A rut. A funk. A slump. Whatever you want to call it, I’ve been in one for the past few weeks.
I’ve felt suffocated and heavy, like my body is being dragged down under a tide of sadness and I’m too lethargic to fight my way out. Most mornings I wake up feeling like a hummingbird is caught inside of me, as panic beats its wings madly inside the cage formed by my chest. Panic forces me up out of bed, but it disorients me and paralyzes me too. I feel certain that something terrible is coming my way and, as if to compensate for this nameless, faceless anxiety, my mind conjures up all types of horrible scenarios of things that could (no matter how unlikely) happen for me to fixate on. In those moments I am trapped in a prison of anxiety where fear is my warden; I want to talk to someone and let my worries rush out of me like the tide being called back to the ocean, but the irony is that the worse my worries get and the more talking or writing would bring relief, the heavier I feel—like my tongue is gilded in lead and I can’t muster the strength to form words— and it seems like I can’t do much but despair.
So, I’ve spent a lot of time lately doing what I did before our trip: sitting with sadness and fear, and mostly just trying to make it through each day. And when that is too hard, I try to just make it through the next hour, or even the next few minutes, waiting for the shadow to pass and a little light—a little hope—to creep back in.
I think part of my melancholy stems from the fact that I’ve been back in Toronto for exactly four months now. This is the longest I have been anywhere in the last two years and the glow of being home has finally started to lose its luster. When we first returned from our travels, we were exhausted and kind of burnt out and it felt good to be somewhere that was easy and unchallenging and fixed for a good chunk of time. It was easy to focus on the things that were good and novel, like seeing friends and catching up with family and having lightning fast internet so that we could stream things on Netflix with impunity. It was also easy to accept the feelings of disconnect and discord that being back in our old lives brought as well, from getting lost in closets full of clothes to celebrating big milestones in the lives of our friends, like promotions, and babies, and houses with thirty-year mortgages—all reminders of where we could have been if not for the past two years. It all felt weird, but we expected it to, and that seemed to help.
[For the record, I want to state explicitly that our friends back here in Toronto have been AMAZING and it has been truly fantastic getting to hang out with them and catch up after so much time away. They have been really supportive of our travels and our unconventional choices and getting to spend time with them has been one of the best things about being back. I really treasure this time we have spent together and we feel really lucky to know such wonderful and interesting people who are always happy to welcome us back to the fold.]
But it’s been four months now, and all of those feelings are not so easy to accept any more; they aren’t just trivial little oddities so much as they are the bulk of my life. Just as you might barely notice a pebble in your shoe at the start of the day, once you walk around with it all day it leaves a mark, even though the pebble is just as small and smooth as it always was. Imagine having a pebble in your shoe for four months…
I think I expected that with time, home would seem less weird, but in fact, it has become more jarring and alienating. I know of so many travelers who have returned from epic trips and spoken of how hard it was to reintegrate, knowing that they had fundamentally changed and yet life back home had remained the same and now they didn’t seem to fit anymore. Every single day I wake up and I wonder if our trip ruined me for the life I’m in now, because all I can think is that I don’t belong here and I am not sure I ever will again. I am genuinely happy to see my friends build lives for themselves that bring them joy, but with each passing day, I realize more emphatically how different my source of happiness is from theirs and that can be unsettling. I know now—more than ever—that the life I was living before contributed to my apathy and malaise. I know that for many people having children and a high paid career and owning their own home brings them a deep sense of satisfaction and I would never denigrate anyone if that’s the case. But I now know for sure that—as wonderful as those things may be—I don’t want them (maybe some day, but certainly not now!) and I legitimately don’t think they would make me happy. Truthfully, I was happier with just a backpack-full of clothes than a closet-full of them, and I find the silence of the suburbs suffocating, not soothing.
Realizing things like this makes me feel farther away from many of the people I care about than I did when I was on the other side of the world, and it’s this psychological distance that is so hard to handle and contributes to my feelings of loneliness and being unmoored. Whereas on the road we were constantly bumping into other like-minded travelers who understood the allure of the open road and had turned their backs (even temporarily) on the traditional western way of life, here I feel like an outcast and like my choices are not valid or valuable. I feel uncomfortable because of the inflated prices and the rampant consumerism and materialism that abounds, and the constant pressure to conform to a similar mentality. There are things that are great about being home, but this post isn’t about them. I feel ideologically isolated from most people here and like my goals and aspirations are completely askew from what is considered normal or acceptable. What’s worse, as much as it would be terrible for others to tell me I don’t belong here, it’s harder still when the voice telling me that is my own.
I remember feeling so happy and free while we were traveling and thinking to myself that we had created this joy for ourselves, that happiness wasn’t a destination on a map and that we could therefore make it anywhere in the world. Being back in Toronto, I have started to doubt that: I know it’s a great city and I’m not casting aspersions on it or the people who are gratified to live here, but… it’s just not for me. I miss the wet markets of Asia, the street food, the smell of incense at the temples, the smiles and the genuine human connections we experienced while traveling. I yearn for my past and memories of our travels haunt me; pangs of wistfulness course through me when I look at our pictures and it’s often painful for me to look at other blogs and see the proof of others out there experiencing a world I am missing so much. I am sick of being at home, and homesick for anywhere but here.
I am alarmed that since pausing our travels here in Toronto, the spark inside me seems at risk of sputtering out. A year ago, I looked forward to the adventure that I knew awaited just outside my door, and now I barely leave the house and have no interest in being a “traveler” in my own city. I constantly feel tired and uninspired, and I miss places we visited during the course of our travels with a ferocity that I never did for “home” while we were on the road. As much as my travels have changed me, I feel myself backsliding into old behavior patterns that I can’t seem to shake in this part of the world and it’s made me feel a bit hopeless. I have seen & done so much, only to find myself back at the start, sinking back into the same black pit as I did before. I want so badly to be happy in the way that I know I am capable of, but I’m struggling to be my best self in a way that came naturally to me when we were traveling.
I haven’t lost all perspective: I know that I have much to be grateful for, that life here is not really so bad, and that much of my present situation is of my own choosing. We decided to take this time off from traveling to build our business to not only replenish our travel fund, but to also see if we’d be able to hack it being truly location independent long-term. I’m happy to report that part of why I’m feeling so burnt out is because we’ve actually had a gratifying amount of work come in—from web & graphic design clients, to those needing marketing, advertising and copywriting services—that has not only kept us busy, but helped us meet our savings goals every month. It’s exciting and exhilarating, but it’s also scary, too. I won’t be the first person to say that being a freelancer is hard work, but for someone like me who doesn’t naturally gravitate towards risks and still has a hard time handling uncertainty, it’s stressful putting your faith in the unknown and simply keeping your head down, doing your best work, and believing that if you keep at it, the next job will find you when you need it. So far, that seems to be true, and I keep reminding myself that past precedence suggests that some looming catastrophe will not suddenly befall us and any risks we’re taking will pay off when it matters. I am trying to silence the persistent voice that resolutely predicts failure and doom, to be grateful for what we do have and what we have accomplished, but I don’t want to pretend that this period hasn’t had its rough spots.
Initially when we returned home, I took comfort in the knowledge that our return was just temporary and that we’d be soon moving on. And then I hit this funk and I began to feel stuck and started doubting myself and sort of stopped believing another adventure would happen. But the thing I keep forgetting, the kick in the pants I need when I’m stressing out and feeling hopeless, is this: Two years traveling the world isn’t something that just happened to us—we worked our butts off to make it happen. And we’re going to do it again.
We’re now at the point where we have to start the process of picking up stakes and moving on again. I admit, as mopey as I’ve been to not be traveling, the thought of starting fresh terrifies as much as it excites me. It’s amazing how quickly the unknown can become daunting once more, and the truth is that there’s so much about our new set of travels that we have planned that I’m fretting over because I have no idea how they’ll go. We really are barreling towards a new adventure, with all the fears and uncertainty that entails.
Sometimes it seems easier to just give up, join the conventional rat race, and stay put. It may not make me happy, but it feels safe and easy. However, the other day, while walking the dogs, I remembered that this fear I have been feeling isn’t anything new. It’s easy for me to forget it now, but I was TERRIFIED before we left on our Big Trip. Even though I was dissatisfied and unhappy with my life in Nashville, I was still reluctant to let go of it and was worried leaving it would be the biggest mistake we could make. We all know how it turned out, but I didn’t know it then: It was only because I found the courage to let go and push through my fear that I was then gifted with two of the best years of my life.
The hardest thing about home is the same contradiction it’s ever been—It’s hard both being here and leaving it. I thought the last two years traveling the world would make me fearless, but they didn’t: I’m about as scared to set out on our next adventure as I was the first time. I’m frustrated that I seem to have come full circle, that I can shake off my fear about as effectively as I can a shadow. But I also know that if I found the courage to wrangle my fear and change my life before, I can do it again. Even if the fear never leaves me, even if it sometimes beats me back, I’ll never let it keep me down for good.
So even though I’m scared of once again leaving a place and a life I don’t really love, I’m getting ready to do just that. I want a lifetime of adventure and I won’t let fear get in my way; I’m willing to fight for it because I know my life was meant for more. So, I’m not going to settle—down or otherwise. Instead, with about a month to go before we uproot and begin anew, I’m going to claw myself out of this black hole of emotions and try my best to get back to enjoying the things that I currently have in my life and soon won’t.
And then? I’m going to leap towards my dreams, and I’m not going to stop.