Chapter 18: Falling Apart

It’s been a long time since I last wrote. Seven months, actually. I spent a few months trying to decide if I would continue this blog or start a new one. My Remote Year is over, but I’ve continued to travel, and part of travel (and life) is dealing with the emotional rollercoaster and mental health challenges that I’ve detailed on this site. I asked myself if anyone really cared about what I have to say, or if my blog was just serving as a diary for me to work through my own reflections. However, when I returned home in June, countless people told me how much they’d enjoyed reading my blog and what it means to them. They encouraged me to keep writing. So here I am, as open and honest as ever, sharing my greatest challenges from this hellish year.

At the beginning of 2020, I had just finished Remote Year. I was a year into my digital nomad life and ready to set off on my own, traveling through Africa with Sam. I was a solopreneur with a growing business and a loose plan of at least 20 countries I expected to visit in the year ahead. In the first two months of the year my workload grew and I settled into a life of relaxing, beachy days and evenings spent on client calls, glued to my laptop, making back the money I’d spent the year before. 

Gorgeous views in Flic en Flac, Mauritius

As the pandemic started to spread beyond China, I was in Nairobi, Kenya, listening to the news, still unaware of how drastically it would change our world. A month later I found myself in Istanbul, Turkey, remarking at the normalcy of everyday life as the Western world started to lockdown. It began to occur to me that my plans to join Sam in Israel might be interrupted. As my 10-day solo trip to Turkey ended, I found myself crying in the airport when I was informed that I wasn’t authorized to board my flight to Tel Aviv. At that moment, my entire world shifted. 

I spent three days in an airport hotel while I waited for the government of Israel to determine whether or not I’d be admitted to their country. My dad called me frantic and scared, begging me to fly back to the US if Israel wouldn’t accept me. As I walked into the arrivals hall of the Tel Aviv airport, a feeling of relief overwhelmed me and I fell into the arms of the man I love. He took me “home” to a shitty little Airbnb, where I’d be confined for the next two weeks of quarantine, gazing out a dirty window at the beach across the street. 

Reunited in Israel

My official quarantine period ended as the entire country went into seven weeks of lockdown. We upgraded our accommodation to a nicer one-bedroom apartment in the heart of the city. What would have normally been an incredible location didn’t matter quite so much in a pandemic, but we had a balcony that technically counted as “outdoor space” which improved my cabin fever to a degree. My work began to dwindle off as companies put their marketing efforts on pause and the economy tanked. As Sam worked around the clock bringing to life a new start-up, I entertained myself the best I could within our small space. As the weeks wore on I became anxious and depressed and my self-esteem eventually drowned in the almost daily baths I would take to relax. As the restrictions loosened and we could leave the house, I did not feel capable of wandering out on my own. My social anxiety was higher than it had ever been.

I’d started 2020 with a goal to find my life’s purpose and start a career transition by the end of the year. When I arrived in Israel I was no closer to determining my purpose, as I’d spent the previous months buried in my career of the past eight years. While I was arguably good at what I did, I no longer had any passion for the work. I knew I had to find something more inspiring, more meaningful in order to be truly happy. As my income dropped lower and lower so did my self-esteem. In this state, I couldn’t even begin to address the question of what I should be doing instead. 

Imagine waking up one day after two months of isolation and wandering outdoors to find yourself in a strange place full of blunt, loud, friendly strangers who just can’t help but try to talk to you in a language you don’t understand. Now if you’re an extrovert, this might not be so bad. You’d simply explain that you speak English and before you know it, you’d have dozens of new friends. But for me, an emotionally fragile introvert, this was terrifying. I felt like a shell of my former self and an imposter who had wormed her way into a country that wasn’t accepting any foreigners. I wanted so badly to get outside and explore a new city, but I would have much rather done so under a cloak of invisibility. 

As you may imagine, this deterioration of self took a toll on my relationship. Sam was working harder than ever and I was hardly working. I slept in late, took long baths and watched TV a good portion of each day. Our schedules were completely opposite as I was working from 7pm to 3am to be available to the North American clients I still had. On the weekends he’d fall asleep on the couch at 9pm, exhausted from the week’s work, while I’d stay up until 5am drinking a bottle of wine to myself. I relied on him for everything I needed outside the apartment and resented the fact that he had friends and family he could spend time with. It had been a year and a half since I’d been home. He felt the brunt of my pain and shame at becoming a pathetic, codependent “partner” who couldn’t take care of herself. Despite that, he tried his best to be there for me and to do what I asked of him with the patience and tolerance of a saint. 

Flying home, at last!

In mid-June, after three months in Israel, the airport opened and we booked our tickets to Colorado. I was finally going home! Sam and I both thought this would be the change I needed. I’d see family and friends, be in familiar surroundings, enjoy the fresh air and the mountains and pick myself back up. The first week home was bliss, but it didn’t last long. In our second week there, my depression creeped back in. I couldn’t understand it. Why was I still feeling this way? Hadn’t I left behind the things that brought me to my knees? Sam sensed it too. I was irritable and he could feel the lack of joy in moments where it shouldn’t exist. We were staying with my parents and one night at dinner it boiled up to the surface. The tears came flooding from my eyes, I told them I just wanted to fall asleep and never wake up. Alarmed and frightened, my parents dug in with me, forcing me to talk through what I was feeling and why. They were adamant about finding the root cause and surprisingly, all of a sudden, there it was. I realized that at the root of everything was the simple fact that I wasn’t living my purpose and wasn’t making any effort to find it. I was in the middle of a pandemic with very little work and very little else with which to distract myself, wondering what the hell it all was for. Why live if I wasn’t going to improve the world around me? Why take up space if I wasn’t going to make the world a better place? I left the dinner table and walked out to the yard, where I found a spot to sit and cry and ponder my future. Eventually I took out my phone and began writing notes. I wrote whatever came to me. Things I’d like to do, people I should talk to, times I’d felt of value. For the first time in months, I felt relief.

That was the start of my latest chapter. My latest rock bottom. From such a low point I was able to reshape my reality. I set off down a new path and have come to see 2020 as one of the best years of my life, so far. I am lucky, because I have the support and resources to start fresh. So each day I swallow my fear and go to work, building a future that brings me joy and purpose. 

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