*disclaimer: in an effort to retain the honesty and accuracy of this piece, their is an instance of profanity.
The first 25 days of my travels abroad were with amazing friends, and beyond petty external concerns including trains with broken AC, a nightmare Airbnb experience in Krakow, and my appalled dismay at how quickly cash was flowing out of me, this first part of my trip was almost entirely sunny. Each day I had the privilege to explore new foods, cultures, and buildings that were uniquely beautiful and historical, and nothing was really required of me other than a willingness to walk.
There were odd occasions however when a sudden cloud would darken my skies. I would feel almost so happy and content that tears came to my eyes, and then suddenly the reason for the tears would morph, and an overwhelming sense of inadequacy would darken my mind. My immense blessings transformed grotesquely into burdens, because I felt I didn’t deserve something so good.
For example, on my birthday, spent in Paris, I experienced a moment of wonder as it dawned on me that I couldn’t possibly be happier. It was a feeling of fullness so complete that it seemed sunshine might start beaming out of my fingertips. But then, just as quickly, that fullness was consumed by this suffocating panic that I shouldn’t be this happy, I hadn’t done anything good enough to be this happy, I did not have a right to this happiness. This dark cloud was so permeating tears stung my eyes, and I thought how ridiculous this was. I was utterly happy, and the fact that I was utterly happy had triggered a voice that told me I wasn’t good enough to be, which made me utterly miserable.
Thankfully, I had wonderful friends with me that brought me out of that cloud and back into the sun, and that voice was drowned out by the sea of love I felt around me. For the extent of my trip when I had companions, this was the strategy I used to keep the voice quiet, escaping it by letting others bring me out of myself.
However, once I said goodbye to my friends and began my five weeks of solo travel, there were no escape options. It was just me, and the voice. Dun dun dun.
I’m not a total stranger to this part of me that whispers ‘not good enough’; I’ve wrestled with it consciously in two areas of my life, running and eating, and in those areas I’ve developed and continue to work on strategies to recognize and purposely change thinking patterns when I encounter the voice within these scenarios.
My first couple weeks alone however, with just me and my thoughts, I realized that the voice is in every part of my life. Lurking behind every aspect of my day, there was that whisper of ‘not enough’, to an absurd extent. Examples:
- Buying a book in a bookstore, and I find myself thinking, “You can’t buy that book; you should buy something of quality, something worthwhile, something people will be impressed by. It’s not enough if you’re not challenging yourself.”
- Grocery store: “You’re spending too much money. If you had bought these at a different store, they would be cheaper. You aren’t spending your money wisely enough.”
- In the apartment: “You’ve been laying around and just goofing off for hours. Why aren’t you being more efficient in how you use your time? You aren’t appreciating Italy enough.”
- With study abroad classmates: “Why aren’t you being more outgoing with them? You’re not being social enough.”
- Buys a diet soda: “Don’t you know that might possibly have harmful affects on your brain when you’re old?”
- Doesn’t buy a diet soda: “Why are you letting yourself get so obsessive about food? Just let yourself live.”
- Goes to mass: “Way to go, you’ve come to mass and now you’re zoning out again. Is this really the time to be thinking about whether you’d rather live in ancient Rome or ancient Greece? You aren’t focused enough on what’s important.”
- Doesn’t go to mass: “Wow, way to spend your time. You could have walked to mass at any of the two dozens churches around town, but no, you aren’t focused enough on what’s important.”
You get the picture. It was insane! I realized that this stupid voice in my head NEVER SHUTS UP. And when I was alone, I was subject to the unadulterated blast of its insipid ranting incessantly. It’s exhausting.
My first strategy for handling this was a classic move of mine best characterized by this child:
I didn’t write for two weeks cause I didn’t want to go too deep into my own head.
Unfortunately, this avoidance method just made the voice get louder, and more powerful. My avoidance actions were actually exacerbating the situation, because now the voice was telling me I was pathetic for not just facing the issue. My turning point came after a Saturday when I had basically reduced myself to tears (Yup, I bully myself).
The following Sunday morning while running, I was soaking in the depths of my own brooding, and a thought just sort of drifted through, like one of those signs that trail behind a little plane:
“No. Fuck you voice. You may say I’m not enough, but He says I am enough, and His voice is the only one that matters.”
Throughout that Sunday, this little thought gathered more and more weight like a snowball rolling downhill, and as it rolled I felt stronger and stronger. I had been letting all these whispers control how I felt about myself, let them ruin my day, and let them wedge themselves in between God and I, because of course if I don’t feel good enough for my own self, how am I supposed to feel like enough for God.
I began writing again with relief, talked out some of these reflections with loved ones, and starting facing the voice instead of fleeing from it.
I had been giving credence and authority to a little demon in my mind, when really the only one who has authority in calling the shots on what I’m worth is the One who knew me before He formed me in my mother’s womb.
That snowball has kept rolling throughout the latter part of my solo time, and I feel so much stronger for what I’ve gone through. Finally facing that voice one on one. Those first couple weeks I was definitely losing the battle; the turning point came when I remembered to let God be a part of my fight. That may seem like a recurring lesson for me, to stop trying to figure life out by myself and let God do His whole God thing and carry me, and that’s because it is. My life is a constant series of cycles where I forget and then God drops by to gently remind me.
The voice wants to tell me that I’m not smart enough because I keep forgetting this lesson. But I told it to screw off.
The solo part of my travels has been, above all, fruitful. It definitely has not always been pleasant, and there were definitely some very depressing days, but I feel like I’m coming back to the U.S. having gone through a mental workout, and achieved some serious #gains. I feel like a video game character that’s just gained one more item to add to their weapon belt, one more skill with which to fight all the bad guys.
On to the next boss battle.