The beginning of 2018 saw me selling all of my belongings, quitting my full-time corporate job, ending a five year relationship and jetting off on an epic six month solo adventure through South America.
I was running away from my draining commitments and complicated relationships, I was trying to escape my mental health struggles, and I was clawing to find some personal space to grow. I was also trying to find my place in this world and understand my existence and motivations for living. It was a big task and I had expected solo travel to fix it with minimal work on my behalf.
The beginning of 2019 has been similar in a lot of ways, but it has also been so different. While I have just set off on another long term travel adventure, this time in South East Asia, it is for different reasons and in a different way.
I have worked extremely hard to overcome a lot of obstacles and struggles to be where I am right now. It was a long and tumultuous path to achieve my current state of positivity and serenity and to finally be in a position where I am living a location independent existence of working remotely and travelling full time. The level of clarity and serenity I am feeling as a base level now is far greater than any of the mental highs I have experienced in the past. For the first time, I am living the exact life that I want to.
My Personal Growth Journey
I am so grateful for all of the opportunities that life has afforded me, but I am also so proud of myself for everything that I have overcome and how hard I have worked to arrive in this exact moment and state of mind.
Don’t let social media fool you, while my personal growth journey has been extremely rewarding, it has not been an easy one. The last few years have been full of some of the most incredible and rewarding experiences of my life, but they have also been overrun with deep sadness, intense struggle, and the darkest times of my life.
This post is a very honest and raw reflection on my personal growth journey of self-discovery and development. I hope that by sharing what I have been through to get here, that you will feel a little less alone in your pursuit of happiness and that it will encourage you to begin your own personal growth journey to living a more purposeful life.
There are No Shortcuts
Don’t let anyone trick you into thinking that a path of personal growth is an easy one. It is rewarding and worth it, but it is not something that will happen overnight. There is no easy way to live a fulfilling and happy life all of the time. You can’t just snap your fingers and have your appetite for life satiated. It will never be that simple and if anyone tells you otherwise then they are probably not living their life to its’ full potential.
It Will Be Worth it in the End
What I will say, is that the hard work will be worth it in the end if you are dedicated to putting in the time and effort, are willing to make sacrifices and are truly honest with yourself, your drawbacks and your situation. After a very long and twisted road, it is finally becoming clear where my path is headed. The person I am right now versus the person I was before I set off on this mission, is so profoundly different. The old and new versions of myself may as well be completely different people.
Looking back now it is easy to see all of the choices, changes and steps I took to get here. Had I known where I would end up back then when I was feeling very confused and shrouded with doubt then maybe this journey wouldn’t have been so difficult. Unfortunately, that is not how life works. I know that I had to go on that difficult journey to arrive to where I am now. Knowing now that all of the pain, hard work, and suffering was worth it in the end has made all the difference.
Back to the Beginning
In order to know how I arrived at this moment, I really need to take you back to the beginning. There was a moment a few years ago while I was in a previous job when I realised that my entire existence was pointless. It sounds like I am being overdramatic, but the reality was that I woke up one day and asked myself a very important question; why am I alive?
The sudden realisation that I did not know the answer to this question was a very confronting thought. To realise that you are just working to live and living to work with no real purpose in life is completely suffocating. It was the wake-up call I needed to start living a life full of active choices and decisions; a life with purpose.
At that point in time, I had let all of my creative outlets fade away into obscurity. I also realised that I had not travelled in almost three years. Travel and adventure had always been such a huge part of my life, as well as music, art, writing, sport, and dance. Without them I wasn’t really me anymore. I had lost almost all of these incredible influences on my life and was paying the price. I was losing myself.
You Have to Make Change Happen
In those next few months I made two very important changes to my life. I decided that I wasn’t going to wait for my partner to travel with me anymore and that I was going to start pursuing more creative avenues in my spare time. This is how my blog was started and also how I began my now seemingly endless addiction to travel and hiking.
2016 was the year when I learned how to make my own blog. I felt a spark of excitement in my stomach ignite the second I purchased my domain name. The possibility of doing something more with my life began to emerge. I started searching for answers to even more questions about my existence and motivations and it drew me closer to the beginning of my epic journey of personal growth.
2016 was also the year my best friend and I decided to leave our partners behind and head off on a six week adventure to Europe. It was a trip we had both earned and deserved. It was also when I discovered my now life-long passion for alpine hiking and the outdoors. That trip showed me what I had been missing out on and that I needed to make some serious changes.
A Year in Limbo
Off to a Good Start
The next phase of my journey is where it all got a little bit muddled, messy and confusing. This period in my life is also how I ended up quitting my job and jetting off to South America for six months. I returned home from Europe to start a new job with an amazing company. It felt like a fresh start. I had quit the job I resented, was spending time focusing on developing my blog and photography skills, and was actively trying to make positive changes to my life.
I also decided not to move back in with my ex-partner when we decided to give it another go. In hindsight, this was the right decision. Instead, I moved into a five person share house with four of my friends and tried to give myself the space I needed to make my new life come to fruition.
Feeling Even More Lost and Confused
In the beginning it was the right amount of change to keep me going. Unfortunately, the lasting effects just weren’t enough. My plans had included a long-term travel adventure at some point down the track, but as the year crept past it became more apparent that this adventure would need to be sooner, rather than later. I found myself still struggling immensely with general life satisfaction each and every day. The familiar ache grew in the pit of my stomach again. I wasn’t happy. And I knew it. My family and friends knew it too.
I wasn’t happy with my relationship, my work-life balance, or my creative outlets. Generally speaking, I was dissatisfied with the direction that my life was headed. I felt like I was just treading water. Like I was trying to stay afloat long enough to not drown, until eventually I would just give up and sink. It was as though I was a passive participant in my own life, with absolutely no purpose or direction to guide me.
While I had amazing work colleagues and incredible friends and family around me, it didn’t help reduce the feeling of emptiness that was taking me over. I had to do something about it. Desperately, I tried to make some minor changes and planned smaller trips for throughout the year. But after leaving the feeling of hopelessness festering inside me for so long, these small-scale changes just weren’t enough. I knew that the change had to be an enormous catalyst to make the necessary impact.
Making Active Changes
So there I was. Looking at flights to South America. I was crunching the numbers and checking my savings. Then I made the crazy decision that I was going to pursue my hiking dreams in Patagonia and tack on an open-ended trip to the rest of South America while I was at it. I began madly saving for the only option I felt I had left.
Then the research started. I became obsessed with the idea of downsizing my life. After reading so many blog posts about it, I knew I had to minimise the material, mental and emotional baggage I had been carrying around for all of those years. It became clear that I needed to invest my time and money in myself for a change, and no-one else. I needed to take a step back from my career, my family commitments, my relationship, and just be me again.
I needed to start from scratch and work out who I was and what I wanted from life. Selling everything, quitting my job and venturing off on my own seemed like the only way to fully achieve that level of separation and independence that I felt I needed. It was the first major catalyst of my personal growth journey to date, but surprisingly not the one that has left the most lasting impact.
Making the Scary, but Right Decisions
As the departure date grew closer, I went through all of those intense emotions of uncertainty, doubt, fear and anxiety that most people do when they start a new job, head off on an enormous adventure or delve into a new relationship. While I had all of these doubts, I knew that I was doing the right thing.
It was difficult to say goodbye to my family for so long. It was even harder to walk away from a four and a half year relationship. But all of this aside, I just knew at the bottom of my heart that it was the right decision. I needed space for my own personal growth. There just wasn’t enough room in my life back then for my hopes and dreams and I needed to make space for them.
The Life Changing Solo Adventure
Experiencing all of the Emotions
The trip itself truly was life changing. As far as personal growth goes, it was a pretty intense experience that has changed me in a very real and permanent way. I experienced levels of enlightenment, positivity and pure joy on a much grander scale than I had in years. I also experienced moments of depression, sadness and anxiety on much harsher levels than I had in quite some time.
Coping Mechanisms, Realisations and Needing Change
Being away from your support network and having to fend for yourself in all of the possible scenarios that can take place while travelling, especially in developing countries, and on your own, is both rewarding and draining. I developed so many crucial life skills while solo travelling on a very practical and also social level. I also gave myself the opportunity to really feel my emotions and experience life in a way I never had before.
Previously, I had always processed my thoughts and emotions through a kaleidoscope of other people’s views, opinions and influences. My six month solo trip helped me see my life through my own eyes. I realised that I wasn’t living the best life that I could. It became clear that I really wanted to make active changes towards living a fulfilling and purposeful life. I wanted to become responsible for my own happiness.
The First Major Catalyst
Being Blind Sided
There were a few more catalysts that took place that shook me pretty deeply to my core during my ‘break’ from life. My mum, who is one of my three best friends in this world had a pretty serious health scare while I was in South America.
I have always felt an unusual level of fear and concern about losing loved ones. This is something that I struggled dealing with in my teenage years and early twenties. This had only worsened over the years when my loved ones fought ongoing battles with depression and suicide. This caused the fear of losing them to become warranted and real; which was honestly so terrifying.
When your unrealistic anxieties become realities, it really does a number on your mental health and thought patterns. With that in mind, I was completely shattered to then have the seemingly unreasonable fear of losing my mum to some tragic incident or unnamed illness suddenly feel like a real possibility.
I was already struggling generally with my mental health and had hit the travel burnout pretty badly. With this new thought to deal with, it was suddenly impossible to continue on with my solo adventure. Even though my mum had been given the all clear of imminent danger, I had this overwhelming urge to come home and be with family.
Subconsciously I think I knew that I had achieved what I needed to in South America. I didn’t really know this at the time though. Deep down, a part of me knew that I needed to come home for the next phase of self-healing. The positivity and growth I was experiencing during my journey in South America had ceased and I was in need of a break. The next phase needed to start and I needed tangible proof that my loved ones were ok.
Booking the flight home felt like I was failing in everything I had set out to achieve. Looking back now I know that it was a crucial stage in the incredibly beneficial and successful journey I have been on. I needed the first six months of 2018 to be solely about me and getting lost in far off places without the stress and anxieties of everyday life. And then I needed equally as much, for the remaining six months of 2018 to be about rekindling old friendships, spending time with the people who are dear to my heart, and about really focusing on my mental health, physical fitness and general well-being.
When I first arrived home, I was very lost and confused. I had been gone for such a long time, but it also felt like no time had passed at all. When I caught up with friends, I didn’t know what to say. They were still living their usual lives and it all seemed so foreign to me. I felt very disconnected from everything around me. I had been living the solo life, travelling in developing countries, and meeting new people every day. It was as though I had become numb to almost everything around me.
Hitting the Mental Health Wall
Call it depression, dysthymia or anhedonia. Whatever it was, I was struggling to feel any level of satisfaction or happiness in any regard. While the ball had already started rolling in South America, by the time I arrived home I had completely lost my, energy, appetite and basic will to live. I was bitter, pessimistic and a flake of a person.
At the beginning of 2018, I had departed on my adventure in a state of endless roaming, with a general dissatisfaction with life. But I had returned home in a very dark and terrifying place. I was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted in every possible way.
But I was also in denial. I was so desperate to not let my ‘gap year’ run away from me. I was franticly trying to book the next big adventure, the next flight, the next road trip. It didn’t matter that I could barely even muster the energy to get out of bed, or make myself any kind of meal. I thought that if I could just book that next trip and get travelling again that it would all feel better.
I had put all of my eggs into the travel basket before my trip to South America. When travel alone had not saved me from my despair, I was at a loss. The thoughts were completely overwhelming. If travel wasn’t the cure for my melancholy, then how could I ever possibly enjoy life the way others do? If I could never be happy, then what was the point in even existing or being alive?
My big adventure had felt like my last attempt at finding happiness and at that moment, seven months ago, I felt like I had failed miserably and that there was no other possible solution. It is a very dangerous place to be in. When you can’t see what is on the other side of the horizon and don’t have enough energy to get yourself there to see it.
Hitting the Low Points
For the first time in my life, I found myself waking up and falling asleep to the thoughts of giving up. The thought that life actually wasn’t worth living and that I no longer had the energy to do it was all I could think about. I had break down after break down and honestly felt like I was completely depleted. I was also trying to process the idea that I had spent so much of my travel savings, not travelling. It hadn’t occurred to me that I had needed a break from life for a more deep-seeded reason and it just felt like I was throwing my money and time away. The thought that I was now having to work to save for travel all over again, only made the daily struggle so much harder.
To top it all off, my ex-partner and I had tried to rekindle things again on my return from South America. We had gone our separate ways when I left, but had both kept the thought in the back of our minds that maybe the space and distance would be just what we needed to realign our lives again. With the intense mental and emotional battle I was fighting inside myself, adding another person into the mix was one of the worst things I could have done for myself. I didn’t even have enough energy to live, let alone be in a relationship with another person.
In the midst of all of this, my ex-partner and I tried to plan a trip together. He had finally agreed to travel with me so I wanted to make it happen as quickly as possible before he changed his mind. Everything was in place and ready to go on a practical level, but mentally and emotionally I was still no better. I had tried to channel every piece of me into planning our trip and it had drained every last ounce of energy I had left.
The Second and Pivotal Major Catalyst
Skating on Thin Ice
In the week leading up to our departure date for our trip to Indonesia, I was riding on a high of stress, anxiety, excitement and nervousness. I was frantically working to earn as much money as possible while also researching and planning constantly to try and make our trip as good as it could possibly be. I was also trying to balance out all of my other family and personal commitments. The scary part was that I was doing all of this while still skating nervously on the edge of my suicidal thoughts. I had tried to put the thoughts to the back of my mind, but it was only a matter of time before it all came crashing down.
Three days before our flight I reached the fourth night in a row of little to no sleep and was deeply feeling the effects of my mental state. It was like I was bursting from the inside out. My chest was so tight, my skin felt like it was crawling and I honestly thought I was going to explode. It was like all of the hopelessness, sadness and feeling of complete emptiness had built into this all-encompassing feeling that it just all needed to be over.
The Breakdown and Turning Point
On this day, three days before my flight, I had a complete mental and emotional break down. It was one of the most traumatic and difficult days of my life. I was standing there in the car park of a recycle centre with my mum and my brother, bawling my eyes out, screaming, wailing and doubled over trying to fight the urge to step in front of the oncoming traffic. Every piece of my being no longer wanted to exist. I had reached that pivotal moment where it was just all too much.
My brother tried to comfort me, but he could see it in my eyes that I just wasn’t there anymore. He didn’t want to get too close to me and in his attempts to calm me down I became completely distraught. I began thrashing my arms again and again on the wooden coppers log fence on the side of the road. I needed to feel something, anything. And I needed that pain in my chest, in my soul and my heart to stop. I just wanted the aching to go away. I wanted it all to go away.
Eventually once I had given up and fallen into a heap on the ground, my mum and brother loaded me into the car. We were all in shock and were headed to the hospital. I clearly needed to get some help. As it turned out I broke my own hand that day. And quite severely. I had a pretty severe break, sprained my wrist and did long-term damage to the tendons around my fingers and knuckles.
Understanding and Processing what Happened
A lot of people became aware one way or another that my overseas plans weren’t going ahead because I had broken my hand. There weren’t too many people who I felt comfortable enough telling the whole story to though. I really didn’t know what the whole story was at the time either. It has taken me until recently to process the rollercoaster of emotions and experiences of the last year, that dark period in my life, and that day.
Admitting to myself how I broke my hand was difficult. Deep down I knew that breaking my hand wasn’t an accident. I knew that I didn’t break it in a burst of anger or aggression either, like a lot of my friends had jokingly assumed. I was at the very bottom of the barrel in my life and had done it out of sadness, pain and frustration. It was a bitter pill to swallow to know that I had reached this point.
At the time, it seemed like one of the worst and most inconvenient situations that could have ever happened to me. The recovery time was estimated at 6 – 8 weeks, and in the end, it took almost three months of ongoing therapy to heal, with several more months of limited use. Having to cancel my trip only days before leaving, being unable to drive for such a long time, and having to spend even more time at home than planned all seemed like a disaster at the time.
While all of this was happening, it also became very clear that my five year relationship with my ex-partner was officially over. It wasn’t just our travel plans that were out the window. There was just no way forward for us. With so many enormous parts of my life suddenly ripped away from me all at once, I was left with what felt like nothing.
Looking back now, this was the catalyst that forced me to make the changes in my life that I really needed. It was this catalyst that lead me to where I am now in this moment. Realising that there was no-where else to go from that point made the path to positive health and well-being so much clearer. Being at your lowest point allows you to actually start from scratch. I needed to make some serious changes and do some serious self-improvement or I wasn’t going to have a life to improve on. And that is exactly what I did.
The Start of the Real Personal Growth Journey
This is when the really difficult, but extremely beneficial self-healing took place. This was when my personal growth journey really happened.
I decided to give seeing a psychologist another go, despite having very little success in the past. But I also began to do my own research so that I didn’t have to rely on anyone else to get better. I needed to find other plans that I could put into action to get myself headed in the right direction again. It was clear to me at that point that I couldn’t run away this time, or go in search of myself somewhere else or in another person. I needed to search within and face the hard truths about myself, my life, my past and my future.
The psychologist helped me initially put a lot of things into perspective. She also assisted me in washing away some of the guilt I was carrying around about my relationship, returning home halfway through my trip, and just generally about being dissatisfied with life even though I had been having such an incredible experience.
Clarification, Identification and Processing
During those initial sessions we also realised that I had never really processed all of the emotional scars I had obtained during the two years I spent helping my brother through his own battle with depression and suicide. I had never actually dealt with the fallout of that incredibly taxing and draining time in our lives that had taken place before I headed off to South America.
Leaving on my enormous, and freeing solo trip had merely delayed the recovery process and had put the lasting effects of that turmoil on the back burner. I had been gliding by on the adrenalin of being in a constant state of hyper awareness for so long that when the adrenalin ran out, I came crashing down, red hot.
After realising this, I finally began to grieve for the brother I didn’t lose. I gave myself the time and space to process all of the fear, anger and sadness that goes with helping someone through suicide and depression. I started to realise how incredibly depleted I was following that period in our lives and how incredibly grateful I was to still have him in my life. This was such a therapeutic process for me that I never even realised I needed or gave myself the opportunity to consciously think about.
Helping Me Move On
During our discussions I also realised that it was ok for me to walk away from my five year relationship. While I had made the decision already to move on, I was having trouble justifying the ‘why’ to myself. I learnt that just because you love someone, doesn’t mean the person or the relationship is right for you. She made me realise what I already knew, that we were different people who were holding each other back and causing each other stress and frustration.
We needed to move on from our relationship and in a very real and permanent way with no secret reservations or hopes that we would one day reunite again. Cementing this idea in my mind that it was completely over, made processing the loss and grief of that relationship so much more real. It allowed me to properly deal with my emotions and to finally move on mentally and emotionally from that part of my life.
Journalling Actually Works
Then began my own self-improvements. I found and implemented such a large number of tactics to help me fight my way back to the fit and healthy person I wanted to be. Working extremely hard, I began to reshape my thought processes and patterns. I put in the ground work to ensure I had tactics and mechanisms in place to encourage positive growth as much as possible.
I had never been a fan of journaling and hated the idea of just writing down my daily happenings. Then I found a journaling process that really worked for me. I wrote out a large number of reflective questions in a journal and tried to answer one a day.
From there I started keeping a daily gratitude journal as well and then also began writing down my intense thoughts, feelings and emotions as they came to me. I’ve now found this last method of journaling to be the most rewarding. I don’t set myself any rules or parameters and just let the thought and emotions flow. It helps me deal with and process my thoughts. The positivity and gratitude then naturally flows on from there.
Sometimes I would be on a bus and would just write the thoughts straight onto my phone. Other times I was working at my laptop and would begin madly typing it all out. There were even some nights where I ended up staying awake all the way through to sunrise writing because I felt like I just had so much to say.
Processing all of the hard truths, emotional scars and trauma I had experienced throughout my life finally set me free mentally and emotionally from a lot of what was holding me back. Putting it down on paper and getting it out of the never-ending cycle of my mind left me feeling relieved and lighter than ever.
Diet and Exercise Make a Huge Difference
After all of this, I finally felt like there was enough space in my mind to start focusing on me. There was room again to begin considering things like diet and physical fitness. Prior to breaking my hand, I had been too depressed to do any exercise at all.
With a broken hand, I suddenly had a challenge to overcome; to work out how to exercise without the use of my hand. I tackled it with tenacity and purpose. I made the effort to walk almost every day and found that my mind was opening up more and more with each day. Surprisingly, I then began cooking again. My meals became healthier and healthier and I started feeling like a brand new person.
It wasn’t about losing weight, or physical appearance; which had often been my motivations in the past. It was about feeling better as a whole. The healthier I ate and the more exercise I did, the more I felt inclined to spend time with friends, to write posts for my blog, and to go on daily adventures. It was a lifestyle change. The focus was on my health and well-being and it had such a huge impact on my mental state.
The Benefits In Action
I could see the benefits in real time. Every day I was becoming more productive with work and was starting to feel happy and excited again for the first time in almost eight months. I was committed to the cause. Any time I saw a situation or relationship that might jeopardise my mental health and well-being I removed myself and took a step back. It was a ruthless process, but I had a deep cleanse of my life, habits and relationships. I needed to be a little bit selfish and put my own healing process first. If I didn’t give myself the time and space I needed to grow then I knew I would never be the person I wanted to be.
Fast forward almost four months now since I broke my hand and it seems almost impossible to think that I was contemplating not being alive. Now I have daily moments where I am filled with so much joy, gratitude, and appreciation for life that I can barely contain the tears of happiness.
Now I am more aware of myself and my surroundings than I ever have been before. I am paying close attention to the little things in life and making the important parts of my life a priority. I am also making sure I stay attentive and focused on my needs; emotionally, physically and mentally. My goals are still to stay focused on living a fulfilling and purposeful life. The main difference now, is that I have a better idea on how to do it.
I don’t ever want to get back to the place I found myself in halfway through last year. I am so excited for what the future holds. For the first time in a long time, I am looking forward to everything that is yet to come without being shrouded by fear and doubt of what that might be.
Prioritise Your Health and Well-being
Life is full of opportunity. It is also full of challenges, hard work and disaster. Each and every one of those situations are part of the experience. Seeing how dark I can and have felt in my life and knowing that I don’t feel that way now has proven to me that investing in your own health and well-being is an important and crucial part of life that is worth the time and energy. Your mental health, physical fitness, goals and dreams should never be taken for granted or put to the side.
No matter how busy life gets, make sure you are making time for the things in life that make you happy. You should be prioritising the things that are rewarding and make you feel as though you are living life for a reason. I hope that sharing the story behind my personal growth journey will help you to overcome whatever it is you may be struggling with or whatever rut you may find yourself in. There has never been a better time to pursue your dreams and to find a better version of yourself than right now.
Live with purpose. Be Happy. And take care of yourself.
--Girl Seeking Purpose