Living Candidly #4: Leaving Everything I Knew Gave Me My Life Back

Living Candidly #4: Leaving Everything I Knew Gave Me My Life Back

What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then.People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.

William Least Heat-Moon

One tap. One link follow. Three swipes to scroll. 

That’s all it took to find out about the Working Holiday Visa in Ireland. 

I remember it vividly. I was splayed on the couch in a rental beach house, on vacation with my family just one month after graduation from college. I was coming off the worst five months of my life. After a brutal depression that had cost me friends, love, and a complete sense of self, I found I was back in the pub job in my hometown I had sworn was for one summer back in 2014 to fund my study abroad — it was now 2016. And while I was putting on a brave face for my family amidst the shambling aftermath that I found my life in around me, each day brought a tightening claustrophobia. I felt my air running thin, and my ghosts were hot on my trail. 

Now that it’s 2019, we all know that the internet is algorithmic black magic when it comes to supplying advertisements that prey on our history searches. I’m not sure, however, what I was searching for that dropped Stint Gap Year into my Instagram advertisements — and no, this is not an advertisement. Yet when the image of green pastures and smiling faces popped up, I stalled for .5 seconds long enough to read the caption. 

One tap. One link follow. Three swipes to scroll. 

I sat up a bit straighter, alert that my mother was ten feet away. She had been less than encouraging about my desires to attend graduate school in England — not just for the financial reasons, but also for due reasons after my mental break. I quickly saved the URL in my favorites and vowed to revisit it that night. 

I applied that night in my bed, glow illuminating my apprehensive face as I pressed submit. Three weeks later, I took a phone interview with Aoife. Within another twenty-four hours, I was told I was into the program. The program would — for a fee — guide me through the visa application process, provide initial housing in Dublin, and set me up with a temporary employment agency should I wish to go that route. 

Approaching my parents with caution, I presented the reasoning. It offered maturation opportunities. It would give me unparalleled experiences. It was Ireland, home of my ancestors. I was ready for a battle, but none came. 

On September 28, 2016, I boarded a plane at Dulles International Airport, Washington D.C., with two suitcases and no real idea what I was getting into. 

Over the course of eight months, I experienced more of life than I had in the cumulative of the preceding twenty-two years. From the get-go, it was an immersive experience. I dove into a community of ex-pats my first night, the program providing me a community to in which to envelope myself. The following weekend, I traveled to Connemara and the Aran Islands. I would continue to explore both The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland throughout my time: Kilkenny, Blarney, the Ring of Kerry, Cobh, Cork, Galway, Belfast, Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede bridge (pictured). The ease of access to Europe and the camaraderie found in my new friends and fellow travelers propelled me to new destinations: Morocco, Spain, Belgium, Scotland, and England, where I would ultimately decide to pursue my Master’s degree. 

I was pushed to challenge the very ideas that I had taken as dogma my entire life, to think for myself in ways that I previously had never given due chance. I was allowed, for the very first time in memory, to be an individual. There was no one to answer to and everywhere to experiment. 

I am not being hyperbolic when I say that being in Ireland, taking the chance on myself to be the traveler that I had always wanted to be, was the antidote to all the woes that had built up around me for so long. It quite literally gave me my will to live back. And while, yes, it was an incredible risk to choose something so potentially — and admittedly, at times, realistically — isolating, it also gave me the chance to determine the exact boundaries, forms, and bricks that build the person that I wanted to pursue being from that day forward. 

I moved back from Dublin, my home, with a certainty of self. I felt confident in my navigation skills, whereas before I would use GPS for everything. I could manage eating a meal alone or attending a concert by myself (something I do all too frequently now because I love it). I learned how to handle myself professionally in many settings, having juggled jobs from medical records to receptionist to copyeditor on varying bases. I gained political opinions based in my own thought, based in my own experiences. I learned to open my heart to more people than I thought I could, and I’m so grateful for it. 

I’m writing this today because I often find that I take this experience for granted. It gets overshadowed by the glitzier things I’ve done since — graduate school, a real career. But the humbler times of living paycheck to paycheck, scraping by to travel: those are the ones that shaped me. And of that I need to be reminded. 

Travel saved me.

On my new “vivarium”

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Stuff your eyes with wonder…live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

In order to take AP Human Geography my Sophomore year of high school, I had to make the concession of starting Honors Latin instead of French. Little did I know that would take me on the journey through Honors Latin V to President of the Latin Honor Society — I know, I was a nerd — and eventually able to translate fairly well even into my mid-twenties.

So imagine my pleasure at discovering the word vivarium during the final quarter of Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists. Vivarium means “place of life,” and while it is frequently used in laboratory environments constructing homes for plants and animals, it carries a beautiful weight to it as well. To me, it echoes with the simple question — where do you create your own vivarium?

For the greater part of the last four years, I have not had a central place of life. I have been transient, nomadic at best. I was spreading my time during the end of my Senior year of Villanova between Annapolis, Maryland and Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Upon completion of my degree and finding a harsh job market, I boarded a plane and literally jetted across the Atlantic to Dublin, Ireland to establish a Gap Year (really, 8 months) where I temped and traveled. From there I moved across the channel to London for my Master’s in Publishing at London College of Communication.

And now — as of 54 hours ago — I am a certified New Yorker.

This time with no end in sight.

Unless I reach a point of complete and utter failure, I risk nothing but permanence in this new move — a concept completely foreign to me. I’ve had somewhere new on the horizon for as long as my short-term and not-so-short-but-not-so-long-term memory can recall. But for the first time in my adulthood, my only option is to put down roots in this new city and begin constructing something of more concrete substance.

I find myself building my own vivarium. The weekend was spent decorating my shoebox room in my apartment I can barely afford on the Upper West Side. I invested myself in decor that meant something to me, brought me “joy” to quote Marie Kondo. I’m finally investing myself in a career path rather than diverting to “fun side-hustles” or working to make ends meet only. Hell, for the first time in three years, I’m buying cookware so I actually make myself meals rather than eat microwavable ones, sandwiches, or resort to ordering in.

I find myself reflecting on this quote from Fahrenheit 451 because it is one that has driven me for the past few years. It took me from country to country. It took me away from all I had ever known three times and then back again. It made me thirst for a world I had never seen — and yet, now it’s the very thing that’s making me hunger for a world of my own just four hours north of Annapolis.

It may not be the most thrilling adventure on paper that I’ve ever begun, but I think it has the potential to be the most rewarding one yet.