I have travelled a fair amount in my life so far, and I’m grateful not only for having the opportunities to do so, but for the fact I did it, because now I would find most it impossible due to chronic ill health. These adventures have created memories and stories: From dairy farming in the middle of New Zealand with a farmer who fell asleep, head in hand at the table after a bottle of red every night, to fights breaking out on buses I was travelling on in Tanzania. Each time I have returned to England and now, as we return from our slow journey to Wales on our narrow boat, I am remembering all the challenges that come with returning.
My first Big Trip was to Canada when I was 18, to volunteer at a primary school. I struggled with isolation there; the family I stayed with were kind but it was their job to house and feed me, so although I accepted all invites for outings that came my way, I couldn’t help but feel indebted to them, which is a difficult foundation for a friendship. Then at the school I made some friendships with the teachers but it was also difficult; they had their own friends and I was only there for a short time. Probably the most difficult was the lack of transport, being even more car-centric than the UK it was hard for me to get around. In the first few months I had put on weight thanks to eating four meals a day plus Dairy Qeen ice cream and re-runs of Sex in the City at all hours of the day making it very easy to be a sofa-slob. Eventually I got myself to a gym, eating better food, and found a couple of young women doing years away like me nearby to hang out with. We ate sushi on the beach, took trips into Vancouver and tried to use fake ID to buy booze. It was fantastic.
I didn’t want to stay but I wasn’t ready for the challenges that coming home posed. My parents had recently separated and while that wasn’t emotionally hard for me to process at the time, coming back to all my Dad’s things gone from the house, and him now not around all the time, made it feel starkly different. Plus my wonderful Great Aunt who had lived with us for the last four years of her life had died while I was away so all in all, the house felt quite empty with just my sister, my Mum and me. I didn’t get back into a sleep routine for a couple of months which at first I blamed on jet lag until someone suggested it could be to do with the changes I’d experienced. It’s taken over 10 years to realise that change will always have an impact, no matter how much you think you’ve prepared for it. But these are the best stories we can tell.
Since then I’ve preferred to move on, rather than go back. Neither of my parents now live in the place I grew up so I don’t go back there any more. When I’ve made myself go back to places because of the feeling like I ‘should’ be able to, I’ve often felt worse for it and wished I’d just said ‘no, I’m not ready yet’. Exposing that kind of vulnerability – weakness, as I would have seen it before – was not in my vocabulary. Now, returning to near where I worked for 10 years, and had a home for three of those, I’m much more in tune with my feelings than I was 15 years ago. Returning but not changing home makes things easier. Living on a boat, the home stays the same and it’s just the outside that changes. I feel I made a lot of positive memories in this place so feel more warmly towards Coventry than perhaps I have to other places the past. I think that’s the problem, though; the positive memories are somewhat tarnished with the sadness that I am unable or less able to recreate them; I cannot recreate working again like I did before, nor can I play squash with a mate then go for beer round the corner. When I’m in new places I’m less aware of these disabilities, because I don’t have these old memories teasing – taunting – me of things I used to do there.
Unlike my 19 year old self returning from Canada, I don’t need to have months of sleepless nights, not knowing what I’m thinking about, to help me realise I’m going through a change. I’ve worked hard on acceptance and am aiming for one social activity per week remembering to congratulate myself when I manage that, despite the pain I usually will be in after. Wales might be one of my least exotic adventures but looking back there are plenty of stories to tell, and new memories created. I’ve re-read my first blog, ‘The Big Boat Picture’ and realise how much has changed, and how glad I am that I put up with the initial tough change to get to the adventure I’m living now.