It’s been one year and I still don’t know if I’m ready to write about it.
I skirt around it in published and unpublished posts, talking about travel becoming harder the more we do it, and about whether travel bloggers are forgetting travel is a privilege. It’s always there, this experience, lurking in the back of my mind as I write.
I still feel like it shouldn’t have happened to me, that I should have coped better, that I should be more grateful for what I had and have.
But the truth is, last year, after years of travelling the world, I travelled into depression.
Not so smart financial decisions when I moved abroad and visas, the bane of my life, led me to leaving Europe and most importantly to me, the United Kingdom, to return to Australia where my parents were living.
I can hear you asking… So? You had to move to Australia, what a hardship, don’t you know how many people would LOVE to do that? What’s wrong with Australia or New Zealand? Why don’t you want to live there?
The answer is nothing is wrong with those countries, they’re great places to live, but they just weren’t for me then, and they’re still not now.
Since I was 16 I’d dreamed of moving to the UK and travelling Europe. After university in my home country of New Zealand I decided to move to Australia for a higher wage and make that dream became a reality. Just in time for the end of 2013 I moved to Edinburgh, mission accomplished. Of course I had some teething problems, jobs, flats, making friends and general life, but before I knew it I fell in love with Edinburgh and Europe.
The working holiday visa for Kiwi’s is two years, and after one year in Edinburgh I already knew I wanted to stay. I enjoyed the next year, but I always had the underlying anxiety of trying to find a way to stay. My time was peppered with job interviews and rejection for not having the skills to be sponsored, of constant questions about my plans and why I didn’t just renew my visa or people telling me how unfair it was that I had to leave, no one seemed to understand the rules. Of seeing friends from the UK be sponsored in Australia and New Zealand, and wondering why I couldn’t have that in return.
Not for lack for trying, it all came to nothing and just like thousands of others I had to leave the country the day my visa ended. I’m very aware I was in a privileged position to be allowed two years at all, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt. To begin with I left for two weeks and came back on a tourist visa, but getting on that first flight to leave for a holiday knowing I was returning as a tourist was hard.
Being back in Edinburgh afterwards was both amazing and hard. I had a half-life as a tourist, it felt like I wasn’t fully there. I moved in with the guy I had been seeing, and we decided to “make it official” but with an end date, a complicated situation but one I didn’t want any other way. Not wanting to bother his flatmates and wanting to see as much as I could before I left I tried to balance my time between mini holidays and living in Edinburgh. Each day that crept closer and closer to the inevitable I began to fall apart a little more. He could see it, I could see it, but I didn’t know what to do.
I think I started to go numb from the time I got in the cab to go to the airport, and that numbness didn’t stop for a long time. Months of alternating between numbness or cutting sadness. If you’ve ever broken up at an airport by the way, it’s shit. Really shit.
My parents met me at Perth airport and I wouldn’t call it a happy reunion. I wonder how they felt, excited for their daughter returning but maybe being afraid to show that when I came out of the doors and all I could do was shake my head and cry. Words can’t express how grateful I am for their support, as always, but in that time I don’t quite think they knew what to do with me.
The first 10 days back in Australia were spent obsessing over applying for jobs, seeing it as my lifeline. The faster I could find work and pay off my debt the faster I could leave again. When I wasn’t applying for jobs I was trying to enjoy the opportunity to see a new place, to show enthusiasm for the places my parents wanted to show me. I wanted so badly to be happy but it just wouldn’t seem to come.
Ten days after I arrived we embarked on a drive across Australia, the trip of a lifetime that I had dreamed about doing since my first year at university. We moved from Perth to the Gold Coast in two cars and I would either sit in the car as my Mum drove, or I would drive on my own in the second car.
I do have fond memories of the trip and I do remember the parts that were amazing, but I also remember how silent I was in the car with my Mum, letting her do all the talking. It was as though speaking was an extra effort and required energy I just didn’t have. Then when I was in the car driving alone I cried most of the time. Essentially I cried my way across Australia, and sometimes I think, how pathetic is that? I had crazy thoughts, about running away and escaping, just walking out of where we were staying and hitchhiking away, but I didn’t know what I was running from.
I feel like the only similar explanation I have for those first few months in Australia is that it was like being underwater. Everyone and everything was moving normally around me, but I was drowning. I was in slow motion, and everything was an extra effort. To speak, to get up, to do anything except things that I saw as my way out. By the afternoon of each day I would just be ready for it to be done. Sometimes I went to bed at 5pm to shut the world out. Too tired to deal with life anymore.
Getting to the bottom
Time passed excruciatingly slowly once we got to the Gold Coast, but it was on the day that I actually got what I wanted, a job, that I really travelled to the darkest place I’ve ever been.
I was lucky to be offered more than one job in Australia, but it was the rejection from the one I thought best suited my travel plans, and the decision about which of the other two jobs I had been offered that broke me. Or maybe not broke me, but was the drop that pushed the water over the rim of the glass.
It sounds childish doesn’t it? Being upset because I didn’t get my way, and I think that’s why I find it so hard to write this. I wanted to stay in the UK, and I couldn’t. I wanted to get a job doing something I liked rather than random work all the time, and I couldn’t. I wanted my relationship to continue but because I had to go to Australia it didn’t. It was the culmination of 10 years of life planning ending, and I was lost.
I thought I knew what I wanted but I couldn’t do that, and anyone who really knows me knows how stubborn I can be and when I want something I’ll find a way to make it happen, but with this, there was no way. I don’t know why it all hit me so hard. I think it was just too much at once. Leaving Edinburgh broke my heart in more ways than one, and I was just managing to stay above the surface when that day pulled me under.
My parents were both away and I had decided to go to a movie by myself, because I had to keep distracted and busy all the time, my legs churning furiously below the water to keep me up. In the morning I’d been offered the job I wasn’t sure I wanted, but when I got to the shopping mall I received the call about not getting the job I did want. I don’t remember the drive home. I just remember that I wanted to escape and when I got inside my house I went straight to my wardrobe. If I went inside and closed the door then it was dark and I could imagine there was nothing outside.
I really can’t explain it too much, but I just wanted to be away. I don’t know how long I was in there, but I’ve dealt with enough depression in family and friends to know I was not in a good space, no pun intended. I tried calling a couple of people, but I couldn’t really speak. Finally I managed to text message my best friend… “I just don’t want to be here anymore.” I don’t think I contemplated suicide, I just had this notion that I needed an out, to get away, escape.
My friend saved me when I needed it the most. She called immediately and told me she was leaving work straight away and getting the train to my house, and that I was coming with her to Brisbane. A tiny glimmer of light appeared with that. Someone else would take the weight for me and I could surface a little again. She drove me back to her house and I spent the weekend there. She called my Mum to explain I wasn’t doing so well. She understood and she knew what I needed. To be busy, to just be there, to not just “snap out of it” and “cheer up”. She taught me that it’s ok to be sad, to feel anything really. I will never, ever be able to thank her enough.
The only way is up
As J K Rowling says, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.” It was like I needed to hit a point where I felt utterly hopeless to start to recover. With the support of my family and friends I continued on. I still had to keep myself busy, taking TEFL and Web Design courses, and I still cried everyday that I drove to work for the first month. But slowly, I stopped being so upset all the time, I started to talk more again, to find enjoyment in things. I started this blog, maybe it was another crutch, but it worked. It was never that I didn’t want to be happy or to enjoy myself, but it was like the strength it took was just too much. I still had moments, but I was ok. And I kept being ok, and then more than ok.
I was determined to make going to Australia the best thing that had happened, to make it worth it so to speak. I leapt from big event to big event. I visited New Zealand twice, to see my home, family and friends. Adventures with my family and friends pulled me along until I could do it for myself. I went for weekends away to Brisbane, Byron Bay, Binna Burra and 1770 (all worth checking out). I learned to dive on the Great Barrier Reef. Then at the end of it all, I found my way back to Europe, Spain this time, and I realised another dream, of teaching English and living in a country that doesn’t speak English.
Even with all of this, that 10 months in Australia was some of the hardest I’ve had. When I got not hat plane to come back here, I had no hesitations that I was making the right decision. Sometimes the anxiety of being put in such a position again lingers, since what I have here is still temporary, but I know I can cope and I know I would cope better this time.
So why write this?
You can read a lot on the internet about the post-travel blues, reverse culture shock and coming home after travel. I’m not the first one to feel down about having to go home and it wasn’t like it was new to me. After I returned from living in the USA in high school I had some reverse culture shock, except it was nothing like this.
Writing this post was hard and brought on some tears (I might be a bit of a crier…) but two things happened in the days following me writing this first draft. The first one was that I stumbled across this post directed “To Anyone Who Thinks They’re Falling Behind In Life.” This post is gold. If I had read it at this time last year, I like to think it would have penetrated my haze a little. Sometimes we can’t control things and we just have to take a step back and be where we are, because one day it will make sense. It’s about timing, and it’s about being ok with not always doing or being our best, that “…we are as we are until we’re not.” Intellectually, I knew this, but having it put into words like to read is something different.
The second thing was that my best friend (yes, that one) sent me this.
During that time, I was listening to a teacher who said, “You always have to have some breakdown to have a breakthrough.” When I heard that, it made the hair on my arms stand up. It goes all the way back to birth. The baby’s not comfortable when it’s leaving it’s comfort space, and it’s being pushed through violent contractions to who-knows-where. So I sorta developed that into my own saying: “Birth always looks like death from the other side.”
I don’t know where it’s from, so if you do PLEASE enlighten me, I need more of it. (UPDATE: This is apparently from an interview with a folk artist called Rob Seven, you can find the original here.)
A coincidence that both of these articles say the same thing? I don’t think so. They both drive home the idea that we have to ride out what’s happening now, because one day it’ll make sense. And you know what? My story already does in some ways. I wouldn’t change those experiences in Australia. The time with family and friends. The stronger connections I made. Reaching goals in my personal life. Starting this blog and learning so much. The opportunity to move to Spain. And you know that guy? Well, we are back and in a better place than we could ever have been before.
I guess that’s the reason I had to write this. To look back and see myself on the other side. Growing ever stronger. To acknowledge my family and my friends for their help. To write it for myself and hopefully for others, to know that if it happens to you, you can get through it. Dealing with loss is something we will all have to go through at different points in our lives for different reasons, and I am no exception. But just remember,
“Birth always looks like death from the other side.”