Wednesday, March 18, 2015


“What you've done becomes the judge of what you're going to do - especially in other people's minds. When you're traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don't have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” 
William Least Heat-Moon (1931-), American traveler and writer.

Greece, March 18, 2015.

 Three years ago I was not a human being. Fear paralyzed me and anxiety gnawed at me. In the beginning it was the logical nerves of going to an unknown place, but the beast was fed by my insecurity, I grew and became a monster that devoured my soul. Like a robot, I was only able to go to familiar places. The last one that I got to know was the National Library of Spain, where the low lighting and lack of people made ​​me feel comfortable. But over time it became unbearable that every day I was assigned a different table, and within weeks I was unable to get up from my chair to request new books, so I stopped going, even though I had not finished my work there. Then I took refuge at home, I could not even feel at home there. By that-+ time Gabi and I were looking for an opportunity to build a new life away from Las Rozas where we had shared flat with a colleague of his for a while. Until something new came up, we had moved in to his mother's house on the outskirts of a residential area. Just to go to buy bread one had to walk for fifteen minutes, there was no contact between neighbors and just to get to my library an hour and a half of public transport was necessary. Gradually I stopped going to Madrid, I could not bear the stares of strangers when I got on the bus. I didn´t even try to find an empty seat, I just looked for a corner where I couldn´t bother anyone and waited for everyone to get off the bus when it arrived at Moncloa so no one would see me get off.  But the walk to the bus stop was increasingly unbearable: my legs weighed me down, they shook and my joints ached. A knot choked my throat when I searched my pockets for the bus pass because I was making both the people waiting to board and the driver wait. When the bus pass finished, I didn´t catch the bus for fear of paying cash and the coins falling out of my hands. So, it stopped making sense to leave home and expose myself to a world of inquisitive looks, where I was just a nuisance in the routine of others.

At home I did not feel much better. Panic was blocking me, afraid of being judged by my way of washing dishes, by my cooking or even by how I sat on the couch. So I stopped doing it. The easiest thing was to stay in my room, and if I had to go to the bathroom I tried to do so while the others slept. I delayed as long as I could taking a shower; would I be using too much hot water? Could it be that someone wanted to go to the bathroom and couldn`t because of me? That amount of shampoo or gel, would it not  be too much? Wouldn`t it be very annoying for the next person the fact that the bathroom was filled with steam? And how to choose clothes that I was going to wear if everything was dirty or inappropriate?  Best I continue in my pajamas, I thought,  anyway I will not go out.
Nor did I find refuge in the room. My desk was by the window, the shrine was dedicated to writing my dissertation. We had spent a whole day moving the furniture in the room to fit more of the books I used books on a couple of shelves. After the effort others had dedicated to my desk, I felt obliged to sit at that table and use it.  The weight of my irresponsibility made the feeling of anxiety worse in my chest, and I could only rest from this pressure lying in bed, dozing, abandoned to the world of dreams.
I had begun the thesis six years before when I still had not finished university. I was an exemplary, indefatigable student, neither drinking nor smoking, capable of sticking my head in books for twelve to fourteen hours with no break. While working on my research, I prepared the publication of two other books, several articles and papers for international conferences. I got to the point of accumulating five hundred days of continuous work without a single free day, without weekends, without daring to think of vacation. I was good at what I did, everyone told me. They encouraged me to continue, demanding more quality, more quantity, more dedication, more trips abroad, more languages. My life became a race against time to meet the expectations of others.  I put aside the family, friends, my partner, myself. I started gaining weight, getting pale and sick with physical and spiritual ills. Then the spirit of failure appeared, of impossible deadlines, disappointments of work. Upon completion of my scholarship that had lasted for four years, I continued linked to the university, I kept squeezing my brain though not paid a penny for it. At that time I did not think it was better to throw away four years in the past instead of four in the future. I just kept doing things the best I knew, just to get praise, the approval of others. That was the drug to which I was addicted, recognition of merit was what drove my life.
I guess the turning point was in Sevilla, while I was having a cup of coffee with Christopher, a colleague of the Archivo de Indias. Cris told me that for a long time he had had a sheet of paper hanging on the wall with a written question: "What do you want?"  It took him several months to answer that question, but when he did, he decided to go for it. It`s worth it to rethink what we are doing with our time but more than anything to analyze whether the goal we want to achieve is more valuable than what we are sacrificing on the way to get it. The answer led me to an existential crisis.  I had lost the motivation to continue writing a thesis of which I could no longer see the point, but I could not abandon it due to the weight of responsibility. I was dreading disappointing all the people who had believed in me.
Gabi appeared in the middle of all this confusion. We met shortly after I returned from Sevilla and settled in Madrid, on a surfing trip to Santander organized by the  Couchsurfing group. I ended up going in Gabriel`s car and for five hours we got to know each other through the rearview mirror. The time I spent with him was without work related pressures but rather the pleasure of enjoying nature. I fell in love with his energy, optimism, disorganization and hyperactivity. But mostly I fell for his will to live. However, when we started to live together it was inevitable to return to work and the problems that I had been suffering simply changed location. Arguments for no apparent reason became more frequent and my mood affected everyone around me. When we made ​​the trip to Japan it was evident that there was a problem and Gabi practically forced me to go to a doctor. I do not want to go because I did not want to steal time from another patient who had a real problem. The diagnosis was depression with agoraphobia.
Most people think that agoraphobia is fear of open spaces, but in reality it`s is a fear of the fear that arises from exposure to others. I was not afraid to go out, but rather of leaving my secure environment and having something upset me and that others could see my panic attack. It is an irrational fear, without any basis but with strong physical effects. In my case, I suffered dizziness, nausea and weakness in my joints. Only several weeks after moving to Pamplona was I able to go downstairs without fear that my legs would fail me. We thought that leaving the capital city of Madrid for Pamplona would get us away from the stress of a big city and living in the north would help us, but the problem was not so much in the environment as in the perception of it.
For a year I put aside the darned thesis and devoted myself to the sale of mountain sports equipment in a department store. Changing from being a PhD student to a salesgirl and not having to take work home made me feel relieved from excess responsibility. I must admit that the medication helped me and the therapy I had almost weekly in the  Mental Health Center of Ansoáin paid off. But there were two things that were crucial: getting back to nature and hosting guests through Warmshowers, the cyclist hosting network.
Mountains are humbling, you cannot begin an ascent having false expectations. You must be realistic with your own potential and be open to change and improvisation. The continuous effort is another form of meditation, the concentration on your breath, on the right place to your the feet and hands, leaves no room for other thoughts. Walking through the forest marks the return to our nature, it brings us closer to our origin, it helps us recover the balance that we lost on the asphalt streets.
On the other hand, having travelers in our house has changed our outlook on life. We saw that with very few resources other lifestyle was possible. We had the good fortune to have worked hard over the past years, so we had some savings that allowed us to get everything you need to start a cycling adventure around the world. But how could it be possible to suffer agoraphobia and to live as a wanderer and still enjoy it?
A few months of intense effort still awaited us to improve the situation. I had to return to live in the present and  learn to observe reality without labeling it. I had to face what scared me to understand that fear, stress or anxiety are mere sensations, often disproportionate that through training can be controlled. Also I had to finish pending chores and understand the impermanence of people and objects. Assume the death of my grandmother and the disappearance of our cat. Leave aside the selfishness of an excess of responsibility and guilt. It was time to get my driving license and get married. It wasn´t time to "have to" but rather "I finish this," again transforming the future in this action. As for the thesis, after eight years, I had my thesis defence. The same day I paid the fee for the diploma, we started the trip.

Of course, the work is not yet finished. It is a recurrent illness and it occasionally flares up in the form of a small crisis, especially in the rainy season or when we have no destination on the horizon. In Albania, it was the first time, crying, that I asked Gabi to go home. But before the tears dried on my face several people appeared and invited us to their house. The pillars of my complaints and my doubts are crumbling because they were never solid. The human being is extraordinary and his ability to adapt and improve is surprising. How could we stop traveling, if maybe tomorrow is the most beautiful day of my life? How could I give up climbing a mountain, if I do not yet know what awaits me around the next bend? I can taste freedom like anyone, because I have been a prisoner of myself, and happiness is even sweeter after escaping from the clutches of depression. How can I afford to give up this journey halfway? Right now I begin to understand how much I love life!

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