Having posted a “Happy new year” status on social media expressing how I can’t write this blog post, it’s now 5.41am and in trying again.
Firstly, happy new year from Penang!
We spent our evening eating chicken sausages, drinking Carsberg and laughing at the cultural differences between Asia and the UK. Asia= crowds of people stood around looking blankly at entertainment. People don’t express joy or excitement here in the same extrovert manner as they do at home, they also don’t drink. The count down was only 5 seconds and then in the most bizarre turn of events as soon as it was midnight a rave started. We had a very entertaining time debating the best and most illegal way to drive home avoiding traffic (all that no drinking results in every person in life driving on an island with essentially one road) and then I’ve spent the next 3 hours lying in darkness feeling jet lagged.
This year I travelled to 19 countries trying to be happy. Some people aren’t lucky enough to visit 19 countries in a life time so I am very grateful for every experience I’ve had this year and all the people I met along the way. For the first 8 months of this year I felt the majority of the time that I wasn’t really experiencing anything. I remember telling my parents that I felt like a shadow who was just existing. I couldn’t attach emotions to what I was experiencing and I felt numb to the people and the world around me. My anxiety was through the roof at many times resulting in panic attacks, break downs of uncontrollable crying and 20 minutes of sleep a night. I was living in a constant loop of flash backs with my emotions hitting me like a truck at the most inconvenient times. I went to counselling and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The woman told me I was the most loyal and resilient person she had met. I cried for an hour and then went home and only went back to see her one more time. Maybe I just needed to hear that from an outsider. Only yesterday I said to my mum that I felt frustrated about the lack of control I’ve felt I’ve had over myself this year. Even over Christmas, being at home in the UK I struggled every day. The context to my mental health issues is of course rooted in a relationship as many people’s are, but the circumstances and the details are still sometimes so unbelievable to me that I have struggled with reality on many occasions. When I’ve made choices about who to share things with, I’ve been overwhelmed at the support and love people have shown me.
I have chosen my 5 top travelling moments for 2017 and I will work hard to concentrate on the positive aspects of these memories rather than sinking into the negative feelings that also link with all of them.
1. New Years Eve in the Faroe Islands. I was absolutely experiencing a once in a life time NYE celebration in a tiny village with the most spectacular fire works.
2. Dancing in the rain on my birthday in Kotor, Montenegro.
3. Moving across the world by myself to Penang, Malaysia and feeling confident that I saved myself by doing this.
4. Hiking across the Crimea for 6 days and wild camping and not dying.
5. Completing the Lares Trek and visiting Machu Pichu, ticking one off the bucket list.
I’ve also survived not speaking Russian in Moscow, learnt about the Bosnian War, climbed various mountains and hiked to everything accessible in every country, shared my niece’s first family holiday, photographed 100s of sunsets, swam with sharks and turtles, skied in Austria, been a bridesmaid for the first time, made many new friends and learnt a lot about surviving and thriving.
People often say, “You are not alone” but I would never offer this as a condolence to anyone who is struggling. You are definitely alone in your experiences, in your emotions and in how you process things. If you feel betrayed or heart broken you will grieve and be alone in that. You don’t care if someone else has had depression or they feel anxious. Why would you when all you feel is your own heartbreak? You alone are able to pull through things. No one can do that for you even with the most selfless of support or the kindest of words. It’s okay to take as long as you need to move forward. You need to wallow and analyse and reflect and you need to feel every negative emotion so that you can learn from them. Don’t tell someone “It will get easier” because they probably can’t understand how that can be true and they don’t know how to use that information. My advice would be to cherish the people who understand you and who don’t judge you for the choices you’ve made. Let them be there and let them in because at some point you’ll use those connections as a reason to be strong.
My friend Sarah shared a book with me tonight that she said I would like and understand. Here are my favourite few pages:
Alice, Sarah and I felt emotional when reading these pages because as all expats do we struggle with having our hearts firmly in two places. For me starting 2018 I couldn’t have made it here without my family and friends and Penang has provided me with the blank canvas I needed to remember who I am and to make attempts at being that person successfully. Life is cruel in so many ways but it also gives us lots of reasons to keep fighting.
To all who truly supported and carried me through 2017, I love you more than words could convey. To my loved ones who have felt pain and heart break in 2017 for their own reasons, you’re strong and I admire you and have faith that you’ll be okay.
Here are some photos from my Christmas in Yorkshire, a place I can appreciate again properly.