I’m ready to depart for Europe this weekend. My possessions now consist of nothing more than the things that will fit in a borrowed suitcase and my beat-up camera bag. I have £150 in hand and $150 in the bank.
A stranger was kind enough to warn me that I may want to wait until I’m more financially stable before departing overseas. Nearly every person I’ve talked to has warned me to “be careful.” I always respond that I’m very careful – but honestly, that’s a lie.
Because traveling overseas is a last-ditch effort at saving my own life, or finding someone who will save it for me. Because I really don’t know how much more suffering I can take.
My disorder is nothing short of a living hell. So many mornings I wake up and the first thing I feel is searing pain, so bad that it often leaves me gasping for breath. My days are filled with more pain and sickness, and often the last thing I do at night is try to find a position comfortable enough that allows me to fall asleep.
A little over 2 months ago, I went on a hike. And I met someone – a beautiful Dutch man, who was visiting California for a short time. I was so pained and so lonely that day, and needed someone to talk to. So I hiked with him – something like 5 miles. And we spent that night together. And the rest of his holiday in California, we were together. Traveling and exploring. And when I was with him, my pain and sickness all but disappeared. He showed me how good it can feel to be around someone who truly cares.
And I realized how alone I’ve been. Through 12 years of sickness, I’ve been alone. There’s been nobody who’s stuck by my side, nobody who’s thought that my good qualities outweighed my bad. Nobody who’s thought I was worth being with even on the days when my disorder is wreaking havoc on my body or my brain.
And I guess I understand why. I know my health affects those around me, no matter how hard I try to not let it. People just can’t handle someone who’s always sick. And I understand that – because I don’t even know how I’ve handled it so long.
I don’t know what will happen with the man I met on the hike. The future is uncertain and I try not to set expectations. But I’ve realized that I can’t do this alone any more. I need someone.
So I’m going to Europe, without much money or a long-term plan. Because I need a big change from the life I’ve been living. Being a nomad, a photojournalist, has offered a small taste of freedom and happiness – something I’ve never known before. For the first time, I felt hope. I was able to focus on positive things. And as a result, my health problems were no longer so troubling.
Intimacy and contact with other people is one of our most basic human needs. And I’ve been deprived of it for so long. My life has felt like nothing but trauma and sickness – it never ends. How is a person expected to live a life where the good moments feel so few and far between? How am I expected to do it alone? I don’t know how much longer I can.
So I’m going to travel. I’m going overseas, to experience another culture. To learn another language. To meet new people. To hopefully find my inspiration again.
And I’m not going to be careful. I’m going to explore and be reckless. I’m going to do whatever I need to do to enjoy my life. Through living as a nomad I’ve had a small taste of how it feels to be happy. It was short – just about two months of having the freedom to explore, and being able to take the time to care for myself. But that two months was all I needed to know that there’s something better out there.
I’m not really sure what I’m looking for. I’m just another troubled, young woman who’s doing something reckless. I know that it could very well be the death of me. But I’m holding onto the little bit of hope I have left – hope that I’ll find happiness in exploring other cultures and meeting new people. Hope that I’ll meet people who think my good qualities outweigh my bad. Hope that I can enjoy life again.
I’m going to Europe because it’s the only hope I have for saving my own life. I can’t continue living the way I am now – I need a change. A big change. I need excitement and happiness and social interaction – and that’s not something I have been able to find here.
So I’m going to wander the streets of the Netherlands, and maybe other European countries, with £150 to my name and no long-term plan. I’m going to challenge myself to survive and find happiness again. If I can’t find it there, I don’t think I’ll be able to find it anywhere.
I’m not afraid of dying in Europe. I’ve already looked death in the face multiple times in my life. I’ve spent more time than I care to admit hoping and praying for death. I’ve always been too much of a coward to take my own life – maybe because I’ve always had a little bit of hope. But I can feel that hope fading as my illness continues to ravage my body.
So I’m doing what I do best – I’m running. I’m leaving my problems here, and hoping to start over somewhere that I can find happiness and inspiration. If I can’t find it overseas, in the places that photographers dreams are made of, I don’t think I’ll be able to find it anywhere.
So, no, I’m not going to be careful. I’m going to couchsurf with strangers, wander foreign streets, talk to random people, and chase beautiful light. I’m going to do whatever I need to do to have fun and enjoy my life, and I’m going to document the experiences with my camera along the way.
I’m going to find happiness, freedom, and love – or I’m going to die trying.