Monday, December 7, 2015

Day 7: Four of Cups - Untying the Mask

Of the cards that I have drawn from the deck thus far this is the one I can most identify with, particularly with how it relates to the past three months aboard this ship. 

There are two parts to this for me.  The first relates to what took place aboard this ship.  While I have enjoyed many aspects of this journey around the world one that has had the greatest impact on me occurred the moment I had the realization that I was in a place where no one knew me or really knew anything about me.  This was an incredibly freeing moment for me.  I was just another one of the 550 students aboard this ship and I wasn't expected to be anything other than that.

What this did for me was to relieve me of all of the expectations I place on myself that are related to my life back home.  Well in theory anyway, as time went on I certainly found that that many of my personal expectations of myself, even the truly unrealistic ones, can be terribly difficult to shake.  Regardless of my ability to shake them off or not, what matters most is just how aware of them I have become.  These expectations and the masks I have created to try and keep up the appearance that I am meeting them, were years, even decades in the making.  It is going to take longer than three months to dismantle them.

The second part took place off the ship, or more specifically in the online world of my blog and social media (though it had an impact here too).  When I departed on this journey everyone I knew was telling me how wonderful it was going to be.  They told me how envious they were and that they wished they could do something like this. They called me brave and pinned the title of adventurer upon me.  People said that the journey would change my life, that I'd have a million moving moments and I'd come back a totally different person. 

The truth is when I left I had a lot of misgivings.  Yes, I was looking forward to the trip and I was (and still am) incredibly grateful for the opportunity, but…my dearest friend and creative partner, someone who I love perhaps more than my cat, had been hit by a truck only weeks before and was facing an intense recovery process.  In the weeks leading up to my departure I'd spent days upon days in the hospital, organized a benefit, and tried to be a comfort to our fellow troupe members. In addition,  I was preparing for this trip, wrapping up a summer research job that had run longer than it was supposed to, and was tying up loose ends for my regular job.  I packed up an apartment, sorted my belongings, held a yard sale and moved all of my things into my father's basement. 

I felt like a total shit for leaving at a time when I felt I was needed and I am still not sure it was the right thing to do, but all of that aside, due to the sheer business of the weeks leading up to my departure, I'd had no time to process any of my feelings around his accident and nearly losing someone so close to me.  When I arrived on this ship the cork that had kept my emotions in check finally popped out.  I spent the first week aboard emotionally wrung out. 

I was also quite homesick.  I expected to miss my friends and my family, and I expected to miss my cat (and I really, really miss my cat) but even still, I did not expect the level of homesickness that I found myself facing.  I realize that the crazy mix of emotions I was dealing with likely contributed to my feelings of homesickness.  I knew no one and had no one to confide in or talk to.  I wrote in my journal a lot; pages and pages.  And on many of those pages I spent a lot of time beating myself up for even feeling the way I was.   

I shared a bit of what I was feeling on Facebook and one blog post early on.  A few folks responded with great kindness, telling me that what I was feeling was valid and that it was okay to be as mixed up as I was.  But there was also plenty of advice that, well intended as it might have been, was not helpful and some was downright hurtful.  Even so, the voice that was loudest was my own.  Not only was I feeling pretty lousy but I felt as though I was letting everyone down by feeling this way.

So I made a very conscious choice to only share the good stuff.  When I had wifi I put up photos of places I'd been, and I wrote short little chirpy descriptions for them.  It's easy to put on a mask on social media.  You can cultivate whatever appearance you want the world to see, especially when you are thousands of miles away and there is no one to contradict you.  I had one friend I confided in back home and I tried to let that be enough.  But then two things happened.

The first was that I wrote a spoken word piece called Base Rhythm for my travel writing class.  It was about being homesick, trying to find a place for myself on this ship, and also about one of the things I love most in this world, music.   It was a vehicle for processing my feelings but it also turned out to be one of the best things I have written, ever.  My professor approached me about sharing it with other faculty and the other writing class, which I consented to.  I also worked up the courage to read it at the ship coffee house – which nearly every member of the community attended.

In the days that followed students approached me to thank me for sharing it.  They'd been struggling with similar feelings and felt that they couldn't share them because everyone else seemed to be having such an amazing time, so something must surely have been wrong with them for feeling the way they were.  For some my poem had given them permission to share what they were feeling and to write about it.  I was not the only one wearing the mask of having a good time. 

The second thing occurred only a couple of weeks after I shared the poem. One of the podcasts I listen to regularly, Stuff Mom Never Told You, had an episode titled #blessed.  It was about our tendency, and in particular women's tendency, to cultivate an image of perfection on blogs and social media.  We have practically turned it into an art.  After listening to it (three times) I made the choice to be more honest in my posts and if I felt not so great, to share that too. 

The truth is all of life is a mixed bag.  This journey has been no different.  I have been to some truly wonderful places, I've made new friends and had some pretty incredible moments, but I have had struggle too.  Thankfully, I have learned on this journey that those feelings are perfectly okay and that it's possible to be having a great time even while carrying a sad heart.  I just wish I'd been more willing to take the mask off a bit sooner.  

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