Hey friends and family! As most of you know by now, I’ll be leaving soon to embark on a decent stint of traveling: not the usual one of two week adventures in between semesters, or even the month long journeys between school years. I wrote out a blog post back in March or April when I initially decided to take a year off of teaching to travel and reflect, but never posted it because I wanted to wait until I had plans instead of just a vague idea of what I would be doing. Well, now, in October, I do have plans. I’ve included the original post below in italics because I think it nicely captures the frustration and reasoning behind my decision, but I want to note that as it turns out, I didn’t need to take steps back across oceans to find the people, feelings, adventures, and clarity I had been so desperately seeking. I just had to stop looking so hard and start seeing what I had in front of me.
Taking care of yourself isn’t an easy thing to do. When my best friend was going through some real, real tough stuff a couple years back and started seeing a therapist to help regain her balance, she was introduced to the idea of codependency, which usually means that one partner in a relationship plays on the weaknesses of another. The problem is, many of the ideas we have based on western portrayals of “ideal” relationships (with partners, parents, friends, society, work, etc) foster codependency, so many of us believe that is normal to feel inadequate, and normal to feel like we can’t walk away from things that aren’t right for us because we have to give it the good ol’ college try first, and that it is normal to ignore the issues you see in front of you to try and make things work.
Flash back to the beginning of 2015, when I embarked, unintentionally, on a journey of personal growth which led to me to this moment. I was feeling pretty disenfranchised: as a newish teacher, many things at work were frustrating and no amount of effort seemed to be improving the situation. I was with a man who I supported endlessly, but things were starting to go downhill and both of us put the blame on me. I must not be trying hard enough if he says he feels this way, and he’s acting the way he is because of me. I have to try harder. But it never worked. I decided to take a small step back, and realized that I needed something more, something for myself that helped keep me balanced in my day to day existence. I joined roller derby, and that, I think, was the catalyst that pushed me towards the realization that yes, I was the problem, but not because of lack of effort. I was the problem because I was putting in too much effort. I was filling the space between myself and the people I cared about, so they learned to step back and let me carry everything, even if it was breaking my back, and my soul, to do. The worst part is they came to expect this, and when I needed to come up for air, they would turn away from me or even push me back under instead of helping hold me up. Every time I took the blame for someone else’s behavior, I was telling them that the way they treated me was acceptable, that the more terrible they were to me the more I would try to fix it and the easier I would make their lives.
Playing derby and watching all my derby sisters fight these battles in their lives made me realize what was happening in mine. So, I kept stepping backwards, gaining more perspective from the distance each time. I didn’t stop loving or supporting the people in my life, but I became more aware of how much time and effort I was putting into them, and how much they in turn were supporting me. I started to understand that I had never really stopped to think about myself as being worthy of support, and I realized that some of the people in my life were milking me dry and then manipulating me into believing that I was unreasonable and selfish for being dissatisfied with the pittances they were willing to offer me in return. I also realized what an amazingly supportive family, coworkers, and core group of friends I have, even though most of them are pretty far away from me. I left to travel Europe, and when I came back I left the people in my life who I knew were dishonest, controlling, toxic, and manipulative behind me, and started putting more effort into the people who did not play on my desire to be supportive and loving at all costs.
I realized pretty quickly how this change was going to affect my life: I had become far less willing to put up with people’s BS, and people didn’t like this. I started calling people out for being douchey in bars or on dates and standing up for myself when disgruntled parents forgot that we both want success and happiness for their children. But it caused a lot more conflict than I was used to. I caught myself thinking about slipping back, taking calls from my ex, putting myself in situations I found uncomfortable only because I was trying to be present for someone who wouldn’t do the same for me. I needed a reminder of my journey and of the growth I had made, or risk losing it all. And so, before too much time had passed, I went down to Eventide Tattoo in Cardiff and got a set of marks as a permanent reminder.
On the one side, it is important to be dedicated to the lives we choose to live. We must not lose sight of our path, or if we do (because sometimes, it is necessary to lose our way for the discovery of a true direction) we must not lose sight of where we come from. To make leaving our path a valuable experience, we have to know what the path looks like so when we continue our journey, we don’t end back up on the same road we tried to leave. We must recognize our own needs, desires, and selves, and be willing to stray from a path when it is no longer right for us.
On the other side, life holds a wide variety of amazing opportunities, many of which we miss because we are focused so closely on the road our feet are traveling. We don’t look up to notice the other possibilities, or if we do, we are afraid of the unknowns they present. We have to be willing to test our comfort zones and go where the wind takes us, even if (or perhaps especially when) it blows us from our current course and lands us in uncharted waters. At the same time, fleeing blindly from the trail, though exhilarating, is generally ill advised. These symbols remind me to be cognizant of the balance between letting the wind take me where it will and recognizing the path I’m walking on and the paths I have walked so I can choose wisely which ones to avoid and follow in the future.
Many of us pick our life’s path while we are sitting on the carpet as children watching fairy tales on television. We follow this path without realizing it for so long that it ceases to seem like a choice, and therefor we fail to realize that it is within our power to change direction. I found myself consistently following paths that I believed in, or at least I wanted to believe in, but I kept following them long after they were no longer right for me. I’ve spent a lot of time rushing towards a future I thought I wanted. In March, I recognized that the path I was on wasn’t working. My attempts at finding meaningful partnerships and friendships had floundered repeatedly. Teaching had gone from being something I loved to something which I erratically loathed and adored, depending on the day and class. I’d taken steps back, and came to the decision that I needed to continue stepping back. So now, at the end of 2016, I’ll be stepping back across continents and oceans, and embarking on an awesome adventure.
I’ll be heading to Iceland in November, for starters. I’ll spend a couple weeks there driving a van around looking for the northern lights and hot springs to hang out in, then I’ll head somewhere else, probably Scotland and/or Ireland, maybe Denmark, I’m not sure yet. I’ll head home for the holidays in December. After spending a couple weeks back in California I’ll embark on a longer trek to New Zealand, where I have a 12 month working holiday visa. I’ll take a hammock and a pair of roller skates, and see where I end up. Maybe I’ll take a couple weeks to putz around Australia in the middle of this, and hopefully Jon will be heading down to meet me at some point for a few weeks of tramping around in the forests. After this, I’ll be taking another trip back to the states at the end of April, to spend a little time subbing to re-up my funds and get another fix of friends, family, hot showers, and real beds.
Up until recently New Zealand was the part I was most excited about, but at this point I’ve submitted an application and been accepted to volunteer with an organization called Operation Groundswell on a program focusing on conservation in Thailand and Cambodia. These folks have put together a series of volunteer opportunities in a multitude of developing countries to experience firsthand and try to understand if not make a difference with a variety of issues spanning from social to environmental to religious. I’m looking most forward to this because up until this point, my travels have been mainly self serving, and I’m beyond excited to put time into trying to make the world a better place outside my classroom. After about a month and half, I’ll head back to real life to seek a position teaching, bringing with me a whole slew of new experiences and viewpoints to draw from. The overarching plan is to step outside what I know and what I’m comfortable with, to open myself to the possibilities of new experiences, and to learn as much as I can about the world and the people to who live here. For more info on this and to help out with fundraising (this goes to the communities and organizations I will be working with, NOT for flights, lodging, meals, etc.), please visit my fundraising site here.
I don’t feel anymore like I need to go. Before, I had an almost blinding urge to flee. Taking my smaller steps back has made me realize what was right in front of me, and I’ve learned to be happy with something when it’s awesome. I was closed off to a lot of possibilities for a long time because they didn’t fit into the narrative I had written for myself, and it wasn’t until I abandoned that narrative to live a different life that I found what I had been looking for all along. I found a human who makes my life easier and more enjoyable than it ever has been and who both encourages and joins me in my hare-brained adventures. My friends say he appears to be a great person on his own, but they love him without knowing him for how much they see me smile when I’m with him. He brought me into an amazing group of people who have adopted me (and my friends) without hesitation. I became closer to my league and performed better on the track when I stopped beating myself up. I moved back home and have spent the days here reestablishing connections with my folks. Jon and I made the time for a trip to Northern California to connect and reconnect with people who mean the world to us. It turns out I didn’t need to go galavanting halfway around the world to find the friendly smiles I was looking for (although Kiwi culture is undeniably super cheery, outdoorsy, and adventurous, and I will enjoy spending a good amount of time there). I’m excited for my travels, yes, but I’m already excited to come home too.