It’s taken me more than a few tries to write this, unsure whether to even acknowledge this new beginning. The pessimistic part of me wants to skip over publishing this post, completely out of fear this idea will fail. That I’ll have made a “Big Announcement” for nothing. For months, I’ve agonized over the name as well as the initial direction this blog will go, and am already starting to hate everything I’ve created. Yet somehow, the hopeful, optimistic part of me is beyond excited for this new change, forcing me to look past all of the fear and try to be confident in this new direction, regardless of the outcome.
This isn’t the first time I’ve done this, and it can feel like a predictable pattern, really. It starts with the seemingly boundless joy of finding a new idea to grasp onto. It’ll be an idea that feels like a million possibilities could ride on its success. It’ll be The One that will finally launch me towards the happiness I’ve been seeking, I tell myself.
Managing unrealistic expectations.
My therapist tells me this is a lot of pressure to put onto an idea; how could something so small and precious already have so much riding on its back? It’s unrealistic to imagine an idea could possibly turn out successful despite all of this immense and immediate pressure put on it to be perfect on the first go-around. Ultimately, the intense fear of failing before I even begin coupled with the shame if it were to fail, can make it nearly impossible to find room in all of that to grow much of anything.
So, of course it fails, again and again.
It’s as if I’ve created a garden and began fertilizing the hell out of it without planting anything first. “It has to be perfect, I’ll need the perfect ratio of fruits, to vegetables, to herbs, all in perfect lines.” Eventually, no action is taken due to sheer overwhelm of possibilities, all while a garden full of dirt and shit sits without seeds.
The embarrassment of another project left behind is automatic before the feeling of, once again, being a directionless failure begins to seep in. It’s never been about the journey for me and finding ways to enjoy it. The focus has always been put on the destination and hoping it will be just like the massive fantasy my mind has already created. The shiny, successful human I imagine I will be by creating this new thing doesn’t allow me to be who I am at that very moment. Nor can I be the kind, supportive person I need myself to be in order to grow. Yet I get angry with how little progress my garden has made while I won’t allow myself to do the work, potentially imperfect or slightly flawed, that’s needed to start. Admittedly, it’s scary to write some of those words out.
The happiness I’ve been seeking.
We exist in a world that’s okay with you being semi-honest, but not too much in fear you’ll alienate yourself with your too-much-ness. Talking about our struggles with anxiety is fine, but speaking of the immense fear associated with having to introduce ourselves at a party, isn’t. We can talk about our struggles with recent traumas, but not in combination with the too-real nightmares afterward that leave us covered in sweat every morning. Or maybe we can, and maybe it’s just me that’s afraid.
When fear takes over.
Fear is the basis of so many projects left in the dust where I’m afraid to begin and be judged, “so it’s best not to begin at all,” I tell myself. I was terrified the moment I started sharing posts of my travels, afraid I’d be judged for the inexperience I had at “only” traveling to a handful of countries. Things became complicated the more I pushed into this new-to-me travel writing community. I quickly began seeing a trend in superficial guides and stories about how places changed lives for the better. It was difficult not to assume I was the only one who didn’t “get It” when I struggled to come up with enough words for similar posts, chiding myself I that wasn’t trying hard enough.
Yet the articles I loved writing, where words flew out of my fingers, were the ones where I confessed to not feeling much of anything despite traveling to places I dreamed about. I wanted to talk about how depression can follow you onto a plane, and how anxiety can manifest itself in a completely different way when you step foot onto a new country. I had notebooks filled with the crippling sadness I experienced over a two-week period of traveling through Iceland, but they remained on those pages the more I tried to talk about my experience with others. People looked at me with confusion, saying how beautiful Iceland is, and how it was their absolute dream, and how lucky I was to go there.
Yeah, no shit.
Taboo topics of travel.
No one seemed to want to touch the feelings part of travel, possibly in fear of the people who would happily criticize them, because they would, “give everything to be where you were, you brat.” I felt guilty for having the privilege of having a career that enabled me to take time off to travel, the ability to save to afford these places, and a strong passport that allowed me access to most of the world.
I carried that guilt on top of the feelings of hopelessness and oftentimes a bizarre disinterest, angry at myself for feeling that way. What kind of monster spends an exorbitant amount of money, and time, going to what was regarded as the ultimate destination, and ends up being sad the entire two weeks there? So in each country this occurred I wrote the nice captions, had my photo taken over and over until it depicted the perfect idea of how I was supposed to feel being there, even when sometimes the immense feeling of sadness eclipsed my view of a stunning mountain town.
I began to notice another trend in the travel community, of big-time bloggers becoming burnt out from a life of constant travel. Suddenly, they seemed to be focusing more on finding a permanent home, or finally becoming sober, or practicing a life of mindful living and traveling slowly instead of country-hopping at a break-neck speed. It seemed okay to speak about those shifts in perspective, but not the darker reasons that led to their decisions. Maybe it’s out of fear of friends/family/internet trolls screaming about how lucky they are. Or maybe it’s about feeling embarrassed about having this life they, as well as so many others, dreamed about, and it not being exactly as they envisioned.
But, I’ve learned that’s not how the world works.
Travel doesn’t cure your depression any more than a walk in the park on a nice day does. If it worked that way, we’d all be filled to the brim with inner peace and achieving all of our wildest dreams. I can’t blame a person for being bewildered with my response to traveling around Iceland; I was equally confused and upset with myself for feeling confused and upset while I was there. I can’t change how I felt, but what I can begin to change is the way I write about it.
It felt disingenuine to myself and others to be writing the same praises of rapid travel when it left me feeling overwhelmed. I didn’t need to put out yet another guide convincing others of how safe a place was, when I knew it was only so for me because of my sexual orientation, or sometimes lack of pigment in my skin. How could I confidently say a place was completely safe when I knew the country still considered homosexuality a crime punishable by the law? It didn’t affect me, but what about everyone else reading my words? Was I really just here to cater solely to other straight, white females?
So I stopped before I ever truly began.
How could I populate my blogs with words that felt partially untrue, and photos of people who didn’t ask to be photographed, filling in the blanks with my own biased thoughts? I was trying to exist in a world that promoted traveling to learn, but not actually prioritizing creating a connection with the people living in those places.
Back home in New York City, there was a boiling point a job where I had just spent the morning being yelled at by someone who had no legitimate reason to, acting as if I was completely inconveniencing them throughout their day. This person worked with young children, yet she had no idea how to treat the adults around her. As I schlepped heavy equipment back out to the car at the end, I wondered, not for the first time, what would happen if I were to tell this person how horribly depressed I had been feeling that week. How her words made me feel even worse to be alive at that moment, where I was tolerating her verbal abuse only so I could afford to stay another day in the city I adored so deeply. That I had recently turned twenty-five and was, once more, reminded of how far I was from the life I wanted.
What would happen if more people took a moment to think about all of the invisible illnesses and pain the person in front of them could be going through at any given moment, and chose instead to approach that person with kindness. Would it make a difference?
Could I be the person to make that difference in some, small way?
Working through feelings of shame and being stuck.
Over the past few years, I have been struggling to find a way to carve out a niche for myself in the world of writing and photography. Each time, I’ve been unable to find a way to incorporate in my love for travel, a desire to normalize my experience with mental illness, AND a need to create a community around all of it. My travel blog felt too limiting, my photography all over the place, and no idea how to even begin to approach the hard topics I had always wanted to write about. Constant, nagging bouts of shame and fear wove themselves through what felt like many failed attempts at finding a direction in life, not allowing me to see what it was I truly wanted.
Yet somehow, it finally all hit at once recently. I could do all of that. I was allowed to enjoy the process of creating and contributing to projects I felt strongly about without immediately needing to jump to thoughts of how to monetize and scale it. I had needed to be reminded of how we create our own paths in life with each decision we make, every single second. Enough of those seemingly tiny decisions can alter the course of our day, and eventually, enough of those days alter the course of our lives.
So what’s next?
I’ll be continuing to write about my travels, but I am allowing myself to be more honest on the topics I’d like to write about. I’ve moved all of the articles I’ve posted on Jetplane Jean onto this new blog for now, removing the ones I felt I was “supposed” to be writing about at the time. I’m giving myself a chance to create a space with meaningful pieces that are sometimes hard to find within the travel blogging community. Okay Today was created as a more general name where I could feel comfortable talking about my struggles with mental illness, while also including the voices of as many others as I can to help normalize their experiences and to educate others. Maybe it’s too much to include in one place, but the only way I’ll know is by just starting.
We move through our lives believing we are the only ones who are suffering through certain pains that feel so isolating and exclusive to our very own human experience. Through future articles and interviews here, you may recognize some things that look familiar. There will also be times where a topic or experience will feel so foreign to you, that it seems completely out of your depth, or desire, to understand.
My only hope is that you click through to those with equal interest.
Even if you have never felt the immense fear of being invited to a group outing and the shame of yet again canceling last minute because you haven’t been able to get yourself to calm down for the past hour, that’s okay. Perhaps, you find that shame similar to what you go through each time you have to remind your coworkers you can’t go to a certain restaurant because there’s nothing on the menu your stomach can handle right now.
Maybe it turns out that this will fail. Maybe I will end up still putting too much pressure on this growing new idea, and worry too much about its direction too early on. I’ve started this, ironically, in the middle of an unexpected bout of depression where everything feels like a marathon to get this site running. Maybe I’ll never post more than three posts because of the number of times I’ve told myself this is stupid, and how no one will want to read about some sad girl.
But, I am learning to be a better listener to my kinder self, to push past the discomfort of possible failure, and to just try. And so, I am trying. The same way that I am trying to be, well, okay today. Where maybe, that will be just enough of a reason to keep this going.