About 3 months ago I discovered Solo Steph. A fellow Bishop’s grad, at 22 years old she was attempting to travel to 201 countries within 3 years by herself. I admired her incredible courage, knowing that I do not possess what it takes to undergo such a feat. She had secured a little financial support through various sponsors and was raring to go, her first destination being Iceland. I watched over the next 3 months as she hopped from country to country, adding photos on her Facebook page of herself smiling in front of landmarks, and giving her followers tidbits and anecdotes to keep everyone interested and engaged in her journey.
Little did anyone know, there were tears behind those smiles and panic attacks behind the stories. Loneliness set in and took hold with such a force that the heart-wrenching decision to end the journey and come home had to be made. With trepidation and bravery, she took to social media to describe the torment she had experienced, and her relief to be going home. I immediately understood the internal dialogue that had been going on in her head, the anxiety over having to make such a decision. How? Because I almost made the same decision to quit this project.
My first 3 months were the hardest; I almost threw in the towel so many times I couldn’t keep track. Feeling increasingly overwhelmed with the workload I had imposed on myself, the tight scheduling, the guilt of not being available for friends and family, I was left with the impression that I was losing control. Attending most of the festivals alone was an entirely new experience, one that I wasn’t really comfortable with. Even though I was constantly surrounded by smiling and happy people, I was very much aware of the fact that no matter how many great conversations I had, I was never really a part of their celebrations. Having a notoriously terrible sense of direction did not help either… I got lost more times than I am proud of, and came home in tears of frustration on a few occasions. And the money, oh boy, the money. Watching my depleting bank account from the cost of tickets, film, developing the films, and food was causing me so much anxiety and guilt that I started having nightmares.
You might ask, “so why continue?”
I could have cut my losses and wiped my slate clean. I could have decided to dedicate my time to the handful of other photography projects I have started and not yet finished, or tried to line up another exhibition, or even looked for a job. I could have had free time again, I could have finally started to read the pile of books that had been accumulating for months beside my bed, I could have even done my spring cleaning. I have quit so many projects over my 34 years, why not abandon this one too?
Because just as going home is part of Solo Steph’s journey, continuing until March 4, 2017 is part of mine.
I agree, exploring 1 city extensively for 1 year isn’t quite the same as traveling to 201 countries in 3 years. It bodes well in my favour that it also happens to be the city in which I currently live. But there are some parallels to be found in our respective journeys. There have been days where I have had to attend as many as 5 festivals, making it seem as though all I am doing is ticking events off a list rather than taking the time to properly enjoy them. Being alone for much of the time can wreak havoc on your mental state, you cling to any tiny shred of conversation—or even a smile—to give you the energy to keep going. The highs are high, and the lows are low.
In my case, the highs are what keep me going. The thrill of seeing my images come to life through my scanner. The amazingly nice people I meet. The hugs I get when I come home exhausted and screaming in pain. The positive feedback I get through my blog and Facebook page. I pride myself on my newfound ability to go to the movies alone, or a restaurant, or a new-to-me part of town, things I never would have done 6 months ago. Even my sense of direction has improved.
The fact remains that we all have our own journeys to take. For now, mine is taking me through the streets of Montreal, but who knows what will happen next year, next month, or even next week. I can only hope to continue to find the strength and gumption to get me through to the end, to keep on smiling. And if my apartment is a mess, so be it… there will be time to clean it in 6 months.
With all that said, my hat’s off to you, Solo Steph. Thank-you for your honesty throughout a difficult period in your life, and I admire the courage it took to make such a decision. You’ll find your way.