Since 2019 has been such a mixed bag, I have decided not to write a ‘Year in Review’, as I did in 2018. Truth be told, this year had some of the best months… but also some of the worst in my recent past. This happened in the last quarter of the year and, although I’m very much healing now, it makes doing a cheerful round-up seem kinda jarring – despite the various highlights.
Instead, I’m going to use this time to reflect on my gratitudes from the past year and consider how I can use the defining moments of 2019 – both good and bad – to set positive intentions for 2020.
A full-time job and secure flat share in Melbourne (January to March)
Job stability in Melbourne really set me up for the first half of the year. When I arrived in Melbourne in November 2018, I found a job on my second day and worked there full-time until my very last day in the city at the end of March 2019.
I’ve talked in detail about the ups and downs of moving to a new country alone – particularly as an introvert – but overall I believe my time there was positive. I had a solid foundation from which I could live comfortably and set realistic goals for the remainder of my time in Australia.
Waterfalls and Water Parks and Under Water in Bali (April)
Although I consider Bali to be the home of 2019 mental health blip number one, I never dived too deep into the incoming anxiety because I was surrounded by such great people. And when we got ‘split up’ through unforeseeable circumstances at the end of the trip, I rectified the situation by the scuba diving in Amed and got my Advanced PADI. Not bad eh. Considering the USS Liberty shipwreck dive? Highly recommend it.
When I was still with my friends, we visited waterfalls and a water park (the latter which was unexpectedly my favourite day in Bali haha). Kudos to Gemma and Campbell for being little lanterns in the first third of 2019, I couldn’t rate these two enough. Same goes for Kirstie, who literally slept under a towel so I could take the blanket. How sweet haha. Three hearts of gold.
The best backpacking adventure in Java (April)
My 2 weeks in Java was the most consistently breathtaking trip of my life. The temple was THE best temple I’ve visited, the island was THE least touristy and beautiful, the waterfall was the most magnificent and the volcanoes were otherworldly.
It’s like every stage of my journey was amazing and yet constantly overtaken by the next activity on my trip. And best of all, the locals were so friendly and the local bus network the best combination of ‘fairly easy but still feels like an adventure’ – I mean you try getting on a packed 8-hour bus, solo, with constant salesmen and people singing down the aisles with their baby in a sling. The sunrise treks and nature expeditions were the kind which you have no idea how to figure out until you arrive, when everything falls into place.
I‘m particularly grateful for:
This one’s on me, but only to begin with. I’ve never felt so powerful and capable in my life. Actually, it was a bit scary – I went a little too into my tunnel-vision ‘I don’t need anyone’ mode.
But really the locals and travellers I met along the way are what I’m grateful for. For example, the paradise island Karimunjawa was so much better because I met May who drove me around on her scooter. At Tumpak Sewu waterfall, I met a Dutch couple to hike down with which made it so much more fun. I’m an extreme introvert so believe me when I say I could EASILY have gone 2 weeks without speaking to anyone. It worked out perfectly.
An immediate support network in Sydney (May – August)
I could not be more grateful to Yanti. In April I posted concern on Instagram about living in a horrible, expensive hostel while searching for a job and place to stay in Sydney (as I did in Melbourne before). Yanti replied saying I could come to stay on her sofa bed while I sorted things out. She had only met me once before and it helped me out massively. I really believe this easy transition into life in Sydney is a key reason my entire five months there were so special. It’s the best my mental health has ever been.
Also in Sydney, I met Karen and Tom, who became dear friends. If someone were to ask me to describe them, I would only be able to use the good adjectives. We still chat often and support each other.
AND a group of Sydney girls from Instagram invited me into their super inclusive message group so I could join them for a couple of meetups. I really liked all of them. They were a really loving and warm group – I just wish had the time to get to know them better.
Sydney’s Lesson in Slow Travel (May – October)
Although I did have a little more trouble finding work and a home in Sydney -I essentially lived in three places in five months and worked about fifteen different jobs while temping hahah – I really felt stable. I had a larger variety of people to hang out with than any other time in the past decade and knew EXACTLY where to find nature. Nothing helps my mental health more than walking in nature and taking on a different coastal walk once a fortnight was easy to organise.
I learned a lot about how I most enjoying travelling from this experience.
Remembering my creative self again (September)
Something I learned AND something I’m grateful for…
Pre-travel, I worked in a creative world. My friends were struggling artists, part-time actors and those who, despite a 9-5 job, were creatives at heart. I have an arts degree and spent many years working in film and theatre. During that time I did many jobs, but none I liked more than working as a production assistant or working collaboratively on someone’s project who valued my creative voice or opinions.
As an insecure yet highly expressive and compassionate introvert, there is literally nothing I love more than meeting someone who’s the creative voice I believe in and helping them realise that voice. Although I love writing, I don’t think I could ever do it as a career because my authentic values are too high. I can let go and be more realistic -even slightly business-minded – when it’s someone else’s project.
When I quit that world to begin a money-making job in order to save for travel, I thought I could ignore my past. I thought travel would be exciting enough to calm my wild heart. But it was like I’d cut off a creative leg and before too long the limp caused a permanent ache. And no, no amount of blogging would fulfil me; it’s a drop in the creative ocean I used to experience.
In Sydney, I made good friends with a photographer and ended up assisting him on a couple of projects. Although this was very different to my old world, it was enough to make me feel fiercely passionate for art once again. Combining creativity, production values and travel turned out to be the perfect mix.
I learned that in 2020 finding ways to create, ideally in collaboration, is a priority.
A safe place to land in Freiburg (October)
Although it was hard leaving Sydney, my first stop was revisiting a travel friend I made in June 2018, right at the beginning of my travels. I stayed with Celine and her partner for one week after my 25-hour flight to Europe. It was a cosy and safe way to begin a difficult journey.
I have a particularly fond memory of meeting Celine’s mother, who invited me around for a traditional meal. She said, with some amount of joy, ‘so you came all the way from a big city in Australia to a small village in Germany.’ It was a special few days. Thank you Celine.
Learning Lessons from depression in Europe (October – December)
Annnndddd then everything went to sh*t. Hehe. I don’t want to revisit this but you can read why this happened here: Why I wound up depressed backpacking Europe… and what I did about it This reiterated the lesson of slow travel I learned in Sydney.
I also learned, rather brutally, that I do no longer feel any affinity with Europe. And, despite the love and compassion I feel for my old friendships, I learned it is not worth the financial burden and strain to visit this continent. The truth is, if I hadn’t gone back to Europe this time around, I would not be financially concerned right now. I am GRATEFUL that I went, or else I would have regretted not seeing friends, and it was awesome being reunited. It’s also better that I know for sure that prioritising Europe when considering how to spend money is a bad idea. The pressure of being close to my old home country, and the expectations of seeing people (who were not always kind despite the lengths I went to to save) was too much. It was not enjoyable.
Sooo yeah, I learned I’ll not visit Europe again unless I’m going with someone – i.e.; it’s a fun holiday, not a solo expedition. Cool.
Big thank you to Becca, Pete and Sarah for coming to see me. That was awesome.
The places which were nonetheless beautiful (November)
Durmitor National Park (Montenegro) and Lake Ohrid (North Macedonia) stand out in my hazy memory of this period. I did visit other stunning places but this period has blacked out a little in my memory. I didn’t enjoy these places, I endured them. I mean, I didn’t enjoy a sight, meal or moment during that blackened period. And if you think that’s weird, please google depression. 🙂
However, I did appreciate them. I am grateful for their beautiful existence in the world.
Beginning the Healing Process – Europe -> Chiang Mai (December)
Meeting cosy old friends from school was a good start in the healing process, since it was so comfortable in their company and was ready to start talking about this period. We could talk openly about mental health and our different experiences and struggles with it.
I also made the decision to LEAVE Europe a few weeks earlier than intended and fly to Thailand. Nope, not for a holiday, but for a solitary place to spend as little money as possible while barely leaving my route. I chose Chiang Mai since it was kinda en route to my final destination – I begin a WHV in New Zealand soon – and it’s dead cheap. As I joked to a friend, if I’m gonna be depressed, I might as well save some money doing it!
My friend Georgie also helped me reassure this decision was the right choice even though it meant cancelling a plan we had for January, which made things so much easier.
Something I’m endlessly grateful for? Hi 🙂
I’ve basically been a hermit in Chiang Mai but that’s okay. Perhaps spending Christmas and New Year’s entirely alone (and I mean, no conversations whatsoever with other people) might shake some people’s nerves, but I found a place of calm for the first time in months. Phew.I have been ensuring I do a little exercise, eat okay everyday, and eventually did meet up with some other solo girls for a hike in nature. It’s really been fine, which is a great progression. It’s like when you rest up to get rid of the flu, right? Things don’t always go away overnight.
I am lucky to have tools which, at times, can ease anxiety and soften the effects of depression – such as exercise, mindfulness and diet. I wrote about more of these tools in much more practical terms in my blog post below.
After sharing this post, I also felt supremely grateful for those who took the time to read it. People messaged me to say they found it helpful or shared it with their friends. It was an incredibly touching end to that part of my journey.
Looking forward, I feel positive about the upcoming year, along with the challenges and joys it will undoubtedly bring.
Intentions for 2020?
Create, Listen, Learn, Glow.