I am not good at having feelings. I’m especially not good at hiding them; I have cried in pretty much every embarrassing moment there is to cry. If my brain was set up like the brain in the movie Inside Out, my emotions would be so confused all the time.
Sadness is probably always crying in the corner over some memory or some potentially sad thing or a YouTube video I just watched about soldiers coming home to their families. Fear is trying to figure out why sadness is crying and coming up with all the potentially bad situations that I could be in over the next five years. Anger and disgust are scheming together about how to take over the control panel. And happiness is using her wonderful Amy Poehler voice to try to maintain some level of order. What a picture, eh?
Lately, I’ve been having a hard time managing and understanding my emotions. And I noticed something strange. I’ve discussed it in real life with my friends, and they are having similar realizations and emotional moments. But I haven’t read about mental health effects from long-term travel more than once or twice on the internet. Yeah, there are some posts about the downsides of traveling long term – like packing bags or saying goodbye to new friends, but I’m talking about something more serious.
Based on my previous personal posts, I can imagine that if I’m feeling something, then there are probably at least a few other people who are also feeling something, but either can’t or won’t talk about it. So, in the hope of bringing this subject to the light, here is me trying to process my emotions from the last few weeks.
For a while now, I have been struggling with this question: Is long-term travel really do-able for my life? For my personality? For my sometimes grandma-like tendencies to avoid big crowds and late nights and instead stay at home with a cup of tea and a good book?
On top of that general wonder, I have had a few days recently where my first thought in the morning or right before falling asleep was “I don’t want to be on Remote Year.” And not “I don’t want to be on Remote Year anymore.” This is more along the lines of not wanting to have heard about the program, applied, accepted, or started. What a scary thing to think. Writing that down terrifies me and, if I publish this, sharing it with new friends and old friends and family is even harder to think about. This program has been amazing and life-changing and beautiful. But it has also been really hard.
Normally I can handle the hard parts. But something changed at the end of month seven. The negative and uneasy emotions I felt about this experience were all at once overwhelming my first-thing-in-the-morning thoughts.
Luckily, or unluckily, we were really busy the first week of January, with moving to a new country and celebrating New Years. I told a few people about my fear that this thought meant that I wanted to leave the program. One friend in particular was almost angry about me saying it out loud. Sympathetic, but insistent that I stay and don’t let the negative times get in the way of the positives. I appreciate that concern so much. It’s nice to be reminded of our community in this program. And they were right. Soon after having that awful thought, I can think through all the incredible parts of this year and I know that I want to be here. I want to make it to the end, to Buenos Aires in May.
But that doesn’t change the way I feel in those very real moments. Before my conscious brain can get to those logical paths, I get anxious about the future. I get anxious about what I would have been doing if I wasn’t here. I get anxious about what I am going to do when the program ends. My biggest desire in those moments is to be able to be content with a simple life – staying in one place and having a routine. But that’s not actually something I want or desire to want.
On top of the immediate horrible thought and my general musings about myself as a long-term traveler, I have also felt homesick for the first time on this program. I’ve missed home before, but now I have moments where I am truly, nauseatingly sick for my home. For my incredible family; yes, we are probably unhealthily connected to each other. For the snow – which I can’t believe I’m saying. For my cat and cuddling with her at night. For my church and volunteering and my friends. For grocery stores and movie theaters that I know and frequented often. For walking around the parks and neighborhoods near my parents’ house. For speaking English and knowing my address – not having to rely on a pin on google maps. I’m homesick for the terribly simple life that I lived. And loved. But that I left behind for a crazy idea.
I’m not sure how long I will have this terrifying thought mixed with homesickness and wondering. I am not going to let them consume me, because that thought is not true. And although I’m homesick, I know that going home will not solve the way I feel, just like leaving home couldn’t solve it. I am still definitely going to have random, sometimes inappropriate, outbursts of crying with no explanation. But I am going to try to let these feelings push me to dig deeper into the community I am surrounded by right now, not pull away from them.
So, there you have it. An honest look at what is happening in my brain and my attempt at processing it all.
If you’ve read this far, I want you to know that I don’t ask for any special treatment. I don’t need random hugs right now. I didn’t post this for attention or pity; I hit “publish” to bring attention to something that has a keep-it-secret stigma to it. If you’re struggling with something, don’t be afraid to talk about it. I will volunteer to listen to anyone. I may not have answers or advice, but I will listen. I will sit by your side in support even if you don’t have the words to describe what you’re feeling. And if you do need a random hug once in a while, let me know and I will offer one.
My only personal request, similar to my above offer, is that if you see me or have seen me randomly start crying, don’t assume that I’m sad or angry or upset. I likely don’t even know. And if I talk to you in person about these thoughts or any future similar ones, don’t assume that I am unhappy or want to leave. Just listen.
Edit: I got an email from an incredibly wise and caring person after sharing this post (hi, Mom!), and it included a link to an article about why people who cry a lot are mentally strong. It provides a different perspective on the topic. When I think about myself and crying, it’s easy for me to see it as a negative. But this article is good for reframing something that I don’t necessarily want to change about myself. Because I 100% agree with points 2 & 3. Crying is healing and therapeutic. It’s not fun. But it happens for a reason.
A possible future Remote Year participant recently asked me, “do you think you would have regretted turning down Remote Year knowing what you know now about it?” And my answer is still absolutely yes. I am so grateful for this trip and these people. Just because I’m emotionally freaking out a bit and crying a lot more doesn’t mean I wish I never came on the trip. And it doesn’t mean I’m ready to leave yet.