Growing up in a society that constantly dehumanizes and shames people for having emotions or contrasting viewpoints isn’t easy. Gaining the ability to stop the naysayers from affecting you also feels impossible at times. Usually, when I talk about post-travel depression, I get the same response: a forced face of understanding, sometimes followed by a snide remark hinting towards my ingratitude. I don’t often try to explain my feelings on the subject because to be honest, I feel foolish. I suffer in silence in hopes that people won’t get the impression that I’m just another one of those spoiled millennials. The end of every trip is usually tough for people, but especially so for me…
While I’m away, it feels as if the rest of the world disappears entirely. I wander around my unfamiliar landscapes (usually skipping joyfully). The images seemed to have been lifted directly out of the fairy tales I once read as a child. I am in awe. I collect odd things that I normally wouldn’t: a bottle of sand; a peculiar leaf; a dull, nothing-special-about-it rock. Anything I can fit inside my pockets, hoping that in the future, I can pull them out and remember this current moment exactly as is. I want to savor it all. My cheeks hurt from endless grinning. How long has it been since you were this happy, Ashley?
I fall in love too easily. The wildlife. The scenery. The people. The sounds. The smells. Everything seems surrounded with ecstasy. Waking up before sunrise becomes exciting rather than hard. I forget all deadlines, responsibilities, and expectations. I don’t feel pain or the coldness of the world. I am just simply there, embracing every second. For a few days, all is profoundly good and that feeling is everything. At night, every light went out until we were left alone with the universe; silver stars spread thick and sparkled across the sky like a painting. Their fierce reflections burned along the water. After years of blank city skies, glancing up to see that could have easily stopped my heart from beating.
This feeling wasn’t new to me. I have been here many times before. I watched every sunset from spectacular places, each day counting how many I had left before I had to let this new life go. Then, just as quickly as it all started, I arrive at the end. I sink into our hammock and try to absorb every last noise. I walk around the neighborhood, reciting to myself all of the individual beauty. I don’t forget to notice the way the wild hibiscus plants have overgrown and nearly hidden the pathway to the beach or how the palm trees sway in that beautiful ocean breeze, coconuts bouncing off of each other like cymbals in an orchestra. I taste the fresh fruit with every single bud on my tongue. I do small things, but they make me happy. I spend my final moments delirious inside a whirlwind of emotions.
And then I go.
I am home, but home feels different now. The locations are all familiar rather than startlingly beautiful. I’m still stuck in a mildly disturbed state of mind. I can’t shake it. All of the sleep that I missed is finally catching up to me. I cancel plans that I made with friends, trying my hardest to prolong stepping back into normality.
I scroll through the photos, barely remembering living through them. I recall how badly I needed to freeze those minutes and how thankful I was for the camera I wore around my neck like a metal. I no longer remember those bird calls that I wanted to hold on to forever. I fear the passing time that will eventually make me forget what’s left outside of the pictures.
My mind wanders away from all of the things that once possessed it. I’m not interested in taking and editing photos, reading books or drawing pictures. I can’t think of a single word to write inside of my diary. I am frustrated with myself, aching to do SOMETHING, but I don’t want to leave the warmth of my bed.
Then comes that ever so familiar weight of all that I’m not doing with my life. What is wrong with you, Ashley?
Beneath all of the darkness, I can feel the light begging to come back out. An underlying sense of peace, if you will. My despair melts back into joy and I am forever thankful for the opportunities that I am given.
It’s exhausting to live within my mind sometimes. I wonder if I’ll ever connect with people again the way that I did out there. I wonder if I’ll ever laugh so effortlessly the way that I did out there. I wonder if I’ll look out of the window ever again and long for nothing more than the very moment that I am in, the way that I did there. And I probably will, but maybe I won’t. Whatever it could have possibly been that made that place seem so special to me, I embraced it. I soaked it all up for everything that it was worth, and for what it’s worth, I love my life more than ever now.
I’ll jump into bed tonight with my boys, feeling stronger. Feeling like my ability to fall in love isn’t a curse, but instead a superpower. One that also comes with great heartache and a need for transparency. You are the only person living your life and every single feeling that you feel is absolutely real and worth clinching. Don’t let anybody else deprive you of that. You are a warrior.
I am extraordinarily human and I will continue to sow the misery because the happiness that it reaps is enough to make life worth living. It’s a bittersweet revelation that I hope every other person on Earth can find one way or the other.