“It’s dark because you are trying too hard.”
I just found this line again while doing some ‘research’ for this post. Research amongst my old posts because I frequently like to repeat myself. It is almost cyclical and nobody has called me out on it yet but I know it and obviously don’t like it. It scares me to think that I am running out of ideas and that my own personal history of thoughts and emotions keeps on repeating itself which would mean I have learned nothing.
So when I write about more introspective topics I now research beforehand. Sometimes that means a post doesn’t see the light of day because I have written the same thing already and other times, I get gently put in place by wise words I thought I had memorized but have, in fact, forgotten. Like the ones above which I already found and quoted weeks ago when I was in Bali and wrote about the too great expectations we place on traveling.
The thought of expectations and how they affect how we see and experience the world has been on my mind for the last couple of weeks since I was in Nepal. I wasn’t quite sure yet on what to do with that thought, quite frankly I was a bit scared of the response. The internet can be a cruel place and I have realized that I don’t deal well with criticism even when it is unfounded, anonymous and often plain troll-y. Especially right now when every day feels a bit like a struggle without me being able to say why except that I am living and traveling with depression.
My first couple of days in Nepal were quite rough. Not like depression rough, but rough enough for me to just want to sit on my Mum’s couch and watch “Come dine with me” with her. I even would have thrown in a few games of Rummy Cup. I can’t quite put my finger on what caused these feelings. I think it was a mix of insecurities as I was stranded for the first night in a homestay outside of Kathmandu with hosts I couldn’t communicate with, a veeery long bus ride with strangers who I didn’t click with which was too bumpy to do anything but contemplate my life (and its alleged shortcomings), and a few more little things like that. Things which on their own wouldn’t have phased me but coming all together made me feel really out of sorts.
I dared to share these thoughts on Instagram and was promptly rewarded.
“Usually I never say something BUT Sorry I so much disagree! Why you even think a country has to meet your expectations? you are JUST One in a billion and here on earth with so many others – nothing is for you…you are just there for a few years (in comparison to the Age of One Country) …you should Never forget! and also do not forget that EVERYTHING you do is your choice. “
Needless to say, I was taken aback. As I said before while I agree that sometimes you need to remind yourself of the big picture, I am also a firm believer in sticking up to my own little one-in-a-billion life (short as it may be!) and often dark feelings that can border on depression and think it is perfectly alright to just request a hug once in a while. I also happen to disagree that everything I do is my choice. I know that I can control my reactions to whatever life throws at me but that doesn’t make everything I do in general my choice or simply alright.
While I thought her comment was unkind and unnecessary, it also made me think. It made me think long after I had gotten out of my emotional slump and out of the very bumpy bus. Living a life of traveling, especially when you travel on your own, definitely has its ups and downs. I am starting to question whether the downs are taking over as I have come to realize that I need my people around me. I always thought I was such an introvert that it didn’t matter much how much time I spent alone and I never wanted my mood, my happiness to depend on anyone but myself. I didn’t think that on the list of things I frequently do to pull me out of my lows* the need to connect with people was one of them. In fact, I I realized that I don’t even want to talk to my good friends sometimes when I am feeling down because I much rather tell them about the happy stuff and don’t think they can help. That realization made me a bit sad and also worried me. After all, isn’t that what friends are for?
So I went on a few dates in Bangkok and cannot remember the last time I felt so carefree and so good in my own skin. Yesterday I spoke to one of my oldest friends and ended up in fits of giggles on the couch. In Nepal, once I could break out of the group I was assigned to and got to hang out with some other people, old and new friends, my whole outlook on the trip and even the country changed.
Still, while I enjoy these moments, they scare me too. I don’t want my happiness to depend on other people but when I try it all on my own often the darkness returns only to be so much darker than before. Anthony Bourdain’s death affected me more than I thought the death of a stranger could ever affect me. I felt incredibly sad and that sadness spiraled a whole bout of feeling depressed. I realized that I needed to have company to keep my demons at bay and as soon as a person left, they returned. Not an ideal situation in general and definitely not for an eternal traveler with people coming and going in my life is quite the norm.
What makes it worse is the urge to reprimand myself: I have no obligations, my job is quite literally to travel the world, I can eat pad thai for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and if I decide to ditch work for the day and go diving that’s fine too. Unfortunately, depression and traveling with depression doesn’t work this way. It doesn’t care about pad thai and picturesque beaches. After my breakup last year, a reader commented on how heartbreak was easier to deal with in paradise than at home when being surrounded by routine and everyday problems. I understood where she was coming from but I am not so sure she is right. I sometimes I think there is this expectation towards travel bloggers or digital nomads, celebrities and people in general who decide to break out of the mold or live their lives a little differently than the rest, that we need to always be happy. In my case that means – how can I be depressed and how can I dare to complain about my life?
Palm trees and pad thai surely equal eternal paradise?!
But what when they don’t? Does that mean I have chosen the road less traveled but taken a wrong turn? Or that I am simply supposed to shut up about it, put on my sundress and floppy hat, smile for Instagram and just continue to play make-believe? Pop some happy pills and pretend that I have already found my happily ever after because look at my life – how can it not be? That especially in the wake of Anthony Bourdain’s death I am supposed to not talk about it when I feel incredibly sad or lonely for no apparent reason? Just because I have the luxury of choosing how I live my life as he did… I don’t think so. In fact, I would like to think that people want to hear about the downs and the bouts of depression, not just the palm trees.
I have chosen my life as it is and I am incredibly fortunate to have the means to do so but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard at times. Anthony Bourdain’s death made me realize that we are often so quick to jump to conclusions, think there cannot be darkness for someone who is living such a seemingly easy and fulfilled life like he did. And like I do. But there often is and when people tell me to be grateful, that I have no reason to complain or to be sad, I feel incredibly misunderstood and even more alone, palm trees or not.
I am struggling to bring this post to a conclusion as I have none for myself at the moment. I have no good solutions, no magic trick. And so I just tell myself to take one little step at a time, to not try too hard, and to accept that it is okay to be not okay. And maybe if you are also not okay today, whether you are a traveler, stay at home mum, CEO, supermodel or student this story will just show you that you are not alone. And maybe, just maybe by me sharing my darkness it will lighten yours for a little moment.
*Check out this amazing post my friend Amelia wrote with many great small things you can do to help with living and traveling with depression. Needless to say, that shouldn’t substitute seeing a professional and asking for help if you need to.