Finding Nemo

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Its Go Time

So on top the whole crazy heath thing, there was something else bugging me.  I’d been skulking around the past couple years, vaguely irritated, a little snippy, and with some kind of weird itch I just couldn’t scratch.  Something was eating at me.  Why was I wasting hours on end playing stupid video games?  Why would I stare at my guitar for an hour, but not pick it up?  Why the hell was I feeling like I was in some kind of limbo?  Why couldn’t I settle down and buy a house? I would go on great trips with my buds, Aspen, Portugal, Argentina, but at the end of the trip I would fall right back into a funk.
Last December, I spent a month down in Baja, kiting every day.  I was looking forward to this trip for a whole year.  But it felt like it ended way too soon.  I came back to LA wishing I had another 6 months down there. Of course, I knew what it was the whole time.  I missed traveling.  No.  More than missed it.  I yearned for it.  I would wake up in the morning, and instead of going to the office, I would day-dream I was about to catch a flight to some far-off place.  I would drive to the Inn-n-Out Burger at LAX just to watch 747's take off.  It was getting bad.
It was time to hit the road again.  Obviously I was worried about my health.  What if something happened when I in a remote place with no health-care?  Would I be up for the rigors of another Himalayan hiking trip, the altitude?  Would I black out on a scuba diving trip?  I could be serious trouble.  But then I would just think back to the ride in the ambulance, and that I was OK with dying.  These were all risks that I had to take, and I was ready to take.
So, here I am again.  Again!  In the planning stages for another year away, getting lost, and finding myself once more.  Its more than exciting.  Its like this wave of bubbling euphoria, slowly building.  Getting on that first flight will be scary and exciting, and for so many different reasons than in 2006.  Its almost time to go……

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Each End Leads to a Beginning

Note from ODTB: this post was written about a week before I left for my trip. I never posted it, but now looking back I think it's worthwhile to share.


One day I was just working at my office, late on a Sunday night, and the
next thing I knew I was falling over dizzy, not able to breathe. The first time I ever dialed 9-1-1. My first ever trip in an ambulance, straight to the ER. I truly thought I was dying of a heart attack. The EMT's assured me I wasn't dying, but I knew better. (So funny looking back at it.)

It turned out that I'd come straight to work after a long weekend of partying in San Diego, drank a ton of coffee to wake up, and had become extremely dehydrated and low on electrolytes. This caused me to nearly faint and black out, which then caused something called a panic attack. If you have never had one of these, and it was first for me, a panic attack is incredibly scary and traumatic. Your mind decides you are in mortal danger, and you enter a "fight-or-flight" mode. We have a deep instinct for self-preservation, burned into our DNA from the time of the first vertebrates, that short-circuits any attempt at rational thinking. Your heart and breathing rapidly escalate, saturating your system with so much oxygen everything begins to tingle. Adrenalin pours into your body making you sweat and panic. And ironically, these very survival mechanisms help convince you that something bad really is happening. You must really be having a heart attack after all. Everything spirals rapidly, until you are completely immobilized in absolute terror. It was the single scariest thing I have ever experienced.

I used to think panic attacks were not a big deal, something that happened to people with "weak constitutions" perhaps. Now I realize how completely and totally debilitating they are. I understand and empathize with anyone who has to go through such a terrible experience on a recurring basis.

At the worst point of panic, with my whole body tingling and my vision starting to go dark, I suddenly relaxed. I thought back on my life. I had just completed one of my life dreams, to travel around the world. I thought about what a great family I had. I thought about all the amazing experiences I'd had. A sense of calm came over me. I realized I was OK with dying. I was OK. After all, I had accomplished a lot. I was at peace and waited for death.

The ER gave me a few bags of saline and said I was good to go.  I was out of the hospital that same night. My body was fully recovered. But my mind was not. I was shaken to the core. I had been so completely, absolutely certain that I was going to die. Yet a few hours later, I was walking into my house perfectly fine. It was very difficult to process.

It was life-changing. The knowledge that I wasn't scared of death.  At the same time, the knowledge that death could come sooner than I thought, perhaps much sooner.  It's one thing to think of that abstractly, its another thing to face death like that, and decide to either panic or relax.  It was interesting to know that I relaxed and accepted it, which I'm not sure is a good thing. Would it have been better to struggle?

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I did have a lot left to live for.  Family. Friends. Unfulfilled dreams. I would have many regrets.  I didn't want to die this young.

This happened at a point in my life where I wasn't happy. I'd returned from Bali to Belize or Bust, my previous year away, exhilirated and transformed. But as I fell into my old job and routine and same circle of friends, the transformation evaporated into the daily noise. Now, a few years later, my job felt fake. My life felt fake. I needed to recapture what I'd found on the road.

So for all these reasons, I decided to quit my job and travel yet again.

And, it is almost go-time ... it's hard to explain how very ready I am. Let's do this!

The Weird Fakeness of Reality

So 3 years ago my world fell off a cliff.  And I still haven't climbed back.  I'm finally accepting that I'll never be the same.  At the same time, perhaps a part of me also realizes that this may somehow be a good thing in a strange way. I had just gotten back from Bali to Belize or Bust in January 2006.  It was so strange coming back.  It was exhilarating traveling for so long.  Towards the last couple months, though, I felt this foreboding about the idea of going back to America.  It was a surreal experience coming home.  LA felt alien.  The traffic was startling.  People talked too loud.  The food was strangely boring.  The weekend plans everyone got excited about seemed so mundane.  My good friends suddenly seemed like TV characters, I could watch them but not relate to them.  Or perhaps I felt they could never relate to what I was feeling.
I had this idea in my head, percolating and growing ever since I wandered through the Nepal and India.  The idea was simple.  I would be a new person, with new eyes.  I would truly feel empathy for everyone around me.  I would listen, with rapt interest to my friends lives.  I would be a center of positive energy and emotion.  I would be happy just being.  Existing.  At peace.  And I would like to think towards the end of my trip I was starting to achieve that.  But as soon as I was plunked back down into my prior existence, the stress of work, driving my car, answering my cell phone, the routine of going out to bars and hitting on girls, being around all the old familiar places and friends, I knew that this state of mind was fragile.  It was too new, it hadn't had enough time to take root.  It started to slip away, even as I was aware it was slipping away.  And after just a few months, I realized it was no longer with me.  Well, perhaps this is overstating it.  I KNEW what I wanted to be, but the daily realities, the grind, the loudness and constant chatter of mindless activity that is simply a part of the real world, it just squeezed it out of me, like water out of wet towel.
But I was starting to fight back.  I made Yoga and the post-workout meditation sessions a priority.  I decided to block out a portion of every Sunday to reflect and work on what was really important.  It was all just a matter of carving that piece of time back out for yourself.  And as soon as I was ready to get back to my new self, BLAM!