The Black Dog on the islands

A post about feeling blue in paradise might seem tremendously self-indulgent, but actually I had somewhat of an epiphany today and it seemed like a good juncture at which to share it.

The truth is, that feeling down or depressed isn’t a thing which needs to have a raison d’etre nor a desperately serious root. Some days, it just is. Wherever you are, whoever you are with and whatever the trigger. I don’t really like the analogy of the black dog because I love dogs, and if there’s one thing which would be guaranteed to make my day GOOD, it would be a black dog following me around and sitting beside me. Exhibit A:

I prefer the analogy of the weather. It’s especially apposite for this season in Galápagos: Some days are completely cloudy when you get up, but by lunchtime the sun’s out and the place is completely different. Some days the sun never appears, but two things are for certain:

1. You can’t change it all by yourself

2. It does always change at some point.

This week’s been a bit up and down… Uncertainty over jobs, travel planning and the definite ending of the hope of a great travel romance turning into something more. I don’t cope with uncertainty well, and I definitely don’t cope with the thought of having made a bad, irreversible decision. Lack of sleep caused by factors A, B and the general NOISE of Ecuadorian life hasn’t helped.

So this morning I woke up in a bit of a funk, hugely exacerbated by loads of people descending on the house to move furniture, cause chaos etc. But this led to a really useful bit of self learning for me. I know why I’m generally a bit unsettled at the moment. 

But why, precisely, at this moment am I in such a grump and how can I change it?

Well, I made the conscious decision when I woke up just in time for Zumba to not go. Exercise is an amazing mood changer, and it doesn’t have to be extreme. If I’d have got up and done my shift of unco-ordinated flailing of limbs I probably wouldn’t be feeling like this.

So, I got off my arse, plugged in my (last working pair of…Eeek!) headphones and set off for the Tortuga Bay path. It’s 2.5km each way, and is a good, flat stomp when you need it to be. My music of choice for times like these is Craig Armstrong, solid orchestral electronica, not too much to think about. 

As I barrelled down the path I let my mind wander over all of the reasons I was feeling like this. I’d eliminated reason 1, a house full of randoms messing up the furniture, by just leaving, an easy win, and already the exercise was working its magic. I resolved that either of the work options would be fine, really- Either leaving at the end of October, travelling then popping home and maybe returning next year or staying until December, popping home, travelling then definitely returning in January. So that wasn’t a worry any more. Que sera sera.

And then the other stuff? Well, serious things take more thinking about. Reasonably though, I went through some mental steps.

Could I change the basic facts of the situation?

What would it take to change the basic facts of the situation?

Would this be the correct decision?

This enabled me to work through the thought process and at least try to bring some rationality to bear on where I was NOW. It’s never helpful to second guess the decisions of the past, I knew that I’d made them for good reasons. Difficult decisions, but ones made on the basis that I simply wouldn’t have been cut out for the job I was applying for, and hence couldn’t have lived in that country. What could I do NOW to amend this situation?

Well, the truth I reached was that I can’t. She has moved on, and in any case I simply can’t afford in terms of money or logistics to put myself in the same place as her anyway. Running away from a great teaching contract wouldn’t be the correct decision either. So, this enabled me to apply my reliable philosophy in life:

Never worry about things you can’t change.

It’s a saying with a great deal of merit. My grandmother used to watch the news about atrocities around the world, and problems closer to home, and would endlessly worry, fret and work herself up into a lather about them. I realised a long time ago that this was essentially pointless. This isn’t to say that interest in politics or indeed donating to worthy charity appeals is a bad thing, but fundamentally there has to be a mental cut off point whereby you cut loose from thinking about it.

When I reached Tortuga Bay, I’d boxed off lots of the root causes I was feeling down. I thought about other ones, not the real serious stuff but things I want to change. Achievable things. What can I do to make them happen? Game planning the small stuff helps the big stuff blow over when the clouds are overhead. So, I thought about my level of Spanish. I’m not quite where I want to be. So, I’ll practice on DuoLingo later. I’ll send my local friend a message to meet up for a conversation exchange again (after a few weeks off). Moreover, I’ll do a little thing.

I’ll talk to, and smile at, everyone I pass from here until home.

I sat on the beach for 10 minutes, listening to the sea and mulling over all of the things that I wanted to leave on that beach. And then, I did something so ridiculously new age that it made me laugh at myself a little bit. But it fricking well WORKED.

I exhaled deeply, blowing all of the negative thoughts out towards the sea, and inhaling the positive.

And that’s where we come onto the second epiphany of the day. Good mood, and good mental health isn’t always a passive thing. Sometimes you actively have to channel your thoughts into getting rid of negativity, and actively filling yourself with positive thoughts.  Sometimes, just to be isn’t enough. You need to put in some work.

I thought about good things, not the business of travel but some of the wildly exciting sights I wanted to see in Colombia like the 4 day trek to the Ciudad Vieja, and just how cool it would be to finally roll into New York before flying home.

All the way along that path back I greeted people I passed with a smile and a cheery “Buenos Dias” or “Hola”. The Ecuadorians responded in kind, some American tourists looked like I was a madman but I reached the end of the path in a great positive frame of mind. I went to the local shops to get breakfast stuff and chatted just a little bit more than I normally would to the shopkeepers.

I’m unsure of the point of this post. Maybe it’s to highlight that telling someone who is depressed or just a bit down to ‘pull themselves together’ is as entirely pointless as telling a cancer patient to just ‘get over it’, or maybe it’s to point out that sometimes, a few small steps can completely change the moment. And that’s a bloody good place to start.

Peace out.
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