By Matt Kynaston
I stared up at the lyrics I had scrawled across on a piece of paper, secretly wedged into the underside of the shelf above mine. I hoped the words would comfort me and allow me to sleep. The shelf that I lay on creaked and cracked in time with the rock and sway of the deep-sea trawler. There I lay, mind racing, unsure I would survive what was turning out to be a very dangerous and traumatic trip.
Thankfully, right now I am in a much more comfortable setting; a hostel bed in Kathmandu, thousands of miles away from where I was in the South Pacific, some five years ago. However, my situation, which keeps me awake at 3am and triggers flashbacks, is still very uncertain. I woke a few moments ago with the pang of anxiety – a sharp sensation which feels as though I have a rib ripped from my chest. My mind is racing and changing between all the very many different options that I have to consider and also at times convincing me that I have none.
My trip has been nothing short of sublime, a trip of a lifetime really. I spent two months trekking over in Nepal, walking over 250 miles across the ceiling of the world with my brother. From there we went to Bali to celebrate my 30th birthday. I stayed on a couple of weeks, enjoying a brief but intense holiday romance. I then flew to central India to volunteer for an NGO and write for a national English newspaper. I’ve chosen to extend my VISA, which is why I have returned to Nepal. In short, it’s been an amazing adventure and I have experienced everything I set out to and more.
However, being on the road does take its toll and not just on my purse strings. This Christmas was, for me, simply shit. I decided in mid-December that I would stay in India for the festivities. I had just secured an internship at a national newspaper and I was concerned with my ever-dwindling pot of money (most of which is overdraft) that if I came home my trip would end, when I wasn’t quite ready for it to be over. What I wasn’t ready or prepared for, was just how overwhelmingly heavy and hard the loneliness, sadness and homesickness would hit me over Christmas and New Year.
My friends who I had been living and volunteering with in India had left and although I stayed active and outgoing; spending time with the family who have generously provided my accommodation, making new friends and even going on a Tinder date for some company, nothing could shake the misery, the loss and the sense of grief that dragged me down. In fact, I found that going out and being around people made me feel even lonelier. As seemingly the only westerner in the city, I often attract a lot of attention. I know the staring and selfie requests are all from a good place but it makes me feel even more out of place and even further from home.
For the last few years I have been a mental health advocate and activist. In all that time I still haven’t yet managed to capture the feelings of depression and anxiety into words. Similes and metaphors inspire feelings, which come close. I just want you to know the pain I was experiencing at the time was similar to the pain of losing a loved one. It was grief. I even experienced for the first time since the trawler, a suicidal thought…
It’s a common trend for people with mental health issues to compare our lives to others in worse positions and downplay our own experiences but I do consider myself ‘lucky’.
I know I am lucky because for one, I am in India doing things which not many people can. I also know I am lucky because I was able to reach out to the few people I knew who understand and love me. In the periods of darkness, those phone calls and Skype conversations are life lines. I hold on, tethered by the warmth of a touchscreen light – a poor but necessary substitute for a hug. They listen, they validate my experiences and tell me ‘everything will be alright.’
I know that my life is out of balance right now and there are key ingredients missing which would make me happy. I also know that as and when I am settled, I plan to seek out a therapist.
My biggest takeaway was that as much as I missed my family this Christmas and this Christmas was shit, I am also very lucky that I have an amazing family to miss and that I can look forward to celebrating with them next year. So many people don’t have that and to those people I extend my solidarity to. I have taken inspiration from my friends who volunteer in shelters, and plan to do the same next year.
As my journey continues into 2019. I face some big choices. The biggest challenge at the moment is to try and quieten my overly active and analytical mind. It likes to throw me curve balls like – “You’re 30 for fuck sake.” “What if you never see your family again?” “Are you ever going to be able to hold down a career.” “Are you ever going to be content in your home country?”
If I was to say “travelling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be” I would be lying. I love travelling. It gives me a natural high, opens my mind and every adventure brings new lessons and wonderful new people into my life. I know I have an addiction for discovery and the new.
However, attached to every traveller’s social media post is a human. They are far away from home and who likely experiences loneliness and crushing anxieties about the uncertain situation they find themselves in every day. As travellers, we owe it to each other and to our friends and families back home to be honest about it. ‘#NoFilter’
Now we come to my choices. With all this time to think, maybe just maybe I have it figured out, right? We’ll just have to see. I have potential job offers in Slovakia, China, Saudi Arabia and Jordan and I am firing off CVs for jobs back in London.
As my finances dip further into the red, I have to tell myself: “I will be okay. I will get there.”
You can follow Matt’s adventures on Instagram @mattkyns.