The wave has hit me.
It has hit pretty hard, once again. I guess that’s what you get for wanting to throw yourself in the water over and over again.
I am happy to write here today (finally!) to give you some news. I know that most people have no idea what I’ve been up to since my last post, as I’ve taken some time out of the connected world since I left Switzerland. I have gone through a bit of a rough phase, of which I am fortunately out. I am actually doing much better now compared to the last few months, and I am excited to tell you more about the beautiful place I’ve been staying at. First, however, I want to revisit the series of events that led me here… in Ecuador.
Surprise! I didn’t go to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as I planned to.
How did that happen? Okay, before I tell you more, I think it’s worth warning you that I’m going to present myself in an extra vulnerable way in today’s article, a bit more than usual (though you’re used to that by now).
For as long as I can remember, I have struggled against my inner demons. Those who would name those dark creatures haunting our minds in a less poetic way would use the current popular term for them: mental illness.
I’ve been meaning to talk about those issues for quite some time now, and in some way I already do address them a lot by writing about my hardships, but I almost never refer to them directly. I tend to treat my mental health as a casual consequence of my circumstances, while I know perfectly well that the problems run deeper. I rarely feel as vulnerable as facing this topic, but I will nonetheless try my best to not censor myself as much as I’d like to, because I know it’s a reality for many people and that glossing over such issues contributes to the heavy stigma surrounding psychological struggles. Also, this might not be the last time you hear about this, as I have a couple of unpublished posts about the subject that I haven’t gathered the courage to make public yet.
At the core of those struggles, I believe, lay some serious self-esteem issues. My self-esteem default mode is close to non-existent, and any other mode feels like an act, or a state attainable through long, hard work or a favorable environment. It can be reverted back in a second, with a wrong move of a hurtful comment; the voice in my head will tell me how stupid and worthless I am at the first sign of error. It’s not that I objectively think I am a bad person or that I have no qualities (though I certainly have many flaws); it’s that I feel that way. I used to hate myself. Now, I’ve gone through enough to understand that I deserve the same love and compassion I feel for others, but I still have to actively remind it to myself on a daily basis in order to interiorise it.
When things go wrong though, I tend to forget. Some destructive force in me takes over and distorts my reality. Mainly, it’s emotional pain that makes me lose touch; difficult to avoid when you’re as hyper-sensitive as me. In those moments, despite knowing that I have lots of friends who would be there for me if I reached out, I isolate myself and somehow convince myself that I am almost all alone in the world. And for some destructive reason also, the few people that I do let in are often toxic for me. I don’t reach out more because I don’t know how to, because I feel ashamed to feel the way I feel, because I feel that I should have figured it out all right by now, after whining about it and writing about ‘finding my way’.
Okay, okay, I have some rewinding to do.
Yeah… so I didn’t go to the Caribbean. I know, I know, I should maybe stop announcing my plans to the world if I’m not going to follow through with them. This one was particularly rough, because I was all set to go, I was so close to getting there. And I’d been preparing it for a long time. I was feeling relieved at the idea that for once, I knew what my life would be like for the next ten months. I knew where I would be in a year, and it felt nice.
To be fair, I really thought I would go, up until a couple of weeks before my flight to Saint-Vincent. Then, a series of circumstances put me in a weird place where nothing made sense anymore. I guess it wasn’t quite the time or the place to go.
My trip started off under really good auspices. I had a lovely time in London, catching up with a friend and getting to spend more time in my mother’s country of origin. It was then followed by a promising start in the United States. New York was as grand as I dreamed it would be. It felt weirdly familiar for someone who had never set foot on the continent, after years of seeing the famous streets and buildings in shows and movies.
I got to see family there, as well as in Maine, which is also a really awesome and beautiful place. My friend had joined me in the meantime and we visited Boston on the way.
Then, the road trip we had planned didn’t go so well, for a few reasons. The main one is I got sick very quickly, which affected my mood a lot. That one is on me, I may have rushed out of Switzerland a little too fast after getting a surgery for a painful, chronic illness I have only just recently been diagnosed with. (It’s endometriosis, and it is not a threat to my life, it just hurts really bad, all the time.) My body didn’t handle it very well. And since body and mind often go hand in hand, my mental health started deteriorating, and after months of being on a high, I hit the lows pretty hard, despite seeing some really awesome things on the way – pictures are scattered throughout this post.
I still particularly enjoyed the powerful Niagara Falls.
Once we reached Washington DC and after a second friend had joined us, I had a major conflict with the people accompanying me, for reasons that I will of course not expose publicly. It hurt, though. It always hurts to lose friends, to feel let down and to have to admit you didn’t know people as much as you thought you did. But a lot of what happened there does not belong to me, and much of the last few months have been about accepting that and letting go.
Nonetheless, by then, depression had kicked in pretty heavily, to the point that I was paralysed by suicidal thoughts. Be reassured, I did not intend to act on them, but I had no other choice but to feel their crippling intensity, not understanding where they came from, since I had been doing so well until then. I guess they might have something to do with serious hormonal imbalances and a mood disorder I have been diagnosed with, but I’m not quite entirely comfortable with theories of modern psychiatry to only place the blame on a defective brain. Furthermore, I do not wish to let myself be defined by a label some doctor decided to put on me, though it is undeniable that my brain is wired a bit differently than most. I didn’t need to see anyone to be aware of that; I’ve felt like an alien my entire life.
The reason I am being so honest with you about myself right now is that I do not wish to lie in this process, by pretending that everything is okay all the time. I will leave that for social media and its panoply of happy, shiny people showing only the very best to the world. Unfortunately for me, that means I have to show a lot of not-so-good things about myself, because if you hadn’t noticed by now, I do have a general tendency for depression and anxiety. The scourge of our times; nothing very original.
So there I was, compelled to leave the roadtrip I’d spent weeks planning. I needed to prioritize myself, and I could decidedly not stay in such a toxic environment. It felt like a relief to be able to catch my breathe for a second, especially because I was lucky enough to have the support of another friend who offered me comfort and shelter, back in New York again.
I was nevertheless still supposed to get back in shape in order to be ready for my project in the Caribbean, and yet, I still felt like I was drowning. What didn’t help was that I started having doubts about this plan of mine, as I felt so weak, physically and mentally. It didn’t seem like a great way to start a ten-month long project. And to be honest, I wasn’t so sure anymore that it was even what I wanted, or needed. Yes, I am looking to build something on the longer term… but wasn’t that going to be a temporary, though longer than usual fix for my problem, without being what I actually wanted? Wouldn’t it take away some of the precious time I need to keep working on my art, which is my real priority in life?
In some way, my body answered the questions about my future for me, by remaining sick. I definitely didn’t want to start anything with the risk of having to go back home right after if things deteriorated.
Turns out that once I decided to report the project, I started feeling a bit better. Enough to ask myself what it was that I was really looking for, and finding an alternative. I concluded that the ideal for me would be to find a quiet place to finish my book. That freaking book I have been working on for so long, and that I didn’t want to keep postponing any longer.
And that is how I ended here, in Ecuador. I found a quiet ‘Workaway’ where I could have lots of time for myself to heal and write. The deal was that I was supposed to walk dogs for a diving center, in exchange for accommodation as well as the opportunity of getting a diving certificate. Dogs & diving, that’s the perfect combination, right? Yeah, that would be the case if perfection existed. It doesn’t. Life still wanted to test me a little more first…
A month and a half later, I was finally leaving that place (Puerto Lopez) that was never the right fit for me, wondering why I hung in there for so long. I ended getting even sicker than before, as I suffered multiple infections and had to be on antibiotics for three weeks. The town felt loud and dirty, and I spent my days being barked at by crazy dogs in the streets. The sun has come out twice in over a month. I barely got to dive because of my health issues, and the day before I was supposed to leave, one of the three lovely and amazing dogs I was taking care of died in my arms after we tried to reanimate him for half an hour. Patapouf, one of my three loyal friends who comforted me day after day during the really difficult time I was going through.
That night, I let myself feel all the sadness inside of me that I had been pushing away, and cried uncontrollably for hours on end. I guess we can say that I hit some kind of low, after a month of believing things couldn’t get worse. Despite my efforts to eat well and take care of myself, I was living in an unsanitary environment, and isolation made me feel sad and ashamed. Not easy to reach out to my friends in such a state, when I felt like I had messed everything up.
This time in particular, I had a hard time letting go, because I really wanted to tell you how well I was doing. I know that this is what people are hoping to see, especially after all the difficulties I went through in recent years. And I guess I still cling to it, since I waited until I felt better to publish this. I hope you’ll excuse the time it took me.
Of course, there were also good parts to my stay in Puerto Lopez. I met some beautiful people, including a really good friend. I got to spend a lot of time with myself, meditating on my life. I made some realizations about my past and what I want for my future. I have advanced my book at a unequaled rate, as I really committed to writing every single day, along with studying for my last year of online university. I actually received the worst grade ever since the start of my studies, but I guess when things go bad for me, they have to go all the way. And of course, the quiet, supportive presence of the dogs, day by day, was what replaced the sunshine for me there.
That’s therefore where I was, the next day, when I arrived at Las Tunas, fifteen minutes away from there, where I had decided to go spend a few days at my friends’ place. I had met them while we were trying to reach the coast together from Guayaquil, which was a complicated adventure as all the roads of the country were blocked (for those of you who don’t know, Ecuador was declared in a state of emergency a while back because of protests – and of course, that happened the day after I booked a plane ticket to go there). We really bonded then and I was glad to have a place to go as a transition to my next Workaway. Turns out that what was supposed to be a stay of less than a week turned into almost a month, because I felt so amazingly good there. But I’ll tell you more about that next time; Onda Hostel and the people I got to know there deserve their own article.
Sometimes I envy my 20-year old self. I am so judgmental towards her, to a point where I cannot open my first book without being almost appalled by what I am reading, but the truth is I miss her a bit. Sure, she was more naive and became annoyingly confident during the following year in the fact that she had understood something no one else had. But she had so much hope and so much love in her heart, in a way that I sometimes fear I will never get back. She truly believed in the power of compassion, and she saw signs of the universe everywhere. My 26-year old self, for her part, is way more cynical. She is doubting more and more that something can really be done to save the world that we are constantly repeated is doomed. She has seen a bit too much to pretend that she still believes that a smile can reverse the course of things. She has explored herself too much to think that she is only a flight away from true happiness. I think actually, that she feels simply more tired than before and it’s getting harder and harder to fight the existential dread that follows her whatever country she goes to.
Yes, my present-self has to accept that I have changed. I have seen places I would never thought I would see and met people I am incredibly thankful for. I have gotten to live experiences that most people would only dream of. I have also explored the dark places of my soul in a way that I don’t think I would have from the tranquility of a stable life. I have known profound loss, which could have happened in a totally different setting, but it happened to be while I was far away from home. Therefore, a part of me will always associate the road to that kind of risk. The risk of losing myself so much in the mad world around me, in the mad love that my heart has the potential to feel.
Inevitably, that has somewhat changed my attitude to travelling. I’m a bit more scared than before and take less risks. When things get hard, I am less eager to push through until things get better, and more prompt to want to give up and go home. Home, where everything is safe and easy, where I can hide in my bed and forget about the sadness of the world. I am indeed more afraid of my sadness than ever before, because I know its destructive potential.
Yet, home isn’t really my own home and I do want to find a place to build mine. My physical home, but also as my own lifestyle, my income, my activities, my people. To do that, I can’t be too much in my comfort zone, easy but not quite fulfilling in the way my soul seeks. I have to keep looking, which is why I am still out there.
And the fact that I am able to write these lines means that there is still hope. Lessons have been learned, I am becoming better and better at establishing boundaries with people around me. Even better, I found myself in a place with such kind souls that I let my barriers down to experience once again the wonders that having a little faith in the universe can do. And it is awesome and healing and I will forever be grateful for it. It teaches me once more that I just needed to hang in there a bit longer in order to see the beauty around me again. I told me that after months of trying to control what felt like everything burning down around me, I just needed to let go and see where the flames would take me.
Yes, here I am, once more, not having any idea where I will be in the six months from now; the very thing I was trying to avoid until I hit the wave. And you know what?
I might feel like a loser, but the truth is that as long as I fight, as long as I write, the demons in my mind don’t win.
I am not ready to give up yet. I might aspire to different things now, but that doesn’t mean that I want to revert to my old life, back before any of this craziness started. I am proud of the path I’ve walked, and I wouldn’t give any of it up. Sure, I would probably do one or two things differently if I could. I would pick the people I open up to in a wiser way, for example, to avoid finding myself in similar situations than I have, even just recently again. I would take better care of my health, and not be so impatient to rush into life when I’m not quite prepared yet. I would take back all the ways I have let down and hurt the people around me. I would smoke less joints and confront my problems more honestly, I would watch less Youtube and read more books; the list goes on.
No one says I can’t start doing all of these things right now, though. I can choose to hang onto the things that I thought defined me yesterday, or I can choose to build today the person I want to be tomorrow. So I’ll put my pride aside again and again to face my shortcomings honestly and work on them, while reminding myself to appreciate what I do have going for me. That one is a tough one, because it is so easy for me to revert back to my old, self-destructive self. I will choose self-love, and act in accordance with it even the days I don’t feel it. I’ll reach out to my friends even if I do so months too late. I will keep writing, even when nothing else around me makes sense, because it is the only thing that always has, that always will. I will start thinking about how and where I want to build something, because I have come to understand that this is what I want and need now in my life. I will accept that while I was busy figuring some stuff out about myself on a very deep level, I may have neglected the more practical aspects of life.
And I will post about it when I feel better again, each time, instead of writing from a place of despair, because I will not resign myself to share the conclusion that life is meaningless or too painful to keep living. I will hold on until I figure out the life that will make me fulfilled, though still sad. I will always be a bit sad, and that’s okay too.
Thank you for hanging in there with me.