I get Emotional when I Parasail

I woke up early and immediately felt at ease. Today was going to be easy-lavish breakfast on the beach while someone sells me on a time share opportunity followed by trip planning and some outdoor excursion.  I had an itch to get out and experience the water and that beautiful, brilliant beach sun.

iphone pics 2077Breakfast by the beach was AMAZING-minus the birds that ate your food when you returned to the buffet. To distract myself and avoid a run in with them, I ordered a coffee, a mimosa and an orange juice all at once, then treated myself to waffles, sausage, eggs and fresh fruit. It was absolutely divine. Every morsel of food expressed itself in a delicious array of colors, textures and flavors.  For instance, the sweetest, lightest, smoothest agave nectar you’ve ever had, drizzled over perfectly prepared waffles; rich and savory sausage from a culture that embraces pork; and only the freshest fruit, some you’ve never tasted, radiating sugary hues of red, yellow and orange.  The whole experience was extremely satisfying and a delight for the senses.  20 minutes later and I was done.  Done questioning whether I made the right decision to come to Mexico alone and sold on returning to Cancun again this year.

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Enrique, personable salesmen

Then came the tour. The well-traveled and personable salesmen. The perfectly executed sales pitch. The beautiful view. The selfies by the beach. The bait. The hook. The toggle back and forth. The excitement of possibility and the reality of resource constraints and timing. The polite “thank you, but no thank you”. The sales manager, then pretty sales girl number two. Then FINALLY, “the deal of a life time, take it or leave it”. And one last, firm “I just arrived yesterday. I need some time to think about it.” In just over 2 hours I was out of there, bathing suite in tow and planning my first excursion.

parasailing 026It’s hard to explain how extra fresh the beaches of Cancun feel. The crystal clear blue of the Caribbean, the perfect glow of the Sun, the sandy white beaches, are all so beautiful. In fact, everywhere you look is beautiful. And people are beautiful too, because they have deliberately given themselves permission to relax on vacation.  And for a moment in time, on an eight miles Island in the Yucatan peninsula, everything around you is beautiful and everyone around you is happy, and you realize how magical and wonderful and overwhelmingly vast and beautiful the world is. You ask yourself why anyone would subject themselves to the confinement of a cubicle and 9-5 and only get away once a year if they are lucky. I have never felt so inspired in my entire life. I have never felt more connected and present with Mother Earth and my own journey. I realized I had gravely underestimated the capacity to be truly moved by the sight, smell and touch of the Ocean and the sensation of being so present in my own life. For the first time in a long time, my body, mind and spirit where in perfect alignment. I was free.

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This is the experience I had while parasailing-truly breathtaking. I highly recommend it.

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After receiving my official parasailing Girl Scout badge (mind you I spoke Spanish the entire time), I realized I underestimated my enthusiasm for athleticism and pushing the envelope. I absolutely loved riding on the wave runners, hopping up and over huge waves, often experiencing zero gravity.  I decided I wanted to spend some more time connecting with the water and so after swimming in the ocean (for the first time in my life) and chatting with a couple of friendly gals from Los Angeles, I headed over to aqua world for a speed boat tour and snorkeling trip on the nearby Laguna.

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This is when I first discovered that being a single traveler meant I always coupled with the odd man in travel parties.  For the lagoon tour and snorkeling, I was paired with a young millennial from China who was living in Los Angeles. She didn’t have a license, so lucky me, I got to drive. It was very obvious we belonged to two different cultures. Imagine me trying to explain what a crocodile is? The theatrics only made it worse. But the Cancun Kumbaya effect was still in full effect, and there were many moments when we glanced at one another and gave each other that ‘this is awesome look’. I’m pretty sure we shouted exuberantly in unison at times as well.
The magic of the boat ride in to the Laguna was matched equally by the rush I felt after realizing I was about to knock snorkeling off my bucket list after arriving to Mexico a mere 24 hours ago. The snorkeling gear was awkward. I didn’t like that the goggles were reused but I pretended the salt water and sun would kill anything icky (or so my Mom tells me). It felt good to be able to see underwater and breathe.  I felt so supported by the waves. They were blunted by the surrounding coral reef which made each wave feel like a gentle lullaby.

One thing is for sure, humans are super awkward in the water. Plus it’s terrifying as shit when you realized you are so exposed in the open water. I had flash backs to watching that movie (I think it’s really called Open Waters) where the divers where left in the ocean for like 4 days and didn’t make it, because SHARKS ate them. Then I realized that more than likely, there were sharks nearby. Our guide didn’t say any
thing and no one else mentioned so I just assumed that they wouldn’t come inside the reef where fish were smaller and scarcer, and the water levels dropped low to the sand bars during low tide.

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Amazingly, this is near where I had breakfast earlier.

Amazingly, checking out my back side every 5 minutes or so was enough to tame the shark fear and I pushed myself to venture out to the edge of the reef. I wish I could describe how it felt-almost like being weightless and time stopping because you are underwater, but still breathing and moving so slowly and deliberately. I can’t wait to share the underwater pictures with you all when I get them developed. For now, just know that apart from sometimes swallowing sea water when a wave rushed over your snorkel, and water occasionally rushing into your mask, snorkeling was pretty sweet. I enjoyed touching the coral reef, watching the fish swim so close to me and dart off at the last second. I even peeped a couple of really large coral fish and some sea urchin.

I wondered if any of the sea weed or vegetation around me contained some unknown medicinal qualities. I thought about an article I read about the potential to transform the way we eat with ocean agriculture-there being so many undiscovered fruits and vegetables under the sea and all. I wondered if I would ever be brave enough to swim out in the open sea with sharks. I wondered if my underwater camera selfies would come out good. I wondered if anyone would ever see the pictures or hear about how I felt snorkeling in the Caribbean by myself. Clearly there’s a lot to think about when you are snorkeling.

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By 6 or so I had finished snorkeling and decided to walk 2 miles back to the hotel to dry off. In all the excitement of crossing off my bucket list item, I realized I jumped into the ocean with my shorts and tank top still on. You can see from the pictures though that it didn’t matter because I looked so cool! By the time I arrived at the hotel I was exhausted and sun kissed.

I took a quick shoiphone pics 2124.JPGwer and headed to the Mexican night celebration where I ran into the two gals from Los Angeles. We decided to dine together and watch a show celebrating Mexican history, music and culture. The lavish buffet was full of fruits and dishes I had never heard and was too tired to make note of. Mostly, it was a relief to be eating food with flavor again-the all you can eat lunch options at the hotel tastes like the Mexican version of Golden Corral. Plus watching the costumes, listening to the music and learning about the traditions and history of the Mexican people through song and dance, was the perfect finish to an intense day.

By 10 pm the show had ended and I was exhausted. I had to take my hiney to bed. The next day was a 12 hour visit to Tulum and Coba, two of the oldest and best preserved of the Mayan ruins. I wanted to be well rested.

How to Kumbaya in Cancun

 

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My first look at the Caribbean

The humidity hit me as soon as I stepped out of the plane. It was like a thick wet cotton ball that made me want to shower and fall asleep at the same time. What followed was lots of sticky sweatiness as I stumbled through the Cancun airport through customs in my sweat pants and light Spring jacket. Customs was long but I didn’t mind the wait- there was so much to take in. I began scanning my environment, immediately overwhelmed by the humidity, the smell of salt in the air, the sound of Spanish and broken English and the sight of the many Americans and Asians around me with that intense as soon as I get out of the airport I can start my vacation look.

 

I was in and out of customs and had picked up my bag in less than 1 hour. Once outside, I was greeted by the Mexican jungle, an even heavier humidity that had me peeling off layers and a huge mass of airport employees, sunburned tourists departing and eager travelers with tired children and straw hats.

Something funny happens when you travel to beautiful places like Mexico- people that usually wouldn’t talk with you are suddenly friendly and welcoming. Admittedly, it was contagious. When I first left D.C., I was annoyed by people taking too long to pick up their tickets, irritated at people who walked on the wrong side of the escalators and generally not wanting to talk to anyone.  I was in my usual I am invisible and you can’t see me mode I adopted while living in the East Coast.

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1st beach shot- can you see the Cancun kumbaya glow?

But when I stepped off that plane the humidity did something to me and even I had this silly childlike glow that oozed from my pores and shouted, hey I’m on vacation, let’s be friends, let’s kumbaya in Cancun! Other people were feeling it to and before I had left the airport I exchanged information with several other travelers who invited me out with them later that night.

 

The ride to my hotel was too easy. I was greeted by incredibly (and genuinely) friendly staff that seemed very appreciative of the fact that I spoke Spanish and was travelling alone. I arrived at my hotel in less than 20 minutes and what I will refer to as the Cancun kumbaya effect was in full force by the time I met Vilandy, my personal concierge. I was given tons of info about my all inclusive hotel and invited to learn about a time share in exchange for an awesome breakfast and some sweet discounts– again all too easy. I headed up to my room, dropped off my things and immediately headed poolside to check out the entertainment, the food options, grab a  beer and of course, say hello to the Caribbean.

iphone pics 2060.JPGAlong the way I met and spoke with a lot of the hotel staff. I think I literally spent 2 hours speaking with my concierge who studied ecological tourism and wanted to open up a private ecological resort of her own one day. Another staff member Nelly, who worked at the jewelry shop became a good friend and somehow managed to explain all of Mayan and Aztec history to me (maps included) in less than an hour with nothing but a piece of paper and a beautiful Spanish accent. Before I go any further, I have to thank Senor Duval and all my other Spanish teachers for all the cheesy Spanish homework I had- this conversation with Nelly and the ease of the first day would have been impossible if it weren’t for their well thought out lesson and passion for the language.By 8 ‘oclock I was already bored with the hotel. Free beers and the sounds of drunk Americans can only hold your attention for so long.

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The Cancun Strip, CoCo BONGO

I immediately began hitting up the folks I met on the plane AND managed to meet another hotel staff member who was selling tickets to Coco Bongo and invited me to meet up there for drinks. Fast forward some 4 outfit changes and 4 hours later and I was walking what I can only refer to as the strip in Cancun. For those of you who haven’t been to Cancun, just imagine Las Vegas only with 18 year olds who can drink. Definitely not my scene.

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Authentic Chicken Tacos

On the plus side, I did get to meet up with the Coco Bongo guide for a beer and some great tacos on the strip. He paid for my meal and we walked along the Ocean for a bit alongside many other travelers who preferred the splashing waves to the sound of drunken laughter. My belly was full of tacos and I was so happy to be in Mexico. After a short stint at the beach, I thanked my friend for the great food, grabbed a bus back to my hotel and pleasantly drifted off to sleep after perusing through my photos.

So how do you kumbaya in Mexico with the locals? Speak Spanish, smile big and laugh loud! The humidity and beautiful beach will take care of everything else.

 

 

 

Mexico Prelude: I just wanna walk like everyone else

Mexico. Was. Amazing!!  It opened up something in me that can never be taken away. There was a quiet freedom that followed me everywhere and buzzed in my ear like a sweet hummingbird. My original plan was to blog every night, but between visiting Chichen Itza, snorkeling in Xenotes, and parasailing over the Caribbean, I found myself utterly exhausted at night.   I have so much to say and so much to share, and I promise that in time, I will give you all the juicy details of my trip!

In the meantime, there are some bigger things bubbling under the surface that long to be heard. Early on in my travels to Mexico, I realized that there were two trips happening at once-the adventures and pictures I shared with you all and the random tourists whose paths I crossed and a rich, complicated and sometimes dark inner journey I experienced daily. I am conflicted about sharing it though… do my followers want to hear about the significance of this trip or do they prefer pictures with witty captions? And what is the purpose of my blog anyways?  Am I blogging to capture my travels and experiences or is it also about sharing impressions from my deep inner world? What if my co-workers stumble upon this post? How much do I share, how much is too much?

In the absence of certainty, I suppose the only thing one can do is take the leap and try. My hope is that when you read this, you will gain a more complete picture of my journey and find it in your heart to replace any judgments you may have about me, my journey and mental health in general with compassion. Many of you either know or gather that I have battled mental illnesses for much of my life. I have tried to exercise some caution when sharing the details, so as not to scare away any tender readers, but this is something I have to share. So, I am going to be completely transparent and incredibly vulnerable with you all.

EXACTLY a year ago to date, my grandfather’s funeral services were held in Los Angeles. He had been battling cancer for more than a year, a recent amputation from a diabetic related infection, and then a massive stroke. It was a horrible time for my family. My grandfather, George Evans, became somewhat of a patriarch after my Grandmother Na Na died. We all quietly, and often not so quietly, watched in agony as he suffered- coming in and out of consciousness, calling for his mother in his sleep when he crossed to the other side and silently holding onto hope when he held his great grandchildren in his arms.

And then there was me. I was battling the worst bout of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depression I had ever experienced.  I had recently cold turkeyed off a cocktail of very powerful medications I had been on since age 14 for the treatment of bi-polar II disorder. Despite visiting dozens of psychiatrists and therapist every month for 13 years and trying a host of medications with unimaginable side effects, the cyclical depression and anxiety I experienced only increased from the time I was 14. By the time I came to Washington, D.C. , I was 26 and fed up with a 2 year bout of depression that I thought would never end. And so with intuitive guidance, I stopped all the medication-something I tried unsuccessfully 4 years prior after having enough of the drug seroquel. Then the craziest thing happened- I lost 60 pounds, my hair grew back, I experienced colors and tastes completely differently, the glow returned to my skin and I didn’t get sick anymore. And it was amazing– that is until I experienced protracted SSRI withdrawal and my brain went haywire.

Rather than go into all the details, I will try give you just the highlights. Read carefully because this is the only time I am going to write about what I experienced, cause it’s pretty depressing and heavy and I am still processing the trauma of it all…

Within two months of getting off the medication, my thyroid became overactive. I broke out in an itchy rash all over my body, I lost control of my bladder and bowel movements, I suffered chronic pain all over my back and arms. Strange knots appeared in my back that flared up when I became anxious.  Sometimes I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes for hours at a time. I suffered migraines for a month and experienced electric shock sensations throughout my head and arms. Sometimes my muscled stiffened so bad it was painful to stretch my arms out.  I woke up every morning for six months with extreme fight or flight that lingered the entire day. But the worst of it was the emotional roller coaster that accompanied the discontinuation syndrome and the fact that none of the psychiatrist or neurologists I visited believed it was from stopping the medicine abruptly.

The emotional roller-coaster was never ending, and the scariest thing I have ever experienced. I lost the ability to feel anything for days at a time, I experienced disassociation and cried for no reason several times a day. First there was the depression unlike anything I had ever experienced, then came the fight or flight feeling that woke me in the morning at 5 am and stayed with me until I went to bed. And then came the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, constant checking of locks, doors and windows, fear of food being contaminated, fear of contracting and spreading HIV and Hepatitis C, fear of touching dirty things like trash cans, fear of body fluids, intrusive thoughts, obsessions with morality and false memories.

I did everything I could during this time to survive. I visited a psychiatrist who said I looked alive off meds and told me my brain had to learn to process emotions again without medicine and reset itself. I created what I call a “prescription for life”, a daily check in system with friends and family alongside a schedule of weekly activities. I took vitamins and exercised and practiced special breathing exercises to help with the anxiety. I did acupuncture weekly and met with a therapist twice a week. I dragged myself out of bed every morning to go to work because I had no more sick days and needed the money to pay for my behavioral therapist appointments which cost nearly 650 dollars a month out of pocket.

But it wasn’t enough–my best wasn’t good enough. When my grandfather passed, I made myself get on the plane with my hand sanitizer, a head scarf, long sleeves and pants in the middle of the summer and boarded the flight because I was afraid I would become house bound if I didn’t and I was afraid I would regret not paying my respects to a man was so instrumental in my family legacy. While I was there I didn’t touch or hug any family members. I could barely leave my hotel room for fear I would leave the door unlocked and could hardly leave my rental car without feeling like I was going to have a panic attack. Up until the trip and after, I spent upwards of 7 hours a day washing my hands, showering, cleaning and ritualizing. At my grandfather’s funeral I was terrified by everyone’s tears and was afraid that I would get sick hugging people who touched my grandfather’s body in the casket. My mother came to stay with me while she mourned the passing of her own father. Meanwhile, she watched her youngest daughter descend into madness as I rocked back and forth on my bed crying, overwhelmed with fear. With her grace, selflessness and love, I made it that week. But when I got back to DC nothing was the same. The OCD had generalized, and so instead of certain items being dirty, the whole world was dirty and nowhere was safe.

Nothing was the same when I came back to Washington, D.C. I could barely touch my dog and I was so stressed I stopped eating, and drinking and avoided the bathroom or going outside whenever possible.  Within 2 months of returning, I took a 6 month leave of absence, gave away my dog I had for 8 years  and attempted suicide. After an unsuccessful attempt I spent the next 3 months in Colorado waiting for a bed to open up at one of the best treatment facilities for OCD in the world. And I went, and for 3 months I put myself through 4 hours of Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy where I touched toilets,  trash cans, the floor, leaves, trees, dirty spots, shook hands with people wearing bandaids and a host of other items on my fear hierarchy without washing my hands or ritualizing, Instead I sat in tears with a coach, sometimes nervous ticks making me want to flail my arms and slur my words,  until the anxiety went away on its own. I stabilized on a subclinical dose of Zoloft (I was on 100mg and most people with OCD don’t experience relief until around 200mg, which leads me to believe my brain just needed a little help from the ssri to  stabilize). By the time I left treatment, I was hugging and shaking hands, riding public transportation, trail running, only washing my hands 3 times a day and got my showers down from 45 minutes to under 10. The doctors agreed my bi-polar II diagnosis at the age of 14 was wrong and that instead I suffered from severe bouts of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, which mirrored the rapid cycling of bi-polar disorder.  Finally I could return back to Washington, D.C. where my job and life were waiting.

So, two years after stopping my medicine cold turkey, one year after traveling to Los Angeles for my grandfather’s funeral,  six months after returning from an intensive inpatient program and three months after deciding to live off the grid, I am sharing this with you from my hotel room on my last day in Mexico-tears flowing and all. I am thinking about all I experienced here and how full of life I felt when not so long ago I had lost the will to live. Thinking about the fact that I tapered slowly off my medicine over the last 6 months and how amazing and scary and resilient my brain is. Thinking about how crazy it is that I decided to make my entire life an ERP by living in my car and camping and how insane I must be to choose to treat OCD without medicine. Thinking about how my doctor’s dubbed my OCD subclinical (obsessing less than 1 hour per day similar to the rest of the population) less than 2 months after returning from treatment. Thinking about how terrified I am that at any time, for any reason despite all my planning and preparation, it’s possible that I could lose my fragile mind to depression and OCD again.

But this is life. And despite the shock from many of my peers about my decision to live a nontraditional life off the grid, and with hesitation from myself, my family and my doctors to manage OCD without pharmaceuticals, I am the freest and most connected to my own experience than ever before. And yes, I mess up sometimes- I wash my hands when I am not supposed to, ask for reassurance when I know I shouldn’t and make hasty decisions when I should be more patient, but this is my life. And in the end, the choices I make, the lessons I learn and any unforeseeable consequences are my own.

You have to know that all of this terrifies the shit out of me.  And even as I write this, I can feel the OCD trying to be big again and doubt everything I have said and done and fill my body with fear.  But I am different than I was six months ago. I am stronger, and equipped with more coping skills and insights into how my brain works than ever before. Most importantly, this was my choice- to conquer OCD med free and “walk like everyone else” as a friend told me in a beautiful analogy. I may stumble at first, I might walk with a limp, and I might fall on my face and need to go back on medicine again and that’s okay too, because this is what I signed up for when I decided I wanted to live again.

Thank you for reading this. I hope this gives you greater clarity about the significance of this trip and the importance of my tumble weed journey.

For information on the brain’s ability to heal itself, I recommend Bruce Lipton’s youtube video, the Biology of Belief.

For information on Exposure Response Prevention or for more information about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), visit the International OCD Foundation website.

For more information on protracted SSRI withdrawal or resources on safe tapering, please visit the Icarus Project website.

Lastly, if you have considered weaning off your medicine, I recommend first viewing Survivingantidepressants.org to better understand protracted SSRI withdrawal syndrome from thousands of others around the world who want to walk like everyone else too.

If you have thoughts of hurting yourself, reach out to friends and family and call the suicide support hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

All views expressed here are my own. If medicine works for you, go for it! As always, question everything and do your own research!!

Random Rants after Midnight

I recently had one of those mind blowing experiences that seems to have shaken my reality from its very core. For the first time in a long time, I can’t find the words to explain how I feel. Instead of soaking up the deliciousness of my journey, I have spent the last 48 hours trapped in an ongoing existential dialogue—staring intensely at the emotions, experiences, thoughts and values I am holding in this fragile human body. Struggling to make sense with, or make peace with the complexity and intensity of my life. But this experience wasn’t like the other moments in life when I could pause and reflect at my intense inner world and hold my emotions with tender compassion. No, this feeling was intense and big like a tsunami of clairsentience and clairvoyance. I literally watched as my whole life –past, present and future floated right in front of me. In an instant I was bigger and more powerful than I have ever been, simply because I could feel it. I stepped into my own personal power and it was amazing and inspiring and divine- that is until I had to step back into my body and this complicated life I have manifested. Now I feel all of the space, the emptiness where the bliss of simply being once was, at once.  And it’s lonely and freeing and sad and exhilarating at the same time.  Mostly though, it’s frustrating. And when I say frustrating, I mean the intense wake up at 2 am every night with big, heavy thoughts that carry into the next day like a spiritually induced hangover kind of frustration.

For the first time I realized that a big part of me doesn’t want to dabble in the art of fine tuning myself for the purpose of building intense interpersonal relationships and finding some assemblage of community. I literally realize that there is nothing more I want to do than experience as much of this beautiful, complicated world as possible without getting bogged down in the complicated web of interpersonal relationships. They’re necessary, but so draining and quite frankly I don’t really have the emotional energy or resilience to deal with other people’s emotions, when I can barely hold space for my own sometimes. So instead of doing what I normally do and pull away and make a big hot fuss, I am going to do the opposite– I am going to dive into my life and throw myself into my work. If I don’t get moving soon, this hellish energy will consume me and all I’ve worked for in the past 3 months will be undone.

Big stuff is happening over here people. The flood gates can’t hold back the storm. So buckle up, sit back or get the fuck out of the way cause shit’s about to get real—as if it wasn’t real enough before.

What Living off the Grid has Taught Me

Living off the grid was was always the plan-my path to self awareness, my offering to Mother Earth, my protest of the system, my end game. But looking back at how this journey unfolded, I realize there was always a part of me that chucked it up to empty threats from a clinically depressed and anxious idealist, turned young sustainability professional. And then somewhere between shuffling through unfullfilling jobs every 18 months, chipping away at $80,000 of student loan debt and re-inventing myself every three years,  a small part of me SERIOUSLY started to chuck this off the grid talk as nonsense.  I remember telling someone my intentions and then squirming in anguish when they responded, “it gets cold outside”.  Maybe they were right. Was this some illusive attempt to exert control over my life?  An easy out from the never ending perils of human interaction and interpersonal dynamics? Or perhaps the ultimate solution to ending the cyclical misery I experienced while living in a system that does not serve me, humanity or the Earth?

In truth, it was none of those things, but SO, SO much more. I have just always been a space cadet with my head in the clouds– one of those dreamers with an intense, unquenchable and often times annoying excitement about the world.  I’ve always been interested in the bizarre, the strange, the inexplicable, the experience–what lays beyond the boundaries and off the beaten path. And I’ve always admired, and been drawn to people who feel the same way– the people who live and thrive on the fringes of society with full body tattoos, scars and wild stories. The black sheep, the one’s who have that “I don’t give a fuck what you think” look.

So here I was, this free spirited, self declared wild child who reveled in their stories, and aspired to be them, but couldn’t dare take the leap. So, I soaked up stories in between emotional breakdowns, passive aggressive managers and throughout a host of meaningless activities, until one day, my life became something I wasn’t interested in participating in, contributing to or living in. Lot’s of other complicated things happened along the way, but the repression of this dream and all the limiting beliefs tied with it, cost me big time.  I hit my all time personal low in May of 2015. And believe me I, have been to some pretty low places. This was the first time I  started to lose everything around me –my dog, my job, my family, my sanity– until destiny intervened.

And then BOOM!!! In less than 6 months I lost everything, gained it all (back and then some), AND managed to land in the driver’s seat of my life again. What started off as a rant became a dream. And then during my recovery process, that dream became a vision, and that vision became fused with value and meaning. In the course of a month, I started to integrate this new paradigm into my collective experience. Suddenly I realized I had re-invented myself for the last time. Instead of the usual pack up all my things, give notice and move across the country, I birthed myself anew– only this time when I woke, I stood firm in my path, content with my inadequacies and sensitivities- full of a renewed sense of spirit and an unwavering passion fueled by this cosmic intersection of dreams and destiny.

This is my story, so far…

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Car camping and some Netflix time

I started my off the grid journey on December 16, 2015. I had been slowly getting rid of clothes and belongings over the past three years and thought I’d pursue a ‘non’traditional’ lifestyle in hopes of getting out of a stressful living situation and immersing myself in life affirming activities. At the time, a sense of freedom, travelling and financial independence where priority items on the get excited about life again list. So I set my intention to Airbnb, short rent and travel instead of signing a lease. and shortly moved out gifting everything I owned to my siblings in the process. So there I was– moving like a nomad through the gentrified streets of Washington, D.C. in hopes of renewing my sense of life and nurturing my adventurous spirit. To be honest, it worked too well. I spent the first week camped out in the backyard of a girlfriend’s house, praying I could hold my morning dump until I made it to work. Other than that, it was a sweet setup. I had wash station, some nice foliage for the occasional pit stop and I was less than 2 miles from a metro station.

But El Nino only lasted so long and eventually the cold of winter set in. I survived in my friends’ back yard until freezing rains led me to car camp in a National Forest. After deciding that sleeping in my car for $16 dollars a night was a bad deal, I realized I could probably find a chill residential area, sleep in my car, shorten my commute and save around $360 bucks a month. So I did, until a stranger came knocking on my door and freaked me out one night. Plus, public peeing in the rain and those DAMN street lights were killing me. I eventually settled on a private parking lot with 24/7 access to my gym AND a fresh shower. Alas, I had found my ideal location, which I conveniently named headquarters, or HQ for short.

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Camping in a friends’ back yard!

I spent the entirety of January and February sleeping in that parking lot alongside another super secret hospital location that was amazing, but far away from everything. A few #urbanexcursions later to New York, West Virginia, Boston, Philadelphia and Virginia Beach as well as a stay in an AirBnB while winter storm Jonas decimated the DMV and a short stint at a friend’s office apartment that went sour, and I realized that this lifestyle was not only easy and inexpensive– it was incredibly freeing.  The awful depression ceased and the anxiety lifted. For the first time in a long time, I was in love with life again.

Today marks three months of cold nights in cars,  wet nights in random camp grounds and an array of AirBnB’s. So many times I woke up in the tender hours of the morning to the sound of rain, or birds bustling, or wind whipping my tent and that quiet feeling you get when you wake up and witness your own experience. Living off the grid has  strengthened my tool box for self improvement and taught me so many lessons, both big and small. I learned how to brush my teeth without running water, find the best places to shower and the cleanest restrooms to take a shit in. I learned that I can push my body to extremes with little food and water and I have become much more in tune with my own body. I’ve come to understand the true value of a dollar, a favor, a friend and an accurate weather forecast. I’ve learned how valuable time is and how closely my life is tied to the weather, the elements and the seasons.

In short, living off the grid has been a total mind fuck in the truest sense. It’s also taught me a helluva lot about my big, fat, complicated emotional life. It’s also shown me that I am stronger than I think and more resilient than I give myself credit for.  I’ve learned the freedom of flexibility and profoundly deepened my gratitude for shelter, sleep and sustenance. It’s also exposed some pretty unhealthy habits, limiting beliefs and thoughts I have about what is right and wrong, and who I am and ought to be.

Of all the things I have experienced and cherished most about the journey, the single most important lesson I’ve learned so far, is that there is NOTHING more exhilarating, fulfilling or life affirming than [walking] confidently in the direction of your dreams and living the life you’ve always imagined.

If you are reading this, I want to thank you for witnessing my journey. I look forward to sharing more with you, as I study the art of the tumbling weed.

 

 

The Problem with the Environmental Movement

Believe it or not, I wasn’t always an environmentalist. In fact, I didn’t know about composting or environmental justice until I was 19 years old.

Believe it or not, I wasn’t always an environmentalist. In fact, I didn’t know about composting or environmental justice until I was 19 years old. I often tell people with a precarious smile that it was my undergraduate studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder that turned me into the person I am today. But my journey to full-blown New Age hippy didn’t start with “save the whale” protests or “save the rainforest” campaigns. It began with environmental justice. 


This post is part of the series: Science and Democracy: Community Voices
Image: Letizia Tasselli/Flickr

When I attended CU in 2004, I was one of roughly 500 African-Americans on a campus of over 30,000 undergraduates.  I remember my freshman year clearly—thousands of students in UGG boots, velour sweat pants, aviator glasses and down jackets swept the campus. And then there was me—a bright-eyed, passionately optimistic 17-year-old, desperately searching for a store that sold Black hair products and mesmerized by the concept of “trust fund hippies” and their casual display of wealth.

Touting the line

I realized early on that the hardest thing about college wasn’t the homework, but the never-ending struggle to find where I belonged. I joined the Black Student Alliance to counteract the Young Republicans’ Affirmative Action Bake Sale and to celebrate Black History Month, but always felt like something was missing. Things really changed when I took a job as CU’s first Environmental Justice Outreach Coordinator, and was tasked with increasing underrepresented student participation in Environmental Center activities. Little did I know, this would be the single most rewarding experience of my entire life.

While working as Environmental Justice Coordinator, I had the privilege of working with a group of wicked smart peers that would become lifelong friends. I spearheaded a three-part Environmental Justice Roundtable entitled, “Privilege, Accountability and the CU Community.” I also organized concerts for the national Climate Change Teach In and discovered my passion for conservation, resource management and community building. Most importantly, I started eating better, exercising regularly and began exploring my spirituality more deeply.

I spent the next two years touting the line between the Black Student Alliance and the Environmental Center. Which means to say, I spent a lot of time hiking, biking, recycling, participating in protests and taking the bus down to Denver to buy Black hair products.

AGoggans pic

Finding the “us” in environmental justice

The more I learned about environmentalism, the more I understood why the Environmental Center needed an Environmental Justice Coordinator. Not only was I almost always the only African American at environmental events, even my understanding of environmentalism was closely rooted to climate change and pictures of polar bears standing on melting icebergs.

Later, a friend introduced me to Van Jones and Majora Carter, whose thoughts on the “Green Economy” and “Greening the Ghettos” radically changed the way I conceptualized environmentalism. Their work demonstrating how solar panel training and green roofs can combat incarceration rates, decrease unemployment and increase access to healthy food was a no-brainer to me. Not only did this realization solidify my identity as both an African-American and an environmentalist, I quickly shifted my conversations with students from polar bears to Eskimos and from recycling and organic food to job creation and sweat shop labor.

I realize now that environmental justice is part of a larger discussion on racism and that similar to how war, poverty and sexual violence are often perceived as affecting “others” who live “over there,” environmental justice is rarely discussed as an issue affecting the 7 billion of “us,” who live “here.” I think about it this way—similar to a drop of water being absorbed into the water table or captured as runoff by a reservoir, toxic waste dumped in underserved areas poses a threat to surrounding communities and to those hundreds of miles downstream. This becomes an environmental justice issue when those who can afford to live in gated communities have the resources to purchase bottled water or move, while those living in the ghetto lack cars to transport bottled water and face housing discrimination when searching for a new home. Thus begins the vicious cycle of environmental injustice that can be difficult to break.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable

So what’s my advice for scientists, politicians, environmentalists and activists looking to heal the wounds of environmental injustice? Quite frankly, get comfortable being uncomfortable! Engage in meaningful interaction outside of communities in which you self-identify and don’t be afraid if you lack the vocabulary to have politically correct conversations. In fact, that probably means you’re on the right track. Know that sustainable solutions are built in partnerships founded on respect, transparency and trust. Most importantly, understand the spectrum of privilege and where you fit in it.

Do this and the environmental movement will become what it should have been all along—a movement to create ecological, economic and social justice for all of us on Earth.

Why I gave it all away…

On December 16, 2015, I decided to give everything away and live a life with “no things”.

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Everything I own…

On December 16, 2015, I decided to give everything away and live a life with “no things”. So I took the plunge and decided to couch surf, camp and explore the concept of Mother Earth as my rightful landlord. Now everything I own, less a box of baby stuff my mom won’t throw out, fits in the trunk of my car.

And with no timeline, or end date in sight, I am determined to see this thing out- pay off my student loans, explore the world, learn a thing or too, fuck up, challenge the status quo and discover the lost art of the tumble weed.