Travel should come with a warning label;
Did you read the small print?
*May experience possible side effects*
You essentially sign a contract, one in which you agree to open up your heart and soul to the world and welcome complete vulnerability; something us humans are usually incredibly cautious and particular about doing. I chose travel over comfort, safety, people. I willingly let go of all these things and put my complete trust into the hands of the universe.
And boy, for me, was it worth it. You see, I did things, I saw things and I felt things impossible and unimaginable under any other circumstance. My heart was filled to bursting point. The very act of travelling grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me to my core. It rattled my bones, boiled my blood and stirred me up. But then it also opened my eyes, quietened me and stilled my mind. It’s energy penetrated straight through my wary, cynical exterior and flooded my veins with hope, compassion, grief, awe and wonder.
And then one day it had to end. Two years of floating around an alternate universe with immense highs and lows, overindulging in this wonderful, dangerous sensory overload, stopped, just like that.
Like flicking a light switch or driving into a brick wall;
it was time to fly home.
Talking about this subject is difficult for me. Talking about ‘feeling a bit blue’ after an incredible two years of non-stop travel and adventure conjures feelings of guilt; because the logical part of my brain tells me that there are people out there with real problems. How could I possibly feel depressed after such an amazing experience? And I must stress, I am not using the term depression loosely here.
The emotions I felt after returning home were very real to me, and I would like to share how I felt in the hope of comforting and reassuring others in the same boat, that what they are feeling is also real; and it’s ok.
Any of these sound familiar?
Failure and guilt
I felt this emotion before I even booked my return flight. As it began to dawn on me that my time and energy was running out and I needed to make a decision, all I could feel was this hopeless knot in the pit of my stomach. Never mind the act, the very thought of leaving convinced me that I was failing myself, others and everything I had become. It took a good while to shift this guilty feeling.
After the initial welcome backs, jet lag and settling into my new surroundings, I found myself waking up in the mornings with a terrible feeling of dread, as if something important was happening that day. Perhaps I felt like this because nothing was happening that day.
As ridiculous as it sounds, I grieved for my trip. I found it difficult to look at photo’s and listen to particular music that reminded me of a certain time. Even speaking to people who I had met on my travels made me feel anxious and sad.
I would regularly catch myself on an mental rampage, against myself and others. My inner voice would constantly pick me apart, put me down, think the worst about others, convince me I was worthless and that I was completely alone. It took me a long time to quieten the noise in my head and dowse it with positive thoughts.
It wasn’t long before I stopped feeling all together. Which, I can tell you, is worse. Feeling numb of emotion is the most inhuman experience of all. I went weeks without having a genuine smile or laugh, so when I did feel any shred of amusement, it came as a complete shock, yet felt vaguely recognisable. The only two emotions I did feel, between the clouds of nothing, were sadness and anger. It’s a desolate state of mind and it feels like it stretches on and on like a never ending desert.
Disinterest and demotivated
This goes hand-in-hand with the feeling of numbness. I lost interest in almost everything. Food became a chore, eating was boring. Going anywhere and doing anything seemed pointless; even being alive seemed pointless – not in a suicidal way, I just couldn’t see the point in getting up in the morning, because what would it achieve? Having a normal conversation became difficult, because I felt nothing. Making simple decisions also became increasingly stressful. Questions like ‘what do you want to do today?’ or ‘what do you want for dinner?’ were my worst nightmare, because I just couldn’t care less.
All I wanted to do was sleep. Despite doing absolutely nothing, I frequently felt mentally and physically exhausted.
The thought of seeing people after so long and being faced with questions about my trip, was frankly an overwhelming notion. The sheer magnitude of the last two years, will forever be something private to me, impossible to relay to an outsider, impossible to do justice to verbally. Furthermore, allowing people see me in my current state of mind was completely out of the question.
Essentially, I was at a complete loss. I had lost sight of myself, who I was, where I was and where I wanted to be. I felt like I had no purpose, and as far as being a human goes, this is the equivalent to a squirrel not having any nuts to bury. Coming home was like being snapped out of a dream, a dream I felt slipping through my fingers and fading away from memory with every waking day. I felt more lost in the familiar surroundings of home, than I had ever felt in those unfamiliar two years.
Tips for overcoming these feelings
So, if any of these emotions feel at all relevant and recognisable to you, here are my tips for getting yourself back on track.
1) Talk about how you feel
I cannot stress how important this is. Don’t keep your feelings bottled up, it won’t do you or the people around you any favours. Speak to the people you love and trust the most and you may well be very surprised by just how well they understand. Saying that;
2) Don’t expect everyone to understand
Not everybody is going to be able to comprehend how you feel. It just won’t make sense to them. I lost a best friend over this.
3) Accept that life is just going to go on
In the two years I was away, people go engaged, married, had children, moved home, got sick, died. I lost touch with many good friends and realised that some friends weren’t really friends at all. Coming home, everything is different, yet nothing is different. Unfortunately, this is just something you will have to accept and in time, you will able to re-join this new flow and settle.
4) Accept everyday negativity and learn to brush it off
Coming home, I had a heightened sense of awareness towards everyday negativity. Small things, things that don’t cross your mind when you are travelling. People do have a habit of putting a negative spin on things, moaning about anything and everything; I think we all secretly enjoy it sometimes. After a long, positive period, coming back to negative attitudes is draining, but accept it, brush it off and try to counteract it with all the good things you have gained in your life since your trip.
5) Be grateful
I found this mindfulness practice amazingly effective and still use it now when I feel a bit blue. Before I go to sleep, I imagine every positive thing in my life and every person I care about, and one by one, I list why I am grateful for them. I always feel a warm, positive glow after doing this, and go to sleep feeling a lot happier.
6) Relive and share your travels
Talking and writing about my trip, creating videos and organising my photos helped me to remain positive, remember who I am, feel grateful and put things into perspective, speaking of which;
7) Try to shift your perspective
Focus on the positive. Think about what you achieved, how you have grown as a person, the memories you have created, the obstacles you tackled, relationships you formed. Chances are, you are a better, wiser, more patient, compassionate, worldly person now and you should be nothing but proud of yourself.
8) Create a safe, happy personal space
For me, once I found a new place of my own and began to fill it with my belongings and live there for a while, I felt a lot more settled. This isn’t possible for everyone, but even just making your bedroom feel warm, inviting and safe is a positive start.
9) Get outdoors
This was the last thing I wanted to do during my slump, but when I did, it truly helped. Especially when I was surrounded by nature and the countryside. Exercise, even if only mild, really helps your mind.
10) Keep yourself busy
I found that when I was distracted, it stopped my mind from wandering back into the shadows. Even though you are not going to feel like doing anything, you must at least try. Exercise, go somewhere new, read more books, start a new hobby, play board games, cook new recipes, organise your travel keepsakes, make plans and goals. Every little helps.
11) Find a routine and focus
Getting yourself into some form of routine will help you feel more positive and motivated. Even something as simple as organising your week around your work, for instance, prepping some meals, designating a day for housework, having an exercise plan, having regular catch ups with friends and family, a weekly treat such as a cinema trip or trying a new restaurant. Focusing on the everyday is a positive start, and eventually, you will feel ready and motivated to focus on bigger, more important goals.
12) Love yourself
Take time for yourself. As cliché as it is, take a candle lit bath listening to your favourite music once in a while. Pamper yourself, get a good nights sleep, keep your surroundings clean and tidy (a tidy space = a tidy mind), eat well and drink lots of water. Cull anything that promotes negativity in your life, be it people, TV and magazines or social media.
13) Pace yourself
Finally, don’t expect miracles. Don’t expect to wake up tomorrow and be ‘cured’. Pace yourself, don’t rush or pressure yourself into feeling better, it takes time. How much time really depends on you and your situation, for me, it took months, but I’m getting there slowly, one day at a time I’m getting my sparkle back.