Lessons Learned While Traveling During Recovery

For three weeks last month, I traveled to Steamboat Springs and San Francisco. I mainly went on my own but stayed with family in both places. I took this trip for a multitude of different reasons. Some were possibly good reasons to go on a trip. Others, not so much. The reasons also changed as the time went on after I booked the trip. This is what ended up happening.

1. I am more capable than I realize.
I thought that I couldn’t do certain things. That if I tried- I would probably mess it up. I am going to get lost. I am going to make a fool out of myself. I do not belong here. I shouldn’t try. I am going to get myself in trouble. I am too naïve to handle this.

Then I did this incredible thing. I heard these voices in my head and decided to go along on my own anyway. Was I scared? Badly. Did I have doubts? All the time. Did I do it anyway? You bet. I had to. I had no one else to go with. If I wanted to see something- I had to do it solo. There wasn’t another option.

I wanted to see the Winchester Mystery House. I read about it. I researched it. This was something I couldn’t pass up. The only way to get there was using public transportation. I am always nervous the first time I use a different city’s public transportation. I know I would look like a fool. But I did it. I took a bus to a train to another bus and arrived. I did the same thing on my way to google from there. I was nervous, but I learned to ask for help. I did it. I felt empowered and independent and amazing after. This may sound small to some people. That this wasn’t a big deal. It was HUGE for me. That’s all that matters.

When I went to Montreal with a friend, we walked to Mount Royal park. Now if we decided to walk back, it would be another five miles. We couldn’t. My friend wanted to take a bus. I told her it gave me too much anxiety and I couldn’t do it. We were going to walk a little then call an Uber. The bus ended up showing up first and decided just to jump on it. We survived then too. I thought I wasn’t.

It’s always so easy for my mind to make up the worst case scenario, that you know, will definitely happen to me. This trip has allowed me to let those thoughts go. When I get them, I don’t get caught up in them as much as I use to. I don’t let them stop me when they use to paralyze me. I pushed myself outside my comfort zone in numerous areas, and I cannot imagine going back to being paralyzed by fear.

2. Family is incredible.
I am one of the youngest cousins in my family. Out of my seventeen cousins on my dad’s side, there is only three younger than me. My oldest cousin is currently thirty-four, while I am twenty-six. That’s less than ten years- that’s not that big of a difference. But when I was 12 and she was 21, that was huge. She moved away when I was still young, so I only saw her on holidays or during events. Even then, sometimes I didn’t even talk to her too much. Her younger sister, is also quite older than me, with the current age of thirty-one.

With them both them living on the other side of the country with their own family and lives, I rarely see them. When I was thinking of a trip to take this summer, I thought of Italy. I have family in northern Italy that I would have loved to visit and explore where my family lived/lives. I found that to be unreasonable of a goal, so I wanted to visit family a little closer to home, San Francisco and Steamboat Springs.

Graduate school had my head in a mess. I needed to clear it up and get out of it and become grounded in who I wanted to be. Both of my cousins knew I was struggling with something, though they did not know exactly what.

Can I just tell you how much they opened their homes and city to me with open arms? My cousins and their people in their city were incredible. It didn’t take me long to feel welcomed and no longer as a burden. I connected and shared with them in ways I never did before. I appreciate everything they did more than anything.

I may have always believed that my family would be there for me. I have to admit, however, that I always felt slightly disconnected from the rest of my family. Granted, that probably had something to do with my depression and anxiety, but this trip helped me let go of that unproven hypothesis.

3. It’s okay to ask for help- and people will usually help.
Here, I am talking about all different kinds of help. Help with your struggles (more details below) but also help about the basic things in life. One of the things that made me nervous about this trip, was that I was going to mess up and/or get lost. When I thought I wasn’t sure, I simply asked someone. Some people don’t like asking others for help. I get it. It’s hard to show weakness that you don’t know exactly what you are doing or where you are going. It might be a piece of my anxiety but I like having peace of mind of what I am doing. During my trip, when I asked someone for help, I have only received positive responses.

When I asked for help with finding a fork in a restaurant, the man in the kitchen was helpful. If I wasn’t sure I was at the right bus stop to get to the Marina District, this man not only helped me but gave me explanations for the area of what to do and the history, along with continuing to talk to me for the bus ride. When I got on the wrong train to go home, I got off at the next stop. I talked to two ladies who asked me if I knew if a specific bus came to where we were. I said, “I hope so”. It started a lovely conversation between all of us and we helped each other get to where we needed to be.

Asking for help was something I use to struggle at. Even at stores, I was so scared to ask and I always just wanted to figure everything out for myself. I allowed myself to become more comfortable in reaching out to people when I need to. Allowing yourself to be ignorant in certain areas and then opening yourself up to assistance in those areas.

4. I am still struggling at times – and that’s okay.
After school ended, I knew I still had some struggles, even though I was doing so much better than where I was in August in February. You know, though, I thought it was in the back of my mind. It wasn’t going to influence this trip. I am very knowledgeable in the field of mental health and travel. I was going to be in the United States still. I was going to be staying with family. I’ll be fine. No need to worry.

Well, that fantasy quickly dissipated. It was the second day in Colorado and I already felt the weight of anxiety and depression crushing me. I wasn’t being carefree or exploring like I wanted to. My thoughts were getting caught up in themselves and I couldn’t keep up. I was caught off guard and I didn’t handle it well. I was also disappointed in myself because I should have known better. I should have been better prepared.

I took two days recuperating in Colorado. Even then, I still struggled. I cried in the shower one night and my cousin heard. She asked if I was okay, but I just said I was fine. I was grateful for her caring, but I was incredibly embarrassed. Wanting to be numb is not a good way to feel. You don’t want to feel any type of true emotion. You want to be fake happy all the time. That’s where I was at. I had no hope. I thought I had nothing to go home to. All these negative thoughts took over. I couldn’t rationalize them away. I just accepted them as is. I wanted to end my trip. Thank goodness I didn’t listen.

I stuck it out and slowly I was getting better. I started pushing myself again and never looked back.

I thought I was good. I thought traveling was going to be great. I thought I was better. I learned that even though I still struggle—and probably always will, that’s okay.

5. It’s okay to do things alone.
I remember when I couldn’t go to Dairy Queen on my own. I couldn’t eat at the cafeteria alone. The only thing I felt comfortable doing alone was driving and going shopping. So I did those a lot. Eventually, that fear goes away. It’s when you realize that there are things you want to do, and you shouldn’t have to wait for someone else to be able to do them.

At the beginning of the Winchester Mystery House tour, they have your party stand in front of a green-screen and take a picture with a fake Winchester Rifle. There were two parties before me in the line, one older couple and a family with a young daughter. When it was my turn, the lady asked “how many people are in your party?” and I said “just me”. I could have been embarrassed and not had my picture taken because I didn’t want any attention on me. But I went up there proud and did my thing.

Throughout this trip, I realized how much I enjoy traveling alone. Your plans are up to you. If you want to change your plans mid-day that’s all good. You don’t have to argue with anyone else. You don’t have to do that boring thing that no one else wants to do. You can just do you. It is empowering. It is amazing. I recommend anyone to do things alone. You can figure out what like and what you don’t like. I didn’t think I would like it as much as I do, and not I cannot imagine traveling any other way.

Of course, at times, it can become lonely. You see people traveling as a couple or with a family or friends. Of course, there are incredible benefits to this. It’s amazing to be able to share an experience with others you are close to. But you don’t have to. You don’t have to wait for someone to go to that amazing restaurant you have been wanting to try. You don’t have to find someone to go to the concert you really want to go to. Just know that you can and are more than capable of doing things are your own and it can be just as fun.

 
6. Do things for yourself and not for other people.
I used to make decisions based on what others would think of it. Should I avoid responsibilities for two months to travel and explore? Will people think I am being irresponsible and silly? Will others think I am inspiring in doing it? Should I go to the Winchester Mystery House? I know it can be considered a tourist trap, so will people just think I am a stupid tourist? Think of having these questions in your head for every decision. Should I go on a date with this guy? I know I am supposed to want to do these things at my age, but is it really what I want? If I say no, will this guy be upset?

It’s awful living with these type of questions in your head. You start to question your intuition when making decisions. Do you really know the right thing to do? When I started recognizing that I was asking myself these questions while making a decision, I started substituting a different question: am I making this decision for myself or other people?

It was a really hard thing to adapt to. I constantly have to remind myself of this. Living your life for you and making decisions based on what you think is best is important. Others may not understand why I did three hours of travel simply to go to the Winchester Mystery House, but that’s okay.

When I let other people’s opinion and actions influence what I decide to do, I find myself not being happy. I am trying to start doing things for myself. Not because I am wondering what other people are doing, so I have to do something too.

I don’t think this trip turned out the way I planned, and that is okay. I learned more than I thought I would. I grew and became more independent than I would have before. I am incredibly proud of myself and feel empowered. Some people may not think what I accomplished or did was a big deal, but it was incredible for me and that’s all that matters.

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