You eat to fill the burning void that’s inside of you, that won’t go away by thoughts alone. You feel it festering in your soul, sometimes like a little mouse chewing on the sides of a live wire, little crackles and sparks of foreboding running through your limbs, merely a hint at the deeper danger that lies just millimeters away. Sometimes it’s like a rotting, gaping hole in the center of your chest—but not just any hole: a black hole, a vortex, drawing everything that is good down with it into its spiraling depths. You hate this feeling, but more than that, you fear it. You fear what it makes you want to do to avoid it.
So you eat. Compulsively. With a borderline desperation that makes you fear you are losing control. Or you don’t eat, instead opting to let the woozy feeling of weightlessness bring you a little closer to something that society deems “perfect.” Maybe if you can control your body, you can control the darkness inside it. Or perhaps you cut yourself, to numb the pain that you feel inside with something sharper, a little more direct. You might also drink, to blur the lines of reality into something manageable, to dull the throbbing vacancy inside your chest that you just don’t know what else to do with. Or you may distract yourself with a “meaningless” array of men or women, investing in quick, unsteady relationships that may cloud the void for a moment, but only end up making you feel worse.
Perhaps you take a drug—any drug. You’ve tried stimulants, know your way around antidepressants, and have dabbled in the likes of pot, “blow,” and a smattering of other hard drugs. These make you feel good for a time, but you’re not sure if the letdown afterward is worth it. You might also zone out with something mundane, such as episode after episode on Netflix, or run on the treadmill until your legs and lungs are screaming for mercy. Maybe you lean on friends, or a family member, clutching closer to them than what would be considered healthy. You can’t stand the thought of anyone leaving you, leaving another empty hole inside, so you dig in your heels and desperately tell yourself that you need these people to survive.
You won’t let them go.
You won’t let any of it go.
Because that feeling— that dark, raging hunger—it won’t leave you alone if you do. You have to choose a way to cope with it, to live with it. And instead of turning to look into the depths of that blackness, its darkness so stark and complete that even the thought of it makes you want to spiral downward forever, you resolutely turn your head away, and continue on with the hope that one day—one day—what you’re doing will be enough.
This story is meant to show the feelings and difficulties that people with mental illnesses and addiction go through, although I know it is only brushing the surface. I wrote this in the spirit of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February 26-March 4, 2018), and, having suffered from an eating disorder myself, I can relate to that "void" feeling that you feel you must fill (as I know many of us can). If you or a friend is suffering, don't hesitate to reach out to the National Eating Disorder Association helpline at 800-931-2237 or the National Alliance of Mental Illness hotline at 1-800-950-6264.
Fear is a funny thing.
In the most basic, animal sense, fear is motivation for action. You see a polar bear on the ice and the subsequent shot of adrenaline urges you to run away. You peer over a cliff and your instincts tell you to back up. We've all felt this icy zing of fear as it shoots into our veins, propelling us into action.
But on the other hand, we've all come to know and dread the Fear (with a capital 'F') that society has told us we should avoid at all costs. "How to be Fearless," the headlines all scream, and we're bombarded by messages every day that encourage us to live a life free of fear--thus making Fear all the more present in our minds. We've come to fear Fear itself. We feel that Fear has no place in our lives, and that to feel Fear, even a little, will mean that we have failed somehow as an intelligent, 21st-century human being.
But is Fear really all that bad? Certainly in survival-type situations, Fear is good. It can help you keep on keepin' on. It's what motivates you to punch the 2,000 pound Great White Shark in the face when it's got your leg in its jaws. So why has Fear become something to be ashamed of, when it is as natural (and as healthy) to life as breathing?
It's easy to fall into the trap of trying to avoid your Fears, or thinking that you are weak, somehow, for Fearing the things you do. Certainly, you reason, no one else has a Fear of crickets. And besides, it's not healthy to think about the things you Fear.
But I argue that it is healthy. I recently took a few moments to think about what I Fear as compared to what everyone else seems to Fear, and came to a surprising conclusion. What I Fear (and, particularly, what I don't) can be drastically different from everyone else.
And that's when I realized that we put too much stock into fearing Fear.
Try listing out your Fears (and non-Fears) like I do below. You can make a full list or a shortened one. You'll soon realize that yes, you may Fear things that may seem strange to other people (but you'll also note that some things that other people truly, deeply Fear have no hold over you). Putting Fear into perspective can help you acknowledge that our society places too much anxiety and stigma around the emotion. Fear is on the same level as happiness, stress, joy, anger, sadness, etc. Obsessing over it will help no one.
Here's my (mostly comprehensive) list of Fears:
Falling from high up; not having enough money to go after my goals; running out of money while traveling; catching a horrible disease while traveling; living an aimless life; succeeding in what I want (the irony); failing myself or my family; presenting in front of crowds; ruining my healthy habits by traveling long-term; bungee-jumping; not being able to exercise; losing my healthy way of life through some fault of my own; glass elevators; bears when I’m hiking; bees and buzzing creatures of all types; crickets; men walking behind me at night; tidal waves; tornadoes; flying off a roller coaster; not accomplishing my goals; falling from up high; small spaces; living a dull life; having children; listing my Fears for people to see.
Now here's what I'm not afraid of:
Dying in a terrorist attack; taking calculated risks; traveling solo; going to the movies alone; trying wild new foods (pig’s head, blood pudding, and raw sea urchins, anyone?); speaking up against bullies; wolves; flying/turbulence; spiders; scary movies; haunted houses; dying; getting lost; my phone dying; being in a foreign land where I don’t speak the language; the dark; aliens taking over the world (hey, some people Fear it!); ghosts; being alone; asking questions when I don’t know the answer; change; being childless; making a mistake; never getting married; the zombie apocalypse; taking a punch while boxing; getting a tattoo.
This list should make you feel empowered. Yes, we all have things that we Fear. And yes, many of these things we may view as ridiculous, or we feel that they somehow make us seem weak, or petty, or childish. But when we put our Fears in perspective—and look at the things that other people Fear that we don’t—we realize that our Fears, with a capital 'F', don’t make us weak at all. They simply make us unique.
I have a confession to make: I am notoriously hard on myself. I am always holding myself to impossibly high standards, trying to accomplish an unbelievable amount of things, and quite often feeling like (if not a “failure”), that I’m just simply not trying hard enough.
I am never content with what I am doing. If I write one blog post one week, the next week I need to try for two. If I run 4 miles, I should be able to do 5. The need to achieve is a wonderful, driving force, but there are times when it can drag you down. I’ve felt it. I live it. And I know many of you do, too.
“Contentment” is not a word we people with high ambition are comfortable with. Why relax, we reason, when there are tasks to be completed, laundry to be washed, and important things to be done? We watch our Type-B friends crack open cold ones, sit back, and truly live in the moment, while we stand, looking around, making to-do lists in our head and wondering when the appropriate time to leave is so that we can go home and get things accomplished.
And no matter how much we do, we are never truly satisfied.
Don’t get me wrong—there is nothing inherently bad about wanting to succeed. It’s a great thing to be goal-oriented, to be ambitious, to constantly be challenging yourself. But there is also something to be said for being able to relax and enjoy what’s around you, without having to feel that you need to be somewhere else, making a name for yourself.
I wish I could give advice to those of you out there who are like me. But to give advice, I’d have to first be able to take it. I know the benefits of being able to fully relax, to “let myself off the hook” of accomplishing the things on my to-do list. However, I find that whenever I try to take a night off, to watch a movie or a Netflix show, or let myself eat an impossibly greasy piece of pizza, that the guilt involved with these activities is far greater than the peace of mind it could—potentially—give me. I am an achiever through-and-through. The all-or-nothing mentality is a real concept, and I’ll shamelessly say that it applies to me, more often than not.
I know I’m not the only one.
The thing we need to realize is that ambition isn’t everything. Succeeding at all costs doesn’t have to be our only option. If we slip up, make mistakes, or, God forbid, want to change our minds about something, we need to be able to give ourselves permission to do so. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing, especially when applied to ourselves.
So while achieving is fantastic, and I know I’ll keep trying to do a lot of it with this short life we’re given, it also has some downsides we need to keep an eye out for. Doggedly going after a goal and forgetting to live isn’t healthy—we need to spend some time focusing on the here-and-now, too.
Wake up. 5:30 AM.
No time to pause.
Roll out, coffee hot, ignore the view from your driver's side windows.
Curse the slow people on the road.
You must make it to work on time.
You must not let them see you fail.
12:30 PM. Lunch break at the desk.
Work hard to catch a break--
which will come tomorrow.
Answer phone calls
Feel your passions slowly die.
6 PM. Drive home.
Make a to-do list in your mind.
Cook dinner, wolf it down, head to the gym for 30 minutes--
Not because your soul wants to, but because it's the right thing to do.
Feel the burn but push through anyway.
10:30 PM. Time for bed.
Turn off the lights but cannot sleep.
The ceiling stares at you, dark and suffocating.
Toss and turn
Toss and turn
Waiting for a day that will not come.
It happens to the best of us; one moment, we’re feeling perky and productive, sipping our coffee and chatting with coworkers or classmates. But then, merely moments later, we seem to hit a mental wall. And this mental wall tends to hit hard at around 3 PM. This phenomenon is so common, it’s often called the “mid-day slump,” and no one is immune to its exhaustion-inducing foggy haze.
I’ve tried my best to avoid it, but, like clockwork, the dreaded haze hits home at 3 PM, day after day. I started asking myself, “How do other people survive this? Surely I’m not the only one who feels like my productivity stops abruptly in the late afternoon.” I’m certainly not the first to feel the 3 PM slump, nor will I be the last. However, in my quest for answers (and remedies) I found a few things that can help make it survivable. These tactics work for me and have worked for others, so hopefully they’ll work for you, too!
Take a break and do a completely different task.
This one works wonders for me. If I’ve spent the morning writing and hit the wall at 3 PM, I’ll then either switch to editing something or reading something off-topic but still useful (gotta keep that productivity up, yo). When I’m not at work and feel the slump creepin’ in, I’ll get up and go for a walk to get my head out of the computer and focused on the nature around me. Be sure to take a long enough break that you feel refreshed afterwards. You don’t want to shortchange yourself and only increase your tiredness. Because that can totally happen!
Drink water (or coffee, or tea…)
Sometimes the haze happens because we’re not hydrated. Water is often best, but if you’re really craving that kick of caffeine, it’s probably ok to have some of that, as well. Just keep in mind, most people have an even worse crash “coming down” from caffeine than they did when they were simply tired. So tread carefully.
Minimize distractions during your workday.
This one’s hard. But how many times have we been interrupted from our task at hand to answer an email, chat with a coworker, become surprised from a knock at the door, etc.? After a few hours of this, we’re abruptly exhausted—our brain can only handle so much constant stimulation. Truly try your best during the day to minimize distractions as much as possible. Tell yourself you’ll have one coffee break midmorning and talk with coworkers then. Or, plan to work when most of the office has gone to lunch. Or, if you’re not feeling like living the lonely life, you can plan to talk to people in person, but only check your email at set times (instead of every time they come in). Know yourself and what strategies for minimizing distractions will work best for you. Because, honestly, most fatigue comes from your attention being scattered for too long, not long spans of time being focused on one thing.
Take a quick walk.
Never underestimate the massive benefits that walking can have. Not only does it provide a change of scenery, it also lets you get a breath of fresh air. If it’s too hot out (or too cold, or rainy, or you’re located deep within an office abyss and can’t escape) taking a walk up and down the halls is just as good. Get your heart pumping a little, that’s all that matters. You can also use the privacy of the bathroom and do some lunges and squats (which, yes, I’ve done in a pinch).
These seem like simple tips (and, to be honest, you’ve probably heard them all before). But they’re tried-and-true because they work. Sometimes, we just have to be reminded of what we already know to reassure us that it’s still relevant. So take a walk, drink some tea, and put your noise-reducing headphones on, and when the next time the 3 PMslump comes knocking, you won’t have to open the door.
'Life is something to be spent, not to be saved'-- D. H. Lawrence
I'll go on a trip as soon as I graduate college. I'll stop eating junk food after Jessie's birthday party on Saturday. I'll put $100 in savings after I pay off the furniture set.
Why is it that we always seem to be waiting for the perfect time? There's no such thing as the perfect time--we all know this. So why, when we're thinking about the things we want to accomplish, do we often find ourselves making excuses to get out of doing them?
Many would argue that fear is a big motivator. Fear of change, fear of failure, fear of success. Others would cite lack of willpower. Or that you simply don't want your goal enough.
These are all valid reasons, and no doubt many of them are true for many people. But I would also say that a huge reason people don't go after their dreams with the time they have is that they think there always is MORE time.
Forget the "perfect time"-- MORE TIME is a trap that many people fall head over heels into without ever consciously realizing it. You want to take a trip after graduation but end up getting a job instead? 'Oh, I'll just go to Thailand another time. Next year,' you say.
But then next year rolls around, and you realize you're in line for a promotion. After a bit of internal debate, you decide, 'Oh, Thailand will always be there. When else will I be able to have this opportunity to climb the career ladder?'
Then the following year, you push aside that desire for authentic pad Thai when you get married. And then, again, when you put a down payment on a house. Soon, your long-held dream will become nothing but a nagging thought in the back of your mind, something you don't consider urgent enough to act on because "there will always be more time."
And that, my friends, is how dreams whither and die.
You've got to wake up and realize that while time seems to pass slowly, pass it does. Just as no time is going to be "perfect," there will come a point when there is no more time left. And who knows when that will be?
If your number is called next week, tomorrow, tonight--would you be happy? Would you say you acted on your life's desires, or would you look back and wonder at how you could have done so little with such a seemingly long amount of time?
I know what I would choose.
Prioritize your life and prioritize your dreams. ACT. So when that day comes and your number does get called, you'll be able to say, with certainty, that you used all the time you had.
Travel is increasingly becoming part of our everyday lives. We see it depicted on the TV, hear about our friends going to far-flung vacation spots, and can't go into a bookstore without being greeted by a wall of destination guides and maps. The world becomes more globalized every day, and it's true that there's a new pressure to become a "global citizen."
Whether you're planning a trip for the fun of it, for work, or to add some new experience to your resume, you will come across this inevitable situation: going alone or going with others. Some people won't even consider traveling solo, and that's fine. However, if you're on the fence about it, here are some questions to ask yourself before you book that ticket.
#1.) What is it I want to do?
Are you traveling to see temples and ancient sites? Do you have to be in a city for a week due to a work assignment? Do you want to meet people from all walks of life and party with them at night? Defining what you want (or have) to do while abroad can help you decide if you want to bring anyone with you. Your friends hate history but you want to hit up all the museums? It might be better to go alone so you can enjoy the Louvre in peace.
#2.) How do I deal with loneliness?
It's true that life on the road can get lonely, especially for solo travelers. Even if you're only going for a short period of time, knowing how you cope with loneliness is important to deciding what kind of travel experience you want. However, even traveling alone, you can meet all kinds of people on your travels--it's just a matter of putting in a little bit more effort.
#3.) Are these memories I'll want to share with someone else?
Always wanted to see Rome with your dad, who adores the "home country?" Can't think of going to Thailand without your adventurous posse? Knowing that the destination you're going to is important to others is a big factor in deciding to go alone or not. Would Dad be disappointed if he didn't join you? And more importantly, would YOU be disappointed?
#4.) Do I have the confidence?
It's intimidating to travel alone--not gonna lie. You can feel as though you don't know anything, or that you don't have enough bravery to do it. While courage and self-confidence grows along with your memories the longer you travel, it is important to know if you feel prepared to go at it solo or not. Hopeless reading a map and don't even want to try? Hate talking to strangers would rather figure things out on your own? You may be better off traveling with a buddy to fill in the gaps of your experience/knowledge. Or, at least, when you get lost, you'll get lost together.
#5.) Do I have the funds for this?
When you travel with someone else, you often split the costs. Hotel/hostel rooms, meals at restaurants, groceries to cook with, cars or boats or trolley tickets... When you travel alone, all these expenses fall solely on you. Conversely, know that it can be cheaper traveling alone--you don't have to plan for two people or throw caution to the wind when your friend asks you if you want to go skydiving (the day after you splurged on a snorkeling trip).
Overall, only you can decide if you think a solo trip will be more beneficial and fun than one taken with other people. While I think it's important to travel alone (but perhaps I'm biased, because it's virtually all I do), for some people, it's not the best option. Consider these questions, dig deep into yourself, and soon you'll be able to decide if you want to see that Roman coliseum with Dad--or not.
I'd love to answer your travel questions! Ask me anything you'd like to know about solo travel in the comments below.
I shouldered my backpack, walked off the plane with confidence, and halted. I looked around. And I realized, to my complete and utter horror, that I had no idea what I was doing.
I was alone in a foreign country, with everything I would own for the next seven weeks strapped onto my back in a gigantic black backpack I’d dubbed “Ranger.” Looking around me at the sea of people hurrying through the airport, going towards their destinations as surely as they would walk down the streets in their hometowns, I felt the weight of that backpack settle squarely on my shoulders.
Damn, I thought. I should have packed lighter.
In that one second flash of realization after stepping off the plane, I became aware of just how on my own (and unprepared) I truly was. Panic gripped my chest in an icy fist. I should have planned more, I should have done more research, I thought, standing still as a stone among the flowing waves of people. What am I supposed to do now?
I knew that what I did next would make or break my travel abroad experience. This was a test, given out by life, to see if I would fail or not. I could rise to the occasion, or I could sink. I’d bought the ticket and taken the ride, but now the real journey was about to start.
Gripping the straps of Ranger, I bolted into the nearest bathroom.
Ignoring my fellow travelers, I looked in the mirror at my sleep-deprived—yet optimistic—face, and took a deep breath. That breath seemed to go straight to my soul. Like a cleansing shower after a long, hard workout, that one, simple deep breath cracked through the panic still clutching my chest.
“Ok, Kayla,” I whispered to my reflection. “You need to go get money, then you need to find the tourist office.”
And with that, I forced myself to leave the sanctuary of the bathroom.
Like a person training a puppy, my brain gave me silent commands. Take out $200 at the ATM. Ask the woman at the desk where the bus station is. Make sure you have enough small bills to pay the bus driver exact change.
And with each accomplished task, I grew more confident.
I soon found myself the sole occupant on a bus heading into Dublin city, Ranger propped in the seat beside me like a sentinel. And from that point on, through the rest of the seven weeks I traveled through Ireland, all I felt was excitement.
Many people think that solo travelers possess a type of bravery that is unavailable to anyone else. They think that people who “dare” to travel the world alone must be missing the fear gene that plagues lesser mortals. But this, my friends, is simply not true.
Solo travelers certainly feel fear. One of my personal mottos is to “feel the fear and do it anyway.” Being fearless doesn’t mean that you don’t get scared—it just means that you choose to overcome it.
As a solo traveler, I didn’t always know what I was doing. There were moments when I was completely lost. I had times where I doubted myself, got frustrated, said an embarrassing thing, marked myself as a foreigner. I asked for help more times than I can count. But through it all, I never oncedoubted my decision to travel alone. Even when I locked myself in a hostel bathroom and had to seriously consider either breaking down the door or jumping from the window, I wouldn’t have given up my experience for anything.
We all have doubts. We all have fears. And we all have that moment where these come to a head.
But guess what? We also all have the ability to overcome them.
Kayla Maneen received her BFA in Creative Writing and minored in adventure and fun. After graduation, she worked on an organic farm in Ireland and taught English in Italy, and learned all there is to know about chasing sheep and eating long, leisurely meals with family. She is adamant about people living out their passions and reaching their highest potentials. Always follow that fire in your heart!