As you will know if you are a reader of this blog, I write about my worldwide travels and the daily struggle that is life with an anxiety disorder and OCD. I write from this perspective as I think that it is vitally important to open up a dialogue about this and to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health. I want people who are struggling to know that they are not alone.
I therefore decided to expand my blog with a monthly guest post feature titled ‘Wanderlust Wednesday: Breaking the Mould’, written by inspiring people who struggle with their mental or physical health but challenge themselves to get out there and live their dreams anyway.
Together, we can show others that if we can, anyone can.
This month’s guest post comes from 23 year old fellow Brit, Taylor Williamson. Taylor has been exploring New Zealand and Australia for close to two years and struggles with her anxiety.
Mental heath. It is something that most individuals, young or old, happy or sad, deal with in some way or another every day. For the first twenty or so years of my life I was lucky enough to never really grasp what it meant to have a ‘less than perfect’ state of mind. I was pretty enough. Clever enough. Popular enough. And most importantly to me; skinny enough. I dealt with ‘stuff’, same as everybody else, but in my cosy University digs, with three of my very closest pals, it was pretty easy to keep my head above water.
Yet, I still had the overwhelming feeling that it just wasn’t enough. It’s strange really, that in chasing my dreams to find something else out there, I found myself even more lost than I began. For me, it was the art of stripping away everything that was familiar and starting again; completely on my own. With nobody else’s expectations of who I was, I had to face up to what was really going on inside my head.
I want to detail some of the most significant struggles that have affected my head-space whilst travelling, and why challenging those issues has led me to be more aware of who I really am. At times they’ve led me to feel sadness like I’d never felt before, but it has helped me get to the place I am today, which is a pretty damn good place.
This is a really big one for me. I don’t want to be presumptuous, but in my personal experience, most of the women that I know have struggled with their body image at some point in their lives. Before I began travelling I was on a strict diet. I went to the gym every day, and I was totally obsessed with my weight. My attitude sure as hell wasn’t healthy, but nothing mattered more to me than feeling small. As I am sure a lot of you have found out, this is pretty difficult to maintain when travelling. As the months went on and I went from hostel life, to couch surfing, to constantly being on the move, it was impossible for me not to gain weight. I was having a wonderful time, eating at all the amazing restaurants that Melbourne has to offer. I should have been okay with that. I wasn’t. I absolutely despised myself. I despised my new eating habits, despised my new (very slightly) larger body, and most of all, I despised my lack of control. I was travelling the East Coast with two beautiful friends, and for the entire six weeks I felt totally depressed. It was the lowest I have felt in my lifetime, and dealing with this new sadness was a massive struggle for me.
I was spending time on the most beautiful beaches in the world, yet the only thing on my mind was ‘FAT FAT FAT.’ I barely noticed the incredible scenery around me, and all of my memories of this time are clouded by my self-hatred. I knew that nobody cared as much as I did. But they should. And they would. Soon enough they would see me for all I really was and strip me of all the happiness that I didn’t deserve anyway.
Perhaps if I had never come travelling, I would be half the size, eating nothing but a bowl of yoghurt for dinner, happily running my fingers over my hip bones each morning. Maybe I would even feel okay. But none of it would be real. I still have days where my self-confidence is dangerously low, but the difference now is that I know there are so many more important things in life than being skinny. I know I am worthy of self love. I know that the bad thoughts are worth fighting. Travelling has enabled me to meet incredible, good souls from all over the world. People that love and celebrate themselves for who they are. People that showed me that self-love and acceptance is possible.
2. Farm Work / Hostel Life
In order to get a Second Year Working Holiday Visa in Australia you need to complete 88 days of regional work. It took me over four months, living in the dirtiest hostel imaginable, doing back-breaking work in the middle of nowhere. Yet it somehow ended up being one of the most special experiences of my life. I went into my farm work not really knowing who I was, and left not only being much surer of who that person is, but also liking them quite a lot.
My first feeling upon arriving at my new ‘home’, was how together everyone seemed, and how alone I was. I couldn’t see a way in which my anxious, terrified self would fit in with these confident, joyous souls. I was so scared of being rejected, that it seemed like a safer option to just avoid everyone completely. But, as it turned out, people were a lot nicer than I had expected and almost instantly I was welcomed into their little family.
Farm work is a hard thing to understand unless you have experienced it yourself. We were mentally and physically pushed to our limits and had nobody to turn to besides each other. We helped each other through our darkest days, and no one will ever really understand exactly what we experienced. Nor would we ever be able to experience it again. I meant so much to so many people just as they meant so much to me, and this gave me a whole new purpose. Some days I woke up wanting to stay in bed all day and cry but this feeling could never last long when the people around me were so intent on bringing me happiness and laughter. And they needed me as much as I needed them. We completely let each other be exactly who we were and were there to pick up the pieces. No matter what.
If these people could love and accept me, maybe I wasn’t as bad as I thought.
3. New Houses
After 378 days of constantly living with no personal space, in and out of 54 different shared accommodations, I was desperate to find a room to call my own. House hunting will always be terrifying to me. Not only does it signify a huge change, it makes me completely vulnerable and puts me at the mercy of all the potential new housemates. Judging me against all of the rest that came before. They all smile politely while I try to come up with any sort of answer to the dreaded question, ‘so, what are your hobbies?’ Sitting on couch after couch, feeling totally uncomfortable and overwhelmed, all I want to do is run away and hide in my bed. But I can’t do that because I don’t even have a bed. That is why I am here in the first place. So I grin and bear it and tell them that I badly play guitar and like to read books. I sound like a right hoot, I know.
Somehow the loveliest bunch of radiant Aussie souls offered me a home and I had a hip new pad in one of the ‘coolest’ suburbs, Brunswick. They are truly wonderful, ridiculously interesting, and so much fun. So I fit right in and have the time of my life, right? Wrong. I anxiously sit in my room with my door closed, so scared to participate in any sort of group activity. Despite how welcoming they are, I think they will see straight through me. They’ll soon realise I have nothing worthwhile or interesting to add to any of their conversations. So I am better off just saying nothing. They try so hard to make me feel comfortable but I just never do. I start to realise how nervous certain social interactions make me. And this comes as a really big shock. But I try. I try really hard and this makes it all worthwhile.
“It is okay to just unapologetically be myself”
Our landlord gives us 60 days to leave, and suddenly I am on the house hunt once more. Except this time it is even harder. It seems that everyone in Melbourne is looking for a house, and I get rejected time and time again.
Eventually I find an equally beautiful home in Northcote, and this time I am determined to try even harder. I sit alone in my room a lot of the time, but this time it is different. I don’t sit under my desk and cry (very often), I write, and I create, and I tell myself that it is okay not to be okay. But more importantly, it is okay to just unapologetically be myself. And of course it works great. Pushing myself to my limits and forcing myself to sometimes endure situations in which I feel uncomfortable slowly starts to make me less and less nervous, until one day I wake up and don’t feel very anxious at all.
Whilst I am now so much more aware of all the dysfunctional shit going on inside my head, I am so happy to no longer be a robot stuck in the same monotonous routines. I feel, and I overthink, and I cry a lot for no reason, but that is okay. I am okay.
To travel is to live, and if I can do it, then truly, anybody can.
To hear more from Taylor you can find her in the following locations:
If you want to be featured as part of the Wanderlust Wednesday: Breaking the Mould series, then get in touch below.