A Mile A Day – Intermission: What Good’s A Walk If You Can’t Feel It?

MikeachimThe Everyday8 Comments

mexico city airport

There’s a whole new world out there.

I should stop and stare out this window that’s designed to look like film-reel when it’s photographed (nice touch). Somewhere beyond the tarmac is Mexico City, on a scale I wouldn’t believe if I saw it. I should go to some of the other windows and catch a glimpse. Isn’t that what excited travellers do? I may never be here again. I should photograph everything.

Instead, I head to the gate of my connecting flight, find a chair, and disappear back into myself.

Central America rolls past, thousands of feet below. It’s a stunning day, the kind where you’ll need Photoshop to tone it down. We float through a vast azure sky, and all the clouds are far below. It’s the perfect introduction to this part of the world – and I feel nothing. That’s fine. I’ve been feeling nothing for a few weeks now, so I’m used to it. I take photos – but of course, photos are meant to remind you of how you felt, so I guess these will be wasted. Nice to look at, academically interesting (that’s Nicaragua, look) – but not much else, perhaps.

It’s a blowy day in the San Jose valley of Costa Rica, and the plane has a rough time of it, lurching and juddering down towards the runway. Well, that’s nice, I think. Normally I’d be terrified at this point. Mountains rise around us, until they’re level with the window and then I’m looking up at them – and with a sway, a bump and a squeal of tires, I’ve arrived at my new home on the other side of the world.

Great – I guess?

I’m still barely aware that I’ve arrived.

It’s a month later as I write this, and it has taken this long to start dawning on me: this is the other side of the world. It’s my first time this far west, my first time this far south, and my first time in the Americas, barring a short hop to Canada a few years back. I’ve never had this many firsts in one journey, and never a journey this colossal. I’ve also never moved so entirely abroad as an adult, since I’m renting a house here with my partner for at least 3 months. We chose Costa Rica because it’s her home and I’ve never been. Those are good reasons.

I also needed to get completely away from everything.

That’s the third reason, and I feel really bad talking about it.

Depression is a serious thing, so I couldn’t accept I had it, even in its mildest form. It felt like an insult to the people I know who really struggle with it. How dare I suggest I was on that level? I’m not on that level. I should be ashamed for even thinking it.

What I was struggling with, and what I’m slowly dealing with, is an absence. A hole, somewhere inside me, where I used to feel lots of interesting things. In one sense it’s serious, because I need to be able to feel those things to write the things I want to write. It’s a requirement. And my brain (not my heart, my brain) knows why this hole opened up. Because of family issues, I was burnt out, filled with pessimism and numb lassitude, incapable of hoping for the best.

It’s understandable. I should give myself a break.

But in the other sense (says a voice that’s a big part of the problem), all this is pathetic, self-indulgent nonsense. I’m so full of shit. I’m not depressed. I’m just weak. I’m a failure, incapable of doing what I’ve set out to do with my weird, messy, freakish “career”. It’s not like walking 25 miles, where you grit your teeth and keep going until you’re done. I’m just not capable of keeping going. Until now, I’ve been pretending, and it’s time to stop lying to everyone. No wonder [x] unfollowed me on Twitter and [y] never replied to my article pitch. They’re sick of me. Why don’t you just go away, Mike? You’re such a bloody nuisance.

That’s what the voice was saying, drowning out everything else in my last few weeks in England – and I’m here to shut it up.

So, it seems I needed a month.

I needed it to sit in the sunshine, carefully thinking bigger and bigger thoughts until my 3-month plan crept back into view, learning how to tamp down my negativity, sitting and working quietly on this and that, spending quality time with my other half, walking here and there (not easy in Costa Rica, as I’ll explain another time), and enjoying the 35 years of National Geographic magazines lining the bookcases in the study of the house we’re renting. I’ve been letting Costa Rica work its magic on me, wrought with overwhelming hospitality and great food and incredibly dramatic scenery, and now I’ve become a little too comfortable for comfort, just a little…

So I’m ready to get walking again.

And that feels damn good right now.

A bunch of days this year, I’m going for a walk to explore the limits of my ignorance and write about what I find. Want to follow along?

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PREVIOUSLYA Mile A Day #15 – The Ultimate Guide To Walking Gear For Complete Beginners

NEXT: A Mile A Day #16: Is It Safe To Go Walking In Costa Rica? (And Other Stupid Questions)

 Images: Mike Sowden
  • Ohhh, Mike. THAT VOICE. I know that voice all too well, and my version has been way too vocal for the last couple of years (as you know). Being able to actively realise said voice’s total lack of real power, though? That’s what’s been propelling me forward. Here’s to walking – and quite possibly, a little bit of running… :)

    • Same here. When you realise you can call bullshit on that voice – when you realise it’s basically Fox & Friends, or Jeremy Kyle – then it becomes manageable. You’ve struggled with it more than I have, and reading your posts about it has helped me get my head round all this – so I thank you. I owe you a beer, Flora MacDonald.

  • Sharon Miro

    Oh, oh, oh…I think any one with a heart connected to their brain knows that voice…my heart will be listening to your OTHER voice. xoxo

    • Mine too. :) Thanks, Sharon. And yeah, it seems to be a feature of all my most successful and talented friends that they have very smart, very crafty, very noisy demons inside them, using every trick in the book to unpick all their work. So I take heart from that, if it’s a sign I’m doing something right…

  • Yep. Apathy is also my preferred coping mechanism for sadness, which always tends to come with a good amount of self-hatred. May I also suggest that leaving one life behind for another is a form of grief, and apathy is a perfectly correct response to grief. No matter what it is I’m leaving behind—good, bad or cockroachy—I always feel grief in some form when things change. Something has begun, sure, but also something else has ended. Another piece of me has been shovelled up onto the ever-increasing mound of my past and, like birthdays, the awareness of passing time and changing backdrops can cause some existential dread. Your feels will soon forget all this and will come back to play.

    • I think you speak truth. It’s been a wrench – a nice one, an increasingly happy and relaxing one, but a wrench all the same. For a while I was clinging to old habits and anxieties, behavioural relics that had no place here, and there’s been a fair bit of attitude adjustment since I arrived. So, yes. Nicely put.

      Existential dread is GREAT for writing. All that angst to channel into writing about other things and other people. I already have characters that represent alternate-universe versions of myself where I went completely off the rails. Is that how it’s supposed to work? I hope so. If this is how serial killers usually get started, send me a private message, don’t make it public. Give me the dignity of turning myself in. Thx.

  • Cathryn Kay

    I’ve never known a time when that voice was not the loudest one in my head. Which is not to say that I’ve always been depressed because I haven’t, far from it, but it seems that every stupid, embarrassing thing I have ever done (and they have been a LOT) is stored in techniocolor glory inside my head. Several times a day, most days, something will remind me of the time when I………. And that’s when my auto-distract coping mechanism kicks in, and it’s quite worrying. I ejaculate, sometimes quite loudly, and I never know what I’m gong to say. Sometimes it’s a simple “F… Off!”. Sometimes it’s nonsense words, as though I am in some sort of religious ecstasy. Sometimes it’s a sudden, explosive discordant humming. Anything to distract myself from the horror replaying inside my head. And it works, because I am then too busy being horrified at my own weirdness to carry on obsessing about my cataclysmic social ineptitude.
    So far this has only happened when I am alone. Thank all that’s holy. But with advancing age I can see the time coming when I do not automatically recognise that I am in public and other people are near. It can only be a matter of time. I now completely understand “millennium hand and shrimp”, and the poor wretches one sometimes encounters as they shamble along upbraiding lamp posts and suchlike. It’s only a matter of time before that is me.

    As for ceasing to feel – yeah, classic coping mechanism when life becomes overwhelming. But you’re coming back, and that’s great. Next time you’ll understand what’s happening, if there is a next time, and it won’t be so disturbing.
    I noticed your absence and guessed – obviously incorrectly – that you were having too much fun to have time to write. I hope from now on that will be the only reason for your silences. x cj

  • Welcome back Mike.
    I’m not going to pretend that I know what you’re feeling however feelings of self doubt strikes us all every now and then. Being British doesn’t help as we all tend to think we shouldn’t be feeling like this, or best foot forward, when clearly, sometimes we should. And reading between the lines, you’re stronger than you think, pulling and pushing and fighting the demons. I have no doubt that you’ll prevail eventually. And walking does help….