Travelling for me was a way to escape, as it is for a lot of people. Though I knew this at heart, I don't believe I ever allowed myself to admit it. When I left my job to travel through India, I saw it as an opportunity and not as a way to leave my previous life behind. I at first thought that was the most promising attitude, but boy was I wrong...
By not acknowledging that I had indeed wanted to leave the life I had behind, not only to escape but to learn more about myself I instead didn't surge through the discomfort. That's what you have to do a lot of the time when you're venturing into new terrain, whether that be a new job, school, or in my case a whole new country and way of living.
I fooled myself into thinking that I had left so much behind and so I was always focussed on getting back there, and in so doing forgot to fully immerse myself in the situation I was in now. Hurtling through traffic, feeling lost in a community where hardly anyone spoke English (or chose not to), and wandering through streets with no visible names, became a burden and not the adventure I had initially visioned it to be.
Every day I felt more and more alone. Sleeping my time away in a city where it seemed no one slept. It wasn't due to the hyperactivity of cities like New York, rather it was because people were trudging through daily life at all hours. It was something to be embraced, admired, and I failed see that.
Failed. I see it as a failure, a colossal failure on my part to not take a step back and change my perspective. Yes I was alone. I was completely out of my depth. But. And it's a huge but. I was finally rid of all the negative people that I had chosen to surround myself with for so long. I was rid of a toxic environment which bludgeoned the optimism and enthusiasm out of me.
I hadn't fully identified why this was an opportunity before I had gotten on that plane, or left that kind taxi driver upon entering central Delhi. So despite telling myself over and over, "this is an opportunity" the nagging feeling that I was giving up on a life I had for too long tried to piece together to create something resembling a happy one, never stopped throbbing at the back of my mind.
It is often said to face your demons. I never knew quite what that meant outside of a very dramatic context. Though I now realise it is something to be implemented daily. To face our demons and actually listen to the voices in our head, sometimes our own, and sometimes others. This is not to say we succumb to the words in every instant, but if we continuously ignore them then we can miss huge internal revelations that could actually serve to keep us in the moment and grow.
I was so afraid of confronting my past negative experiences that I created a version of it in my head that trumped my present. Thoughts like "yes I pretty much cried every day because I was so unhappy, but at least back home I had a friend I could talk to." I would completely push aside that at some point in time those friends were just people I knew, and there were people just like that where I was now. In essence, I could rebuild here, but I chose to just fantasise about the "renovations" that could be made in my old life.
Not to go all Eat Pray Love on you but the experience was definitely one of self-discovery. So the sentiment of emerging from an "old life" seems apt. There was no celebration, or exact landmark event which I could pinpoint as my rebirth as it were, rather it came in waves. I found myself gradually coming to love the fact that my fellow pedestrians were at times cattle, and that running into oncoming traffic was just part of getting from A to B.
What at once seemed death defying was now something I nonchalantly regarded as "my morning commute." I started to look forward to: the onslaught of vendors in the streets, the punishing sun, the throes of people, and the utter volume of stimuli. It was no longer cumbersome, but welcome. Why? Because I had changed. Slowly but surely I had removed myself from a self-imposed fugue state and begun to appreciate the environment I found myself in.
Strangers had become acquaintances, and acquaintances had become friends. The loneliness dwindled, the "lost puppy" demeanour had begun to diminish, and I was starting to ACTUALLY treat this vast, complex, sometimes jarring and often beautiful country as an opportunity. An opportunity to be strong, be open, and may be most importantly forgive myself for my past digressions.
I would love to say that I left India fully whole, but I don't think that's how travel works. What it did for me was take me apart, and give me a foundation to build myself back up again. It's an ongoing process and had I pushed myself through the discomfort more than I would have likely had a few more building blocks. What actually happened was I gave up just before things started to turn around.
They say that when you miss a place it's the person you were when you were there that you miss, and not necessarily the place itself. There is definitely some truth in that. I often think that if I had stayed that much longer, the positive strides I had made would have been much more ingrained in my psyche. However, what it has taught me as a result is to always, always, always, (clearly I cannot stress it enough) push through the discomfort because that struggle will almost always be worth it.