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May 2020: The Loneliness Epidemic

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Days sick: 0 (sooooort of)
Days danced: 0
I can sum up this month in just a few sentences: I’ve been working, biking, crying; I almost moved out of ran away from my childhood home, bottomed out emotionally, and then finally took my illness into my own hands. After weeks of nighttime agony and years of unexplained pain, I drastically changed my diet in the middle of the month.

By the end of the month, I wasn’t cured, but damned if I wasn’t finally healing. Yet since most of this month was a personal anguish, and I’m sure we’re all dealing with this to an extent, I’m doing something a bit different this month. Instead of going over all that I’ve accomplished, worked through, and/or seen this month, I’m re-visiting a post I wrote shortly after moving to Korea. I never published it until now.

Reading through this reminded me that I’ve had bouts of loneliness before and always made it through. This time is no different. The somewhat scatterbrained post below was originally titled Travel For Peace of Mind; it’s been very lightly edited since it was written in early 2017, and there’s a quick note from me afterwards.

Me with my best friend, in Vietnam.

Why Do I Travel?

My family was never one which traveled a lot. If we went anywhere, it was because we needed to be there, maybe for my mom’s job, to mourn a lost relative or visit a sick one, or even to celebrate those we still had. I can only remember two “vacation” trips we ever took together, both involving seeing friends or family at the same time, and one I took with my best friend after begging for a trip to Europe for my 16th birthday. I know, I’m absolutely blessed.

But this was a rarity in our family, and understandably only happened once my sister & I were older and would remember it well. But this means that travel happened mostly in books for me, growing up reading all about everyone else’s adventures and wondering how the experience would be in person. Once I had the chance to do it myself, a bullet couldn’t have stopped me.

I honestly feel bad for my parents, though, especially my mom. For twenty years they really didn’t travel at all, and before that they had quite steady jobs that occupied their time. I just jumped out of university right after graduation and hit the ground running, moving to a country I had never been to before, knowing not a word of the langauge beyond “hello.” But I digress.

At 21, I have so many goals and dreams that I’m constantly trying to keep track of. I live with a constant fear in the back of my mind that I’ll die a sudden death and simply cease to exist without having “done” everything. (I think this is what they call “anxiety.”) I want to live life to the fullest; as I grow older I see people around my age succeeding, so young and happy, that it’s hard to remember that they’ve struggled, too.

I try to mitigate my jealousy and recognize my privileged place in society. Discovering a new place eases my mind, and at the same time it fills it will activity and knowledge of the previously unexplored.

My ridiculous parents, finally visiting me in Korea.

Travel to Ease The Unsettled Mind

Sometimes I feel bad about it, but I’m not ashamed to admit that some of my adventures have just been in pursuit of confirmation. I want to be sure that I don’t really like that place— though people can completely change your perspective of a given city or country— and don’t need to come back again any time soon. I’m almost always thrilled for an adventure, and I’d say that half the time I’m impressed and satisfied with my experience.

But there’s a lot to be said about low expectations on a second visit. Sometimes I feel better about not adding that place into my datebook again any time soon, and others I have to travel back to routinely despite mutual dislike. But either way, it’s a blessing. Even if I hated it, I can ease my mind of the fear I had regarding that place, that I could die at any moment never having experienced what it has to offer.

At this point, I haven’t planned much beyond my twenties. I really can’t quite imagine myself thirty or older, because it just brings me closer to a time when it will all end. A time when I’ll die. I’m paralyzed at the thought of that and shrink away from it so hard that I’m the size of a cocoa bean by the time I’ve moved on to another subject. (Note that I can now imagine myself at thirty, and I’m less paralyzed by fear. Less.)

Usually that next subject is chocolate, hence the cacao reference. I’ll think forward, but not toooo far forward, to the next bar or bag of beans I’ll buy. But that means that all too often I’m living in the future, time that I already fear won’t even happen for me, and isn’t that just insane? I’m planning for future I’m scared won’t happen, and for some reason I feel good about it. (This is called anxiety, sweetie, and once you change you diet, I promise a lot of it will go away.)

I want to have everything planned out on my roster so that I know it’ll happen. Maybe it’s the fear of getting older, caused by a fear of death, that has me adamantly unwilling to peek past the boundary of my thirtieth birthday, admittedly still more than 8 years away, but most things seem to be less fun after you hit 30.

People start asking you why you’re not married instead of “when are you getting married.” If you’re married, it turns to when you’re having kids, and then the kids become the center of everyone’s attention, including yours. You stop celebrating your birthday, even if you’re single, except for maybe a night out for dinner with friends. It stops being an exciting occasion. For most people, at least.

The Travel Rolodex

Okay. Confession time: sometimes I fervently pursue things I’m only mildly interested in, because I think it will make me a more compelling person. And only sometimes am I right. It’s hard to fake an interest in something you’re not genuinely enjoying; but to exacerbate an interest you already sort of have is a forte of mine. I go through two distinct phases— complete content and impatient restlessness.

Also Read  June 2019: Well, It's Over

That chronic itch returns, the kind that begs you to scratch it or otherwise spend every waking hour thinking about scratching it. You know that when you return from a trip you’ll be happy because you’re exhausted from the constant stimulation, or at least from the long trip back home. But you’re sad, as well; even if you go back to that place, it’ll never be the same vacation work trip (at least nowadays). That experience was once-in-a-lifetime, because that convergence of time and space in that place is singular.

I’ve never really been interested in the 9-to-5 lifestyle, though I currently have a 9-to-5 job (Not anymore, sucka! Now it’s more like 11am-3am… the next day.). But even then, I life has never been typical; I moved to South Korea to teach English just after my 21st birthday and haven’t looked back since.

So take a page from the book of my life. I’m writing my own adventures now, and I look forward to reading yours, too, someday.

Since I wrote this, my Mom has retired from her job, and actually spent a few months traveling to a dozen countries with me before the pandemic hit. It was quite a wild ride, and I hope one day to have the same experience with my own kids, and to never, never stop traveling in my mind. Hopefully this has also prompted you to take a look at how you are or were living your life before the ‘Rona, and how you can also be more intentional moving forward.

Peace, love, and chocolate, y’all.

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