In the winter of 2007 I flew ten thousand miles around the world to escape - from myself.
London’s chaotic pace had given me a sense of incompleteness. A busy life, a demanding career and a fast-approaching thirtieth birthday all contributed to a sense of anxiety.
I had contemplated working abroad and the dream was fading like an old photograph. So, I pushed aside my fears and booked a one-way ticket to Sydney, Australia. I was leaving in five weeks.
Those remaining days filled quickly with departures; farewell parties soaked with drinks and emotion. At Heathrow Airport, I left family with tears streaming down my face, entering into an unknown adventure.
On arrival, it felt like the holiday of a lifetime condensed into a few magical days. But as the jet lag vanished and the glitter settled, it was just me for company. I felt an overwhelming sense of panic, realising this was not a vacation and I had no concrete plan. I knew no one and although the blank canvas should have been exciting, it terrified me.
Exploring the sprawling urban paradise, I felt like a lost child instead of liberated. I ambled along sandy beaches painfully self-conscious in my own pale skin. My younger sister Michelle, a long-serving and very tanned Sydneysider was incredible, introducing me to her many friends, showing me all the magical sights and sounds that Sydney had to offer and surrounding me with excitement and opportunity. But I felt completely and utterly lonely. At parties I felt unusually shy, gulping down drinks and trying to find something worthwhile to say. My comfort blanket had been sharply pulled off my shoulders and I shivered with the exposure.
My CV painted a picture of someone I used to be in London, but did not reward me with a job. It rained uncharacteristically and relentlessly. My cash reserve was diminishing but the distance from home seemed to grow every day. Galleries and museums provided solitude but I was drowning in desolation. The anxiety of being judged followed me like a shadow.
I knew people would question how I could feel this way in such a captivating place. I was lucky to have such a beautifully packaged opportunity but I could not find the confidence to unwrap the ribbon. So I searched for an explanation.
The realisation was painful. I was so heavily weighed down with issues I could not swim to the surface to breathe. Years ago, I had chosen not to accept my university place, a decision I regretted. I felt inadequate amongst the high-flying graduates in my life. I compensated by pushing myself too hard, my life overflowing with people and activity with no room for self-reflection. Instead of celebrating achievements, I always felt I had not accomplished enough. These insecurities had boarded the plane with me as excess baggage.
I took each day as it came but did not learn my lesson. Joining a local group, aptly named Get a Life!, was an attempt to broaden my horizons. First up was Book Club in a restaurant in Circular Quay, but my fellow literature lovers were overbearing and pompous. I drank too much wine far too quickly. I fought the urge to shout rebelliously ‘I don’t even like Catch 22! I haven’t even finished it! Ha!’. I decided instead to Get a Life and excused myself to the bathroom and pegged it out of the door as fast as my tipsy legs would carry me. Walking home in the hammering rain, I rang London to speak to my older sister but my credit ran out just as I said hello. Sitting on the steps of the Opera House I sobbed, wet through to my underwear. I wanted to go home.
It got worse. A simple National Park trek turned into a Bear Grylls endurance test. I got lost and did not pass another person for four hours. My foot bled from an unexplained injury and my water ran out. As the sun set, I felt crippled by absolute fear, convinced that I was being followed and that my time was up. This time I had gone too far.
I made it home, exhausted and grubby but determined. I guess you could say it was my epiphany moment. It was time to leave the destructive path I had chosen to follow for so long and make some changes.
I found a flat and a job in the city. I rediscovered yoga and indulged my infatuation for fashion in markets and vintage boutiques. I explored, I made friends, and I laughed a lot. Life began to sparkle again like the sun shimmering on the Pacific Ocean. I saw my surroundings in dazzling Technicolor.
One afternoon in a second-hand bookshop, I stumbled across an advert for a creative writing course. On enrolling, something finally clicked. I had a place to release all the thoughts, good and bad that swam around my head. Words spilled onto my laptop screen and filled endless notebooks.
I quietened the incessant inner voice that told me I was not good enough and allowed myself to feel a sense of accomplishment. I concentrated on building a portfolio of life experiences rather than worrying about a lack of academic achievements. I finally found solace in writing.
Those remaining days filled quickly with departures; farewell parties soaked with drinks and emotion. One night, a friend gave me a Dr. Seuss book called ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’. It struck me how accurately it reflected the journey I’d gone on; around the globe and in my head.
I returned to London changed, but not a finished article. There is still editing to do. As I learned, you can be in the most remarkable place, but if you are living inside your head, you may as well be anywhere.
The experience has shaped me though, and made me realise what I have to do – stop regretting the past and start writing.
In moments of self-doubt I remember Dr. Seuss’ wise words - you have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose!