Map to me

My life as a traveler

I never finished my posts recapping my trip to Nepal. That trip, save for a bout of food poisoning that hit during my 30-plus hours on flights and in airports on the way back to Texas, was incredible. Seeing Everest from a plane was incredible. Becoming friends with the people I met on that trip was incredible. But then I just felt uninspired writing about it. Like writing about it somehow took the trip away from me.

I went to Nepal in December 2015. I went to Taiwan and the Philippines (Boracay, specifically) in October 2016. Then I was in Guanajuato, Mexico, in January; Medellín, Colombia, in February; and Antigua, Guatemala, in March of this year. Thanks to my location-independent job, my trips to Mexico, Colombia, and Guatemala were for the full month each – I worked full-time during those jaunts abroad.

Even with all the travel and adventures, I still had no desire to write. I journaled a little. But no blogging. My domain renewal notice came up, and I let it expire. This blog just sat. Dormant.

I’m going to Peru in September for a much-needed vacation. I’ll share photos on Instagram, as I have with my previous trips; where words have refused to flow, my photos helped me tell the stories.

Everest, Nepal. December 2015

My search history would show you my efforts to figure out if I can work abroad again sometime soon. Paris. London, maybe. Berlin? Or Frankfurt? Tel Aviv looks incredible. As does Dahab, Egypt. And I found out about this place in Tanzania…

That’s when I push my computer away and tilt my head back, eyes closed. This always happens. I start with a potential location – for vacation, to work remotely, to live – and then zoom out of the map little by little to explore more options until entire continents fill the screen and I’m overwhelmed.

The world, and the possibilities within it, is overwhelming.

I tried to quell that feeling of being overwhelmed by places to go by moving to Taiwan in August 2010. This site was born not long after; I’d started a listserv called Mandy’s Pushpins to keep friends and family updated on my life abroad. When that listserv turned out to be a pain to maintain, I bit the bullet and signed up for WordPress. I wrote regularly about my life in Taiwan, the trips I took in the two years I lived abroad, and how I handled coming back two years later on September 1, 2012.

(Spoiler alert: I didn’t handle it well.)

Then this blog became my personal space for feelings, some of which should have stayed in my journal, I’m sure. When I settled in Dallas and tried to join the dating scene there, the name of this site should’ve changed from Mandy Travels to Mandy Dates. Instead it became “Mandy travels… and stuff”.

“Stuff” is a vague word. It’s the kind of word you throw around when you’re not sure what word you actually want. And that signified where I was at the time. I wasn’t sure want I wanted. I’m still not sure what I want.

“Hey, Mandy. What are you doing with your life?”

“Oh, stuff.”

Boracay, the Philippines. November 2016

In order to better shape what I meant by “stuff”, I did what I tend to do when I get antsy: I moved. Thanksgiving of 2015 found me on the road with a U-haul full of the belongings that survived the great cull of 2015. Northern San Diego County, I decided, was where I’d figure out my life. Dating, exploring – LIFE – was going to happen. I was finally going to feel like I had my act together.

The itch started again about six months ago. It’s inescapable, powerful, and not necessarily something I’m happy about. Even my mom, as we talked on the phone Sunday evening, asked if it was coming back. I told her I wasn’t ready to leave, which is true, but that I’d started thinking about it. And, for the first time, that I was torn about moving.

This past Wednesday night I had a very “hippie California” experience, and that’s when everything seemed to become clearer.

I went to see a friend who practices Eastern Medicine. As I rested on the table, we talked about my physical aches, and with my guidance she poked, pinched, and prodded before administering acupuncture needles. My right knee and foot were a mess, which I expected. When she moved to my head without my prompting, I lay quietly. She put one in my left ear.

“What’s that one for?” I asked.

“Anxiety,” she said.

Guanajuato, Mexico. January 2017

The needling itself hurt very little. But randomly I’d really feel a needle. My eyes were closed, but I knew exactly where each needle was, especially when a particular one kind of… pulsed. My body was relaxed, but every few minutes it felt like a charge of some sort coursed through it. Not electricity – more like my body was adjusting and resetting back to how it should be. It was a wave of energy that gently passed as I lay there with a dozen tiny needles sticking out of me.

Lindsey asked how I was, and I told her what I was feeling. It was normal, she assured me. She then stepped out so I could just be. I asked if I could fall asleep, but even with her permission it didn’t happen.

Two minutes after she stepped out, I teared up. No warning, no reason, just tears in my closed eyes that eventually made their way down my cheekbones. I wasn’t sad. At the time, my mind was fairly blank. She let me be there, alone and responsibility-free, for roughly 20 minutes.

When I left, I felt good. Tired. Since I was close and the sunset looked promising, I made my way to my favorite beach, where a wooden set of stairs takes people down to a local surf spot. The tide was up, so onlookers stayed on the stairs, and there were over a dozen people in the water catching the last waves of the day.

 

The sunset was beautiful, but I was fascinated watching the surfers. They would casually launch into a wave, none of which were larger than a few feet. At the end of their run, each surfer would fall into the water.

What brought me immense joy was how they fell. It wasn’t a graceful hop or dive. Legs splayed, most of the surfers crashed into the ocean on their backs or sides in a full surrender. They’d resurface, violently shake their hair out of their faces, pull themselves back onto their boards, and paddle out to the next wave.

One let out a gleeful, surprised yell as he crashed out. From 100 yards up, I watched and laughed.

Several surfers surfing at sunset. San Diego. July 2017

I realized at that moment that I’d love to be as in-tune with the ocean as those surfers were. But I’m not a surfer. As the night went on, I realized what causes my antsy moves and my near-constant wanderlust.

Most people describe themselves with an -er. Hiker, biker, entrepreneu(e)r, surfer, mother, father, homeowner, volunteer, shopper, skier. Even the non-ers, like wife or husband, still have a way they identify themselves. And where they live needs to fit them.

I struggle with feeling like I fit in. In Dallas I wasn’t a wife or mother, a shopper, or a proud Texan. In Southern California I’m not a surfer or hiker. All I know to use to identify myself is “traveler”. I don’t have many other -ers that feel right. And when a traveler cannot travel, they get antsy. Since I want a home base in the States, that complicated things a bit, too; otherwise I’d hop place to place and be a permanent digital nomad.

There are two key steps to take now. The first is that I need to adapt better. I’m in one of the vacation capitals of the country, and I need to take advantage of that and try everything it has to offer. I might find another -er here. In fact, it’s highly likely I will. But that takes more effort than I’m currently putting forth.

The second step is to be able to afford to travel. That means making hard decisions and committing to some major lifestyle changes. At least, I think it does.

Flying over Los Angeles

As far as this blog goes, I’m not ready to delete it. I considered it multiple times over the last year, but I don’t feel done with it. For a while I thought I wanted to become a travel blogger, and I was going to use this as my launching point. I even contacted Intrepid Travel, the company I used for my trip to Nepal, and let them know I was blogging about my trip. I’m now connected to a couple people from Intrepid on Twitter, but nothing else came of it.

It’s taken time, but I realized I don’t really want to be a travel blogger. Nomadic Matt does a fine job, but a lot of travel blogs are just content for the sake of content (and popularity) (and free, touristy trips). If I see one more faked photo or fluff piece about a place, I will do nothing of consequence, but I’ll be annoyed.

Really, the travel blog “industry” shouldn’t bother me. I think the frustration comes from thinking for years that it was my dream job. When a long-term dream fizzles out, you start to wonder if you’ll ever figure out what you want to do.

I still want to tell stories. Hopefully my stories help someone somehow. I don’t know. But I need to figure out a new name for this site, because “Mandy travels” isn’t my entire life, and “Mandy travels… and stuff” is such lazy copywriting.

I’ll figure it out.

(Now it’s “No time for regrets”. We’ll see if that stays. I kind of miss “Mandy travels” already. The tagline, “Figuring out life by running directly at it”, stays.)

For now, it feels good to have written again. I wasn’t sure I could still do it, to be honest. Cory Richards, a photographer who has worked extensively with National Geographic, puts it well.

I can go months without touching my camera. Most of what I make is garbage. I’m relentlessly hard on myself for not shooting more. I’m often paralyzed by the fear that if I make something, it will suck. I can sit for months in despair without ever making a single image. I’ve struggled the last two years with photography… but occasionally it rises new again in a moment of surrender and I remember why I love this so much. I don’t have to be prolific to be passionate. But I do have to show up.

I need to show up. Find my -ers, find out how I can travel more, find ways to tell more stories, and find the time to write. It’s up to me to make it happen.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Let’s talk for a second about what I fear.

I fear I’ll always live paycheck to paycheck and will always feel tethered to my debt.

I fear I’ll be single forever. Just the other day my crush walked past me, and I stared so hard at the ceiling I almost levitated. For as extroverted as I can act, I’m shy around men I don’t know. People who are single have to take responsibility for their part in their singledom, and that’s a large part of mine. See man, hide face! He looked at me – gah! Abort, abort, abort!

I fear I’ll die with regrets. My passport will be too empty and my experiences exploring my own country will be too few. I won’t ever feel true fulfillment with my career. That if I do have a book inside of me, I’ll never write it. That I didn’t tell that one person that one thing because I was worried what they’d think of me.

I fear people (will) pity me for being single. “Such a great girl, but never found love. It’s just so sad.”

Okay. There’s the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure I have more fears, but I can’t think of them all right now. We all have plenty of them; any self-respecting overthinker has more than her fair share.

In the short-term, I’m scared of my move to San Diego. Of the trip I just booked. (Which, I’ll be honest, I’m 50/50 scared and excited every time I book a trip. Doesn’t matter where or how long or with whom.) Of my triathlon next month. Of being so active but uninsured.

So let’s get something straight: I have just as many fears as everyone else. Possibly more. I freak out. I’ve had anxiety attacks. Ever had one of those? Mine started when I was trying to figure out my move from Taiwan back to the States, but I had the most severe one of my life after my former boss fired me over the phone earlier this year. They pop up every now and again.

I hear all the time about how brave I am. People are proud of me for having the courage to do something. I inspire them to take risks in their own lives. And when they are actually inspired, and actually follow through on their big scary goals because they saw me do it, that’s awesome.

Most of the time, though, when someone calls me brave, I feel like a giant fraud. I feel like I’ve been put up on some kind of weird pedestal I don’t deserve.

There’s nothing special about me, my friends. I’m scared, too.

But my biggest fear of all is letting fear run my life. Fear can become an idol, a controlling god, and if you give it power and allow it to control you, it will take over. It will consume you. It will disable you. It will throw you into a depression and make you feel you’ve lost control over your own life.

Most people aren’t completely paralyzed by this demon of self-imposed weakness. That’s good.

What’s not good is how fear keeps people from doing what they know, in the depths of their soul, they need to do. Moving. Being comfortable in their singlehood. Finding a new job. Saying yes. Saying no. Saying stop it. Telling someone how they really feel. Going to therapy. Making that big decision that will change everything. All kinds of -ings.

I’m not belittling anyone facing any of that. Because I’m standing right beside you. You’ve got your fears, I’ve got mine. Let’s hold hands and figure this out.

I manage my fears in a number of ways. My faith helps, especially because I believe God has a sense of humor; I realize I’ll look back on my current fears and laugh at myself. My family and friends help, to, especially because they’ll let me act out my little monologue of despair and then, once I’ve gotten it out of my system, talk me off the stage.

What helps most, especially in long-term management of my fear, is realizing I’ve made whatever it is out to be much larger, much more life-altering, and far more impactful than how it will truly be. Sometimes fear is warranted, but most of the time it’s just self-doubt.

I am not brave. Bravery requires staring down death and acting despite it. I’ve never done that.

I’m just a realist. That fear about living paycheck to paycheck and always having debt – it’s probably true, but I’m not suffering for it. My debt was incurred by traveling or by doing things that bring me joy. My debt, though it seems I’ll be paying it down perpetually, has given me a better quality of life. I’m not drowning. I have control. So… yeah.

That bit about being afraid of being single, and of being a total failure at flirting: I’m doing fine as a single woman. I know what I want in a man, so I’m pushing to be that kind of woman, and the more I become that woman and get to know people in those circles, the happier I am. And for as long as I’m single, I’ll be selfish and do what I want. I’ll move to San Diego. I’ll take trips to places most people don’t want to go. I’ll focus on my career, my friends, my hobbies, my physique.

Do I get lonely? Don’t be an idiot. Of course I do. But the times I’m lonely are generally the times I’ve allowed myself to wallow. I was wallowing earlier this week, so I called my mom, had her help me give myself permission to spend money on a trip, and then booked a trip to Nepal that night.

As for the whole flirting thing, I’m just really hoping that someday I actually levitate.

The final two fears I have, of having regrets and of people pitying me, I take care of by trying to say Yes as often as possible. How else was I talked into doing triathlons, half marathons, moving abroad, eating chicken feet, trying speed dating, doing Whole30, taking last-minute trips, and getting tattoos? Either someone else asked me to, and I said yes, or my crazy brain came up with some harebrained idea and I decided to make it work.

All that keeps me busy enough that most people, at least to my face, don’t pity me for being alone. I think it’s because they realize I’m not alone. I’m just single.

So there’s my long-winded secret. I have just as many fears as the next person. I’m not brave, and that’s a rumor that needs to go away because it’s unfair to actual brave people. I just manage my fears.

After all, really and truly: What’s the worst that could happen?

My strange anniversary

One year ago, on June 20, 2013, my best friend Mel asked me to go to dinner. I was living in her spare bedroom, and she and her husband were taking care of me while I tried to find a job that paid better.

We went to a small Thai restaurant. She sat across from me, a worried look in her eyes, and finally, when I wouldn’t broach the subject, she let out a heavy sigh.

“Mandy, what are you doing?”

That was the night my best friend, in all her love, forced me to face my anxiety. My depression, which I was trying to ignore. My absolute question mark in terms of what to do with my life.

My heart was too heavy for my chest, and my face and eyes went blank because the surge of emotion overwhelmed my entire being. I felt that way for weeks. Months. I’d returned to the States from Taiwan in late August 2012, and as of June 2013, I was in a dark, anxiety-ridden place.

A week after Mel and I had dinner, on June 28, 2013, at 9:00am, I was in Nancy’s office. I sat on her couch and talked over my allotted hour. She didn’t quiet me until 10:30. I had a “perceived lostness” and needed to find my “anchor point”. On a half-sheet of paper titled “Transitional States” was a list of four tips to support oneself during a transitional time. I underlined “nebulous lack of clarity”.

On Tuesday, I have my monthly appointment with Nancy. She and I used to meet once every other week, but now I check in every five weeks or so. Every once and a while I consider stopping therapy, but I’m still going. Just last month she had to remind me that my life in Dallas is a transitional time. She’s helpful, my therapist.

Things turned around slowly, but surely, over the past year. They’re still on the upswing. I was even up for a job at Tesla Motors this past month, though I got cut before the final interview. That’s a crazy story for another post, though.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to volunteer with Mercy Ships. Maybe I’ll make tons of money and finally be able to pay Mel and Mikey $8,000 in back rent. We’ll see. If this year goes anything like the past year, June 22, 2015 is going to be even better than today.

thank goodness

Mapquest

I collect maps dot WordPress dot com. Mandy travels. That’s this blog!

I haven’t written in months. Currently I’m not collecting maps, and I’m not traveling, save for the driving I do around Texas.

Scary spinning wind!

North Texas. I’m currently living under all that red. That night was a special occasion: it was the first time I’ve ever heard a tornado siren. Outwardly I kept my cool. Inwardly, I was cowardly.

It’s kind of been nine months of a pity party, if I’m being completely honest. I don’t know what to do with myself, with my career, with the next several decades I have left.

Dog friendly, not horse friendly

Texas. It’s hard to see, but that sign has a person riding a horse with a red circle-slash over it. That means No riding horses in this park. Yeehaw!

Then, one day last week, while perusing my feed on Facebook, I came across a blog with a not-for-the-fainthearted-or-children title, full of self-help without the floofy sugarcoated baby talk. She cusses. It makes me laugh.

Monday the 13th, she posted “Fill In The Blank: I’m Not a ‘Real’ ____”, and I laughed, nodded along, and got back to work. In the back of my mind, though, it sat, and I thought about it. I read it again later. I found myself wondering what my Real ____ was.

Bigness

Texas. 15,000 people can fit in this building. It’s not a community college or a sporting arena: it’s a church. Welcome to the South, where churches are larger than most towns.

Yesterday I was late to work and in a slight panic because I couldn’t find my ring. Thin, gold, unremarkable… but I bought it, and it has sentimental meaning behind it; it’s my ring. I bought it. I wear it when I want to feel like I’m in control – I can take care of myself. It’s my Me ring.

thank goodness

The room was set to be vacuumed fifteen minutes after I found it. Can you see it?

I was explaining to my coworker the significance of the ring, and I figured it out… I think. I figured out my Real ____. I’m not the Real Me. Kind of. I’m not the me I want to be. Nicole Antoinette (ALLB’s author) asks this: ““What are the top three things that I believe make someone a real ____?”

bam! take that, bag!

I read self-help blogs and, instead of seeing an expensive therapist, I go punch things.

What are my three things?

  1. The Real Me is an athlete. She regularly participates in endurance events and grins when she feels the muscles in her arms from doing perfect-form chest-to-deck pushups.
  2. The Real Me has a full passport. My current one expires January 1, 2015. I need to hit up a bunch of little countries all in a row or something.
  3. The Real Me doesn’t live paycheck to paycheck. She has a savings account, and she saves! She has money for a rainy day! She has money to hit up a bunch of little countries and fill her passport!

None of these are surprises, I know. The title of this post could be “Mandy says stuff I already know”, or “Duh”. But this is my new map: my map to me. It’ll have to do until I get back to the passport business and blog about Mandy traveling and collecting road maps, instead of psychological maps.

beep beep

You know who probably doesn’t need a map? This limo’s driver. He parks at the end of my friends’ street. I wonder what his life is like.

I’m working hard on the athletic thing. I go to boxing/therapy twice a week and try to get a jog or two in the other days. I have a 10K on June 9th –

– but wait, Mandy! I thought you were signed up for a half marathon! Well… I am. Yeah. But I’m “downgrading” to a 10K. If you’re going to judge, I’ll meet you out there June 9th and you can jog next to me and tell me all about your feelings. –

– and I want to get back into triathlons.

I have more athletic shoes than heels

Post run. I’m wearing toe socks. The saleslady told me they would make me run faster. Lies. Or maybe she just said they were comfortable. I dunno.

Later this year, after my sister gets married, I’ll hopefully be taking a trip with a friend of mine. The wanderlust monster has me in its clutches. And as far as the financial stability goes… well. Buy me dinner and I’ll tell you all about it.

those things are disgusting

My dream is to put all this space to good use. An athlete would have a bike or a canoe in here. Sweaty boxing wraps and my workout bag don’t really fill it up.

In the meantime, I’m happy. Great friends have taken me in give me a bed and a place to shower. I love being within walking distance* of my sister; especially after my grandfather’s passing, my priorities have changed, and my family and close friends are more important than ever.

It’s an interesting time, and I’m struggling with being impatient. I want to know how everything’s going to turn out. Until I know, I have my map. Mandy travels – to realness and emotional stability! Huzzah!

 

*6.5 miles. Walking distance for an athlete.