It’s New Year’s Day. I just spent Christmas in the San Blas islands and celebrated New Year’s Eve in Cartagena with a bunch of rad weirdos. I am 3 months into a year off work which I’m spending frolicking around the world. So why am I depressed?
I’m surrounded by new friends. We’re all recovering from New Year’s Eve hangovers. We’re sharing stories from last night, planning hangover meals. I know this is a great moment; I want to enjoy the camaraderie but all I can think about is wrapping myself in my sheet, curling into a ball, descending into a catatonic state and not emerging for days. I look around and instead of friends I see a lack of privacy and personal space. I see the one tiny window, inexplicably at the bottom of the wall in a corner of the room letting in little light and no air. I see an explosion of belongings, food wrappers and empty bottles from last night’s festivities. The room is air conditioned but I know that the heat outside is oppressive. I imagine it pressing into the walls. My world is reduced to this claustrophobic space. I can barely think.
The last week has been lived in a suspension of reality. On the islands our sole responsibility was to have a good time and not get sunburnt. With no wifi, phones or shoes it was easy to ignore the outside world. New Year’s Eve provided another excuse to delay ‘life admin’ and decision making. Now I have to make some choices. My two major goals for this trip are in conflict – I want to visit Antarctica and I want to spend my year without taking an airplane. The Antarctic season ends in mid-March and I’m currently in the far north of South America. Boats to Antarctica leave from the southern tip of the continent. The prospect of traveling the entire length of the continent alone, without flying, and leaving enough time to find space on a boat to Antarctica is overwhelming.
I’m paralysed by indecision. Do I give up on Antarctica? Do I compromise and take one flight to Argentina or Chile? Am I giving up too easily? I didn’t make these goals because I thought it would be easy; should I push through and try to figure out land or sea transport south?
I need to respond to Sarah’s email. I need to find a post office and send those postcards. I need to connect to wifi. I need to update the blog. I need to book accommodation for the next few days. I need to get back to Glen about kitesurfing. I need to learn better Spanish. I need to back up my photos. Oh god, I’ll need to submit my Canadian tax return soon. Why is my bag so heavy? I need to get rid of some stuff. I need to do washing. I need to research transport south. I need to make a decision about Antarctica. I need to make up with Martin. Where am I going to live when I get back to Whistler? Where is my underwear? What am I going to eat for breakfast? I know these problems seem trivial. I know that most of them are easy to solve. But sometimes I just can’t.
I lie in bed and do nothing. I try to smile back at my friends.
Travel is challenging for anyone but people who live with mental illness face extra hurdles. My depression is mild – I can usually manage it with a few simple lifestyle changes. If I start to feel myself slipping I know that sticking to a routine, exercising, staying sober, eating well and keeping a regular sleeping pattern will get me back on track, usually within just a few days. Tidying my work and living spaces also helps a lot. Unfortunately, travel usually delivers the exact opposite lifestyle.
We stay up late to party. We wake at 3am to hike volcanoes. We’re woken in the middle of the night to the sound of someone humping in the bunk across the room. We live in chaotic, cramped dorm rooms surrounded by the debris of lives lived out of bags. We hike and swim and surf but we also sit for hours in buses and bars. We drink. We take drugs. We load up on cheap carbs. We stuff ourselves at free breakfasts and skip meals later in the day. We make strong connections with extraordinary people only to say goodbye a few days or weeks later. We have no privacy. Our support networks are far away and the wifi only works if you stand on one leg in the third shower stall from the left and hold your phone in the direction of the northwest corner of the ceiling. Unless it’s raining. Then there’s no wifi.
For me, this is a recipe for disaster. I’m struggling. I swing between extreme happiness – a deep sense of connection with the people around me, joyfulness and an appreciation for the experiences I’m having – and extreme apathy; a sense of deflation. I consider buying a flight home.
So what’s the solution?
For me, for today, I will get out of this hostel. I’m going to stay with Mona and Daniel in a nice hotel for the night. I will make a to-do list, I will organise my bag, I will have a proper shower, I will connect to wifi, I will sleep in a comfortable bed. I’ll say goodbye to these wonderful people for now and hope to catch up with them in Santa Marta. The rest I will face tomorrow.
Soundtrack: Spoon – The Way We Get By