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People keep telling me I’m brave, but I don’t feel brave.
Three months ago, I left everything behind and decided to travel the world. It sounds glorious, but I promise it’s not.
Three months ago, I left because my entire life came crashing down before my eyes. It was a summer filled with people I loved passing away and others I loved somehow narrowly escaping death.
I had just ended things with my boyfriend of two years. Only a couple of weeks later, my stepmom took her life.
A month later, I learned of a loved one suffering a sudden and unexpected health complication that nearly took his life.
Another loved one came close to taking his life.
And after all this, my grandfather passed away suddenly.
It seemed to be a never-ending series of traumatic events. Time began erasing itself, and before I knew it, I found myself stuck living in a dark and numb ongoing present moment. I was living in full-blown survival mode.
I didn’t know what else to do. All I knew was that there was nothing left for me in this old life. So, I bought a one-way ticket to Spain. I packed my bags and left.
Make no mistake. Traveling the world is beautiful, but it is no escape from grief or cure for depression.
When I arrived in Spain, a vast and potent loneliness crept over me. I didn’t know anyone, and I was worlds away from my friends and family. Yet somehow, I knew that this is where I needed to be. It may sound like I was making a desperate escape from all my problems. But really, I needed a space to just be.
I realized that as much as my friends and family wanted to be there for me, they were not able to console the immense grief living inside of me. No one else would be able to help me, except for myself. I knew I couldn’t continue making a happy life for myself if I didn’t take the time to confront the pain. But I couldn’t do that in the ashes of my broken life. It was either continuing to live in survival mode or going somewhere far away to try and learn to heal.
Everyone I’ve meet in Spain tells me I’m brave for traveling to a new country alone as a woman with no job and no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going in life.
But the truth is, when you’re operating in survival mode, you only make decisions that you hope will get you out of survival mode.
For me, taking the time for myself meant putting my entire life on hold. It meant quitting the job I loved so I wouldn’t over-pour myself into my work and ignore my needs. It meant not applying to graduate schools as I had planned. It meant creating distance, quite literally, from people whose opinions I valued maybe too much.
I desperately needed some space to just be present with myself.
I didn’t expect to be happy upon arriving in Spain; I expected my feelings to come knocking at my door. More than anything I expected myself to make the space to feel them.
And boy did they come knocking!
I was met with all the unprocessed emotions from the summer months quite immediately. I tried my best to go see new places. But some days, I was unable to get out of bed. I had many awful nightmares that would cause me several days of apartment-bound sadness. Going outside and seeing other people walking around was radically overwhelming. I felt like I was living in a bubble of grief invisible to the rest of the world passing by my side.
While those first few weeks were especially difficult, and that first month became a whirlwind of emotions, I finally began to find some solace within myself. I began to view my sad days as recovery days. Maybe all I could do was feed myself, or allow myself to cry and to write. I let that be enough to get me though.
Gradually, I realized this work was me nurturing myself into my own individuation. I had gifted myself the space to feel all the pain and the discomfort.
That’s the thing about emotions—you can’t escape them. The only way out of them is through them.
I could either keep all the pain building up inside myself and live a numb, colorless life, or I could try and find some sort of joy again and allow my body to process the grief.
Of course, the trauma of losing loved ones and almost losing others is not something that can be overcome from a few months in Spain. But at least, I’ve begun to learn how to allow myself to feel the pain.
At least, I can trust myself a little more to make space for difficult and complex emotions. The pain will never fully go away. But feeling it and therefore releasing some of it can help make some space for life to come back inside of me.
In this way, the travel has been revolutionizing my life. Although it wasn’t so much the travel as the solitude.
The opportunity to be able to rely on no one else but myself.