Not All Who Wander Are Lost, But I Feel Lost Without Wandering.

Lately, I’ve been having a crisis of consciousness. I’ve been forced to confront something in myself that I didn’t realize was tearing at me so strongly: I haven’t been on a trip, a REAL trip, in nearly three years. For the record, a “real trip” by my definition is 1) traveling somewhere foreign to me, 2) where I don’t know a soul, 3) for at least a week.

I was once filled with wanderlust; an insatiable need to not only see the world, but to be a part of it. I didn’t just want to pass through a country, taste their food, see their major tourist attractions and move on. I wanted to know what it was like to live there — to get to know the hole-in-the-wall places I couldn’t find in Fodor’s, to meet people that pushed me out of my comfort zone, and to say “yes” to things that terrified me.

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The Great Pyramids, Egypt. 2009.

In my 29 years, I’ve visited 20 foreign countries and 30 of the United States, and throughout my travels, the pervading sentiment has been “more, more, MORE!” But for the past few years, I’m simply not feeling the pull to faraway lands.

Sure, I’ve gone on mini-trips — long weekends to the mountains, extended visits to out-of-state friends. I’ve moved to a new state and explored my new surroundings. But for some reason, I can’t bring myself to really travel.

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Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey. 2009.

Not only that, but my whole attitude towards the nomadic lifestyle has changed… soured, even. I’m afraid my eyes will roll right out of my head when I see an article urging me to quit my corporate job to travel or live on an island; promising me that enlightenment is just a plane ride and a generic, well-curated travel blog away. “Live your best life!” they say, “anyone can do it!”

Easy for you to say,” I think condescendingly.

Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye, Scotland. 2010.

Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye, Scotland. 2010.

I find myself resenting my friends who constantly travel, even though I used to be one of them and at one point, that life meant everything to me. And then I resent myself for resenting people I care about for living a life that makes them happy. What’s my problem? In the deepest recesses of my heart, I know that my way is not the capital “r” Right way; that every person is different and that what makes each of us tick is something deeply personal.

I know that I am, quite frankly, being a hater.

The problem is in me. And I know where it comes from: my mother died, unexpectedly and horrifically, and my internal sense of security (however imagined it may have been) has been disturbed.

The need for stability has taken over my life — routines, appointments, lists and steadfast control over my schedule are keeping me “safe,” or at least are offering the illusion of safety. I am fighting day and night to bring back my sense of security in this world.

And it seems my wanderlust wandered off to find a soul that rambles, like mine used to.

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Ait Benhaddou, Morocco. 2010.

I hate that I now feel a visceral aversion to something that used to be such a big part of me. And worse, I am constantly bombarded by messaging telling me to do everything I can — travel, take risks, uproot myself while I’m still young, before life gets in the way, or worse, slips completely out of my hands. I’m in the prime of my life, but I can’t enjoy it fully. I still find myself here, stuck, treading water.

The truth is, when your entire world is uprooted by a phone call, displacing yourself to distant lands can seem impossibly scary. Foreignness suddenly reads to me as deeply lonely. These days, I crave familiarity; comfort. I crave something my passport could never lead me to.

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Somewhere in the desert, traveling across the USA in a VW bus. 2011.

I think back on last Spring, a year or so after my mother died. My father suggested going to Germany. His is a grieving process that has propelled him to live like he’ll never get another chance (newsflash: none of us will), whereas mine has been a drawn out exercise in desperately trying to regain my footing. I told him “yes, I’d love to!” while deep inside, I panicked. Even now, a year later, I still don’t feel ready to relinquish the calculated control I’ve exerted over my life since her passing.

I must admit, I am feeling rather impatient and fatigued from expending so much energy to heal. I am eager to feel like myself again, even though I know time is the only solution, and that ultimately, I am forever changed. The “myself” who ran wild through Europe falling in love at every hostel I stepped foot in is gone. But something tells me my intrinsic need to see the world is not gone forever. This upheaval of my sense of self is temporary; the disinterest, the complacency and the unrelenting fear.

They say not all who wander are lost, and I really believe that to my core. Wherever my wanderlust is off to, I hope it’s somewhere nice, running wild with the free spirits that used to be my kin… right where it belongs.

Grand Canyon, USA. 2011.

Grand Canyon, USA. 2011.

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Leaning In… To The Suck

I’m going through a rough patch and it sucks. There, I said it. My life isn’t rainbows and sunshine. Not today, anyway. Right now, I’m not seeing the bright side, and frankly, I haven’t for weeks.

Last month, I hurt my knee under rather mysterious circumstances. “Mysterious,” meaning I have no memory of the injury, and my doctor is not quite sure what is wrong with me. My MRI didn’t reveal much, and the level of swelling I’m experiencing is a bit unusual. Like most of my injuries, this one’s a stumper. So, for the past several weeks, I’ve been in and out of appointments, imaging facilities and physical therapy, all while my condition worsens, rather than getting better. My movement is greatly restricted, and I’ve been advised against doing any of my activities. This is all coming on the tail end of a recovery from another very painful, chronic injury in my foot. The current tally for the past two years: I’ve been injured or otherwise incapacitated 19 months out of last 24. Needless to say, I’m beyond frustrated.

I’ve gone through every possible stage of injury emotion:

Monday: “MY LIFE IS OVER.”

Tuesday: “I will not be defeated. I’m going to beat this thing. Bring. It. ON!”

Wednesday: “Still, you stupid knee? STILL?! You’re still hurting? You’re just going to be the worst forever, aren’t you?”

Thursday: “Not being able to move is ok, I guess. Less time for biking, hiking, running, cycling, swimming and playing sports means more time for writing and banjo… RIGHT?! I’ll just focus on those things. Yay, enlightenment!”

Friday: “OMG now my foot is hurting again too?! Fuck this, I give up! It’s too hard. No matter what I do to prevent it, I always end up injured. Everything is horrible.”

Saturday: “NO. I will not stop working towards my goals. I will not let this deter me, dammit!”

Sunday: “Wow, I feel pretty good today. Maybe I’ll beat this thing after all.”

Rinse. Repeat.

The motivation and inspiration I’ve been feeling so strongly lately have dwindled and I’m tired of playing by all the rules.

I know my knee injury is not the end of the world. Sure, injuries suck, and they happen to the best of us. I’m privy to the fact that it could be much worse and that self-pity is not a super attractive trait. I’ve maybe indulged in it a bit too much since my mother died. But I’ve also put an immense amount of pressure on myself to avoid letting the sadness take me into its tide. I WANT to push through and to stop being so… sad.

But, if I’m being honest, lately I’ve been feeling more emotionally rundown than normal. And to combine that with being essentially couch-ridden and in physical pain nearly 24/7, well, it’s really testing me. Plus, since losing Nance, every little or big thing that goes wrong seems to carry more weight. Or, rather, I’m less able to weather it. I’m drained. I feel like I’m constantly pushing back, trying to remain optimistic, willing the tide to turn; screaming at the top of my lungs to be heard, but only releasing breathy rasps.

Fighting.

The trajectory of my life sometimes feels like one giant fight just to be okay — to heal from one blow only to be hit by the next. All the while, I must constantly police myself; force myself not to go to close to the edge.

The energy it takes to stay in “the good place” is truly exhausting. I was reminded of this by a passage in Cade Leebron’s insanely amazing, well-written and moving essay about rape, Fuck Us Harder (seriously, please go read it).

“I want to ask them to come lie on the floor with me, to feel really low with me, to understand that because of the actions of one boy four years ago I still sometimes stay up until five in the morning doing absolutely nothing other than lying in bed hating myself. I want them to know that he didn’t go to therapy, I did. He didn’t think about dropping out, I did. He didn’t drink himself to sleep for months, I did. Even now I am constantly monitoring myself, interrogating myself, trying to make sure that I don’t fall into those bad habits again, I’m still reminding myself to practice whatever self-care I can manage.” (Bold added for emphasis.)

These crushing, beautiful words brought me right back to feeling like the depressed and frustrated college girl I once was — isolated, enduring the trauma of a rape and an emotionally abusive relationship alone; languishing in a messy, dark room where I never drew the blinds or made the bed, or studied, or cared much about anything but trying to make it through. In those days, I constantly coached myself, worrying if I didn’t stay on top of myself, I might give up or die of pure emotional exhaustion.

While feeling so much empathy for the girl I used to be, I realized that the pressure I am putting on myself now to do all the right things — to will the pain away — is really not much different than the way I constantly berated myself back then.

Today (really, every day for the past 11 years), I am constantly propelling myself to do everything in my power possible to not fall apart. To be strong. To fight for my health. To be the inspiration everybody wants me to be. To stop feeling bad for myself. To make Nance proud. To be more like those annoyingly incredible people who overcome truly astronomical difficulties and end up giving TED Talks about how obstacles are life’s way of seeing what we’ve got to give… or whatever.

But I can’t do it right now. I’m emotionally exhausted and I can’t put that immense strain on myself. I’ve got to slow down and take a minute; a breather. I’ve got to give in to the tide a little bit.

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Photo Credit: James Stencilowsky

So what am I going to do? I’m going to lean in to the suck. I’m going to be kind to myself. I’m going to forgive myself if I don’t make my bed, or get out of it until 10, or even if I spend a day binge watching feel-good comedies when I really, really need to be doing other things. You know what else I’m going to do? I’m going to give a mental middle finger to the next well-meaning person who gives me unwanted advice on how to fix myself, rather than beating myself up and feeling the need to explain where I’m coming from.

Call it self-care. Call it being a sad sack. Call it whatever you want. I’m doing it. It’s what I need right now, and I’m embracing it. I’m not making any apologies. This is where I’m at. Sometimes, things just suck. This roadblock just looks like a damn roadblock to me, not an opportunity. Sorry, positivity-pushers. The motivational speaker inside me is on vacation.

I’m sure I’ll be feeling more optimistic again soon. There’s only so long I can be down, really. I always tire of feeling bad for myself… eventually. And if my past is any indicator, I’ll be picking myself up and putting my head back on in no time.

But not today. Today sucks.

This Year, I Resolve to Word Vomit

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Like many bloggers, I have resolved that this year, I will write more. Actually, that’s not wholly accurate. In 2013 and 2014, I resolved to write more. Which I did, by the way. But filling up journals, while being extremely therapeutic, isn’t getting me very far in realizing my writing dreams. So in 2015, my goal is actually to publish more.

Of course, being a perfectionist entirely insecure with my work, this has presented an identity crisis (and, if I’m being honest, fear) in me. As much soul-searching as I’ve done, I’ve been stuck on where to go with my blog. What do I write about? Who is my intended audience, besides my Facebook friends? Why do I keep starting blogs and then growing out of them abandoning them when motivation runs dry?

Since my mom’s death, I have felt a shifting inside of me. My older writing — mostly rambling tales of my drunken, coming-of-age foibles — seems to be disqualified on account of maturity and aging that I never remember consenting to. Overnight, it seems, I became an adult. Seriously. I even got confirmation from one of my oldest friends this past weekend. It’s real; it happened. I fought tooth and nail against it, but adulthood dragged me down and won. Being thrown into a world where your mother’s advice is no longer a phone call away will do that to a person, I guess.

In the past year or so, I’ve been sharing nuggets of wisdom that I’ve picked up along my journey of healing. But this presents a problem, too. Writing about lessons learned can be really great and can certainly strike a cord with the audience. But basing an entire blog to that end would make me feel extremely sanctimonious and self-aggrandizing. And as someone who’s naturally pretty sanctimonious and self-aggrandizing, I really don’t need to swell up my head with fantastic ideas that I’m gonna explode everyone’s minds with my Ultimate Wisdom.

So, what’s left? Do I just word vomit, throwing posts against the proverbial wall to see what sticks?! Lower myself to listicles and lifestyle posts where I make my life look enviable but never really reveal anything about myself (AKA, Facebook in blog form)?

I wish I could apply my “don’t wait for the right time, start living now” advice to my writing, but I always find myself lost in limbo. How do I get over myself (come to think of it, maybe “GET OVER YOURSELF” should have been my resolution instead of lame ass “publish more”)?! And how do I balance my need for privacy and my distaste for oversharing, with my desire to lay it all bare and reveal everything about myself, my experiences and my feelings on a Taylor Swiftian level?! All I’ve got are questions (and a blank, space, baby!), with no direction in sight.

If I think of any sanctimonious/self-aggrandizing wisdom, you’ll be the first to know.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep it real and write about whatever I damn well please. Consider yourself warned: this blog is going off the rails.

#WordVomit2015

The Catskills Diaries: Part One

I decided to do something a little different this week. In an effort to simultaneously blog more and stress out about blogging less, I will be sharing passages from my private travel journal for the first time.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to travel to a cabin in the woods in the Catskills, completely alone. I took this trip for many reasons, but mostly to check in with myself after losing my mom to a stroke in July. I firmly believe in learning to be with, and setting aside time for oneself. This trip was a time for reflection, self-TLC, loneliness — and ultimately, triumph.

I normally wouldn’t share my writings from a personal journal — the thought makes me hot with embarrassment. However, after much vacillating on how to cover my trip, I decided that publishing my impressions and thoughts as they were first recorded is the best and most pure way to convey all that this trip meant to me.

I will be posting one journal entry per day this week, to correspond with the entries I wrote on my trip. I hope you all enjoy my personal journey as much as I did.

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Day 1: Monday, September 30

I arrived at the cabin around 4:30 in the afternoon. The dirt — or should I say boulder — road up was terrifying. I scratched the bottom of the rental car, and worry that I will do permanent damage if I try again. 

I took a quick walk to the private lake down the street to check it out — it was beautiful, but I wasn’t sure where the access point was, so I only walked around the parameter. 

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Hunter Lake, Parksville NY

I made gnocchi for dinner and tried to settle down. I felt anxious about being alone in such a dark place, so I turned on all the lights and cranked Prohibition on Netflix, to help me feel more comfortable. 

I put on a fire (because, as my dear friend Alysa says, “fires make everything less scary”) and had to LOOK UP how to use a wood burning stove. Like I’ve never used one before! It’s so crazy how things completely slip away from you over time. Even skills that once felt like muscle memory — like tending to a wood stove in an old barn after school each day — become foreign with the passage of time. 

Pretty cozy, right?

Pretty cozy, right?

Anyway, outside of my hyper-bright cabin in the woods, all was dark and quiet and I genuinely became kind of terrified. The fact that I cannot see outside AT ALL is the worst. Plus, there are no shades on the windows in this house, except in the bathroom and bedroom. It’s quite awkward. I keep thinking of how someone could simply watch me from outside and I would have no idea. Like anyone would stand outside and watch ME watching a Ken Burns documentary, binging on snacks. That sounds… super likely.

And then I started thinking of all of the animals. Couldn’t there be bears? Foxes? Rabid raccoons (are they still a thing?!)? Who knows. I considered shutting the gate out front for further protection, but was too afraid to go outside the “safe porch.” I did go out there a few times to check out the stars. It’s so dark and clear here that you can see the Milky Way and every little star. It is beauty beyond imagination. It’s too bad I am scared to stay out there for more than two minutes. 

I will try again tomorrow.