Just Show Up

Have you heard of Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead?

If not, maybe you have watched or listened to her Ted Talk from 2011 on vulnerability.

If none of the above sound familiar, I’ll quickly sum up who she is and why she’s important in this context.

Per her website, she describes herself as:

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Foundation-Brené Brown Endowed Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work.

She has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of three #1 New York Times bestsellers – The Gifts of ImperfectionDaring Greatly, and Rising Strong. Her latest book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and The Courage to Stand Alone, will be released Fall 2017.

I am currently reading her book on vulnerability and wanted to share how I believe it has already helped in my life.

Stepping back about three years, I had been living in Canberra, Australia for almost two years when a very special person entered my life, who we’ll call “Nikita.” We met during a chance occasion when both of us didn’t want to be present and we become incredible friends over the common need to paint with someone else.

During one of the last few weeks before I moved to Bahrain, I enlisted the help of a local art supply store to figure out how to realise an idea– A 4d painting of my face. That is, a painting where my face literally blasts through the canvas. The girl who helped me had a certain quality about her that I hadn’t remembered seeing in anyone else.

If you watch enough movies–specifically romantic movies– there are moments when a man meets a woman and it’s as if time slows down around her. This actually happened. While showing me something off the bottom shelf at the store, she looked up at me and time seemed to literally slowed down and I couldn’t hear what she was saying.

Immediately my thoughts went to “ask her out, ask her out, asker her out!” In fact, they persisted through the remainder of our transaction, all the way to me walking out the door and to my car. But I didn’t.

How could I have met someone that I referred to as “Dragon Eyes” and just walk out the door when everything inside was screaming to court her?!

The truth is, I was scared shitless. This was the same fear that talked me out of making a move to progress a relationship in my teens and the same fear that talked me out of sky diving or bungee jumping.

I was vulnerable and that wasn’t O.K..

This is where Brené’s book comes back into the picture. Vulnerability is being present, as you are, and authentically you. It’s showing up and accepting that you are not perfect, but nothing in this world is.

Having read through her book over the last month or so, and in line with other steps towards shedding a lot of baggage, I made a decision.

Currently I am back in Australia for Nikita’s wedding party. Though the party is only a few hours on one night, I came here for two reasons: Celebrate her and her partner’s love and embrace the fear of rejection.

Today, I went back to that art supply store. Guess who was there to help me? Dragon Eyes and I worked out a new project, which is meant to be a wedding gift for Nikita. The hours leading up to my visit were filled with striking fear and anxiety. As I have learned new ways to deal with emotions, instead of trying to numb or suppress them, an idea came across. If a friend was in a similar scenario and had the same sort of reservations about asking the girl out, what would I tell them? My honest advice would be to show up, embrace the fear, and ask the question.

My experience in anxious moments (e.g. public speaking, expressing inter-personal problems, etc.) is no matter how hard I try to numb the feelings, there are only two options: show up and move through the anxiety (advance) or cower and retreat (decline).

So, after many questions about different products, techniques, and methods– which were really ways to delay the real question– I asked if she was free the following week.

Her response?

“I’m sorry but I’m taken.”

Hmm, I suppose I should have asked her out three years ago.

“I was still taken.”

Failure? Not at all.

In fact, I am quite proud of myself for showing up and having the courage to do what was necessary. Maybe I was turned down, but I made a move towards something that the Quiet Voice told me to pursue.

This is all part of the process of showing up, being present, embracing the fear, and being vulnerable.

After 30 years of accepting what I get and not pursuing those goals which truly excite me, all in the name of vulnerability, I’m re-working the habit.

What’s your experience with vulnerability and fear? Has it prevented you from pursuing a goal or a mate which you felt was too lofty or out of your league? How do you think it deterred you in life? Have you found a strategy to move through the fear and anxiety?

 

 

 

Nature

Nature has become the catalyst for my clearest and most profound thinking. This is something new for me. Maybe it’s the more “free-reign” nature that, though includes hordes of tourists, just seems more pure than I have found elsewhere.

I don’t want to edit this post for everyone’s eyes so I make sure it’s “just right.” What you need to know is losing cell-coverage, not seeing another human being for several hours at a time, only hearing the sounds of rivers, birds, and rain… It’s better than any human interaction I’ve had lately.

Maybe I need to slow down on these posts. Not to say I crank them out on a high-frequency pitch, but the real essence and punch of what I am trying to convey seems to be lost.

Going off the grid (out of cell service) for an entire day has been great. Haven’t seen too many people on the road and the quiet voice lead me to a road, and I quote, “Is not a tourist route yet…” Yet should be in italics as both the person(s) who were responsible for writing and creating the sign knew that time would deliver.

I’m moving closer to something I can’t put into words.

I’ve reached a middle-ground between tourist and national. Other tourists annoy me and even those who seem to put forth an American North American accent, require extra energy to avoid. Maybe it’s because I want to feel special about this experience and see the beauty and live the vagabond life in my own bubble of false reality. Really, it doesn’t matter because I know when one of those aforementioned tourists points their face in my direction and starts to talk, a different, less calm version of me comes out. The conversation topic of You’re a Tourist/ I’m a Tourist: 50 Questions to Ruin an Experience, have grown old.

Is it odd to want people to approach a beautiful scenic area and take it in in silence? Does the 50 foot high elevated walkway with grand panoramic views of the Southern Alps need to be place to sing your praises about dabbing and why it’s still around?

This has become a snarky post about tourists when really I should point out how awesome it’s been to follow the quiet voice down random roads. No kidding.

I wake up each morning and have little-to-no plan for the day. Somehow, I go on wanders up glacial rivers, down hunting roads littered with livestock, find lakes with mirror like surfaces, and end the day somewhere different.

A work in progress is understanding what is happening within me and trying to make sense of it. Maybe that’s where I am going wrong. Maybe I’m too nubile in this transformation to see what is happening, no-less describe it on a forum.

Maybe it’s not time for you to know where I am and what I’m up to.

Maybe it’s just time to be.

 

Learn to Ask Better Questions

Ah yes, once again here I am gracing the pleather couches of my local McDonalds.  Trust me, if there was a better option that offered free wifi, power, shelter, coffee, and most importantly– seclusion and anonymity, I’d opt for it. With that being said, it has become my ritual to sleep like shit, wake up hours before the sun, and head here for coffee and connection. Today, I have a limited schedule, so I might as well put finger to keyboard and get this draft together.

Now back to your regularly scheduled pensiveness…

In response to my last post regarding demons, I want to say “thank you” to those who reached out. Though the message may have been a bit abstract, my writing this post now should reassure you I was not on death’s door days ago.

What I want to get at with this post stems from a question my mom asked me the day I posted last. She asked (in her usual concerned fashion) “how are you doing?” With which I responded “I don’t like that question and am not going to answer.” My mom is a champ. She has endured (and so has the rest of my family and friends) years of deployments, overseas living, traveling, and only seeing me in person two-weeks a year. Through all of that, I still don’t like or respect the question.

Asking someone “how are you?” or “how are things” is such a shit way of showing concern.

Now, I can’t present this argument without first saying–even this week–I’ve asked these questions to friends.

To everyone’s credit, I don’t think we really know how to express concern in a constructive manner. It’s icky to talk about anything that isn’t positive. To dig into the shit people are stewing on. The cancer their brother has. The drinking problem that stays hidden from the surface. The family member who overdosed. Finances overcoming…It’s all icky, shitty, nasty, genuine, life.

Now I don’t believe that anything makes you or I feel a certain way. Rather, we associate a response with a feeling. If I tell you “you are a piece of shit” it may or may not have an effect– dependent on whether we know each other and how I rate in your life. However, if you are a complete stranger, I ask how you are and you launch into the excruciating details of how you were raped at 19 by your husband who also tried to kill you (yes, true story) within 30 minutes of us meeting, I’m gonna feel a certain type of way.

Moving on. When someone asks me how I am doing or how are things going, so many thoughts come to mind. Am I supposed to tell you about my health? How about my financial well-being? How about the positive experiences between our contact? Or, maybe, you want to know my opinion on the other tourists who travel New Zealand.

How many times have you asked someone how they are and they immediately take a deep breath before answering in a restricted manner?

I don’t really give a shit if you or anyone else thinks that I am overthinking this. The truth is, I don’t give a fuck about sports. How does this relate? Sports is more openly discussed than feelings or thoughts on life. Why?!

I take pride in noticing the layer of reality that others don’t. You’re busy watching “the big game” and I’m lost in why this season the jerseys are designed differently than last season.

My belief is you should speak and act with purpose. Of course we don’t have a quota on our words, but maybe we should. How different would life be if we were limited to only so many words per day? How would you use them? Would you prioritize what you said or didn’t say?

No maybe I’m lost in my own head, but I truly feel like the communication we have is incredibly superficial. Instead of asking how I am, maybe just say “hello”. Acknowledge my existence. If you care about how I am doing–truly– then ask. Don’t waste my time with your pre-programmed feigned interest.

Rant over.

 

Northland

So, for the past month, I’ve been traveling the northernmost parts of the North Island of New Zealand.

Writing this from Coromandel, an earlier look at the map reminds me just how far I have to go to get back to Hawkes Bay. According to Google, I’ve travelled roughly 2000KM over the last month.  In my opinion, spending a few nights in each spot (and skipping iconic spots due to weather and interest) I have expedited this trip as much as one could.

So what have I learned? Well, too much time on your own is not healthy. Conversely, too much time in one place is not either. Based on the two criterion: rumination and irritability, I may have found the formula for travel: 1 day drive + (=/-) 5 days stay = positive mental state.

And what have I done? Well, I’ve listened to the quiet voice. In other words, no plans, no itinerary, only follow the road north, then south.

Instead of writing a full blown post about what I saw and my experience (which isn’t my style) here’s some of the top pictures from along the way….

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“Andrew, I want you to draw me like one of your French girls.”
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Entrance to the Capitaine Bougainville Monument coastal walk.
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A double rainbow on Bart’s birthday, over the Otamure campsite.
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Just outside Puriri Bay. Just looks nice, you know?
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What?
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The more picturesque side of the Muriwai Gannet Colony.
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Admiring all the shit from the Muriwai Gannet Colony
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Just the tiniest little tag-a-long
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Gotta start small when exploring the waterfalls
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The “Big Tree” a.k.a. “Tāne Mahuta” which is the largest Kauri tree standing, today.
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Cape Regina (Ree-Eng-Uhhh) Light house. And some random European male who fucked my picture

 

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I’m guessing I was inspired by the Haka display in Waitangi.
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The time I got high during a wander and had a private dolphin show.
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As seen on Facebook. 
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The Southern Arch is the largest arch in the Southern Hemisphere. 
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Muriwai Beach. I’d say it’s the most beautiful beach I’ve visited, to date.
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The cliffs and caves of Whatipu.
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Ignore the shades of blue and green behind me and check out that sexy hair!

Gotta’ Deal With the Demons Before They Deal With You

I’ll be honest with you. There are days I really doubt this wandering thing. Sold my possessions to fund the whole thing and now I’m here, surrounded by beauty.

This isn’t something I would normally share, considering travel is considered a luxury by many people– especially to New Zealand.

The saying goes “where ever you go, there you are” and as much of a cliche as it has become, I think it’s quite fitting. The current count is 35. 35 countries travelled, wandered, explored, dined, fucked, smoked, drank, and slept in.

No matter how far I go, there is still an unhappiness that follows. A discontent with what I have, even though, logically I understand how fortunate I am.  But, I wont get into the dichotomy of logic vs. emotion. Just know, I’ve been studying psychology as an amateur hobby since I was 17 in an effort to understand what the fuck was going on in my head. Now as an adult, I have been working towards an  under-grad degree in psychology to further my knowledge.

There is another layer to sort out though. Education makes your head smart, but it doesn’t do anything to transform the core of who you are and how you interact with the world, unless you consciously put forth the effort. This leads into the theory of addiction to unhappiness.

Can you really practice sulking and ruminating on past indiscretions to such a point that you become addicted? The law of perception speaks of the way we view the world is directly correlated to the way we believe it is. (insert source)

So what the fuck am I getting at?

I spend a lot of time thinking about the world, emotion, feelings, past relationships, etc.. No, it’s not to make myself feel worse about ‘what could have been’ or ‘the one who got away’ but rather in an effort to improve myself.

Some how along the way, I forget that Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety, and PTSD are part of who I am. At the moment, I’m not seeking counseling. I’m not taking my medication every day as directed. Something drove me to come to NZ to escape the reality of separating from the military and returning to ‘Gen-Pop.’

On the days where I didn’t sleep well the night before, wake up dehydrated, or just can’t handle the world, the veil of “nice” vanishes. I rather like these days because I feel a bit more in control of my life. Instead of enduring the polite conversations with people I could give a shit less about, I ignore them. The old people (50-60s) who populate many of the Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites that I visit are good people, but they’re old. They stare at you and are curious about what your home looks like. They possess such a proper (and in my opinion stifled) way of discourse that I want to go over and shake them awake. No, I don’t give a shit about where you’re from. No, I don’t want to tell you where I am from. Yes, you do speak poor English and yes, I can understand you.

Recognizing that I am very fortunate to have the life I do (logic), yet wanting to be away from people, yet lonely (feeling) I somehow continue on with my life.

As many of my close friends know, I have dealt with suicidal ideations. I’ve even pushed it further than thoughts and half-assed tried. The days when I am vibrant and energetic, I am also optimistic about building a better life. When the days of irritability, loneliness, isolation, and darkness arrive, I feel that it’s so fucking hopeless, I might as well push the “reset button.”

For those out there who deal with PTSD, Depression, Anxiety, Bi-Polar, or any other sort of mental health issue, I’m sure you can identify with this post.

What do I intend the reader to have gained from this? Maybe a bit more insight into mental health disorders. Maybe that even if life seems grand on social media, there too can be issues.

Really, I just wanted to write a post that was raw and authentic. A post that challenges the thought  that I need to write something that doesn’t offend, in the same way unoffensive music is played at a grocery store.

A desire to be deeply connected to someone, yet completely fearful of being let down. I’ve always been quite sensitive and am now, at almost 30, learning to accept that. At age 18, I saw combat for the first time in Afghanistan.

At 2a.m. in June of 2006, during my 2200-0600 radio watch, the first three RPGs hit. During the summer, we would leave the doors open through the Joint Provincial Coordination Center (JPCC), as air conditioning and even fans, were non-existent. Usually the wind tunnel created would slam the doors shut, often in succession. The boom from those first three RPGs careening into the Provincial Police Chief’s Prado, a weapons connex box, and the Police Chief’s residence, sounded just like the doors slamming. But what threw me into my Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) was the immediate book end of AK-47, RPK, and PKM gun fire. It was pretty evident that we were under attack. Even though I was in the Navy for less than a year, and in Afghanistan for 2 months, training kicked in.

Immediately I grabbed my M-16 and ran to wake up the interpreters, who were sleeping in the back bunk room. I don’t remember being scared. From what I do remember, I was excited as this was the reason I joined. Finally, we were in the shit and my wish came true. During the attack, I was responsible for manning the High Frequency (HF) radio to our main Forward Operating Base (FOB) just 5 KM up the road, as well as a Motorola hand-held to my immediate Chain of Command (CoC) on the other side of the compound. Unfortunately, during the attack, it was not possible for anyone from my CoC to come support me as the friendly fire from the Afghan Security Forces was too intense to move safely. So I, the only english speaker in the building, along with my two Afghan interpreters, were responsible for not only coordinating between the Afghan National Police, Afghan Border Police, and Afghan National Army, but also the main FOB in Sharana, and the Army Embedded Training Team (ETT) at our small base.

Needless to say, it was a cluster fuck. But through it all, I remember having a smile. I had just quit smoking and was amazed at how I didn’t even crave one. Thankfully I had an excellent Army Captain in charge of our team at the time who could have been reprimanded my, let’s say, lack of tact and professionalism. Within what I believe was 30 minutes, the attack was over.

Unfortunately we could not coordinate forces during the attack to fight back and due to the responsibility of my position, I wasn’t authorized to return fire. To this day, I hold a bit of contempt that I wasn’t allowed to climb the roof and release the 210x 5.56mm and 3x 40mm HE rounds at the enemy, who we later found out was directly across from me. In the end, we were ALL fortunate. A battle damage assessment of our compound revealed a very strategic pattern of RPG and mortar impact. For instance, the Prado I mentioned, was roughly 50 feet from my building. An example of the awesomeness of ordinance, the Prado was hit by an RPG that went through the perimeter wall, 75 feet across the compound, into the engine block, between the front two seats, through the rear seat, out the tailgate, and into a connex box full of ammunition. From there, all the fire seemed to shift left in a beautiful arc, hitting new construction buildings,  our gym, and other perimeter walls.

Writing this now, 11 years later, I cant help but think of how bad of a morning our team would have had if the fire shifted right.

How did I make it through this without all systems shutting down? I shut down emotion. True, I was excited, but I recognized that I couldn’t cower in the corner as lives depended on my position. Truth be told, I saw the whole thing from a child’s point of view. This was the action I had read about in war books; that I had fantasized about when joining the military. I had family back home, but really, I wasn’t afraid to die in that attack. So where did the PTSD come from?

It wasn’t until later on in the year-long deployment that the possibility of being kidnapped and beheaded became real. Each night as I walked to watch, I was hyper-vigilant of being grabbed. Though my team would probably tell me I was being paranoid, seeing how lax the security provided by the ANSF was and how porous the entrance gate was allowed to be, I became genuinely paranoid about being the next star in a poorly recorded home video.

To keep my sanity, I shoved all that shit down. I found the emotional box for “fear” and clicked “unsubscribe.” Or so I thought. As I learned years later, you cannot just numb one emotion. Of course the recorder was on the whole time during the remaining months of that deployment. The subsequent attacks, suicide bombings, IEDs, nightly dog shooting, and propaganda videos recovered, all had an impact. Even the muscle memory of the weight, feel, and responsibility of a M9 Barretta 92FS with two 15 round magazines straped into a drop holster around my left leg and a M203 (M16A4 with M203) with Aimpoint red-dot Close Quarters Battle (CQB) and Night Optical Device (NODs) optics with a 3-point sling across my chest, persisted even after being turned in to the armory in Fort Bragg, up-to 6 months later.

Upon return, I dove into binge drinking and chain smoking with my friends, who also deployed to different parts of the country and came back with their own personal experiences. I started to see a counsellor to help sort out some of what was going on in my head, but as thankful for Military Onesource’s support, the free counsellors aren’t the best. At age 19 it was quite difficult to relate to my friends back home. The command we all left from was a prestigious military university which trained US and Foreign upper-level leadership in strategy. Support staff were all old dogs who were riding out their time. Many of them had not been in a combat zone and did their best to identify with us, but reacclimatizing to the US after living in Japan for 3 years hardly can compare to Afghanistan, right? My friends from Sharana went back to their commands and their friends from back home. It became pretty evident that even though I had friends from my command who deployed as well, no one was opening up. Not sure if it was immaturity, lack of a mental toolbox, or just the stigma on feelings, but we acted as if nothing happened. It became quickly clear to me that I was on my own.

Full disclosure, I wasn’t anything special. I was part of a small detachment from the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) assigned to train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in simple military operations (e.g.map reading and radio operations) as well man our own radios, all while living in a small compound on the outskirts of Sharana.  The I was a member of one of the first six Navy PRTs which was meant to augment the Army in their campaign to win hearts and minds. We weren’t offensive forces. I didn’t shoot anyone. In fact, the only time I fired my weapons in Afghanistan, was towards the end of deployment during a range day. I wanted to be more involved. I wanted to be part of search and kill operations, on the front line, playing with the big boys. No matter how I try to portray myself, I wasn’t anything special. Having these experiences in some ways justifies my mental health illness, to a lesser degree than actually being the cause.

Over the past few years, I’ve told the above story to girlfriends, counsellors, and family. What were they meant to do with that information? Many showed the expected empathy, but I could see through the thin veil that they had no idea how to process what I was telling them. So I held on to it. It wasn’t until February of 2016 that the weight of holding on became so heavy that I was the closest to ending my life. On that Thursday (last day of the week) if I hadn’t made a snap decision to go to medical, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this post.

The coping mechanism that I used (repression) to move forward in my military career and life, was so destructive, I couldn’t contain the pain any longer. Each day, I would confront new issues in my role as a Facilities Manager, putting every ounce of energy I had towards fixing other people’s issues. Between meeting customer’s expectations, limited ability to say “no”, responsibility to the guys who worked for me, and the approval of both my supervisors, peers, and those men I lead, I lost the plot.

Along the way, I had a few friends run into their own demons. Spending time with them during the day, trying to be a sounding board for what they were experiencing, ultimately made things worse. What was a amazing was while I genuinely listened to them unpack their baggage, they had no idea how close I was to the killing myself. I persevered. They needed someone to talk to, just as much as I did. After months of this, I grew resentful as I put in effort to check on these guys, get them to open up and offload, yet no one was looking out for me.

I chose not to open up and therefore people thought my serious, stern face was just a sign of determination and focus. As one friend said, “Cellini, you always look so serious and pissed off.” To which I defended “This is the face of determination and focus. I don’t have time to fuck around.” She thought it was an endearing quality in a man, but didn’t understand that endearing quality at work does not translate to friends outside of work.

Over the course of 20 months, I had, what I believe to have been 3 nervous breakdowns in secret. These breakdowns externalized themselves as silent screaming and convulsing episodes at my  desk when the office was empty, complete isolation after work, hypertension, irritability, weekends and late hours spent at work were the start. Eventually–just before I was medically evacuated from Bahrain–psychosis set in.

During those periods of isolation in my apartment, usually while studying or watching TV, I’d see dark objects out of the corner of my eye; I’d feel something pulling on the back of my shirt; and I’d hear voices that were not really there. At work, every person I came into contact with wanted something from me. Anytime I’d hear my name, I’d cringe and could feel my stomach tighten. Needless to say, it was a toxic environment.

This was a pivotal time in my career. I was ranked #3 of 47 peers in my command, had received Sailor of the Month and Quarter awards for efforts and was highly regarded.  My evaluations were stellar and if I had taken the advancement exam seriously, I have no doubt that I would have  advanced to Chief Petty-Officer. But none of that mattered anymore. I became so obsessive compulsive about meeting everyone else’s expectations of who I was supposed to be and making sure that I “was set-up for success” that I became a drone. A few peers resonated with my stance on the Navy’s competitive advancement structure, but for the most part, the majority were focused on promotion.

Two days before I left Bahrain that I had a sit-down with my Chief. He had just reported to our office a month earlier, was super motivated and willing to learn from me so he could get up-to-speed. In an earnest effort, he wanted me to stay in the Navy and advance, no matter what. During the sit-down, I told him where I was at mentally, that I was suicidal, and didn’t think I would be able to make it another month. I looked him in the eyes, almost at tears, and told him, “now do you understand what I mean when I say that no one knows the true cost of success, but you?” It finally clicked for him. If he wasn’t the man he is, I don’t think I would be here today. He was assigned to be my escort back to Virginia, found a way to stick around for several weeks, visited me everyday in the psych ward and treated me like a genuine friend. For that, I am eternally grateful.

For 12 years I placed the Navy’s goals of who I was meant to be, above my own. I didn’t resonate with their plans and policies and would teeter the line between who I was suppose to be and who I thought I was. My barometer of how I was doing was based on my supervisor’s opinion of me and how they interacted with me. If it was a positive reaction, I could feel the endorphins spike and I would be filled with a sense of pride. If it was a negative reaction? I’d immediately slump so low, I’d be reminded by every indiscretion I ever committed and resolve that I am completely useless.

I’ve been living wrong this whole time. Between relationships that were completely wrong for me, friendships that were based on lies, and a personal approval rating based on societies’ opinion. The connection we have with people can be so healing, if we allow it to be. Lately I’ve told people not to be ashamed to cry or be vulnerable with me, as it’s a strength. However, I have had immense issues with opening up, myself. I’m embarrassed to show emotion. I don’t like being vulnerable. I don’t trust. The information I share, has been pre-vetted and determined not to cause harm if transmitted in private, yet shared. I’m an enigma. I don’t want people to come in because the last time I opened that door, I was judged harshly by someone who has been closer to me than anyone. EVER.

For a while, I had been convinced that I was addicted to negativity. As I write this meditative blog post, it becomes more clear that I haven’t fully released this negative energy. See, if I am too afraid to open up to someone, how can I fully release what is weighing me down? I’ve been working on this in the van. Meditation during those days (like this one) in which a lot of negative energy begins to surface. Instead of pushing it down, tightening my neck and throat to stop the tears, I focus on the emotion and talk myself through the release.

So that’s the way forward. That’s why I am here. Why I concluded the life I had in Virginia, travelled west and didn’t resettle back home. There is still hope out there. Each day I wake up, it’s a crapshoot. For a few days my mind is clear and optimistic, then I wake up and hate everything. What I have learned is that it will pass. I’m doing my best not to think the house is 0n fire when my mind decides to play with matches. It’s tough, but if I don’t take the time to confront these demons, I will most likely let me thoughts consume me. That’s depression. No amount of beautiful scenery, fresh air, solitude, alcohol, nicotine, driving, or running with absolve me of this weight.

Thank you for reading and allowing me to be raw about why this blog is so important.

 

 

 

Curious Case of the Woo-Woo Bird

Alright folks, here it goes. Hopefully I can keep these thoughts in order and coherent, post mini-holiday.

This past Thursday was Australia Day. My gracious hosts decided to celebrate with a long weekend down on the Southern Coast of New South Wales, in the village of Tuross Head. The weekend coincided with a very much needed experiment in determining whether or not Nomophobia would effect me.

Quick segue here on the topic of phone addiction. I’ve been striving for separation from, well let’s just say “people,” for months. In fact, i’ve romanticized the notion of going dark and disappearing for a while. Since leaving the U.S., I’ve found myself glued to either my computer or phone– sometimes both at the same time. Maybe it’s the need for attention or I am truly running away from something.  Hypocritically so, I want both at the same time: disconnection and connection. 

Alright, back on topic. 96 hours without any electronics other than a kindle and camera. Oh yeah, no internet either. The drive down was rough and even before we left Canberra, I could feel a slight uneasiness. What would have normally helped expedite a 2+ hour drive through the bush, was replaced by naps, polishing a Timorese worry stone, and conversing. Nothing too special, yet nothing too arduous. I know, first world problems, right?

The house we stayed in was simple, bright, airy, and opened to jungle, mountain, and the Tuross River views. Once I found the back deck hammock, I spent all of Friday reading (finished) I Forgot to Die by Khalil Rafati. The simplicity of having so few artificial stimuli, combined with the amazing Australian summer, opened the door to relaxation and clear thoughts. It’s amazing how much time I have spent trying to distract myself from the lulls between activities in everyday life, as if I cannot spend one single minute just to watch the world go by.

Come 5:00 a.m. Saturday, I was rudely woken by sounds of the jungle. First, it was what I could only guess to be birds on the corrugated steel roof, pecking and hopping around. Honestly, it sounded as if  rats were scurrying through the ceiling above me– it was unnerving. But that didn’t get me fully out of the sleep hangover. Enter the Eastern Koel. What our trio initially referred to as the “Woo-Woo-Woo-Woo Bird” and seemed to posses such an innocent and child-like call on Friday, turned into “WOULD YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP?!” bird on Saturday. Fortunately (not) for me, it wasn’t just the backyard which was blessed with their mating call; Nic and Mick must of had the distant mate in the front of the house returning a call. Digging down another layer, the laughing Kookaburras were in unison and sounded like distant Orangoutangs. Add that all together and the sounds I came to fondly remember Australia by, became the soundtrack to my nightmare. Needless to say, I was in a shit mood for the better part of the day.

By Sunday, I’d learned to use earplugs. Full disclosure: they didn’t do shit. Alas, it was time to go back to Canberra. Before we left Tuross Head, we hired a boat with a wicked fast 6 horse engine and patrolled the waters of the Tuross Lake and River. Being brackish, the water was a beautiful turquoise green and quite clear. As I motored the yacht, Nic and Mick were free to spot a fur seal on Tuross Lake Broadwater. We were all pretty astonished how close the seal allowed us to get (a few feet) while it cleaned itself, dove for fish, and played peak-a-boo. Pretty enchanting. After two-hours on the water, it was time to head back. For anyone who has visited this part of the world, you know how extreme the sun’s intensity is here. Fortunately two hours was enough to get a quick look at the lake and river, spot wildlife, and have one more chilled out session before heading back.

In conclusion, I didn’t miss too much by not having my phone. Sure there were a few important messages and emails to attend to, but in all reality, it was worth it. As this blog is called “Your Quiet Voice” the intent is to document ways to gain access to the guiding voice, I believe, we all have inside and hopefully inspire others to find the same connection.  A four-day weekend off the grid helped to minimize the white-noise associated with too many tabs open on Google Chrome and a constant ping from social media and restore my connection with the voice. Finally, spending a weekend with great friends is never a waste. With both Nic and Mick’s work schedule, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to spend four consecutive days together. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to stay with them and spend a cheeky weekend off the grid.

 

 

Society! Society! Society!

Well, it’s the day after the U.S. Presidential Inauguration here in Australia. The only news we get of the public’s reaction is what is posted on Facebook or the local news. The latter is concerned. One quote about “America First” put one news anchor into a position of worry as “what does that mean for its [America] allies?

Fortunately for this writer, it doesn’t particularly move me. As I told friends prior to leaving the U.S.: I’m leaving just 7 days before Trump takes office and it wasn’t planned. I just hope that in the coming months, America’s international relations don’t get fucked to the point of denied entry internationally.  But that’s my two-sense on the matter.

Moving on. Soon, I’ll cast off Australia and start a 12-month work and holiday visa in New Zealand. This has been a long time coming and taken roughly 2 years to coordinate. From the day I decided to follow the Quiet Voice, in February of 2015, to actually ending my contract with the Navy earlier this year, it’s been a hell of a journey.

Many worry I’ll take a page from Christopher McCandless’ book and go Into the wild— disappear to reach fate in Alaska. Honestly, I do resonate with some of his ideals: Leaving society (SOCIETY! SOCIETY!  SOCIETY!); casting off the expectations of family and friends; search for inner direction and purpose. In fact, I romanticism his intent, not his execution.

Part of this trip was meant to break away from all I knew and decompress somewhere foreign, but not too foreign. To be frank, I’m coming at this alone, not 100% healthy, and directly after leaving a career and lifestyle I knew since age 18–why add completely un-fucking-known territory? Fortunately, this region is like my second home. The friends I left behind have been supportive of this decision, to the extent of putting me up for the month. Coming to Australia wasn’t about seeing new territory; it’s a staging area for a great adventure. What shouldn’t be neglected though is most of my gracious hosts along the way expressed their fears on the subject. Fears like: When will you come back? Do you have a job lined up? Where will you be next month? What if it doesn’t work out? You know you can come home if things fall through, right?

These fears and concerns collected on my day-to-day thoughts like a snowball. It’s been growing. Day after day, country after country and I’ve allowed it to effect me. But why wouldn’t I? If every person in your life is given a different degree of impact and influence in your life, wouldn’t close friends and family be the most impactful? Don’t get me wrong, I value their opinion, but in a way, I’ve allowed them to have ownership on the matter. Maybe it’s time to go dark for a while and get the much-needed space and room to think.

Couch Surfing

The luxury of having a worldwide network of friends and family is, there are a plethora of places to crash.

Having started this journey in early December, I’ve cast off having any sort of permanent residence. Starting in Virginia, I’ve stayed between Long Island, NY and kept going west to now, Australia. Every stop (count is now 9) offers a different living arrangement. Some offer a house with Lego and children who think you’re there to be their week-long personal train layout guru, others a hot-rack style sleeping arrangement in a busy city. Most of these friends I had not seen in years. Some were former military friends who deployed together to Afghanistan, others close friends met while on travel.

What I’ve learned is, it’s incredibly personal to allow someone else to stay in your home, all-be-it on your couch. No matter how low-impact you intend to be, you cannot get away from the fact that a houseguest changes the dynamic of the household. Earlier last year, I was fortunate to rent out a spare room in an old friend’s house that he and his wife had purchased. I say fortunate because this was their first house, we all moved in at the same time, and they didn’t bitch about my truck load of personal belongings that occupied their garage for 9-months. I did my best to offer skills in renovating their house or watching their dogs while away, as a gesture of appreciation for the opportunity. Even though we were long-time friends, their space wasn’t completely their own.

In the coming weeks, I will be moving to New Zealand to start a one-year Work and Holiday visa. This has been a dream in the works for over two-years now and is gaining momentum. My friends and family–who have been generically listed above– have supported my decision to quit life and wander. They understand the desire to roam the world and they too, have destinations of their own they *dream* of visiting one day. I cannot speak to what it will actually be like to carry out the plan; only the experience preparing.

How do you express the conflict of wanting to wander the world and elusively call nowhere home, yet feel the desire to find a place that is? On average, I’ve moved every 1-2 years, for the last 11. New Zealand has been the only country outside of the United States I felt could be home. As one friend suggested, “you are looking for your tribe and just haven’t found it yet.” Maybe. Is it a deep uneasiness in oneself that creates an internal environment which doesn’t want to settle or is it merely part of life?

I’ve told friends who own their own homes, that I live vicariously through them. Seeing them build a life within their OWN space is exciting. However, something pulls me back to reality and reminds me that would be settling. The only way to find out if the nomadic lifestyle is for me is to take the leap.