How can you be sad in paradise?

Before I dive into this piece, I want to start by acknowledging the immense privilege that comes with traveling anywhere. There are many people more eloquent on this subject than I am, but I just want to take a step back from my own struggles and woes to truly embrace the gratitude and unwavering appreciation for every opportunity to leave my hometown I have been given. It is an immensely big thing to have the time and resources to do what I do, and I never want it to go unnoticed or unacknowledged in anyway. Traveling, although often luxurious and expensive, can also be hard, both mentally and physically, and my intention with this thought piece is simply to create honest spaces to share challenges and real, raw and unedited moments that happen on the road. Thus, I think in order to stay genuine to my writing and to myself, I want to balance my appreciate with also allowing space to be critical and intentional with the resources I have been given and have discovered on the way.

During this wild pandemic, I lost a job and was forced to go on unemployment. As my lease was ending, my roommate and I struggled to decide what I should do next, as it seems things change so quickly and sharply during this time, it is hard to be quite certain about any decision. We had no where to live, no jobs and no plans. We both graduated in December, and post graduation is hard to navigate during normal circumstances, so it felt this liminal space was heightened by the current state of events in our country. Our unemployment was running out and we needed to make a decision. This is around the time my roommate suggested making use of her family’s villa in the Caribbean. Her parents are sailors and invested in this small property recently. As no one was staying there, we wouldn’t need to pay rent and could go there to have some time to figure out our next move. I had been struggling to write and make process on my novel for a few months, blocked from not being able to travel and feeling in-genuine to the story, I saw an opportunity to be I a creative space and I took it. We did our research of what it would take to come here and after multiple Covid tests, endless preparation and being careful not to corrupt our chances of getting out, we flew to Antigua, a small island near Barbuda. Upon arrival we showed our Covid results, had our temperatures checked and began settling into our new villa.

And after only a few days, my mental health took a decline. I found it harder and harder to get out of bed and became more and more anxious. I struggled eating and I didn’t leave the villa multiple days in a row. This conjured up intense feelings of guilt, I spiralled between thoughts of “someone else should be here appreciating this space,” and “you wanted this for so long, why can’t you just be happy?” Which, led me to remember other times when I traveled and was hit with depressive episodes. When I studied in Athens there were many times I disassociated in bed for hours, and times my anxiety crippled me to a hotel room while others explored. In Israel I slept for days in a row because my mind was exhausted and missed chances to see new parts of the city. And there too, I had these guilty and shameful thoughts.

However, this time a perspective changed for me. Instead of allowing those thoughts and dark feelings to fester, I was patient with myself. I was gentle and eased myself to accomplish simple tasks. I allowed myself days to wallow and time to be alone. Most importantly, I reminded myself that mental illness does not make me faulty or unworthy, and that I cannot outrun my serotonin deficiency. And, this is the messy side to traveling I want people to see. I still struggle with being human, regardless of where I am or what I am doing. Being in a new country is not a cure for mental illness, but wouldn’t it be great if it were that easy? And even though I am existing in this greatly privileged moment, even though I am only 22 in Antigua once, does not invalidate my needs and my health. It also doesn’t invalidate the incredible things I have seen and done. Whilst being here I’ve scuba dived with sea turtles and boated, jet skied and tasted new foods. I have still accomplished lots of writing and I’ve met new people. I am still traveling when I am experiencing dark and sullen thoughts, and I am still growing from them. I guess what I am trying to express is how imperfect and temperamental humanity can be, and as a good friend recently told me, “you bring yourself wherever you go”. It is okay to not be okay, even in paradise.

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