The problem with writing an honest blog about your travels is that your life becomes public. Everybody shares in your story. And when people feel part of something, or informed about your life, they feel entitled to comment, to express an opinion on it, because the door was left open and they were invited in.
An open door is perfectly acceptable if you are comfortable with a crowded house – but if you are a private person (who just so happens to have a passion for writing honestly about family life) you find yourself in a very uncomfortable situation – involuntarily backed into the corner of a virtual room full of familiar faces and intrigued strangers, each vying for the opportunity to express their views and opinions as to what you should do, must do or can’t do.
For the most part, our ‘hecklers’ are friendly and supportive. Most are genuinely interested and helpful. Some are seemingly understanding (yet their disapproving scoffs state otherwise). Others are demanding, relentless in their pursuit of answers. Some want to rescue us. Others feel reassured by our uncertainty. And of course, the conventional ‘this is the way it should be done’ brigade link hands, nodding with righteousness.
There is no interest in our adventures. I guess, like reading a book, nobody wants to go over old chapters. My writing, my blogs, stole that joy from my family. Instead, our guests are only interested in our future. What will we do? Have we found employment yet? Is Chris applying for work? Has he had any interviews? What about schools? Where will you live?
The sound. The constant babble. The eyes. The questions. The opinions. It’s relentless.
EVERYONE. HAS. AN. OPINION.
I can’t think. Yet, I seem to do nothing but think. But rather than investing thoughts into positive plans for our future, I find myself analysing other people’s motives and wondering if they come from a place of helpfulness, kindness, curiosity or fear. I question why I feel the need to justify our decisions or indecisions.
I know it’s me and my state of mind. My feelings are not a reflection of the actions of others. Especially those who are trying so desperately to support us through this. It’s just how my brain chooses to perceive the curiosity and consideration of others at this time. My observance and reasoning are the loudest voices I hear.
I spend hours staring into space, ruminating, but when I’m aroused from my daze, asked to recall my thoughts, I can’t remember a second of them. I scrutinise everything, searching for answers in my mind but they evade me, lost in a fog of doubt. So, I say what I think people want to hear. I answer questions vaguely and reluctantly. Unsure. I’m in the room, yet I’m not in the room. I pay lip service, but I’m not really there.
I can feel myself retreating further into the wall. I want it to close around me. I yearn for silence. The white noise of well-intentioned support hurts my head. I need space to think. I need privacy. I need to listen to my own body so I can hear it. But there is no escape. There is no door of our own to close. There is no retreat. So, I withdraw to a quiet place in my mind, trying to block out the noise. Trying to find a morsel of breathing space that is still my own.
I feel embarrassed and exposed – like everyone can see my underwear. Defensive and distrusting. Constantly judged. All of my worst traits are revealed. I’m pensive. Irritable. Self-protective. Insecure. Suspicious.
At any other time in my life, I would normally close the door, switch off my phone and pull the duvet over my head for a few weeks; remerging galvanised and determined with a fresh sense of purpose, a clear vision and spouting some sort of inspirational epiphany, hoping that nobody noticed the war wounds from the depression in-between.
However, this time, I’m wide open, a woeful wreck, for all to see, and judge.
In a modern world of filtered social lives, I would prefer to select and share only the parts of our life we want others to see. The parts that say ‘We’re doing well, everything is great, we are happy!’.
It’s unsettling to share publicly our insecurities, vulnerabilities, tiredness and despair. The side of life we usually hide. Nobody really wants to read about our woes – unless that is, it makes them feel better about their own life. And I’m sure, for a small few, that will be the case. Our return, and current difficulties, will validate their own life choices. It is reassuring to cast off our adventures as a huge mistake. Of course, life is safer if you avoid all risks and never take any chances.
But please don’t mistake our current struggles, my current difficulties, with regret. As desperate as our present financial/home situation is, I will never regret the past 18 months. in reality, it is the single, proudest thing I have done that would make me accepting and content should my life end abruptly tomorrow.
I am sad and frustrated that my previous writing gave the impression that we did not enjoy our time in Nicaragua. Quite the contrary. Europe was amazing but it was Nicaragua that taught us our greatest lessons. Embracing a new culture, leaving friends and family behind, jumping into the unknown – it propelled us out of our comfort zone. And it was there, at the edge of comfort, where we really changed as people.
I am conscious that those changes are not agreeable to everyone. I did not know how much we had changed until we had a measure. The values we shared with family and friends before we left are no longer the values we hold dear now. Put simply, we do not conform to our previous shells. Our adventures opened our eyes to an alternative way of living. Moving back to the UK was never about stepping back into our old lives, our old shells. It was about progressing forward, having a base in which to work towards sustaining the type of lifestyle we want to live. An unconventional life, it would seem.
We are all struggling with the constant pressure to conform and walk in the same direction as the masses. Although the words are not said aloud, for me, the insinuation is palpable – We have had our fun, now it’s time to join the real world. Grow up and take responsibility.
For some reason, (I don’t understand) there appears to be a notion of a right and wrong way to live. The right one being the one adopted by the majority. The one that subscribes to societal expectations. The one that creates conflict between us and loved ones who just wish we would conform because life would be so much simpler for us.
But just because people choose to live a certain way, does not make it the right way. That’s the beauty of difference. We should accept and respect individual choice. Even if we don’t understand or relate to it.
So, whilst it may seem that our current situation is hopeless, we are not quite ready to throw ourselves at the mercy of every titbit scrap of opportunity just yet. We remain steadfast in our protectiveness of the risks we took, the lessons we learnt and the positive changes we made by not hastily jumping into the first convenient and comforting solution. We are the guardian of our dreams and will forge ahead on the uncertain, more difficult path, towards the life we want.
Our return to the UK has been difficult. Much tougher than we imagined. In between the joy of socialising with friends and family, we have dark days where we question our decision to return. I constantly remind myself of our aim. It is so easy to become overwhelmed and swamped by the negativity.
Everything we dreaded about coming home; the job applications, judgements, rejections are taking their toll. Self-confidence is waning. Despondency is creeping in. We are stuck in a catch 22 situation – we need our own space but we can’t move out until we can prove a regular income. Therefore, we have no idea where we will end up living. If we don’t know where we will live we don’t know where to send the children to school. With the children at home, we are torn between spending quality time with them or scouring the job pages and completing applications.
We visited a school for Lola on Tuesday, hoping that action might bring clarity, but it had the opposite effect. We were sadly unimpressed. The curriculum and pressure on schools to prove results means that Lola will face further trauma in the classroom. We were told unreservedly to ‘think seriously’ before placing her back in state education. This is something that we all want time to reflect on.
Chris is finding the process of faceless and impersonal online applications laborious and tiresome. Nothing excites him. We decided to self-fund a Prince2 Project Management Qualification so that he can look further afield within new sectors. I desperately hope that an opportunity arrives soon that will make him smile again. I hate to see him so dejected.
My new business venture is the only area of my life where I have utter focus. My mind is as sharp as a pin. It is the colour to my otherwise grey existence. It is my retreat. I absorb the feeling and the hope it brings. With the support of great business mentors, old friends and new partners, I hope to launch my new business in April and share my creation with the world.
If successful, it will be a monumental step towards our dream lifestyle. It will offer options to our children and the means to allow them to reach their own full potential in near or distant lands.
I hold on to that vision. It is my single greatest motivation.
So, all is not bleak in the Cotter household. We may not be ticking any boxes right now, but we are crossing boxes out, and that is directing us down a path too. Knowing what we don’t want is second only to knowing what we want. Positive action is not always identifiable with a tick.
I am reminded that we are all entitled to bad days. Or bad years, even. If we don’t have bad times, we would never know how to recognise good times.
Even though it is cold and grey in the UK, we are still glad to be home. It was the right decision (at least for three of us). I can feel the good times over the horizon. It’s dark and cold in the shadows right now, but the warmth and light beckons. We’re heading that way!
Onward and upwards my friends,