A long climb
It’s been three months since I told you ‘how I burned out riding a bicycle‘. And it’s been over five months now since I broke down, and I finally feel like the end is almost in sight.
Since a few weeks I’ve been sleeping a little better and I feel stronger, more energised, more sharp and less dizzy. There even are some moments that I feel completely healthy!
Sadly I have to pay for my energetic afternoons by being exhausted in the evenings and especially cognitively I’m nowhere near how I used to be. There is no way of telling how well my brain will be functioning each day. All to often my head feels like a strainer filled with spaghetti.
Halfway an answer I forget which question was asked, I search for words, I don’t feel sharp, I’m easily overwhelmed and the biggest challenge is that all that makes me anxious and insecure.
I want to keep the burned-out and heavy part of this blog short. The past months have been, mainly psychologically, quite hard and I’m not there yet. But after countless hairpin bends and a few optical illusions I really feel like I’m starting to see the end of this long climb. And even though I look forward to the top, more than I can put into words, the climb itself has also been enriching and valuable.
Though my head may be a strainer filled with spaghetti when it comes to cognition, it seems to work fine when it comes to understanding my feelings and translating those into thoughts and decisions.
Just after I broke down I realised that I was rearranging my priorities concerning bike touring. Even though it turned out to ‘only’ be burn-out, it suddenly hit me hard that my health is not to be taken for granted. Where I recently more and more based my routes on what was ‘practical’ or a ‘challenge’, I now want to fully base them again on where I want to go most badly.
Also I started putting question marks at the indispensableness of the bicycle. Maybe I want to get off the beaten track even more and change my mode of transportation therefore to foot or horse? These options are on my radar now too and who knows if I will try them out in years to come.
I’ve had plenty of time to feel and think about these things in the last few months.
When my focus became good enough to follow a storyline again, I started listening to a audiobook: ‘On the trail of Genghis Kahn‘ by Tim Cope. An Australian who traveled on horseback from Ulanbator in Mongolia to the Danube in Hungary over the stretch of three years. Listening to his story while sitting at the fireplace I traveled by Cope’s side across the Eurasian steppe meeting nomads, hospitable Kazakhs and many drunk Mongols.
My next read was ‘Woman in the wilderness‘ by Miriam Lancewood, who has spend the last 7 years with her husband living in the wilderness of New Zealand. She writes about hunting, trekking, baking bread, experiencing every season in nature and her mixed feelings about comfort during her short visits to civilisation. While my ‘mandatory’ time in Western luxury prolonged, reading her book fired up my desire to live in nature more and more.
The third book was ‘Addicted to love‘ by Jan Geurtz. The theme captured in one sentence would be: How our search for love originates from our fundamental self-rejection and how eliminating that rejection and recognising our own perfection will free the way to a *non-symbiotic love relationship which leaves space for growth and happiness. This book confirms the possibility of and shows a path to love and relationships in a way that I’d want to pursue. It made me feel like it’s possible; even for a stubborn, critical and independent nomad.
This is how during the grey days of my burn-out little lights flamed up. I’d wanted this for years; time for reflection, to feel, personal growth and acquiring knowledge. But I was always to busy (in my opinion) living fully. I had a rough idea of the trail that I wanted to cut through the jungle of possibilities, but I didn’t take the time to immerse myself in the right matter that could bring me inspiration and give me direction.
Maybe the most surreal part of burn-out is that it eliminates your filters. Sometimes a calm conversation at home would feel like I was trying to talk to someone battling loud music in a busy nightclub.
This also goes for emotions. I couldn’t take the negative energy of others anymore (anger, grumpiness, complaining, sadness, sorrow, stress) and felt sick and overwhelmed as soon as it popped up even just a little bit either in real life or on tv. This hyper sensitivity to other peoples stress is still strong.
During the time that I was emotionally still very sensitive I discovered the Planet Earth documentaries. I instantly was captured by the magic of mother nature. Once again I wondered why we live in a concrete world and look for entertainment in bars, cinemas, sports centres, shops and online while the natural world is so incredibly beautiful.
But there's more...
Ever since I completed the Mindfulness training course I start every day with meditation and many days I practice yoga for a little in the afternoon. These are the times that I can leave that strainer with spaghetti for what it is and just be body and breath.
This is how I roamed through my recovery. Walking, reading, watching documentaries (and some series), meditating, doing yoga, seeing friends and making some music. It was all taking way too long.
Also the results of the neurofeedback therapy, that could improve my sleeping, weren’t very good. It wasn’t until the last few weeks that we finally saw results. The little blue heads on the screen (my EEG-scan) suddenly turned green and then white, a sign that the right brain waves showed activity. As a result I started to feel more relaxed and my sleeping slowly improved!
I took a little trip to Milan as I got invited to the Free Travelers Awards festival there. All in all it was quite a prestigious event. Also I don’t think it makes much sense to reward traveling by handing out ‘awards’. But what made it worth the trip was the company of the other travellers, the inspiration we shared back and forward and the fun we had in our own quirky way.
After the festival I spend six days with Italian cyclist Dino Lanzaretti around his house outside a village near lake Garda. Dino’s most recent bike trip partially took place by -60C in Siberia, where he spend two days with his snow mask frozen to his beard! The Dutch way to describe him would translate to ‘rough shell clean core‘
It was great to spend some time away from the city. I felt how I fell into place between the dandelions, the river and the warmth of the fireplace.
Back in Holland it became crystal clear to me: ‘it’s time to get going‘. The build up of knowledge, feelings and spending 5 months in Western civilisation led to a feeling stronger than ever that I don’t belong or fit in here anymore.
When I look around in this society it seems to be build for a different kind of people. Shops, bars, restaurants, companies, sports centres, they’re not here for me. There pretty much isn’t anything that we people created, except for a bag of clothes, that I really feel I need. I’ve outgrown it. Through travelling, and on top of that through this burn-out.
And while I instinctively again and even more definite distance myself from this created world, I feel that space opens up for new possibilities.
A peek into the future
I’ll be cycling again, but I’m also open to new ways of travel. I’ll be riding alone again, but I don’t necessarily and at all costs have to stay alone anymore. Maybe I’d like to take on a ‘project’ with others sometime.
And as a peek deep into my heart. For years and years I felt like: ‘Please don’t let me meet him yet, the guy that I want to be with’. I wanted to spend more time alone! That feeling seems to slowly melt away bit by bit and maybe I’d like to meet that ‘adventurer on the white bicycle‘ (or horse, or feet, or camel) sometime in the future and figure out together if and how it can be: a non-symbiotic relationship.
I have a (flexible) ticket to Marrakech for May 23. I bought it a while ago when I was feeling optimistic. Now I’m still not sure if I’ll be able to use it. I hope to go on a multi-day ride around Holland next week to figure out the state of my energy levels and my focus.
My plan would be to ride around Morocco for a month and then cross into Spain and Portugal and who knows where.. By the end of September I’d go back to Holland to be there for the joyful occasion of becoming an aunt for the first time!
If this trip goes well and I regain trust in my body and mind then I will pack my bags and travel to ‘the other side of the world‘ on an open ticket once more.
I want to THANK everyone who reads this blog and supports me through this difficult time off the bike.
*non-symbiotic love relationship: A relationship in which both individuals stay autonomous, without a sense of ownership or entitlement. Without coalescence or holding the other person responsible for one’s happiness but in complete openness with and towards each other and unconditional love for one another.