Today is my birthday – I am 62 years old, or will be at 12:32pm (evidently time flies, even when you’re NOT having fun). It also means that I’m 45 days away from starting my life on the road with Frank. Since birthdays are sort of a milestone, I thought I’d use this one to do a “recap post”.
There are two reasons for this. The first one: I’ve let all my friends and acquaintances on Facebook know of my plans today, and that there was a blog they could visit for more information. I wanted this to be the first post they read. Surely some of them will be thinking, “What the hell?” The short answer is, “Yeah, this is where I’m at!” I think the long answer is contained in the second reason for a “recap post”: I wanted to write about the process that’s occurred over the past six months. So please, read on.
As I said in the opening sentence, Frank and I are going on the road. My lease is up at the beginning of June. At that point, we’re going to set out on a long-term camping expedition around the country. For logistical reasons, I’m going to gradually make my way to Texas, to establish “residency” there. We’ll then spend the last part of the summer in Colorado before heading to the Rio Grande Valley and the Texas Gulf coast for the winter. My plans after that are to head back to the east coast, where I’ll take a north / south zigzag approach, gradually making my way to the west coast. I figure it’ll take at least 5 years to get there, depending on how side-tracked we get. Winters will be spent as far south as I can manage, the rest of the year in more northern areas. We’ll be staying in National and State park campgrounds, along with some private campgrounds along the way.
I have to take care of a number of things over the next 45 days … final fix-ups on the car, sell / donate my meager possessions, get in the last of my gear and supplies, etc. Since January, I’ve acquired some of the big ticket items I’ll need, like a really nice tent, a roof rack for my car, a new camera and the like. I’ve also made reservations for the first leg of my journey, which goes through March of next year (check out the “Itinerary” section to the right for more info as to where we’re headed). And I’ve been doing a lot of planning.
When I arrived in Charleston last spring, I was not doing well. The relationship I thought was “it” had ended. I had been dealing with a late-2010 diagnosis of complex-PTSD and the symptoms were not getting any better (in fact, they cost me my job about 5 months earlier). Deep depression. Massive anxiety. Periods of dissociation, where I’d lose long blocks of time without knowing what had happened. Agoraphobia. Nightmares and fitful sleep. And a general inability to take care of myself and my surroundings.
Daily life was a constant battle. In the middle of all of that, I was picking up a decent amount of consulting work … a few long-term clients and a somewhat steady level of non-recurring work. Certainly enough to live on. My goal was to make enough where I could work 3-4 days a week and use the rest of the time to find a sense of peace (something I’ve rarely experienced in my life). Frank arrived in July and has become an incredible friend and companion. I’ve said this before, that I keep checking him for wings when he goes to sleep, because I’m quite certain he’s an angel. Despite all of that, my symptoms were getting worse and it was harder and harder to turn out my work.
In November, I basically broke down. I stopped posting to Facebook, withdrawing to my recliner and rarely venturing out of my apartment except to let Frank take care of business. The effort it took to handle client responsibilities was monumental. Figuring that this was no way to live, I contemplated suicide. I even went so far as to look into ways that Frank would be taken care of, but discovered that the contract I signed with the Humane Society stipulated that I he would have to be returned to them if I could no longer care for him. I didn’t want to risk putting him back into a situation where I didn’t know for sure that he’d be taken care of the way I’D want him taken care of. I was at my wit’s end.
I want to expressly thank a few people for looking out for me during the last two months of 2014. They called, wrote emails, posted on my timeline, doing what they could to keep me going. My brother, Andy. Donna and Jeanie, two old high school friends from New Jersey. Mike, another old high school friend from Dallas. Eric, a former co-worker. And of course Larry, my “brother from a different mother.” (Special note to Andy and Donna – while I was pretty pissed when the cops showed up at my door to check on me after not answering my phone for a couple of days, I understand now that you were acting out of loving care and want you to know that I do appreciate you looking out for me!)
This all came to a head right after New Year’s Day. I decided that drastic measures were needed to get me back out of the house, re-engaging with the world. I let all my clients know that I was going to retire (something that was really just a formality, seeing as how I wasn’t able to work anyhow) … I respected them too much to perpetuate a situation where their requirements weren’t being properly handled. I took down my pages at Elance and LinkedIn, filed for Social Security and started making plans. I also started this blog and began posting. Over the last few months, I’ve let a few people in on my plans and shared my blog with them, if only to get feedback. As an aside, I’ve also discovered some other bloggers who have been very supportive of my efforts. Some have also decided to chuck their “normal” lives and spend their time traveling, too. Others share a common struggle with PTSD. Or depression. Or agoraphobia. Or some other hidden mental condition. I am very grateful to them, too, for offering support through blog comments and private messages.
At first, I was feeling pretty negative about this impending lifestyle change. I looked at it as an acknowledgement of “failure” … as “giving up”. But while I’m still struggling with recurring “black” periods and massive anxiety, my overall outlook has made a slight turn to the positive. I posted elsewhere about some of the logistical benefits I see arising out of this decision. But aside from getting out from behind my self-imposed wall, I’m hoping to benefit in other ways, too:
1. I’m divorcing myself from politics. What’s been going on over the past 20 years in Washington and state capitols has taken a tremendous toll on this country … and on me as well. At times, I am overwhelmed by what I read. I have always been politically and socially active, but I feel the “fight” will ultimately kill me. So rather than spend my time on poltical blogs and in chat thread battles, I’m going to simply turn my back on it and (hopefully) recapture a better sense of “America” while on the road. I’m praying that I don’t find it as divided as it appears to be on the Internet!
2. I’m also hoping to restore my faith in humanity. If one were to believe what he sees on the Internet, America has been overtaken by selfishness, hate and greed. I’m praying that my experience on the road will negate that belief. I want to expand my view and meet more people. Hopefully the Internet battles I’ve witnessed aren’t representative of how we as a society really treat and view our fellow man.
3. I want to document my travels through the blog and let other people enjoy the places I’ll visit. I plan on sharing a lot of photography as well as writing about people I meet along the way.
Benefit #4 has really only come up in the last couple of days. I had a phone conversation with another old high school friend earlier this week, Mark from New Jersey. We hadn’t spoken in almost 10 years, although we’ve communicated online from time to time since then. He said something that struck a chord.
I told him that I didn’t expect my life to turn out this way. He replied (and I’m paraphrasing here a bit), “Jeff, you don’t know what’s going to happen once you get out there. You don’t know what you’ll be led to do. Maybe you’ll find ways to help others the way you have in the past.” Mark, I thought about that all that night and most of the next day. I appreciate your encouragement in that regard. It’s spurred an idea …
My intent was to simply decompress over the first 9 months of Frank’s and my journey. To find some peace and to lift my mood a bit. But I’ve decided is to also take that time to work with Frank on his training. Next spring, I’m hoping to get him certified as a “therapy dog,” allowing him and I to visit nursing facilities on our travels. Frank’s incredibly intuitive and loving … if he can bring a little joy into someone else’s life … someone in a nursing home or hospital, for example … well, I think that would be a pretty good thing. I talked to him a little about it. He’s told me that while he’s not keen on having to “heel” and “stay” on command, he’ll begrudgingly agree to give it a shot. (His primary question was, “Do I get treats?”)
So that’s it for now. Feel free to wander through the blog at your leisure. The “About” page might be a good starting point … there are links there to some other background pages that will tell a bit more of my story and how I got to where I found myself this past November.
One favor I’d like to ask … if you’re inclined to keep in touch and share this journey with me, please click on the “Follow” link. You’ll be notified when a new entry has been posted. I’d really appreciate it. Feel free to leave a comment, send me a private message (there’s a link on the “About” page), or shoot me an email.
Thanks for your support.