Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Confessions of a Sabbatical Returnee

Whoa, those BLUES came out of nowhere...

It happened within hours of returning to California from Burning Man and it hit me like a ton of bricks. The 9-month world foodventure that started in Nepal, brought us to Ethiopia, Indonesia and a lot of other places in between had just ended. Although we spent a few days in Los Angeles and San Diego immediately after we left Singapore, it was all in preparation for Burning Man, which felt like it was closer to being in Mars than being in the USA. The acknowledgment process that our fantastic sabbatical was finally over did not start until we unpacked our playa dust covered backpacks and started cleaning up after spending a week in the insane desert up in Black Rock City.

From one moment to the next, there wasn't somewhere to be, something to pack or  some way to figure out how to get from point A to point B. It all just felt "settled" and static. I realized something was wrong when I was sleeping-in and did not even want to get out of bed, talk to anyone or go out to socialize. I didn't know why I was feeling so funky but after a few days, as I was sitting in the parked car just staring out into space, I jerked back a little and realized I was depressed. Depressed! How did I just go from being so obnoxiously happy and content to actually feeling depressed? Change.

I'm a fan of change. I like spontaneity. Routine can get boring. But routine can also get addicting and it doesn't take much to get used to. When that routine is fun and involves traveling the world, it's even easier to get used to. This change was too abrupt. Everything was too different. Everything seemed too dull. Worst of all, everything felt too serious. I felt immense amounts of pressure to "get serious" and go back to work and start being productive. Thinking about it made it worse and I felt even more depressed. I started feeling anxious that I was getting myself into some deep negative emotional hole that I had no interest in experiencing. This whole return business was just awful.

It remained awful for a few days until I broke my awkward silence and started talking about it. I broke the silence because I realized I was focusing on the wrong things. I kept wishing that I was back on the trip and not permanently in California. I wanted to hop on a plane so bad and disappear again. But I realized that this was no different from dealing with reverse ear block 15 feet below the ocean surface, mouse infested guesthouses in the middle of nowhere or being covered in white and green gunk from a sickly woman who just sneezed all over you in a cramped bus (gross, I know, but that did happen). 

Those of us who have the luxury of choice are extremely fortunate. I finally got out of the fog and chose to have a different perspective and to start talking about how I was feeling. By making this choice and with Eliot's incredible support and patience, I was able to get out of what felt like a self-induced brief spout of mild depression. I'm lucky it was easy for me. It's not that easy for others tormented by this illness...

I have since loved being in the Bay Area, and have gone on endless hikes in the redwoods, eaten at the best hole in the wall places and discovered that if you're a foodie, Christmas is possible every day if you live close enough to Berkeley: it's called Berkeley Bowl.

Fellow travelers: if you're ever stuck in that dark hole, just remember that you have a choice and make sure you surround yourself by a strong, supportive community who'll help you get out of it. The adventure of life never stops, no matter what changes may come or where you may find yourself. Get out there. Eat your heart out. Never stop adventuring.

****In memory of our beloved friend Brian****


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