Anxiety: Part Two

I cried my heart out in Laos. I don’t think I ever really grasped the full meaning of this expression until I was perched on the edge of the bed in my tiny room, clutching my heart and quite literally feeling the aching hurt drain away with each sob that wracked my body.

It sounds a lot worse than it actually was; in a way, I had known this day was coming. I had felt it build up, this clenching in my chest that got tighter every day and stole away my breath, leaving me feeling sickened and exhausted. Ah yes, anxiety, my newfound enemy…this dark creature that had inexplicably wormed its way into my body without my permission. At least that’s what I kept telling myself was the culprit, while I secretly feared I was dying. This whole thing again; the fatalistic thoughts I couldn’t quite quash. 

Don’t get me wrong, I had shed a few tears throughout this journey: tears of awe and wonder at beautiful sites, tears of frustration when travel plans fell through, tears of loneliness when I had no one to talk to and I just wanted a hug…but none would I consider a full-on breakdown, the one I felt looming somewhere in front of me, just out of reach. 

And I had known to expect it as well. “I cried every single night in my hotel room,” my stepmom told me after she completed the Camino de Santiago last spring. The way I was feeling when I left, I was pretty sure I’d do the same…but staying in hostels and then Airbnb rooms never afforded me the privacy to have my much-needed meltdown. 

And even now, a few days later, I couldn’t tell you what triggered it…only that isn’t exactly true. I have an inkling of what it could be. A few events occurring both simultaneously and in quick succession that led to me to this cathartic release. 

A few days before, I had emailed my principal and made plans for next school year. This was an odd decision, as just two days prior I had been certain I wasn’t returning. But sudden signs from the universe were telling me to go back, just for one more year, and I felt I had to honor them (*sidenote: when you ask for a sign, don’t be surprised when it appears to be telling you the exact opposite of what you expected to hear). And with that decision, the anxiety I had decidedly released on a hiking path in New Zealand a few months earlier came back with a vengeance. 

At the same time, I had begun a slow journey back to yoga. A devoted yogini for the past seven years, my practice had been on hiatus since last summer, but recently I had felt a calling back to the mat. With 40 days left before I return home, I started my own personal challenge to practice an hour every evening. It didn’t matter to me how active or restorative this practice was, as long as I committed myself to mindfully moving and breathing. I wanted to mend that connection that had been broken months before.

It’s almost comical the way the cry-fest began. I had just finished another dramatic journal entry (“please help me feel better”, etc.) and had turned on the tv to find a dubbed Laotian version of the movie Crazy Stupid Love. I sat there watching, because I love the movie and know it nearly by heart. It is by no means a tearjerker, but as the credits began rolling, the tears began to fall. And from there, the sobs. 

Honestly, it felt so good. Like my body was saying, Finally. And while the tears stemmed from a place of nearly unbearable anguish, I could somehow feel the bittersweet side as well. 

I’m not sure how long I cried; I don’t think it was more than fifteen or twenty minutes. But I relished each and every tear, knowing they were stepping stones on my path to heal. And when I felt tapped out for the night, I climbed down onto the floor and began my newfound nightly yoga session, finally forgiving myself (for what? I don’t know. For everything, I suppose. I don’t think it matters what for). And when I was finished, I felt nearly whole again. I felt like me again. I don’t mean to say that I’m completely “cured”…but it’s a start. I’m on the road to loving myself once more.

Anxiety: Part One

I don’t know why I was surprised to discover that the panic attack in Cuba was not an isolated incident. The symptoms that had come on so suddenly that night, only to disappear by morning, returned with a vengeance only days later and worsened with each passing mile that brought me closer to home. There was a constant clenching around my heart, I was out of breath, and my pulse felt thready and irregular. I didn’t feel anxious or sweaty or panicky…I just felt sick, like something was really, really wrong. I felt certain I was about to die, and even started leaving messages in my travel journal for whoever might find me in the morning.

Anyone who has felt the relentless grip of anxiety would probably not be surprised by these symptoms. But I was completely blindsided when it seemed I had gone from never experiencing a single episode, to suddenly having a full-on anxiety disorder. 

I had initially planned to go home for a few weeks in the middle of my travels to see friends and family, celebrate my birthday, get some much-needed rest, and repack for the second half of my journey around the globe. It was meant to be a fun, relaxing break. Instead, my first night home was spent nearly collapsing by my mom’s front door, calling for her to feel my pulse because I was positive my heart was giving out, then slumping on the floor before I could pass out, while she held pressure points on my hand and rubbed my back. Not exactly how I had pictured my return. “I didn’t know you had these,” she said softly. Yeah, me neither.

Symptoms only got worse as the days passed. I wasn’t sleeping, and was exhausted to a level I had never experienced before. Friends wanted to get together, and I made excuses for why I couldn’t meet up. I had no energy to socialize, and was afraid I’d have another anxiety attack out in public. It was obvious I didn’t know how to deal with briefly being “home” while still living this backpacker life. 

One night, while putting together a puzzle with my niece and nephew, I nearly passed out with my little nephew on my lap. Finally, big sis talked some sense into me and we were on our way to the ER. No huge surprise, my heart was fine. I was fine. Only I didn’t feel fine. 

“Do you need to talk to someone?” my dad asked, concerned for my mental health. But no, I didn’t need to talk to anyone. Once I had time to reflect, it was obvious to me what had happened. 

I’d been on an extended break from yoga, and my body no longer knew how to communicate with my mind. I had severed that vital tie. Yoga, my one and only salvation from the pressures of my job (and my life) for the past seven years…I thought this break was a healthy one; during the months leading up to my travels, I had begun to feel disconnected from my practice. I was going through the motions, but I felt numb inside, and I didn’t know how to unthaw. 

And now, without that space on my mat to breathe and clear my mind, communication pathways had closed and my brain had rewired itself to deal with my stress in an entirely different, and unhealthy, way. My body was a stranger. 

A quick fix would obviously be to begin my practice again…but I couldn’t. I felt like there was something hiding in my heart that I wasn’t quite ready to expose. And until I was willing to actually feel something again, this anxiety would have me in its web. 

So it followed me as I crossed the ocean to New Zealand, and stayed with me for weeks, leaving me weak and defeated. Until one day, while hiking the most lush, verdant trail I’ve ever seen, on the spectacular west coast of the South Island, I was able to release it…for the time being.

That time Martin (possibly, maybe) saved my life.

I’ve only been truly scared once during my travels. Thankfully Martin from Germany was there to save the day.

I was nearing the end of my amazing three weeks in Cuba. I’d booked a couple nights in Santa Marta just outside of Varadero, the popular seaside resort town. I thought I’d treat myself to a full day of lazing on the beach before heading back to Havana to say my goodbyes. Unfortunately, the weather did not quite cooperate.

It began storming the night I arrived, and I awoke the next morning to cloudy skies and drizzle. The hostess at my homestay assured me the rain would let up soon, so I suited up in warm layers and headed across the bridge toward the seemingly endless expanse of walkable beach.

As promised, the rain had eased by the time I arrived, replaced by wind so strong I could hardly walk. A nightmare, you might think…but I love the wind. The rain had scared the sun-worshippers away, and I had the entire beach nearly all to myself. It was actually pretty perfect.

I walked for hours, occasionally stopping to look for seashells, or pausing to close my eyes and spread my wings when the wind would gust.

I noticed him pretty early on. Very tall blonde dude, definite backpacker, possibly near my age range. Hmm…cute. He passed me first, then stopped to take pictures. Inevitably my slow meandering caught up with him and I took the lead. And soon after, his long legs won out and he passed me yet again. This happened several times before he finally disappeared into the distance.

Eventually I ducked into town for lunch — and instantly spotted him coming out of a shop across the street. Ha! Of course he would be there. It was starting to get weird. I wondered if I should introduce myself, since we so obviously seemed to be on the same path that day. But I am shy and couldn’t work up the courage. 

After lunch, I headed back to the beach for the slow wander home. I was kicking myself a little, thinking I should’ve at least said hi, when who should walk past me but Tall Blonde Dude. Same path, indeed! It was comical by this point, and I laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of it all. A firm believer in fate, I decided I had to say something to him. And I had a chance at sunset, when he stopped to take pictures of the brilliant orange sun furiously fighting its way through the clouds. But all I could manage was a shy smile as I walked by. Within minutes he was ahead of me on the beach, and my opportunity was gone.

The light was fading quickly, and I still had some distance to cover. But I could just barely make out the tiny figure of Tall Blonde Dude up ahead in the distance, and I felt oddly comforted.

By the time I got to the bridge leading to Santa Marta, it was pitch black and had begun to rain; I was still twenty minutes from home. I looked around quickly, as the pedestrian walkway on the bridge is very narrow and a bit precarious. No one in sight. Cinching up the hood on my rain jacket, I unfurled my umbrella, useless against the wind, and hurried my pace. About halfway across the bridge, I heard footsteps behind me. I kept my head down and walked as fast as I could, huddled into myself to keep warm. It was seriously pouring at this point.

“Buenas noches,” a male voice called from behind me in a rather forceful tone. I wasn’t sure if it was intended for me, and I didn’t turn around to check. Had it been daylight, or dry for that matter, I might’ve answered. But walking alone at night and being approached from behind, I didn’t feel comfortable. Especially when a second ago the street had been empty. This felt wrong. I kept my head down and tried to move over to allow him to pass. He didn’t.

“Buenas noches!” An angrier tone, even closer this time. I’m sure the stranger thought I was being rude, but I was beginning to feel scared. I stayed silent and increased my pace. 

Once I arrived at the other side of the bridge, I rushed toward a streetlight, then quickly turned around to confront whoever was behind me. I collapsed my umbrella and clutched it in my hand, ready to use as a weapon. No way was I going to be blindly attacked from behind! The man walked up to me, got right in my face and shouted in fury, “Buenas noches!” before passing me. But instead of moving on, he stopped ahead on the sidewalk and turned to face me, waiting. 

I finally answered him in a similar tone. “Buenas noches!” He just stood there, staring at me and seething. Everyone I had met in Cuba up until this point had been so friendly; I had no idea why he was so angry, but I knew I still had several blocks before I was home, and I was terrified to walk past this man. 

“Qué? Qué quieres? Véte!” What? What do you want? Go away! I told him angrily in Spanish. No way was I going to let him see my fear. But he started walking toward me. I quickly glanced at the cars rushing past in the street, gauging the traffic and wondering wildly if I could get someone to stop and help if it came to that.

“Hello,” I suddenly heard behind me. I turned and nearly collapsed with relief. Tall Blonde Dude was walking up behind me, a miracle vision in the night rain. “I think I saw you before on the beach, yes?” he asked in accented English. 

“Yes!” I cried. I had never been happier to see someone in my entire life. I quickly glanced to the spot the angry stranger had been standing a moment before, and saw his shadow retreating in the distance.

“Oh my gosh, thank you so much!” I effused. I explained what had just happened. 

“Yes, I noticed him talking to you and wasn’t quite sure what was going on.” 

“I’m pretty sure you just saved my life,” I declared, relieved beyond measure. 

We introduced ourselves and chatted on the rainy walk into town. It turns out Martin from Germany was staying quite near me, and so he walked me home. When we reached my road, I started to shake his hand and say goodbye, expressing my thanks yet again.

He had the oddest look on his face, as if just struck by some great realization. He clutched at my hand, unwilling to let go, and stared at me in a mixture of wonder and astonishment. We were both completely drenched, grinning at each other like fools in the rain. 

“What are you doing tomorrow?” he asked hurriedly. 

“I leave for Havana in the morning.”

“Oh.” He was disappointed. “Well, how can I see you again?”

 I turned my face up toward the sky and laughed into the rain. Oh fate, you are hilarious. This poor guy was captivated because he mistook our constantly crossed paths as a sign of an inevitable love connection. I admit I’d made the same mistake, and only moments before had realized the true meaning for our meeting. Yes, the universe had definitely intervened…but not for some grand romantic scene. I was suddenly certain Martin had appeared in my life that day so he could be there for me when I desperately needed someone. He quite possibly, maybe, saved my life. 

And so, while it wasn’t exactly the Hollywood movie ending we deserved, it was perfect all the same. It was enough. 

“Maybe I’ll run into you in Havana.” I gave Martin’s hand one final squeeze before letting go, then turned and walked away, leaving him to stare after me in the rain. 

My intent to return.

I had a major panic attack in Cuba. I guess it’s as good a place as any.

It started with the nightmares. Although somewhat normal for me and my odd relationship with sleep, these were different. In every dream, I was dying. I actually felt the numbness take over my body, and I’d wake up just as the act was nearly completed. It left me with a dark, ominous feeling in the pit of my stomach, and even daylight couldn’t chase away the shadows from the night before.

They scared me so much I wrote home, checking in and making sure these nightmares weren’t some sort of harbinger for bad news. All was fine (although I’m pretty sure I freaked out my big sis in the meantime). I didn’t quite connect what was causing these feelings until I was talking with M, my amazing Cuban house-mom who deserves a post all her own. Was it the food I ate? Some show I watched? Tal vez…tal vez… Perhaps. But it felt like there was something evil lurking just beyond my reach. And then my brain finally locked in on the answer and I knew in my gut what was causing these terrifying pesadillas. The email.

Ah yes…the little, seemingly innocuous email that had shown up in my inbox a few days before. The email I had semi-known in the back of my mind was coming, but was feigning ignorance because I wasn’t quite ready to come to terms with it and make a decision. 

Subject: INTENT TO RETURN FROM PERSONAL LEAVE OF ABSENCE

“Hi K,

Please review the attached letter requesting your intent for the 2017-18 school year…”

Already?? And almost no time to mull it over–it’s due the day after I (briefly) return to the States this week. I had an overwhelming urge to delete the email immediately, denying its existence, but instead (and for reasons I am still trying to understand) I kept it in my inbox. And every time I logged in, I saw that subject line glaring at me in bold caps. And so the nightmares began.

Fast forward a week and I’m away from my loving casa in Havana, just passing through Che’s city of Santa Clara for a night as a transition between Cuban coasts. I had been feeling somewhat off for a few days. My eyes feel weird. My eyes felt like I’d been given glaucoma-testing drops, and I had a constant twitch in my left eye. I’m so tired. I had been giving myself plenty of rest days, but couldn’t shake this complete exhaustion that consumed my body. I can taste my tonsil. Ok…the f*cking tonsil seriously deserves a post all its own as well.

I had arrived on a morning bus, settling into my temporary digs before slowly starting off for the first of various Che statues adorning la ciudad. I quickly tired out, and returned to rest. The next attempt to venture out was about the same. I bumbled along toward the Che memorial (yes, this dude is everywhere) and by the time I was on the return path I could hardly manage to put one foot in front of the other. And so I came back to the room to rest. Again.

After a few hours of complete and utter boredom (no books left to read, no TV, no familia to talk to, no wifi), I felt rejuvenated. I was even dancing around the room a little bit, feeling like my old self. God, I’m starving. Food. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. 

I headed straight for the main square two blocks away, where I knew I’d have various menus shoved in my face. But a few steps before reaching my goal, my heart stopped and my legs gave way. Oh God, this is it. My heart is giving out, I thought to myself. This is how I die. 

I stumbled over to a bench to sit, and scrambled for a pulse. It felt weak and rapid, but it was there. Ok, that was weird. Breathe. Are you breathing? Remember your yoga…as long as you’re breathing, you’re alive (yoga and I are currently on a break–yet another post). 

After a few minutes I felt better, and thought maybe I just needed to eat. I circled the block looking at a few menus, but again felt so out of it and so certain I was about to collapse that I headed straight back for the tiny, dingy apartment that was my accommodation for the evening. 

And so I spent the night sprawled across the bed, one hand on my pulse, another massaging the tightness in my heart, certain I was about to die in a dank, mildewy room in the middle of Cuba, and nobody would know for days. I want to be home…I just want to be home. I felt like Dorothy in some f*cked up Tim Burton version of The Wizard of Oz. Although I didn’t sleep, I managed to make it through the night.  

Yes, now I can look back and see the ridiculousness of the situation, but at that moment it felt very, very…real. Terrifying. And I felt so powerless and utterly alone. I was genuinely frightened that evening. 

And now, since hindsight is so much clearer, I remember what I had been thinking about on that morning bus ride to Santa Clara. My old school. The one that “broke” me, to be entirely dramatic. The one where I was under such pressure and constantly walking around on eggshells and putting on a fake performance…ugh. The one where two separate teachers had nervous breakdowns in the span of two years (and others quit before they were sure to follow). Somewhere along the line of those three years, I stopped recognizing myself, and no matter how amazing my new school was, there’s no way I could’ve recovered that quickly. (I still have actual nightmares about the old school to this day.) Yep, my mind had gone there, and I was reliving every stressful moment as if it were yesterday. And hours later, I thought I was about to die.

 So. The big question: Will I send in this intent to return, when even the mention of my previous career sends me into extreme panic mode?

Oh God, please forgive me but…

Yes. 

Yes, I think I have to. Although a pool of pure dread is puddling in the pit of my stomach as I type these very words…yes. Why? Comfort? Sure. Security? I think so. But mostly because I have no idea where this year of travel will take me, and I am open to any and all possibilities. Maybe I’ll rediscover my love of teaching. Maybe my adventures will inspire me to be the teacher I always pictured I could become in the right environment (you know, the ones from all the movies who somehow capture the attention and ignite the spark for our future generations and actually teach them to be good people and have honest conversations instead of how to take a motherf*cking test…but I digress). 

For me, right now, it’s way too soon to tell. I need more time. It’s my intent this year to be completely honest with myself, constantly checking in and making sure I am following my heart’s path…and so far I’m doing a pretty good job. 

So yes. I am leaving this option open. I’m not willing to close any doors just yet. 

Creature of habit

I exhausted myself in Argentina. It was entirely my own fault. Somewhere along the way I forgot I was a well-seasoned traveler with over 16 years’ experience, and morphed instead into a tourist with a backpack. No wonder I didn’t enjoy myself; this goes against everything I know.

I had a mission, a goal for this trip. I wanted to move at my own pace, experiencing local cultures and soaking up the vibe of each town. I had done the “drive by” backpacker routine before, spending only a night or two in each location, and knew I needed something different this time around.

Starting out, I was well on track. I wandered throughout the Sacred Valley of Peru with little to no plan or agenda. For the *most part* I avoided tourist traps and found my own little adventures. I’d hang out in coffee shops and wander the streets and consider it a day well spent.

Chile continued at a similar pace. I chose to explore the Lakes Region and took my time in several smaller towns, content with the local nature trails rather than joining in on huge arranged treks. And not once did I feel like I was missing out on anything.

But when I arrived in Buenos Aires, my memory was apparently wiped clean. Maybe it was the overwhelming energy of the city, or my major sleep deficit that increased with each passing night, or my fellow travelers who already had their entire trip outlined. But I felt this overwhelming pressure to plan everything. I felt the need to do something every day. I became a tourist.

I quickly learned that Argentina is huge. Massive. To see anything outside of Buenos Aires, I was limited to 20-hour bus rides or extremely expensive flights. And the buses weren’t necessarily cheap either. The cost of an overnight bus was more than I had paid on total airfare in any other country. I felt cornered, and slightly panicked.

And so, with only two days left in the big city, I booked it all. The cities, the hostels, the buses and flights. Everything. And although it took the spontaneity out of my travel, I thought it might be a little easier not having to constantly worry about where I’d sleep the following evening.

I was already worn out from Buenos Aires itself, but I didn’t let that stop me. I moved from city to city, checking off the sights as I went and counting down the days until my next destination. I was determined to see and do everything. 

And I was miserable. Cranky. Unbelievably tired. I had a bad attitude and negative thoughts constantly sprang to mind: Get off your cellphone! Why are you taking so many selfies? Ugh. Tourists. My nightly journal entries became carbon copies: I am so exhausted/I have no energy/I just wish I felt better. I hardly enjoyed a minute of Argentina. Yes. It was that bad.

The tipping point was my final destination on this pre-arranged route: The wondrous Iguazú Falls. It’s a spectacular sight, and I was able to enjoy myself for most of the morning, before the waves of tourists arrived. But by the time I got back to the hostel, I was exhausted nearly to tears. 

My roommate, Laure from Italy, had visited the falls that day as well, and asked me about my visit.

“Good. I’m just so tired.” I was ready to brush her off. This statement had become second nature by now. I was always tired. To be polite, I asked her the same question.

And she recounted to me, with a half-smile on her face, how magical her day had been. She relayed various animal sightings, and expressed awe at how in tune with nature she felt. She looked so peaceful. And happy. I remembered that I had felt the same just a short time ago. But now I was road-weary, and didn’t know if I could ever get it back.

She must’ve sensed my pitiful reaction, because she started asking me about the reasons for my travels.

“I just got bored with my life…” I began, recounting my daily routine prior to this trip.

“And why did you decide to travel? What was your purpose?” she asked directly.

“I wanted to experience other cultures…” I trailed off lamely. I had forgotten my purpose, and was just now realizing how far I’d detracted from it in the prior weeks.

“And are you doing that?” she asked, her gaze unwavering.

“No, now I’m just a tourist with a backpack!” I wailed, throwing myself on the bed. A little dramatic, but I felt like a complete fraud. 

I began to share my experiences from the past few cities I’d visited. “I’ve been traveling so much, and all I do is walk around all day, and see a ton of museums and churches, and I’m just so tired!” 

“Ah…so you’re stuck in a different routine.”

Holy sh*t. Laure, my guru, my mentor, my amazing shaman sent from the travel goddess herself just to send me a message. That’s what it felt like at the time. I stared at her. Holy flippin’ sh*t. I’d gotten myself stuck in another rut, on a completely different continent.

I thought back to the past few cities I’d visited…Mendoza, Córdoba, Salta…they all ran together. Unpack, walk around, see church, grab food, see museum, walk some more, get ice cream, sleep, repeat. I thought I was becoming a more efficient traveler, but I was turning into a machine. I had explored cities with eyes that didn’t see, and with a mind that wasn’t engaged. I hadn’t been present for a single day in the past three weeks. What a huge eye-opener.

We continued to speak, and she began to tell me things I already knew and had heard before…but now I was finally ready to listen:

“You need to take care of you. Love you. Be kind to you. And leave the rest behind. Relax. Enjoy your days. Don’t do anything. Get a massage, lay on a beach…have someone take care of you for once.”

And so that’s my focus, reaffirmed. Relax a bit more. Rest a bit more. Enjoy myself and the journey a bit more. Colombia has been all about doing nothing. And so far, I am loving every minute. 

Thank you, Laure. I know you’ll never see this, but I hope that somehow your kindness and open-hearted advice come back to you somewhere along your path when you need it most. I am so grateful to have met you, my friend. Grazie mille.

Confessions of a (former) passivist.

I didn’t realize right away that I was grieving. It took an article with a headline about post-election grief for me to recognize that ache in my heart, that cold pit of fear in my stomach, for what it actually was. It was reminiscent of an awful breakup, or the unexpected loss of a loved one. I am grieving, and I’m not alone. 

Even miles away on this southern continent, I felt the earth shift below me that morning after the election. Like everything I had known to be true in my life had suddenly evaporated without warning or explanation. And so I’m grieving. I’m grieving for what could have been. I’m grieving because this isn’t the country I thought I knew. I’m grieving because our collective innocence has been shattered. We can’t really go back to where we were. We thought we were moving forward, and instead we still have so far to go. 

I took my nation for granted. I realize that now. I grew up in a safe bubble with amazing hippie parents and never questioned the fact that everyone should be treated equally. It seemed human nature to me. How could anyone believe differently? And even though our tiny hometown had small-minded people, I always thought they were in the (very small) minority. I never could’ve conceived that almost half our nation felt this way. Disillusionment at its utmost. My eyes have been opened.

My ugly truth is that I’ve never been active (or even remotely interested) in politics. Whenever the topic would arise among friends, the discussion would become heated and someone would inevitably become pissed off. But nothing was ever really resolved during these conversations. Nobody was converted to the “other side”. It seemed useless to me, and a good way to create tension. I had resigned myself to the thought that people’s beliefs were their own, and they had formed their opinions long ago; it seemed an inane source for discussion. And so I’ve avoided anything to do with politics, to the best of my ability, throughout my adult life.

My oldest sister has always tried her very best to inspire me to become more involved. “Come caucus with me!” she’d try to convince me. “Why? I’ll vote for whoever they pick as our candidate,” I’d respond lazily.

A frequenter of the library, I’d get hit up several times a week for various causes. “Oh, I already signed that one,” I’d lie through my teeth. Why should I sign something I knew nothing about? I’d justify to myself.

When petitioners would knock on my door, I’d tell them to give me a website where I could read more information on the topic. “I don’t sign anything before reading about it,” I’d tell them. Of course, I never actually looked into the cause, and I’d throw the materials away as soon as they were gone. (Shameful? Yes. I realize that now, and am both embarrassed and disgusted to admit it.)

Marriage equality? Hell yes! I’m glad everyone can get married, it’s about damn time. Feminism? Count me in! A woman’s body is her own? Of course! I’d watch the world around me begin to evolve, and I was proud of the changes, but I had done nothing to further them. I took it for granted that people would always do what’s right.

When I saw innocent African Americans being gunned down by those who are meant to protect each and every one of us, I was appalled. Black Lives Matter. But I continued to watch it occur, time and time again, and I did nothing. I convinced myself I was powerless, but that was a lie. I was lazy. And I am ashamed to admit it.

I’m not on social media, so I can’t see the explosion of anger or hurt or fear that I’m sure has appeared on various platforms throughout the last week. But I can see the reactions around me. The local newspaper headlines, the clerk at the grocery store, the taxi driver, the young nephew at my current homestay. Everyone is curious about my feelings toward the results, and this time I’m not shying away. I’m freely expressing my opinions on the president-elect, and it does not seem un-American at all. If anything, it feels more patriotic to immediately renounce him. How the hell did we get here?

I realized today that I am no longer angry at these results. And I can forgive my neighbors who voted for someone else (I may never understand it, but I can forgive it). We are where we are because we still have some major work to do. When I look beyond the shame and the shock I can almost see a place where we emerge stronger; united. And for once, I’m not willing to sit aside and watch others do the heavy lifting for me. Neither will I watch this country turn into a nightmare for my niece and nephew, and anyone else who may come along. 

Something has changed within me. I can literally feel a strength beginning to emerge, a steely resolve ready to stand up for what I believe in. But it doesn’t stem from hatred or anger; more a fierce determination to fight for everything I took for granted. I no longer feel lost and stricken. It’s time to take back the power I so blindingly cast aside for years. I am a pacifist, but I refuse to be passive. I am finally ready.

Things you don’t understand (but she will try to explain)

She loves to travel. It’s always been in her blood. Maybe she got it from her gypsy soul mama, or perhaps from her adventurous aunt. She’s always had a dreamer’s mind and one day realized she could put it into action, and has never really looked back. She follows the wind and the stars and lets her heart lead her toward the next adventure. And she has almost always traveled solo; she hasn’t really known another way. But lately something has been on her mind…differences in how you and she travel solo.

She loves her yoga pants. They are quite simply the best travel pants. They don’t drag or get caught, and are so comfy and lightweight. But when she travels, she never wants to wear them, even though nearly all the local women are dressed the same. Because for her, these pants inevitably cause unwanted attention. She ties jackets around her waist, even on the hottest days. It doesn’t help. Beeping, whistling, shouting, mumbling slang too quick to understand…she is not flattered. She is disgusted, and she hurries by. She silently turns to stone.

She gets her period the night before a big trek (yes, we just went there. It’s ok, you can deal with it. She does, every month). It puts a major damper on her plans. Her energy is low during the hike; she tires easily and has to take frequent rests. She is constantly worried about the location of the next bathroom, and how she’s going to take care of business out in nature. And if her clothes might get ruined, and how to cope without completely embarrassing herself out on a mountain trail or in a hostel room full of strangers.

She’s wearing shorts because it’s laundry day. She thought she’d go for a leisurely stroll while she waited for her clothes to finish drying. She smiles at an elderly man as she walks by. He grabs her hand and leers at her legs, laughing and gesturing. She hurries back to check on her laundry. She feels her walls grow stronger and higher. 

Her yoga class runs later than expected, and it is dark when she leaves. It’s in a rural location, several blocks away from town. She races back to civilization, her ears primed like a feline, listening for footsteps. She pulls her hood up over her hair, hoping someone will mistake her for you. At home she’d have keys placed between her knuckles, but here she has nothing. She curses herself for being so stupid, and swears never again to be out alone after dark.

She misses the bus for a day trip, and heads back to the hostel, bummed. You tell her to hitchhike instead. She shakes her head emphatically. No way. A new friend volunteers to come with. And so off they go, and they meet a handful of the friendliest locals. The end destination is filled with beautiful, breath-taking scenery. She and her temporary travel bud smile at each other with relief; they would’ve missed this. Neither one ever would’ve hitchhiked alone.

You relay your travel stories of sleeping in a hut on the beach, or in a cave, or a hammock, or under the stars. She listens with envy and agrees that it sounds amazing…all the while silently hoping she’ll meet a travel companion as she heads in that direction. Because that’s not something she could ever do alone. She’d be too exposed, an easy target. You look slightly confused when she echoes this sentiment, and tell her you never had to think about that before. She already knows. 

She loves meeting fellow travelers. That is why she’s staying primarily in hostels (although she sometimes feels about ten years too old to be doing so). When she first meets you, her new roommate, she is warm and friendly and welcoming. But, as night descends and she realizes it is just the two of you for the evening, she questions your character for just one irrational moment. And, although she feels guilty, she doesn’t wear earplugs that night. 

She books herself a single room, just to get a break from the dorms. But then she finds out the door doesn’t lock. And so she places little barricades and “booby traps” against the door so that she will be forewarned if anyone enters. She doesn’t get much sleep that night. When you hear about this later, you tell her she’s paranoid and maybe just a little crazy. 

She meets a nice local guy. He is sweet and funny and they hang out all day, hiking and laughing and sharing stories. But when he walks her home, he expects more. Hands are everywhere. She’s not amused, and tells him no. Luckily he listens, but she thinks she might not be so lucky next time. He apologizes the next day, but she never speaks to him again. She completely closes herself off. She is wary of meeting anyone new. 

Yes, there are things she knows she’s missing out on. But she trusts her gut and her intuition, and would never want to look back with regret on something she knew wasn’t safe. This doesn’t mean she will ever stop traveling solo (she won’t). She is not afraid. She is prepared. And she is always, always aware. But these things that she has to think about on a daily basis have probably never entered your mind.

Please don’t misunderstand. She doesn’t wish that she was you. She is proud to be herself. But sometimes she wonders, just for a minute, what it would be like. To travel solo as you do. Carefree? Worry free? She is sure there is another side to this, and would love to hear your story.

Maybe she won’t post this. She is a non-confrontational spirit, and hates to stir up any sort of sentiment that could be construed as controversy. But this post has been on her mind for several weeks now, and so she had to write it, just to get it out of her head and into written words. Maybe it will float around forever in the ether, never to be read by anyone but her. Maybe she will continue to hit “preview” again and again until it somehow encompasses all she wants to say. But she’s hoping, one day, she’ll find the courage to click “post”…so that you can finally begin to understand.