Airplanes Can’t Outrun Anxiety

When you get to Medellin, go straight to the Poblado district, they all said. It’s the best. This was just a small one of the many lies told by travelers. I should have learned by now not to listen. And most of the time, I don’t. But truthfully, prolonged sickness had made me weary, and the travel had stressed me out. Well, it was more than stress.

My first week in Colombia was plagued by the sort of chronic anxiety I hadn’t dealt with in ages. And when it finally did materialize it was almost unrecognizable to me. But, a bad feeling had been welling up before the plane even landed. The weasely whisper found its way into my mind’s dark spaces, and the only way to quell it would be to get out of the country. Fast. Leave. I didn’t know what it was, but Colombia already wasn’t for me.

I was in such a fog that I left the airport without going to baggage claim for my pack. I was eventually let back in, after a security screening. In the late afternoon of what had already been a long day, I managed to get myself and my belongings into a taxi, but the face in the mirror was glaring, and covered in tattoos. I considered that maybe I was being kidnapped. The driver drove recklessly to the posh Poblado part of town, before leaving me with a warm smile and an earnest goodbye. I should have felt ridiculous right then for misjudging the man, but I was still too on edge. The next day as I got off the metro I was followed by a young couple. I stopped for some street food, and disappeared into a busy plaza to elude them.

No matter what I did, where I went, the sinking feeling persisted. My heart seemed to perpetually beat at an uncomfortable pace. Strange things kept happening. This went on for over a week. I was screaming inside, and it wouldn’t stop. The Colombian pesos had too many zeros. I didn’t have an ear for Colombian Spanish. The city was difficult to navigate. And on, and on.

I had to get away, so I went a couple hours by bus to the countryside. I was eager for it to change me, to force the anxiety back to deep enough spaces in my mind that I could manage it. I kept track of this anxiety, became acutely aware of it, and paid attention to the behavorial changes it produced in me. I knew I’d get there, but it took some time to start really getting back to normal. I faked it for the first couple days, as I began meeting people. And then one afternoon I felt the weight lift. Everything from stress to stuff as simple as the inability to laugh without scrutinizing the way it sounded, all of it, just dissipated.

Finally, I could breathe again. I could laugh at myself, and with others. I could be myself without thinking about it. It had nothing to do with Colombia. It was the doubt that makes a home for inadequacy in the small spaces of an anxious brain.

I used to think that journals were for documenting the good stuff because I never wanted to look back and remember being in pain. I believed that if I buried my pain deep enough, I wouldn’t have to deal with it again. It seems normal to keep my most troubling feelings to myself, to wait out the storm that is suppressing my anxiety, and to wonder why I’m weird, without speaking it aloud. But I am human. I struggle. I do weird shit, like convince myself that I’m being followed. And I own that shit. It’s just part of coming into myself, I think. By recognizing these anxieties, I can bring my misery some company when it surfaces, and ultimately I can take the weirdness with the wildness, and embrace the fullness of my funky life.

 

For the Maybe Traveler

Today, I spent my first full day in León, Nicaragua. I live here now. And if you (like me) have experienced being stuck in a rut, and might like to live somewhere new and different then this post is for you. I’ve been in the country a whole week now and this is (so far) an account of everything I know to be true. I’ll go ahead and warn you there isn’t much to tell, because, well… it’s been a week and I don’t know shit.

First off; leave your life to chance when you travel here, but that goes for anywhere.

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My house, and my work
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Masaya Volcano

And that’s it. That is everything I know. Not satisfied with it? Well this post, like everything I do, isn’t very well thought out. But that’s okay- I learn through existence. And I like it here. Taking massive risks seems to me the surest way to enjoy an experience as awesome as this.

I choose to exist the way I do precisely because of the opportunity I am given to embrace unknowable things. I crave new experiences, because the more I learn the less I know. If you’ve never been here (or anywhere on your own for that matter) and think you may like to buy a one-way ticket, then just do it. Leave your life to chance, embrace the wildness of everything that frightens you, and enjoy a moment in time you will never regret.

My Last Minute Life

I’m no good at leaving places, because I’m no good at planning anything. Having some money in the bank, booking a plane ticket, and packing a bag (without forgetting my passport) is my idea of really having my shit together. It’s when I arrive at the airport, like I did today, in complete and total disarray, that my ridiculous reality reveals itself.

Rewind a few hours to me packing for an open-ended trip south. In what became, as it always does, the hour of franticness, I packed more of what I didn’t need and less of what I did. Who takes two sweatshirts and two base layers to hot, humid Nicaragua? I did that.

And now, here I am. Outside the international terminal of LAX. Carelessly, I haven’t even checked my departure airline. And unless I can get my expired phone linked up to WiFi, I’ll be out of luck. I’m walking a thin line, here.

After some time fumbling with a weak connection, I figure out I’m in the wrong terminal altogether. My layover is in Vegas, so I’m flying domestic. Okay, that’s one thing sorted, but what about the onward ticket I never purchased? I need proof of leaving Nicaragua in order to be let in on a 90-day tourist visa. And it’s something I’ll apparently need to figure out before even checking my bag. Anxiety sets in like the familiar fog of this morning’s hangover. A cold beer sounds like the right remedy, but there are a few things to be sorted beforehand.

My under-preparedness is stifling, but realistically there’s no other way. Some deep breaths and I’ll have to get on with it. I don’t plan well, and I know that if I plan things too far in advance I’ll end up talking myself out of ever doing anything. I change my mind so chronically, in fact, that a friend recently observed it may be in my best interest to never make plans further than a day in advance. Because if given the time I will change my mind. And it will be—as it always is—frantic, and totally last minute.

I may not have thought so far in advance about buying an onward ticket, and I may have no idea how to get where I’m going after my plane lands, but these are a few of many things I’ll wind up procrastinating indefinitely.

Which brings us here. I’m finishing this post from a woven hammock at GM Granada Hostel in Granada, Nicaragua, enjoying a cold Toña, and watching the beautiful tortugas relax by their pond. I count 11 turtles. Luck, fortunately seemed to be on my side on this one. In the end I was never asked by anyone to present proof of onward travel. I caught the first taxi from the airport in Managua willing to take me to the city of Granada per my offer. And now I can laugh at the fact that in spite of my logistical ill-preparedness, I made it to exactly where I want to be.

Never ‘Enough’

Nothing is ever ‘enough’ for you.  

My friend said this to me yesterday, but she isn’t the first. My Ex had emphatically expressed the same sentiment for years.

I considered the comment. Wellthat’s a good position to be in… I said, unsure whether to feel critical of my demanding nature, or perhaps self-assured by it.

Don’t you think? I added.

The truth is that I don’t want to find my happiness living an ordinary life. I want seek out experiences that turn my stomach to knots. I want to take chances, to laugh wildly (if at times nervously) in the midst of uncertainty. I choose to be restless and unsatisfied. And I only hope that I may continue to passionately  chase my dreams, that I may continue to dream, knowing that as long as I live I will never have experienced “enough”.

Of course, plenty of people living ordinary lives seem much happier than me.  They have a Doctor they see, and a Dentist. They attend community events, and grow gardens. They have families, and foundations, and love surrounding them. They have a network of support within their communities. They celebrate holidays, and plan their vacations properly. They punctuate their calendars with exclamation points!! They feel comfortable in their homes and their careers, as they build a future.

I, on the other hand, live out of a backpack. I moved to Olympia a few months ago, where I sleep on a couch in the living room of a friend’s apartment. I’m leaving my new job in a few weeks. I feel pretty lonely because I haven’t been here long enough to make strong connections. I daydream constantly. I am constricted because I don’t have a car, and my new bike was stolen. I imbibe considerably, and complain that I’m not hiking enough. My life is very far from perfect, which is everything I need.

I can- and I will- demand more. This place is as temporary as anywhere else, because what I’m looking for isn’t a place to settle into, but rather a point to jump off from. Although it has led me on some unnerving adventures, my passion is ultimately what guides me. And I like that. I like asking my heart, Where to next?

Lost

Last month I bought a one-way ticket to Bali. Last week I stood inside the Seattle Tacoma International Airport, at the gate, ready to board. It was 12:50AM and in eighteen hours I would be sipping fresh juice on an Indonesian beach somewhere. Minutes passed, allowing exhilaration to become something else. I became dizzy. I suddenly didn’t know why anymore. What was I even doing!? I paced the lounge. I spoke with the clerk. I meant to ask a routine a question about boarding procedures, but then I heard myself asking if it was too late to take my checked bag off the plane. It wasn’t too late. Something was wrong. They removed my bag and I didn’t get on the plane. Instead, amid boarding calls for flight 255 I turned around and walked the other way- in a zombie-like stupor.

In the month leading up to that moment I had rented out my room in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, sold my car (for much less than I’d like to admit), quit my job (that I loved), and said goodbye to some friends. I left without saying goodbye to a lot of people I love. And I hurt a few friends in my abruptness. But I did it all to accomplish the dreams I’d been talking about for years.

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One of my last Colorado sunsets from Rabbit Ears Pass
But when I stood at the airport, I knew it wasn’t right. So I walked away, wondering fearfully if this night was what I would remember for the rest of my life as the literal moment I walked away from my deepest aspirations.

Yes. I had big ideas of seeing the world. And this was always my dream, but this adventure now wasn’t THAT dream. It was a different one. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was running toward this adventure- in that erratic way- for the wrong reason. I lied to myself over and over about the reason I needed to travel the world right now. Truthfully, it was for someone else. Again. I’d been chasing the same boy around the world for three years. And, in the process I stopped knowing myself. This boy is someone who has given me some of the best times of my life. He is my best friend, and without him life just isn’t as good. Nothing makes sense when he’s not there, and I don’t know how I’ll forgive myself for leaving him like that. I’d rather not think about it, but I’m pretty sure that this time I’ve really lost him. He left Bali yesterday. He’s off in Europe now. And that’s all fine, because I’m done chasing.

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2012. First time in Bali
At some unknown point I stopped thinking for myself, and I ceased to be free. So I’m here, now. In Olympia, Washington. I really never would have guessed I would walk away from that comfortably chaotic love to live here again. But here I am. Life is unexpected in that way, and that’s okay. Whether I find myself here or not, it’s a fine place to be lost. For now.