A Little Compassion Please

Dr Jenn and I have now parted ways. She’s on her way back to the UK and I’ve headed down to Penang, a small island on the coast of Malaysia. I’ve done this route once before on my own. In fact, I’m going to cross over much of the same path that I did two years ago when I was exploring South East Asia, but this time, it feels different. Obviously, a lot can change in two years and indeed, some of the places have, but the biggest difference of all, is me.

There are some great aspects of travelling alone – meeting new like minded people, having the flexibility to do what you want and generally being selfish with all your decisions. However, all that comes at a price, because you’ve got to fend for yourself in all the tricky situations you get yourself into. Last time I was here I was completely carefree (some might also say a little bit reckless), which I guess is one of the things that left me vulnerable to being attacked in the first place. These days not only am I more conscientious but my awareness and instinct are super tuned into everything around me. There’s also a much deeper sense of compassion and empathy that I carry around with me too.

The journey down from Surat Thani (mainland Thailand) to Penang wasn’t the most comfortable of rides. A 12-hour journey in a small mini bus squeezed full of passengers and backpacks stuffed into every square inch. When we arrived at the border, everyone had to vacate the bus to pass through security with their bags, to then hop back into their new Tetris style position on the other side. While we took the opportunity to stretch our legs on the Malaysian side, a young Western woman in her late 20’s approached. She asked if we were headed to Penang and if so, could she get a lift? This woman had got out of her bus at the border under the impression that she could get her Thai visa renewed, then hop on another bus going back into Thailand. It wasn’t until she was stranded on her own that she realised that not only was this not possible but that transport in general around the border is pretty scarce. She was still another 2 hours drive from Penang which is where she needed to go for the visa and it was getting dark. Unfortunately, there was absolutely no room in our bus and, however much our driver might have wanted to cash in on this opportunity, she would’ve literally had to sit on top of bags in the gang way which wasn’t going to be safe or legal (not that these bus journeys are legit anyway, as we found out later when we got stopped by the Malay police). We had to turn this poor woman away and I instantly felt for her. It was dark, she was somewhere unfamiliar and she’d made a couple of misjudgments that had caused her to be in a vulnerable situation.

Two years ago this could have quite easily have been me and being as brazen as I was back then, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, brushing it off with “I’m Shereen, I’ll manage”. This time though, all I could think was, What if something bad happens to her?…What if she gets raped?

I spoke to her for a little while about what she was going to do and she said that she’d just get a hotel for the night and work it out in the morning. She didn’t look too panicked about her situation and clearly trusted in her ability to work it out. So we left her, completing the last 2 hours of our journey, while she was left to walk on the side of the highway, in the dark, alone. That night I couldn’t stop thinking about this woman and I just hoped that she was safe, wherever she’d ended up.

The following day I had to take the ferry across to the mainland and I was astonished and delighted to see her walking out of the ferry port. I literally screamed “Hey, you’re the girl from the other night! You’re ok!” as I held back on the “Thank god you didn’t get killed/raped” line that was on the tip of my tongue. I stopped to have a chat with her and we exchanged numbers, initially she was quite surprised at my level of concern but seemed grateful when I explained what had happened to me, which had led to my concern. For me, I physically couldn’t help but put myself in her shoes and feel scared, alone and with that ‘I’ve messed up’ kind of feeling. So when I saw her I was instantly relieved, naturally I became compassionate because these feelings inside me had been triggered.

Then I got thinking about compassion. What it is, why it’s important and how much of it is about these days. I was pondering this subject as I sat in an open-air Indian ‘restaurant’ (it was more of a street cafe) in Little India waiting for my food to arrive. As I sat there on my own I watched all the other people in the restaurant. The Malaysian, the Indian, the Chinese and the scattering of foreigners, all sitting together peacefully regardless of race, religion or beliefs. This harmony among people is what I love most about Malaysia, each sect unquestionably respects the other and there doesn’t seem to be a judgment of each other’s choice of beliefs. Everyone just gets on with their life and they seem to treat every person like the human being that they are. At least, I thought so… check out the Little India/Mosque/Chinese Lantern pic below.

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As I people watched in the restaurant, I saw a middle-aged Indian man shuffle through the tables, stopping at each one to beg for money. He put his hand out at every table and stared at each person, one by one with his glaring eyes while he loudly asked for money in some language I didn’t understand. This man had erratic body language which was verging on aggressive, he leaned into every table, sometimes towering over people and then slammed his hand out. On rejection, he would jerk it back into his body and loudly slur some words out before moving to the next table to try the same tactic. To me it looked like he was quite emotionally driven and could have had some mental disability, he was most likely poor and quite obviously shunned by society. Hardly anyone gave this guy any money, most people acted like he didn’t even exist and a few gave him such a look of disgust that I felt embarrassed as a human to see them do it. By the time my food came he had resided to the alley way beside the restaurant and was screaming to an imaginary figure. He would viciously move his arms about like he was fending off an attacker and occasionally point up to the sky; I wondered if he was blaming someone up there for his situation.

Earlier that day I’d eaten in a similar street style cafe, in China town with the same diverse mix of culture. There was also a beggar at this cafe but the difference was that in this instance almost every single person gave her money. This woman was of a similar age, she looked Chinese and she subtly moved from table to table, going around completely unnoticed until she appeared at a person’s table. She carried a small bowl that she would quietly present as she made eye contact and smiled at every person she was asking from. Her body language wasn’t intrusive at all and she had warm feeling about her with a look of hope in her eyes. She smiled at every person regardless of whether or not she was given to, or even acknowledged. She gave every single person a smile and in return most handed over a small denomination of money.

I gave money to both of these beggars, of the same amount of too. If I hadn’t had the money on me I would have apologised but acknowledged that they’d asked rather than completely blank them like I’d seen that evening. The reason I gave to them was because firstly, I can afford to. Especially when I’m luckily enough to have a bank account in a currency as valuable as the GB pound. What seems insignificant to me can make quite a difference to someone else. Secondly, I decided that regardless of my judgement of their situation I figured that if they’re asking for money things must be pretty bad for them right now. They must have both felt a variety of challenging feelings which I’ve never had to even consider, so who am I to judge whether or not they deserve my pocket change? Third of all, they weren’t stealing money, they were asking. They were giving people the choice to decide if they wanted to give or not. Obviously one persons strategy was judged as more worthy than the others by the cafe patrons of Penang, probably resulting in more money. However, both of them had made a conscious choice to ask for money rather than take it through force and I respected that.

So regardless of that persons situation and what led them there, surely as human beings don’t each of them deserve the same amount of compassion? I mean wouldn’t you want someone to show you compassion if you were caught out in an unfortunate life situation? Wouldn’t the World just generally be a better place if we were more compassionate to each other?

I’m leaving this message with a video link called ‘Not just homeless’, it’s about homeless people in the UK which talks about the situation from perspectives that aren’t often heard. It’s a cause that is very dear to a friend of mine and I think it’s a good message to carry throughout life in general.

I hope I’ve inspired you to be more compassionate today.

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Motorbike Accident

I really like Koh Phangan, in fact, it’s my favourite Thai island. I like it because it attracts a diverse group of people, there are so many different beaches, activities and scenery to try out and once you have a motorbike to ride around on, everything becomes so much more accessible. There’s a great sense of freedom on the island, to explore, have adventures and be totally carefree. Although enjoyable, these pleasures can also turn the island into a bit of a crazy place at times, and sometimes Koh Phangan reminds me a little bit of Never Never Land. You know in the film

You know in the film Hook? When grown up Peter Pan arrives at Never Never Land and sees all the lost boys?

He asks them, “Where are your parents?” Then demands,

Then demands, “Who’s in charge here?”. To which, the answer then appears on a motorbike riding through somewhat sketchily made bike tracks stretching from tree to tree. Then all the lost boys sing in chorus

To which, the answer then appears on a motorbike riding through somewhat sketchily made bike tracks stretching from tree to tree. Then all the lost boys sing in chorus

Then all the lost boys sing in chorus “Roof-i-o, Roof-i-o, Roof, Roof, Roofiiiiiooooooooooo”.

Remember that?

Welcome to Koh Phangan.

Koh Phangan Sunset.JPG

Last night Dr Jenn and I were on our way to the West of the Island to watch the sunset before heading off to the south for some market food, when we came across a motorbike accident. Having been on the island for a week and already seeing about 4 people leaving local clinics with bandages, it was inevitable that we were going to see a bike accident at some point. As both of us are trained in first aid, we pulled over and headed to the scene without even thinking about it. When we got there we found a young woman, probably 19-20 years old, lying on the floor. She was bleeding from her face, her elbow and her leg, and she was shaking quite a bit, generally she looked pretty shook up. There was also a crowd of people gathering around her but it didn’t look like anyone was specifically tending to her or taking control of the situation, so without even question – I assumed this position. Firstly I asked if anyone was first aid trained, to which I got silence. Then I asked if anyone had called an ambulance and I got a flurry of different replies, apparently something

Firstly I asked if anyone was first aid trained, to which I got silence. Then I asked if anyone had called an ambulance and I got a flurry of different replies, apparently something might be on the way. Everything from this point onward becomes a bit mixed up, but I remember asking for a guy to call Koh Phangan clinic to get an ambulance, asking Jenn to control the onlookers and I started to assess the girl’s injuries and talk to her to see how conscious she was. The young woman was Spanish so I had to rely on my very rusty Spanish vocabulary to ask her for her name, age and what had happened. I’m not quite sure what information I got out of her, maybe I didn’t manage to translate the Spanish words in my head but I just made sure she kept talking. In all fairness, she was badly scratched and at worst may have broken her arm, but as my priority was to stop her going into shock I told her that she just had a few scratches and it looked worse than it was, while I continued to check her body for any bleeding or serious injury. Whilst I was doing this I was unaware that the traffic was building up on both sides, as cars were stopping to look, and that people were approaching. That was, until a man appeared on my left and commanded that we get her out of the road. Calmly I replied that I didn’t want to get her out of the road yet until I’d finished assessing her, to which the guy started raising his voice and started commanding things at me. At this moment I could feel my heart in my throat as I realised that I had put myself in a very vulnerable position and now I was being aggressively spoken to by someone. That little voice in my head was there again saying You’re under attack – there was my PTSD trigger right when I didn’t need it. At that moment I became very aware that everyone involved in this situation was watching me now, waiting for a reaction. This made me feel like I was under a lot of pressure, simple because I had assumed this leadership position. The only reason I had done this was because, having worked on boats I have very up to date and advanced first aid qualifications and seen as no one else seemed qualified in first aid when I arrived, I stepped up to make sure that the casualty was being tended to. I turned around to face this man who at this point, was literally a few inches away from me and calmly said “I’m the first-aider here and I am not moving her until she’s ready. Can you step back?” and then turned back to the girl. The man then shouted in my face that he was a paramedic but seen as I was a first-aider I clearly didn’t need his help and then stormed off muttering something under his breath. I remember this moment quite clearly because I could feel my heart racing so fast and all I wanted to do was to run away from this situation and cry. Then I started to doubt myself, should I have taken control of this situation? Should I have even got involved? What if my qualifications aren’t good enough? Having then questioned myself, I called back to the guy and said “If you’re a paramedic then we need you, come back” at which, he ignored me so I turned back to the girl and carried on assessing her. One of the cars that had pulled up was a taxi and was shouting that he’d take her to the hospital and after quickly taking this through with the girls and her friends we decided that if she could get up then it was probably best for her to go in the taxi than wait for an ambulance. She managed to get up unassisted and into the taxi. Deciding that we had done the best we could do, Jenn and I continued on to the beach to watch the sunset, where, you guessed it – I burst into tears.

There were quite a few things in this situation that triggered feelings from the attack and as we were on the beach Dr Jenn (putting on her Dr hat) asked for us to talk it out – seriously, having a psychologist on hand at even minor traumas is just the most fantastic thing. After a little bit of talking and crying, and a trip to 7-11 to get a beer, we distinguished that throughout that situation I’d personally had to deal with quite a few things that were difficult for me, so understandably I’d become quite upset. First of all, this incident put us both straight into a very aware state where we had to react, help out and put our first aid training into practice. Having been a natural leader all of my life it’s not unusual for me to do this, especially not in this kind of situation, I’ve actually done this quite a few times with minor injuries but this time, it was different. It was different because at the moment I struggle to feel confident doing things that are ‘normal’ to me, so to take control of a crowd and put myself in charge of someone else’s wellbeing it was actually very stressful for me at this point in my life, however as I was trained to deal with this situation I was under my own moral obligation to act. Regardless of my own discomfort, I had to put this girls pain at the top of my priority and make sure that she was given the first aid and assurance that she needed. As well as this pressure, the girl didn’t speak much English, so we had to converse in my second language, Spanish. The trigger here is that when I got attacked on St Maarten, and I ran into a house for refuge from my attacker and the women in the house only spoke Spanish. This was especially weird because St Maarten is a 1/2 French, 1/2 Dutch island where the majority at least speak a little English but the women who let me in their house only spoke Spanish. So for me, this was the second time I was having to converse in this language in a high-stress situation and last time I was extremely distressed, whilst trying to communicate that a man had tried to rape me. They don’t teach you how to say that in Spanish class.

The worst trigger in this whole situation was when the ‘paramedic’ approached and tried to take control of the situation in what I received as a quite an aggressive manner and I felt like I was being attacked. This isn’t the first time that a man has challenged me, in fact working in Construction and Yachting there are actually quite a few egotistically males that don’t like to see a young woman in charge and in the past I’d had a few different situations where man have either tried to undermine me professionally, come on to me or constantly challenge me to probably try and break me. In the past, I’ve been able to deal with these situations quite tactfully but lately, I feel really, under attack in these situations and handling these kind of egos is difficult for me to do without breaking down under the pressure. I’m actually quite impressed that I held myself together and managed to act as calm as I did during this situation. I’m not sure what the ‘paramedic’ was trying to achieve, whether he was trying to take control and didn’t like the fact that a young woman turned around and told him no – bruising his ego, or if there was something else at play here but either way, I’m quite positive that he wasn’t a paramedic. Having been in a situation before where paramedics have arrived, I know that this is not how they approach a situation, furthermore, had he been, he would have put the casualties needs before his ego and tended to her regardless of what had been said or done. This obviously wasn’t the case, because he stormed off.

I felt quite emotionally bruised for the rest of the evening and questioned myself over loads of things, if I was right or wrong, if I hindered or helped etc. Now that it’s a new day and I can reflect on the situation without the adrenaline and pumped up emotions, I can see that Jenn and I did the best that we could do at the time with the skills and knowledge that we had. I know that I acted calmly throughout the situation (even though I didn’t feel that calm at the time) and I know that I reassured the girl and helped to get her off the road and on the way to help. I’m sure that my Dad would have been proud.

I guess what the most important thing for me to reflect on in this situation is that it’s clear that emotionally stressful situations are still going to have an effect on me because what I’ve been through is still so raw. However, I also know how important it is for me to process these emotions and talk and cry after these events so that I can reflect, move on and get over them. At moments like these when I’m a little shook up after an event or a trigger that Jenn always reminds me of how a gazelle acts when it’s just got away from a lion chasing it – it physically shakes to discharge the overwhelming emotion. As humans we, don’t do this because it doesn’t conform to socially acceptable behavior in Western society, so instead we bottle these emotions up and they get blocked somewhere in our physical system. So instead of pushing these emotions back down she encourages me to let them out, cry and process them, and I’m really grateful that I have a friend who is so knowledgeable and helpful in these situations. I just hope that poor girl has as good a friend as I do to help her get through the motorbike accident.

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Cultivating Comfort in My Own Skin

I think that one of the biggest things that I’ve questioned in the aftermath of the attack is who I am and what I’m working towards – apparently this is a normal process of trauma recovery and it’s because  trauma completely shakes up everything that you thought you knew about yourself and turns it on its head. I can completely relate to this because things which used to be the norm for me have now been subjects of my anxiety and even panic attacks – from walking down dark streets alone, through to getting on a boat with a man that’s acting in a sleazy way towards me. Usually, I’d just suck it up and get on with whatever I’d put my mind too, but post trauma I question my ability to deal with such situations and consequently question my whole identity because I’ve changed from the fearless Shereen I was once so comfortable being.

This subject came up in conversation this week when Dr Jenn and I were made to feel quite unwelcome in a vegan cafe and I joked that it was because we weren’t wearing ‘hippy trousers’ and hair braids like everyone else in the cafe. Instead, we were wearing shorts and t-shirts that were either old work clothes or second-hand items, the fact that we’re both quite environment, health conscious and daily meditator’s was beside the point when it came down to receiving good customer service depending on your external image. Thus, we began to talk about what identity was and what it looked, felt, and appeared as, further to that was whether or not it mattered and why should we care anyway. This is a subject which I have questioned in my life before but after the attack it’s a subject which has been on my mind a lot as I explore what my post-trauma identity is, and what I am working to cultivate and take comfort in.

If I look back to my childhood I remember a particular event which might have made me question this for the first ever time – I was about 14 years old at the time and I had started listening to rock music. Naturally I’d assumed the identity of a ‘rocker’ which meant wearing mostly black, dying my hair a different colour each week (as outrageous as I could think of – red, blue, green, even silver at one point) and I also participated the kind of activities that other ‘rockers’ did like going to rock music festivals and hanging around a certain statue in Wolverhampton on Saturdays (the ‘Man on the Horse’… we were so cool). The thing is, I really enjoyed listening to rock music at the time; it was very expressive and there was a whole range which would suit whatever mood I was in – punk if I felt perky, harder rock if I felt frustrated and even some quite melodic music if I was feeling nostalgic. I’m sure it was actually therapeutic to me at that time in my adolescence too, because most of the time I just wanted to jump around and be silly which is what I loved so much about the all age venue concerts that I’d go to with my friends – getting in the mosh pits! However, there were some bits about being a rocker that I didn’t enjoy so much. I didn’t really like the clothes because black is quite a boring colour and my outfits mainly consisted of band t-shirts, hoodies and black trousers/jeans – there wasn’t much variety. I also wasn’t too fond of the behaviour that I felt was sometimes expected of me, as though I should be some manic depressive and act all dark and sad all the time because of the songs I listened to. Either way, I continued to conform to these things because I liked the music and wanted to fit in with the people who shared this interest. What made me finally snap out of it was when my Dad decided that he wouldn’t buy me any more black clothes, so if I wanted to have something new it would have to be a colour that he deemed appropriate (usually pink, purple or something pastel coloured). Seen as I was reliant on my Dad’s income to clothe myself, I didn’t have the option to disagree. I’m not sure if we actually had a conversation about why I had to conform to this image to listen to a certain music genre but I do remember thinking that it shouldn’t matter what clothes I wear or music that I listen to and that people should accept me for who I am.

Somewhere along the way though I seemed to have stopped developing this attitude and as I’ve tried out different careers, and lifestyles I’ve come to berate myself for being too many things at once and not fitting in the box of a person doing ‘x’ career/past time/activity because I enjoyed the variety of doing lots of things. To put it bluntly how many sailing, marketing consulting, project manager, beauticians are there out there, who are passionate about sustainability, travel, adventure, chemical free living, organics and wellbeing, who have recently written a book and are now blogging about trauma recovery and therapies research? If you know someone of this description please email me because I’d love to have a coffee with them!

I guess what this comes down to is that a core value of mine is integrity – that means that I say what I mean and I do what I say, but the problem with an overwhelming emotional experience is that I’m no longer able to control these emotions or predict when they’re going to overwhelm me. This affects my integrity because I don’t feel like I can commit to something because if I experience an unknown trigger or an emotion becomes too overwhelming then I simply want to run away from whatever I’ve committed myself too (although these days I’m trying to lean into those discomforts, it’s still a daily challenge to practice). This has ultimately affected how I live my life (especially my ability to work) because I don’t want to end up in a situation where my somewhat ‘irrational’ emotional response compromises my reputation as a <insert identity here>. What’s frustrating is that when it comes down to it, external identity means nothing because integrity will show if you are who you say you are. So, it doesn’t matter how much I dress, act or even swear like a sailor right now if I can’t deal with the somewhat testing situations that sailing a boat bring. At the moment, the reality of this is that I don’t know if I can deal with that kind of pressure so I’m not willing to take the risk. That’s not to say that I can’t pick this hobby and profession up again when I know I’ve faced all my PTSD triggers and learnt how to manage my emotions.

Luckily I’ve got the perspective to see that I won’t be stuck here forever and every day I continue to work towards my post trauma identity which I know will be stronger and wiser than ever before. I also know that the insecurities of ‘not fitting in’ will also vanish when I feel comfortable within my own skin and accept that I am all the great things that I am, no matter what anyone else thinks. Looking back at my professional and personal experiences, and knowing that I have the flexibility to adapt to different situations gives me the confidence that I need to start building this new identity, whatever that may be. It gives me the assurance that no matter how long I take out of the construction/sailing/marketing/beauty/sustainability World that I’ll be able to go back into these environments and pick up where I left off because if I did it once, I can do it again. I also know that if I branch off into something new that I can do, because I’ve done it before. What’s best to know is that all of this is regardless of external image because it comes from my personality and characteristics, which is great because however much I enjoy meditating, tie-dye just does not suit me.

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Lean into the Discomfort

One of the most predominant themes of this trip so far has been leaning into the discomfort which is from Brené Brown’s book The Power of Vulnerability. It’s interesting because as my counsellor has previously pointed out to me, our natural human response when something is uncomfortable (with another human being) is to shy away from it. However, as Brené Brown points out – by doing this we stop ourselves from developing deeper bonds with the other people.

As far as the travels go, the three ‘Charlie’s angels’ (as we’d been so delicately called by a fellow traveller) moved from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, and now Dr Jenn and I are in Koh Phangan while Kyrie has gone back home to Cambodia. Before we parted ways with Kyrie we’d approached this topic of what makes you feel uncomfortable and why? – then we decided that 2016 was the year that we’d make a special effort to embrace such discomforts to try and make them more comfortable. Coincidentally a few days later Jenn split her toe open on a kerb and had to overcome her ‘foot shame’ discomfort while Kyrie had to overcome the ‘nausea at the sight of blood’ discomfort while she tried to tend to the injured patient, developing a close bond between the two in the process. Meanwhile, I  was enjoying a very comfortable Thai massage on the other side of the city, unbeknown to what challenges my friends were facing – little did I know that my discomforts were on their way…

Whilst in Bangkok Kyrie put us in touch with her taxi driver friend who we hired for the whole day to take us to Ayutthaya (the old capital of Bangkok). Throughout this time, we got to know this man quite well as we openly talked about politics, religion, cultures and our own lives whilst driving around the historic site. We found out that this man had recently lost a parent and someone close to him was terminally ill. It was obvious that these situations upset him very much because he showed these emotions openly rather than shying away from expressing them in our presence. Having gone through these same emotions recently myself, I could especially relate to what he was talking about but what touched me the most was his courage to share this with two women that he had just met. To me, it highlighted how uncomfortable I feel when I show emotions in front of other people, especially emotions which show my vulnerabilities. It made me think about I may have acted in this situation or how I did act when I was around work colleagues straight after my Dad passed away – I didn’t show that I was hurting at all and just tried to get on with the job at hand, even though I was struggling inside. I did this, simply because it was so uncomfortable for me to cry in front of anyone in fear of what they might think of me if I showed them this ‘weakness’. It wasn’t just new work colleagues I shied away from though, I did this with my closest friends and family too. When I began to look into the past few years, I have actually shied away from most vulnerable situations, whether to do with my vulnerabilities or the vulnerabilities of others because I was so scared of how to deal with it. For example, with dating guys – I’ve usually had an escape route pre-planned via boat or plane so that I have an excuse to leave when the relationship develops to the point where I have to open up. With my friends, I’ve always hid away when I felt upset or angry because I didn’t want to show these weaknesses, because of this many of my friends had never seen me cry until my Dad passed away and that was only because I physically could not lock away these emotions any longer. The heartbreak I could deal with, the attack I could hide, but when my Dad died the combined emotions of all three events overcame me every time (never mind leaning into the discomfort – with the intensity of these situations it’s been more like basking in the anguish)!

Such a lack of open vulnerability meant that I’ve stopped deeper connections developing with people who have tried to get close to me – because I also discouraged people to openly show emotion to me as well. To be honest, I’m not sure what I would have done in the past if someone expressed vulnerable emotions to me, maybe I would have been supportive in some situations or maybe I would have completely disengaged and ran away because I couldn’t deal with the comfort, and I’m embarrassed to admit that it might have been the latter. Only now do I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of this and how the avoidance of my personal discomfort probably made other people feel rejected at a time when they needed me most. On the flip side of this I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the best response I had when telling someone about the attack – it was after a yoga class and it was probably my first big emotional ‘outburst’ and the yoga teacher who is also my friend suggested that we go for a drink and I tell her what’s on my mind. As we drunk our beers I told her everything that had happened, in detail, crying throughout. My friend sat there as cool as a cucumber, with cigar in hand while she nodded her head at the appropriate points and just said “uh huh” as she maintained clear eye contact with me. She didn’t try to offer any kind of sympathy or solution, she just acknowledged my words and let me tell my story. I’m not sure if this woman had been through a similar situation but I know that she is a very strong person and probably understood that any sympathising or problem solving might make me feel more helpless than I already did. Since becoming aware of my previous responses to discomfort and being on the receiving end of a variety of responses and remembering how each of them made me feel, I now make a conscious effort to sit through my own discomfort to support another person when they need it, friend, stranger or foe.

What made my own situation worse in the aftermath of these traumas was that whilst hiding these vulnerabilities so well, I have also made myself out to be indestructible because of the kind of life that I’ve led – a somewhat fearless one. With respect to my professional life I’ve been so confident in my ability to learn and earn that it doesn’t phase me to work freelance or contract to contract because I know that I can make it work, thus eradicating the normal safety net of the steady job with the steady income. When it comes to travelling, I’ve acted the same way by trusting in my ability to figure something out so I’ve become accustomed to rocking up at new places without anything planned, knowing that I’m comfortable dealing with any situation, even if it means sleeping in a bus stop (I’ve done this a fair few times). I’ve acted the same when it comes to physical challenges too, caving with huge spiders, hiking to Everest base camp or sailing the Bay of Biscay in a Force 9. Dealing with these experiences has given me a confidence to constantly overcome fear where others might not and it’s made me believe that I was indestructible, worst of all I’ve convinced others to believe this too. The trick here though is that I was kidding myself all along, because whilst doing all of these ‘fearless’ things I was constantly running away from personal situations that did make me feel vulnerable.

What’s happened now is that my personal security has been shaken up so much that things that wouldn’t have phased me before now make me feel vulnerable too, whether that’s applying for a new job contract, travelling to a new place on my own or even climbing a waterfall. So whereas I could quite easily get by before by avoiding situations that made me feel vulnerable it’s now the case that to shy away from my vulnerabilities means giving up the nomadic life that I worked so hard to build. It means no more sailing, travelling, freelancing and no more adventures. Too me that is too big a sacrifice, which is why I’ve decided lean into the discomfort and work towards overcoming these discomforts and fears to the point where I feel comfortable living my nomadic life again. I guess the opposite of running away from ‘hard’ emotions is exposing my own emotions publicly and what could be more terrifying that doing that on the internet? As well as that, one of the reasons for coming away is so that I can start to immerse myself in all these vulnerable situations and build up my confidence with regards to work, travel, activities and showing emotions openly – having a personal Psychologist for the first month of this journey is definitely a massive aid and I’m grateful to have such a special person dedicate this energy to me (thank you my treasured friend). On that note I’d like to encourage all who have read this post today to try and catch yourself when you shy away from something difficult and rather than take the easy route why not lean into that discomfort and explore what happens. It might just bring you a little closer to someone

If you like my blog posts, please check out my Sketches, my Therapies and my first therapy review on Wataflow.

New Year Positivity

Dr Jenn and I are in Chiang Mai to celebrate New Year’s Eve. A third member to our team is my friend Kyrie, a fellow nomad who I met on a bus in Indonesia a couple of years back. We chose Chiang Mai because they welcome in the New Year by setting off lanterns and it’s a beautiful experience.

After exploring the city for most of the day and talking about a variety of crazy topics that you do when you’re travelling, we sat down for an evening beer and talked about what our New Years wishes should be (we figured that’s what the lantern is for, or should be at least). When reflecting on our previous conversations that day about how the World would end in parasites and death and was full of egos, bullshit and trauma we decided to do something that I do quite often if I have negative thoughts – flip it. My whole process is that if I catch myself being negative towards something, first ask myself “Why am I feeling like this?”, then I ask myself “What is the exact opposite of this situation/worry/thought?”. Then I make a conscious effort to think about that instead. So out of this conversation came the following New Years wishes:

Longevity. Integrity. Vitality

We wrote them down, rolled them up on the wire of each of our lanterns and set them off into the distance, watching as they slowly floated up into the atmosphere. As I looked around at the other people setting lanterns I wondered what other New Years wishes were being made and how they’d come to make them. Did anyone around us flip around negative thoughts like we had done earlier that day or did they dwell in them continuing to spread that negativity out to the World? I guess if I could wish for something for everyone this New Year it would be that instead of pushing that negativity out to the World, that we could stop, flip it and spread a little positivity instead.

On that note I challenge you right now to make it part of your day today. Happy 2016.

If you like my blog posts, please check out my Sketches, my Therapies and my first therapy review on Wataflow.