For those of you who don't know, I'm currently cycling around Australia. I've been here since the end of February. It's been an incredible journey. The variety of lands and people is mind blowing!
While here, I learned that a good friend of mine had taken her own life. She was a gray hair like me, very intelligent, a fellow nomad. And like me I think she felt a little out of place and was trying to find home. Robyn Davidson sums it up very well for me in her book, Tracks. "There are two kinds of nomads. Those that are comfortable anywhere and those who feel comfortable nowhere. I was one of them."
I was saddened by the news of Kate's death. But oddly once the initial shock wore off, I wasn't surprised. I had made it a point to visit her when I was in Colorado in the fall. She told me she thought she was feeling depressed. She was in a big transition. And winter in Colorado is tough. I gave her some phone numbers of local therapists who had been very helpful to me over the years. By June she was done.
Her death won't have been in vain. In fact, it's the spark that's ignited the fire under my own ass to tell this story. The one I have not really shared. Ironic since the whole point of this blog was really supposed to be the narrative of how I arrived where I am right now. Which is writing a blog post on my phone while my bike and I are traveling on a westbound Greyhound in northern Australia. I'm headed to some gravel road adventures in the Kimberly.
I can only do this in small bits. I hope you'll see this through with me.
This is part I:
Some days, things can seem really hard... Loneliness on the road, uncertainty about where I'll sleep tonight, hopefully just a swag under the stars. The night sky here is unbelievable by the way! I thought Utah and Montana were something! Wow! But I digress. Outside in the bush is where I am most comfortable. But today, this isn't about me. This is about Kate and Charlotte and about a dozen other women I know who took their own lives recently. People choose suicide rather than live in the pain and isolation of the absolute certainty that things will not get better. This is called "hopelessness". It is one of the shittiest feelings one can ever experience. I know personally just how shitty it is. For all the people I know or have not met yet who believe that the only relief is death by suicide, this is for you.
My journey with the shittiest feeling ever began around 1995. Might have been earlier but I was too stoned to notice. I was 33 and had found my way into sobriety two years earlier. I was living in a beautiful part of the country. I had access to the incredible forests, rivers, lakes and mountains of the Sierra Nevada of central California. I was broke and couldn't keep a job. But I was living on an apple orchard taking care of the trees in exchange for low cost rent. It was beautiful and I loved caring for the 180 semi dwarf apple trees. I learned a lot about apples and irrigation. It was a very cool life. For a while.
But then came that morning when I was startled awake by a panic attack that felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I flew out of bed, my heart was racing and I was sweaty. It was like something huge and ominous had just scared the living daylights out of me. But all was quiet. It was a typical beautiful morning. Sunshine, birds and a cool morning breeze. My home was secure enough. I had been a little nervous about living in the boonies alone at first and a friend lent me her 410 shotgun. Thing was called a snake charmer. Boy howdy! It was reassuring even though I barely knew the ass end of a gun from the opening where the hurt comes out.
The panic attacks continued on and off for weeks. Then they became more frequent and started hanging around longer. It became a consistent terrible anxiety that I couldn't shake. I started making stupid, impulsive decisions based on the anxiety.
Then Buddy came into my life. He was the big black dog that rescued me. He was very grounding. I could never just abandon him. So my decision making skills began to improve. I got rid of that stupid shot gun shortly thereafter. I'd probably just end up blowing my own foot off with that damn thing. Buddy was much more intimidating even though he hardly ever barked and was a really sweet guy. Well mannered and a real gentleman he would get in the middle and stop other dogs from fighting. He was big and very strong.
But I still lived in this constant state of panic. It had been months. It sucked! I couldn't focus on anything.
Things shifted again. One day about noon I just felt exhausted. My head was hurting and I had an inexplicable pain in my neck and shoulders. I had to lay down even though I thought it was lame and fought it like the dickens. This. THIS began to go on and on and on. It was interfering with work. In addition to the apple orchard I got a job as a grunt and ditch digger for a landscape contractor. I liked the work. I was outside all day and the work kept me physically active. I was recovering physically from the years of drinking and becoming very strong. As you might imagine, I was in rough shape when I sobered up. Seven thousand gallons of cheap vodka and eight million cigarettes hadn't done much for my physical health. I quit smoking three months into my sobriety.
Anyway, after months of panic and agony, I went to a local health clinic. After an initial assessment, the PA thought we should try some drugs. I was game.
Feeling like I'd been shot at and missed and shit at and hit ALL THE FUCKING TIME was no fun. What did I have to lose?
The first thing we tried gave me a seizure one night. That one didn't work. We tried several others. We finally settled on an old school tricyclic. I don't know the pharmacology and have no idea what that means. But they still use it to treat bed wetting in older children.
After several weeks, in addition to the fog lifting and the panic subsiding I didn't wet the bed. It was a win-win.
The next two or three years were good. I continued caring for the apples, found an Adult Education Course and a received a certificate as an Emergency Medical Technician taking night classes. I wanted to get into the outdoor industry so I was taking steps in that direction. Making better decisions for my future and even planning. Never did that before.
A few months later, I received a sizable scholarship from the National Outdoor Leadership School to attend a course for
the over twenty five crowd. I'd always loved the outdoors and the sixteen days backpacking above the Arctic Circle in Alaska confirmed what I already knew about how not to die in the outdoors. It also gave me confidence to pursue a career that I hoped would be meaningful. It took a few years but I did get a job as a guide eventually. Things were unfolding. But they were also unraveling. At this point in my life the shit had not fully hit the fan. That would come later. Stay tuned for Part II
Thanks for reading.