BEING HOME – MENTAL HEALTH UPDATE
I’ve received many emails recently from people asking what it’s like to be home. Two years is a pretty long time to be on the road and I made no secret of the fact I was very ready to come home a long time before I actually did.
I wasn’t going to write about any of what you are about to read but I met up with a wonderful guy who many of you may recognise from reading the comments section on any of my posts. Neil Kisby has followed the 101 blog for a couple of years now and has been an incredible source of support on my travels.
I got the chance to finally meet Neil at the 101 Richmond Hill gathering and as he was leaving he said something that really took me aback. He said “thank you for saving my life”. I must admit I didn’t know what to say back. Before it had really sunk in, he had gone.
I got the chance to spend the day with Neil last week and we had a wonderful time. We chatted a lot and I got to ask him why my experiences had meant so much to him. He simply replied “because you let me know that I wasn’t alone”. Neil is also a cancer survivor and he also struggles with his mental health. He has insomnia, eczema and feels anxious for most – if not all – of his day. In Neil, I was very much reminded of myself. I had felt very alone during my darkest time with PTSD and would often wonder why I wasn’t running around smelling roses and talking about how cancer had opened my eyes to the point that I would never worry about anything again. I perhaps should have been doing those things but I didn’t. And I couldn’t. Because it wouldn’t have been real. The whole reason for 101 and for sharing my story was to spread a little bit of hope, but it was also to raise awareness of mental health – not just after cancer but also in life.
Neil has inspired me to write this post so if you identify with it and it helps you in some small way then please thank Neil. If you don’t like it then you can blame me.
SO WHATS IT LIKE BEING HOME AFTER SUCH A LONG AND WONDERFUL ADVENTURE?
I must admit that it’s been a bit weird and perhaps not how I thought it would be. I was so ready to come home by the end. I had been moving from one place to another for two years, living out of a bag, deciding where to go, where to stay and how to get there. Along with meeting new people everyday it can all be a bit knackering.
I was dreaming about having my own room, staying in one spot and seeing all my family and friends again for various periods of time away. I had also convinced myself that I would never let ‘first world problems’ affect me ever again. After finishing off my trip at a Chinese children’s hospice, and then a charity that houses street kids in Cambodia, as well writing postcards to people who had also been affected by cancer and illness, I can safely say I fully realised yet again just how much good fortune I have in my life.
But instead of coming home and reflecting on all that 101 and myself had accomplished, I came home and decided that I hadn’t done enough to help other people. I then started to panic about money, having no job and what I was now going to do with my life. All the things I said I’d never worry about again.
Looking around at all my friends with partners, houses, careers and children I suddenly felt like the odd one out. Considering what I’d overcome over the past 5 years I couldn’t believe I had started worrying about this stuff.
I have been so busy doing various things but the sad truth is I did panic, lost confidence and for a while I did nothing about it. As a result I’ve found it hard to write my blogs, my eczema started to rear its head again, and I’ve found myself waking up first thing in the morning like a coiled anxious spring. As a big believer in the power of positive thought, I am also fully aware about the health issues that can arise from negative thoughts. I find myself worrying about worrying. I’ve also lost my want to write my posts and my book which is not like me. There are so many things I’ve done that I’ve not told you about yet. I still have Cambodia to tell you all about and that was 6 months ago!
REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK
I was warned from other long term travellers that it can be tough coming home. We’ve all heard of ‘post holiday blues’ but the actual scientific term is ‘Reverse Culture Shock’ whereby long term travellers find it difficult to adapt and re-assimilate to ‘normal’ life at home. Much like PTSD is after cancer it turns out that RCS is very common among people who have been away from home for a while.
DEALING WITH THE DOWN MOMENTS
I realised something recently which seemed to have escaped my attention. My trip around the world and me feeling better didn’t just happen by accident. Nothing just landed in my lap. I worked my butt off to make this happen and the very simple process of working to make the things I wanted happen is what made me feel better. I learned only the other day why that actually was. Research shows that having a clear goal and being able to anticipate succeeding in that goal is one of the fastest ways to get the feel good brain chemical dopamine flowing through your brain which is key to reversing depression and making you feel good. Making my 101 list didn’t make me feel better but proactively working out how to achieve those things and visualising doing them did.
I seemed to have forgotten how much this helped me in the past and perhaps started to listen a bit too much to people who simply referred to me as ‘lucky’.
But, I’m on the case again gang and already feeling better and more motivated – and guess what, I didn’t need to jump on a plane to achieve it. Here are some examples which I hope help you as well:-
DOING WHAT I LOVE – I’m proactively getting my speaking career underway. This is where I hope to make some money. I love doing them and would love it if I could keep doing them for free but I have to make a choice. I either have to get a full time job and stop giving talks which could inspire people, or do talks, get paid for them and get cracking starting the next 101 initiative which could help a lot of people. I’ve followed my dreams thus far so I’m going to give this my all.
HELPING OTHERS – I am looking at ways of how I can use 101 to help even more people and charities. Research shows that helping others is actually good for your health. When we act on behalf of helping others it gives us greater purpose and comfort, less stress and it actually helps you feel happier. My trip wouldn’t have been the wonderful experience it was without the purpose of 101 Things To Do When You Survive so I know all these things to be true already.
WRITING MORE. I used to love writing but I think I went off it just before I got back. I’m not sure why that was but I now want to start writing more about the things that I think will not only help others but also help me. It’s such a therapeutic thing to do and I would recommend it to everyone. I also have a book to write! Yikes!
READING – I am reading more inspiring books. One of particular note is by the comedian Ruby Wax called ‘Sane New World’. In it Ruby describes her long lasting fight with depression and how she is overcoming it. She couldn’t understand why she was so depressed so she went to study neuroscience and graduated with a masters in mindfulness at Oxford University to find out how the brain works. It turns out it is all chemicals and wrong wiring but the good news is that these pathways can be rewired. Ruby said that practicing mindfulness saved her life so if it’s good enough for Rubes then it’s good enough for me. I will of course update my findings to all of those who care to know what it’s all about. I would definitely recommend reading Ruby’s book though if you need a little reassurance that you are not alone and that there is a way to bounce back.
I’ve started to EXERCISE more. I was outside and on my feet all the time when travelling. Trying to write a book I have found I’m sat at computer all day and not getting outside as much. I now get up early and go for walks everyday and train every other day. Exercise is one of the best ways to boost your mood and gets those endorphins working over time. I go to the local park where there is a some outdoor gym equipment and I work out there.
After I finish training I MEDITATE for 10 minutes using an app called ‘Headspace’. Mediation is one of the best ways to clear your mind, relax and give you a bit more peace in the world. It is also known to aid weight loss and relieve stress. I’m not too bothered about the weight loss bit at the moment but if I keep sitting at this computer than I may well in the future!
GOOD FOOD – I’m eating good nutritious food and making and drinking fresh juices which makes you feel incredibly healthy and good about yourself. I’ve started using recipes from a girl called ‘Deliciously Ella’. Ella had a rare illness which meant she was bed ridden 95% of the time. She changed her diet to a vegetarian and no sugar diet. She is now healthier and fitter than ever and her recipes are…….delicious!:)
I’m listening to INSPIRING PODCASTS like the Tim Ferris Show which I find fascinating and very motivating. Try also reading his book ‘Four Hour Work Week’ and it will motivate you whilst also blowing your mind.
I don’t watch much TV but if I do I try and watch FEEL GOOD SHOWS avoiding the news and soap operas. My fav show is Strictly Come Dancing…No laughing please!:) I love this show on so many levels but most of all I love it because it is just feel good from start to finish. Bright lights, awesome dance moves and good music. What’s not to love!
Hanging out with FAMILY AND FRIENDS. Being with people you love is the most addictive thing on the planet and makes you feel insanely good. My trip wasn’t special because of the things I did but because of the people I did them with. My pals have now moved far and wide so it’s been tricky to see people. We all seem to be so busy nowadays that even phone calls are something that need to be scheduled in. I need to remedy that.
Going out for a COFFEE. This is my little treat when I go out. It’s not actually the coffee itself but the experience. I love coffee shops. The sound of the steam machine, the smell of coffee, people watching. I love it all and it’s something i’ve done throughout my travels!
You’ll notice that ‘travelling’ isn’t on the above list. I’ve travelled more in two years than most people do in a lifetime. I am so content with what I have seen and done so far I think i’m a little burnt out from it all. I am in no doubt that i will once again get the travel bug but right now I’m just so pleased to be home and I want to enjoy that for a while before I start planning where I want to go next. Local adventures are very much on the menu though so stay tuned.
I could go on and on but this post is already ‘War and Peace’. I’ll probably write more on this in the future as I believe it’s something that we all need a bit of help with. Cancer or no cancer. Ideally, we all want to try to get to a place where we don’t need to be busy to be able to worry less.
But in the mean time this is what i’m up to to stay the positive, optimistic, feel good person I have been over the past couple of years and was before cancer struck again. I kind of like that guy and I would love for him to stick around.
The reason I am sharing this is because Neil reminded me of one of the main reasons I wrote this blog in the first place. The idea was always to give people hope and to also let them know that they weren’t alone. I would never want people to think that a trip around the world is the answer to all of our problems. It’s a lovely distraction that’s for sure and I’ve had the time of my life but you can’t do that forever. Nor do I want to. All our worries are relative to the person. You don’t have to go through illness to struggle mentally. We are all have our ups and downs and it is very important to know that we are not alone.
So here we go gang. I absolutely love being home and I have a bit to work on but I firmly believe that I can work on it here rather than escape to another country 10,000 miles away! Ruby has inspired me to research PTSD and the human mind a wee bit more so I will update you with various findings as I go.
I hope this post has helped you as much as it has helped me writing it.
Love and well wishes gang.