Emotions have been the single most difficult thing about my journey recently. At the risk of sounding a little to “Dear Diary”, I decided to share a few thoughts in the hopes it may serve someone else.
Coming into The Longest Walk NZ, it was the emotional ride to finally deciding to commit that was the biggest challenge. I knew it was what I wanted to do. I knew it was important to me. I knew I had faced similar crossroads… made the other choice… and regretted it. Yet still, I found it incredibly hard to take that leap into the unknown. There was no security. There was no ‘how to’ guide. I didn’t really know what I was doing.
Now that I’ve been on the road for over six months, I’ve found peace with the unknown elements and I actually enjoy the creative aspect of not having a blueprint. Not only that, but I have found security of sorts in history of supportive interactions with a vast number of people in every single place we have travelled to. The freedom I’ve found through making that commitment is unparalleled by any other experience of my life so far.
There are different emotional challenges now though. It took me a while to accept the hospitality and charity of others too. Having dealt with that, I am now often reminded of a very important lesson: to be aware of emotional vampirism.
The beast that is animal welfare draws forth strong emotions in many people. With that, comes a strange kind of attraction for emotional vampires. I refer to those who choose to dwell on drama or focus on painful loops and problems outside their sphere of influence. They thrive on ‘venting’ and constantly seek empathy for their perceived struggles. Black and white thinking tends to dominate their world view and everything seems to be hopeless or unfair. They leech others’ energy to feed their own insatiable hunger for high emotion and they flock to causes such as animal welfare.
Over the years and through my travels, I have become pretty skilled at conversing with people of varied backgrounds. It’s fair to say that I can have a reasonable conversation quite comfortably with most people I am meeting for the first time. Just because I CAN talk to most people, doesn’t mean I ENJOY talking to them all.
My psychic defences are poor. I feel other people’s emotions quite strongly and I have a very hard time not taking them on-board. The flip side of this is that I am also very aware of my own emotions and these days, I have learned to understand when they signal the need for action or change. That hasn’t always been the case and my inability to manage emotions as guiding signals has led to deep pain and suffering at times.
When these emotional vampires come into my life, I feel myself being drained and it becomes more and more difficult to maintain logic. They pull me into their pain and wear down my ability to resist. I can suffer their need for a sympathetic ear for a time but I reach a limit and have to physically remove myself from their presence in order to regroup. These encounters are dangerous for me because I often find myself close to the brink of re-joining them in their habits of unhealthy thoughts: the negative spiral of tainted/skewed logic.
To be honest, the thought scares me. It scares me because I know that pain. It scares me because I know how slippery the slope is and how hard it is to change. I have to be careful not to let empathy for their pain draw me in because I know THEY are ultimately the only person in the whole world that can help them. THEY have to choose to be ready and THEY have to commit to changing that pattern. Some aren’t ready yet (and I’m not qualified or able to help get them there) and others probably never will be. Either way, I have to consciously avoid letting it be my problem.
I want to be clear that these are not necessarily malevolent or nasty people. The ones I am coming across are generally killing themselves with kindness. They care so much that they too struggle to disconnect. Nevertheless, the cause is irrelevant. I still need to care for myself. The freedom I have fostered in my life right now balances on the knife edge of my beliefs and emotions. My freedom hinges maintaining healthy, useful thinking habits.
The other major challenge for me is dealing with being so publicly available. At first, the kind of minor celebrity that this venture has brought was novel and a bit fun. Now, while it is mostly just neutral, it has a definite down-side. I am always “on show” when I am around my trailer. I am almost always around my camper. Often, I am staying at kind people’s homes and that comes with an unspoken understanding that I chat about the journey and cause. I am happy to oblige and I am grateful for their hospitality, but it also means time to myself can be severely limited.
To put this in perspective, I prefer to be alone most of the time. I don’t mean that in an unfriendly way. I am also a very personable person. That might seem a contradiction and maybe it is. All I know is that I feel at my best when I have time alone to recharge and it allows me to enjoy time with others.
In combination with New Zealand’s ridiculous “freedom” camping regulations, it unfortunately means that the only time I can truly withdraw and recharge (legally) is inside my camper in a fairly public place like a campground. With this new-found “celebrity” comes a breakdown in normal etiquette. If people see the camper, they “have to see what it’s about”. If they’ve also been following the campaign, some feel they have earned the right to access me any time they might happen on me.
At this stage, I must add that usually, I am fine with that and I enjoy meeting people who have been following the journey. It’s nice to talk to new people and even nicer if I don’t have to start by explaining what is going on. In fairness, even I have trouble defining the limits of when it feels alright to be approached and when I’d prefer to be left alone. But II am starting to get a better appreciation for how it must feel to be a REAL celebrity. If I am trying to do some banking, I feel like common courtesy (at least in NZ culture) says to give me space. If I am sitting inside my camper with the door closed, it’s akin to someone in a zipped up tent. Personally, I would leave them alone unless it was someone I already knew.
Overall, I must say that it has been a great journey and I haven’t regretted the choice to undertake it. These little gripes are small in the grand scheme of things. My hope in airing them so publicly is that it might help someone else. If it does help you, I would love to hear it if you’d like to share it.