Life after travel has been quite difficult for me. Being the control freak I am, feeling “trapped” in a world I no longer felt I belonged to drowned me back into the big black hole of depression. Yesterday, however, my partner helped me resurface with a conversation and sort of “ephiphany.” I can’t believe I was so paralyzed to see it until now…
1.5 years traveling and living abroad = one spoiled María
In 2008, I was part of a study abroad program in Egypt for a year on a full-ride scholarship to learn Arabic intensively. Also, I traveled the Middle East extensively, met amazing people from all walks of life, and heck, even got to salsa dance with Egyptians 7 days a week. The cultural and sensory stimuli were unbelievable. I thrived and I enjoyed myself, despite traveling with a broken heart and fighting depression back then for the second time. Yes, I felt abandoned by a love back home, yes. I struggled with chemical unbalances and clinical depression. However, my life-long dream of traveling and seeing amazing ancient temples and monuments greatly helped my recovery.
My Arab adventures didn’t end there. I moved to Ifrane, Morocco and studied Islamic Civilization and Modern Arabic for 4 months (a semester), again on a full-ride, and even got to teach colloquial American English to a group of Moroccan college students as part of my financial aid package. I befriended an American-Moroccan and 4 West Point cadets, we took road trips around Morocco almost every weekend. I had the time of my life. I even traveled Europe extensively, thanks to low-cost airlines. I saw Rome, the Vatican, I went to Madrid about 3 times, and London in about 4 stopovers. Closing that year was an epic week-long Couchsurfing trip to Iceland. How could I withstand life after travel? How could I “settle” and be “normal” upon graduation after experiencing all this?!
I stayed in college for another year, with the “excuse” of starting (and finishing) a second bachelor’s degree. I love school, so it was the best of both worlds. On spring break I took a trip to Panama and went out dancing as much as I could. Then the inevitable happened: Graduation. I already had a cubicle job, translating and earning good money in a bad economy. Then my friends started to move away. Then I felt more and more alone. I grew to feel trapped in a job with no cultural stimuli beyond language, no exciting itineraries, barely time to travel.
Life after travel = depression…with a boyfriend
I didn’t want a boyfriend, but I met someone special in Nov 2011. I was still managing OK back then, especially since I could take a great 5-day trip to Curacao. But as I received 2012, I felt the big black dog of depression approaching. It fully hit me around February and has not left me alone since.
My life after travel paralyzed me. I cried daily. I didn’t know how to live anymore.
All of a sudden, I was completely lost and was drowning in utter misery. No matter what my sweet boyfriend would do, it never seemed like enough. Naturally, he exploded yesterday:
“Need to do something about this. If you are miserable, DO SOMETHING!”
I felt so lost in a life after travel in Tampa, FL. To me, it is a city that could never live up to Cairo or Fez. No cultural stimuli, just a bunch of rich kids “living the life” — a life I could not afford on my salary, not when I was trying to save AND pay off debt at the same time. And no time to travel. It almost felt worse than prison. BUT WAS I DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT? Was I trying to see new things and attractions along beautiful Florida? Was I trying to escape on weekends, couchsurf locally, try to see my known surroundings in a new light?
Then it dawned on me: I was drowning in a glass of water. I wasn’t allowing myself to be happy unless I were abroad. The positive Maria who would always take the best out of any situation had been forgotten.
This life after travel had to change.
Yesterday, my boyfriend Blaine drew some plans in order to help me live my life after travel day by day, learning how to enjoy myself locally:
1. Each Wine Wednesday, we’ll have a picnic outside, watching the ocean, as we plan out what we’ll do the weekend ahead.
2. One weekend, we’ll have an event. Say, we have a day trip or weekend out of the city, but somewhere nearby. Maybe a 2-hour drive away on the east coast of FL? Maybe finally visit St. Augustine, one of the oldest cities in America? Yes!
3. The weekend after an “event” we’ll have a “try a new local restaurant” day. We’ll thrive to find quirky joints or try to recreate odd dishes in our own kitchens. Then maybe even visit a local park we’ve never been into.
4. Always be on the lookout for cool events in the area. Every Wine Wednesday, after our weekend plans are down, we’ll look up events happening in the coming weeks. If they involve money, we’ll then plan and save ahead so we can make it happen.
How did I not think of this before? In a life after travel, I was too busy thinking of the big future instead of thinking of the “small” present. “Small” doesn’t always have to be “boring.” Small means “I’m planning for something bigger, so I must rejoice on simpler things right now.” Besides, even the unknown foreign lands eventually become familiar, so we must learn to enjoy SIMPLE daily life regardless. Life, unfortunately, won’t be exciting 24/7, so…
I know this seems like common sense to many of you, but someone who has struggled with depression and even eating disorders in several occasions, it is quite easy for me to fall pray of helplessness. Specially when the chemical unbalances of your body aren’t helping. Not that I am seeking excuses, I just need to push myself harder in this life after travel. And that’s OK. Because we all have limitations — this simply happens to be mine. I must push a little harder and be ready to punch and kick depression right in the butt. Also, I must remind myself that my current situation is only temporary, that I’m simply gaining a lot of experience from this translation post. That my business trips start this summer and it’ll only get brighter from there. That God has amazing plans for me and I simply need to be patient. That I’m pretty damn lucky to simply have food, shelter, more than one job, and loving people around me who support me no matter what, while most of the world is suffering of hunger and loss. Shit, sometimes we can be pretty damn ungrateful. But it’s ok, so long I don’t stay in that damn mental hole for too long…