I'll start with before the trip. I was run down feeling like all of the stress and anxiety I had for an entire year just wiped out my entire body and brain. I knew I had to move and figure out what my next step was, but I was at a complete loss of what that all looked like. I felt out of control, which regularly is hard, but to a person with PTS, it is awful. All you want is some control. Your body, your brain, your life feels chaotic and any control you can have over even the littlest thing is important.
So, I procrastinated with packing, while at the same time, wanting to get a head start. I am moving to a friend's house out of the city for a while until I decide what to do next. I had started giving my name to people who own property here in Charlestown to let me know when their places become available. I figured I would be miserable outside of the city, so wanted to be back as soon as possible. I had one week before leaving to go away and everything felt heavy. I kept myself busy and then one day, as I packed up some books, I started crying. It hit me that I was leaving the neighborhood I had been born in, the neighborhood I came back to 15 years ago, the neighborhood I loved. I think there was also all of the emotion I'd tried to push away once the marathon was over and I just wanted a "break". I cried pretty hard on and off that entire day, feeling the need to just get it all out. I spent the week trying to make a plan and to at least start figuring out what needed to go to storage and what was being tossed, all while trying to get last minute shoots in. Everyone asked if I was excited for my trip, but I couldn't say yes. My brain was so full and I knew if I added thinking about the trip, I would start to get more anxious about it.
My hope for the trip was to gain some clarity. I have taken big trips at major turning points in my life and they have always provided me a way to step back, look at everything, and come back with a fresh perspective. One of those trips, my first to Italy, led me to start my photography business. I was hopeful, yet not getting too set on that happening this time. I also found this necklace before I left. I bought it, I think last summer and haven't seen it in months. I just happened to come across it in a pocket of one of my purses the morning we were leaving. I don't believe in coincidences...
We arrived in Rome, met my sister's friend and were off to our B&B. Our time in Rome was good. I found myself walking ahead and that my head was still full of "noise", thinking of everything: safety, home, moving, crowds, etc. I had some moments with the vendors who are relentless trying to sell you tours or products when I became more anxious. I've traveled there alone a few times and usually I handle them well, being firm and clear or just plain ignoring them. One particular guy would not give up as we stood in a line and I was so overwhelmed I said, "We have to leave right now" and I walked out of line and away.
I found that even with my mind still racing a bit and the moments of anxiety, that I still felt a bit of my "old self" there. The sights, sounds, and favorite places brought me back to my previous trips. The day we were leaving Rome, I found I was relieved. I wanted to get away from the noise, the crowds, the chaos. I used to love Rome and found myself liking certain areas, but eager to get out. The train ride north was beautiful along the coast and countryside. As we arrived in Riomaggiore, my favorite of the 5 villages in Cinque Terre, I felt a calm come over me. It was like being home and it was sort of strange but welcome feeling.
We checked in to our first b&b and walked around a bit. As the evening approached, all I wanted to do was sit on the rocks in the harbor and watch the sunset. I grabbed a beer and food for myself and my sister and we found a nice spot. As I sat there, I realized it was the first time in over a year that I was sitting quietly somewhere and my brain had calmed. Literally, the first time, unless I don't remember. However, it was such an amazing feeling, I'm sure I would have remembered if it happened before. I wasn't thinking about the marathon, I wasn't thinking about moving or home, I wasn't anxious about anything. It was pure peace and happiness in that moment. I felt like me again for the first time in almost 13 months.
The rest of the days in the villages were great, filled with hiking, relaxing, great food (especially the fish and produce, all FRESH from the village), meeting new friends, and spending time with an old friend from my last trip there. It was just simply amazing. As a friend always says to me every time I go, "Italy just speaks to your soul." It really does.
Some Cell Phone pics:
For those four days, I felt like myself again. I felt such a great sense of Peace. It made me a little tired, but in a different way than the exhaustion I felt all year. It was as if my body and brain were finally at rest. I enjoyed every second of those days, taking it all in. I soaked in every image around me. I took pictures (though, my pro pics will not be seen for at least a few more days since my laptop is getting fixed). Then came May 14.
On May 14, we were leaving Riomaggiore to go back to Rome for one night before our flight home. I woke up in the morning feeling a rush of sadness. We had to check out at 10 and had 2 hours to kill after that. I decided to just sit at a cafe my friend owns and maybe grab a few last minute things at local stores. As the time went on, I felt the anxiety build in my chest and felt sick to my stomach. My head started to hurt and I kept feeling tears fill behind my eyes, sometimes coming out. I wanted to stay. I have always loved it there and have said many times that maybe I would move there, at least for a little while. I wanted to stay more than ever. I did not want to come home. I realized I felt safer and happier there in four days than I had at home in what felt like an eternity, even though it was only a year.
I was sad and anxious the whole train ride, though my anxiety was lessened a bit when I took half of an ativan. I have barely taken them and even when I have, only for sleep, but felt if I needed one, it was in that moment. I was drained when we got back to Rome and all I wanted was to either be back in the village or just immediately be home. I didn't want to be in a large, noisy city again. My sister really wanted to walk around and get dinner and even though it was the last thing I wanted to do and was in no way hungry, we went for a while. I was happy to get back to our hotel and crash. I felt a little relief the next morning, but still some anxiety and a lot of sadness. The trip home was full of delays and a little anxiety. We sat on the runway in Rome for 1.5 hours waiting to take off. I started to question it all as if it was a sign something bad was going to happen. I had to bring myself back to rationalize that it was fine and I calmed once I realized I didn't really feel any "something bad is going to happen" feeling inside. The rest of the trip home was exhausting and fine. I, again, felt good once we were up in the air. There's always been something peaceful to me about being up there, looking down on the world and out at the clouds and the sun.
Now, back to reality. A few people have said to me since I've been back that I have a relaxed and happy look that they haven't seen in a very long time. That is nice to hear and I feel it. I have made some decisions that I believe have made that possible. I am moving to my friend's for a while, but not sure when I'll come back to the city now. I plan to visit Europe again, maybe Amsterdam and Italy again in the Fall and then make a possible move there for a few months during my slow season before coming back and settling somewhere here -or maybe not? ;) I've spent years talking about doing this, living there, visiting a bunch of places that would be easier and less expensive to get to than if I did many trips from here. Now may be the time. If I've learned anything this last year, it's that life is too short. I believed that before, which is why I traveled and enjoyed life, but it has a deeper meaning now. I have to do what I've always dreamed and knowing how happy I am over there, I think it's time to start planning. My hope is to come back and settle into my wonderful life here, but who knows where this journey will take me. :)
While my anxiety is not gone (and has popped up a few times since being back), I feel these positive plans and happy things are helping. I hope to continue to stay in touch with my new family/community of people that I am forever connected to by the events of April 15, 2013. I will continue blogging my experience, since, as I said, PTS doesn't just "go away". Even in my happiest place in the world, it sneaked it's way in at times. I hope to find more peaceful and happy days ahead though as this new journey starts.