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?
Sign up here for weekday updates.