As things wind down at my current Dorset base I wanted to write an update on my continued stint of nomadic living but truth be told, it's difficult to find a cohesive narrative. Since I arrived back in the UK it's been a messy eight months with some extremely testing highs and lows. Strong feelings of being lost mixed with some incredible moments of clarity. Writing this is as much about pausing and taking stock, as it is keeping you all updated, so bear with!
I returned from New Zealand back in April, convinced that it would be my forever home. I had my Residency application ready, a room waiting for me and I would tread water in the UK until it was time to take the leap. I'd made it back for a wedding at Big Sky Hideaway but it had only been five months since I'd been heli-rescued off a mountain in Nepal. I'd been travelling ever since and the cracks were starting to show. "Travel mode" making it difficult to fully process my emotions. So when my friend Andy asked if I was "really OK" I found myself bursting into tears.
I headed up to Glasgow to stay with the now internationally renowned Ged (seriously, she just met the Pope!). We had a marvellous few weeks and she's a relentlessly kind host but it was ultimately quite isolating when probably should have been surrounded by friends and loved ones. My daily walk around the park, leaving voice notes in the rain wasn't really cutting it.
As we said our goodbyes and she heroically started walking from her Home to Rome, I swapped with another Rome-bound athlete. Dan Keeley and his family were incredibly generous and offered me their house in Kent for six weeks while he bagged himself a new world record. It was great to have a place to myself. I slept and slept and slept. But the isolation still gnawed away at me. It's OK I thought. This is just temporary.
Then things got really testing. Visiting friends in London to watch Eurovision, I spent most of the heck-knows-how-many songs doubled over in pain. Committed to seeing the final result (why Croatia didn't win is beyond me) I was then rushed to hospital with appendicitis. Eighteen hours later my appendix blew up. In the several hours it took them to approve a course of morphine, I discovered what hell looks like. Bits of you leaking into places they shouldn't and a nurse telling you "sorry sir, but we can't give you any more painkillers".
The recovery took me to a dark place. Not being able to leave the house or exercise put me on a fast track to depression. I went emotionally numb. Getting out of bed was a struggle because I didn't want to face the discomfort of feeling nothing at all. I couldn't muster the slightest bit of enthusiasm to do anything and for a moment it all got quite scary. The one shaft of light being the rediscovery of my love of lego. I leant into it hard and I've been making sure I buy lego kits ever since!
After sending out a "self care flare" on Facebook, some amazing friends visited to help drag me out of the darkness. Eventually making it to Yestival. The field of dreams! I was pretty beat up both emotionally and physically but a weekend surrounded by positive and all round lovely people was the perfect medicine. My friend Ann even offered me her cottage in Dorset for a month!
Amped up on the energy of 150 adventurous people it was then time to have a fresh adventure of my own. I'd been waiting three years to join Ocean Missions on one of their citizen science sailing trips around Iceland. My exploding appendix, initially crushing this dream, turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the trip I was meant to be on involved three metre waves and a lot of vomit! I had dodged a bullet and was VERY lucky to end up on a one off "Hope Expedition" a month later. I was still on painkillers. I couldn't lift my own luggage. But I was damn well going to be on that ship.
The following two weeks were unreal. Sticking my neck out to solo travel, stay on a boat with 15 strangers and do something positive for the planet made me feel the best version of myself that I've ever been. I created 30 pieces of artwork, saw six blue whales, endless puffins and for a brief moment everything just felt "right". I was EXACTLY where I was meant to be and I could see an exciting future as an Expedition Artist laid out in front of me.
The challenge then, was bottling this feeling and fending off the inevitable post-expedition blues. The sun literally hadn't set in two weeks and I'd been running off strong coffees and late nights. I was playing with fire and a mental health health crash was inevitable.
Eventually it all caught up with me and while staying with friends in Carlisle I found myself arranging social events and being peopled out before anyone even arrived! For my birthday I reconnected with one of my favourite places in the world by bouldering in Fontainebleau. But travelling from Carlisle to London to France to London to Oxfordshire and then Carlisle again in the space of just over a week was a bit much.
I then moved to Dorset. (yep, keep up!) Hosted by another legend of a human Ann Whatmore. I knew I was on to a good thing because every time I mentioned Dorset to someone, their immediate response was "ooh it's lovely there!". They weren't wrong! Except I was a mess. I was running on empty, feeling completely displaced and overwhelmed by yet another change of scenery, not to mention the resident boisterous dogs I would be sharing space with for the next month or so! Tears were shed that first night but it would all be OK. In a few months I would return to New Zealand for good...
Oh hi universe, it's been a while... What's that? You have more spanners to throw at me?
As I settled in with the schnoodles Byron and Nelson (who are actually pretty brilliant buffoons once you get to know them) I received news that the room I had waiting for me in Queenstown would no longer be held for me. F******K! This was the final blow. Anchors have become few and far between over the last few years and I'd just lost the only one I had left. I was crushed. Don't get me wrong. I know Queenstown is still there. I still have the bestest most wonderful people over there. But already low on energy, the idea of finding and joining a fresh house share all over again was too much. I loved my previous place and without it waiting for me, my feelings of being lost were exagerated ten fold. Returning to New Zealand was looking decidedly ropey.
It took a couple of weeks to pick myself back up, but I always try to hold onto the idea that the universe has got my back. Even when it doesn't look like it. In this case it was a pretty clear sign that I wasn't meant to return as per the plan. But what the hell was left in its place?
It was looking more and more likely that I would be seeing my first UK Winter in four years, and the resulting slowing of pace actually allowed me to take stock of the last few utterly bonkers years. I had no idea that I still had processing left to do, but I finally felt the loss of my life in London. The ease of access to friends and climbing walls. The lectures and opportunities on my doorstep. I felt the painful realisation that while I was galavanting around the Southern Hemisphere, many friendships have settled down in separate towns. I would see them less now. I even found myself quietly crying on a bus to Poole, exactly a year after I was hospitlised in Nepal. Better out than in eh!?
But it's not all doom and gloom. My life looks very different now. Unrecognisable from a few years ago. And as a result I have experienced generosity and support in ways I didn't even know were possible. I've been inspired to help others in any way I can. In remaining nomadic I've spent time with people I would never normaly get the chance to connect with. I'm wiser for it. I've also learnt to pay more attention to my emotional energy reserves, not just my physical. Saying no to things from time to time, favouring relaxing and recovering. A previously alien concept to me.
And although it may not feel like it at times, I do still have a plan. I went to New Zealand as an initial step towards becoming an expedition artist. I'd then visit the Royal Geographical Society's Explore Symposium. Ignoring the pandemic-themed three year detour, I recently did just that. It was mindblowing. I'm still convinced that expedition artistry is the ultimate combination of my skills and passions. It's who I'm meant to be. And ironically, if life hadn't taken all these twists and turns I wouldn't have had anywhere near as much experience when it came to sketching at the RGS. Instead I held my head high, did my thing, and made some pretty epic connections.
I have no idea what's next. I don't even know where I live in two weeks time. But I'm not sure NZ Residency is the right move for now. It feels horrible not to be rushing back to the place that I still consider my spiritual home. I could settle over there and have a great time for many years to come. But I need to see where all this leads. I'm pretty knackered. It's stressful and uncomfortable. Yet I'm also so incredibly lucky to be in the position that I am, supported by such wonderful people who believe in me. I have to trust that this will all work out so I'm holding on tight to see what the Universe has in store for me.
P.S If you're reading this and your own adventures leave you needing a house sitter, hit me up! firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading!
Or keep me caffeinated with digital coffee below...