visa is apparently arriving soon, after going through a slightly traumatic five month long application process.

I am both excited and freaking out but most definitely ready, although what exactly I’m ready for I don’t know.

What I do know? This feels right.

Authormelissa coci