Ch-ch-ch Changes

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How to Torture a Traveler, Part 3

Because my luck is that bad.

I used to love traveling, like the specific act of travel. The thrill you get driving to the airport, successfully passing through security, watching people and trying to match them to their destination.

Well, no more!

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Super flattering, post-travel photo courtesy of my dad…

To be fair, I wasn’t as emotionally stable during this last leg between Siem Reap and Orlando as I normally am. I was lugging literally all of my belongings in two HUGE bags and had just said farewell to my best-est friends without knowing when I’d see them again. After checking in and finding a seat in Siem Reap’s ever changing international airport I opened up the farewell trinkets and letters my friends sent me off with. I was simultaneously laughing out loud and blubbering like a baby and boarded my first of many flights thoroughly emotionally drained.

On the bright side, I’ve traveled this route so frequently I am very familiar with all of the airports and know exactly where to go for food and the best nap locations. In Shanghai, I took up residence on a familiar row of seats, set an alarm and waited for the transit desk to open. Oh yea, it was 4 a.m.

Everything started out so well and I dared to dream that I may make it out of this travel experience sans extra (emotional) baggage. I was first in line through security and found an ideal napping space next to my gate and a handy water cooler, which I swear was clearly labeled “Drinking Water”. So I filled up my Nalgene, drank half of it, and settled in for sleep.

An hour or so later I woke up feeling, well, not so great. I was so tired from the previous red-eye plus having not actually slept the night before I departed, that I could hardly keep my eyes open. But I knew I had to wake up, something did not feel right.

My stomach rumbled. I located Starbucks and crossed my fingers that a hot cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin was all my wishy-washy belly wanted. I nibbled as much as I could handle and decided to try and sleep it off.

Barely able to rouse myself for my flight I zombie-trudged to the gate all the while willing myself to keep down the bits of blueberry I’d managed to consume. Nausea came in waves but I held it together like a master of mystery illness until I was all buckled in, ready as I ever would be for this 14+ hour flight.

Just as I began to believe I’d won my intestinal battle another wave washed over me.

“Nope!” I said to myself, less quietly than I had hoped, and reached for the sick bag.

My mind flashed back to the judging looks I had given the passengers on my previous hell-flight as they had emptied their stomachs all around me. Was this karma? Why does karma always pay me back for the bad things? What about the good things, Karma? Karma, why are you such a bitch?

Three bags later the flight attendants were getting a bit tired of my pleas for more ginger ale, especially since I kept getting weaker and had resorted to using the call button.

“Can I get some more sick bags?” I asked to blank expressions.

I mimed vomiting.

“Yes, here.” The attendant handed me a stack.

Eventually, the poison water (it had to have been the water) worked its way through my system and left me even more exhausted, but able to sleep/listen to Harry Potter for the rest of the flight.

Given my recent penance, I thought surely karma would leave me alone now.

While trudging through the Toronto airport, all of my belongings stacked precariously on one of those wheelie carts, I heard an ominous flap flop flap flop. I pulled out of pedestrian traffic as best I could and examined my shoes: my favorite, pseudo-Doc Martens purchased for $8 at a store selling second-hand clothing shipped from Japan, which had seen me through many a bartending shift and been a protective barrier against cockroaches and spiders alike. The sole of my left shoe hung limply away from where it was intended to be. I looked at my sock, visible through the gaping hole and tried to remember where I had packed my other shoes.

After rummaging through all of my bags I located a pair of moccasins (also purchased at the Japanese second-hand store) and lovingly placed my boots in the nearest bin.

“So long, my loves…” I whispered as I walked away.

Stripped down to my last layer after working up a sweat during Operation: Shoe Location, I lugged my bags towards my last customs check.

“You must be going somewhere warm, eh?” The agent asked, eyeing my tank top, which was obviously not suitable for the outside Toronto winter.

“Yes sir, I’m going home.”

Unemployment is the worst

For some reason, I frequently find myself in very uncomfortable situations. Not just of the socially-awkward variety but, “What kind of decisions have I possibly made in my life to end up in this pit of misery?” type. To be completely honest, they aren’t always literal pits of misery. Mostly a state of mind made up of crippling self-doubt and panic-inducing fear.

Although one time I did not have any money and had just come off a million hour flight and lived of granola bars and didn’t shower for a solid four days… So there was that… I think the last time I had gone that long without showering was during my roadie-ship and was living out of a van and we were so busy showering was just kind of forgotten. But enough about my lapsed hygiene practices…

The last time I wrote (let’s make a pact not to add up how long it’s been, ok? Ok.) I was in one such spiral. My ex had just moved away, and while things ended amicably it’s a bit destabilizing when someone you’ve spent practically every moment of the past five months with is no longer around. I suddenly had all of this free time to think about what my plan was. I was definitely living comfortably thanks to a couple full-time freelance gigs but wasn’t earning enough to save anything (or even get home).

I’ve mentioned before how expat life in Cambodia seems to cycle through people. About every six months or so someone new is showing up while old friends move on. At this point, my little community was prepping for another such exodus. Those with higher-paying jobs were considering moving to new, nicer apartments while the few with free time were considering life as nomads for while. My best friend already had her flights booked home before starting a graduate program in Australia. Things were changing and I decided it was best to jump on that train, too.

Thanks to hindsight, I can laugh at my naivety upon returning home. My new “plan” had been to relax and enjoy the Christmas festivities with my friends and family and then crack down and find a job, surely by the end of January, because that’s when my new phone plan bill was due and once again I was without a steady income.

My one-month job hunt turned into two, then three, then four.

I’ve always struggled with anxiety and depression. I’m really good at being upbeat and talking about how magical everything is, but when I’m down I get really down. Every day I applied for jobs after thoroughly researching the each company and writing unique cover letters. I was putting in the effort. And crickets. For every 20 jobs I applied to, maybe MAYBE I would get one response back. At this point, even the rejection letters became a reason to think positive because at least I was hearing something. But even those were few and far between.

Every day was an endless span of potential disappoint. It became harder and harder to look on the bright side. Despite knowing my parents are super supportive and would do anything to help me out I was keeping a running tally of everything I had asked for and could only seek such help after working up a really good anxiety attack. After bleak periods I’d snap out of it for a week or so, somehow tapping into some new source of motivation and positivity making all the past despair seem silly and unnecessary. And then out of nowhere, the dread would be back, like an elephant sitting on my chest. I’d stop showering regularly because for some reason that’s the first habit to go…

I went on a few interviews. They’d see the gap in my employment after I left Cambodia and ask what have I been doing the past few months. Like a punch to the gut. Like I’d been twiddling my thumbs since January and not actively, desperately seeking employment. Each rejection, especially from jobs I’d been over qualified for made me question the time I spent abroad. It was as if those two years, during which I had worked the hardest and overcome the most, meant nothing in the eyes of recruiters.

I started seeing a therapist and struggled to find ways to describe my feelings: I can’t find work, I’m questioning my self-worth, I just can’t get out of bed in the morning, but I’m also having a hard time processing everything I’ve experienced the past several years. Herbal supplements didn’t help. I started anti-depressants. It somehow made me feel better to think that my depression was stemming from a chemical imbalance and was actually out of my control. I’m type-A. I felt like I could take depression off my plate if that makes sense. Something that isn’t my fault. Medication helped calm the swirling negativities that had been distracting me, but I was still jobless.

My parents and I discussed how best to move forward. Up to this point, I had been driving my dad to work so I had access to a car for days I had interviews and we decided having a car of my own might take some of the pressure off. They helped me with the down payment and from that point on it was like dominos.

The day after my 26th birthday I had a very promising job interview and the following Friday I received an offer. I could breathe again. I could afford my new car payment.

I’m lucky. I have incredibly supportive parents who never made me feel like I was a burden during my unemployment. I have friends who were always encouraging. I’m grateful that even though those six months sucked it was the kick-in-the-pants to get myself into therapy and start examining the thoughts that hold me back.

Now that my life has some sort of structure again I’m able to think more clearly and without (as much) anxiety about what I want. I’m saving to travel again. I’m building my portfolio. I can dream about all of the possibilities of the future instead of just dwelling on the past.

Not to say that employment has been a magic wand waved over all of my issues. I still have plenty of those. But I’ve learned (and continue learning) ways to give myself a break. We all need to give ourselves a break sometimes.

So here’s to finally dusting off the motivation to write again. And to regular showers.