The site of trauma can become a site of refuge.
As the days of summer come closer to an end, another school year is right around the bend. During this time of transition, I always make sure to take a trip. Last year it was to the bustle of New York City, the other was to coasts of California, and the other time passed that was to volcanoes and jungles of Nicaragua. I have always known traveling is good for you but I never really thought about why it is good for you—More importantly why it is essential when one suffers from anxiety/depression.
I spent two years sacrificing my mental—sometimes physical health—just to escape Florida; I hardly spent any money and both A and I did everything we could to make sure we were harboring more bills into a metal safe then we were letting go out of our hands. As we drove off the exit of our hometown, I watched our passing city dissipate before my eyes, sort of like a haze or fog. I promised myself it would be a very long time before I visited the city that has left mental scars and budding anxiety problems. How ironic I find myself back there in a short amount of time and actually enjoying myself—even needing to be back under the mugginess of Florida.
My first stop in Florida was the Everglades National Park.
Sometimes Florida seems cemented in time, especially its landscape. Its wilderness is primitive, pointed, and unforgiving. Walking around in nature can be intimidating (imagine if you live with anxiety). Yet, starting my vacation in a sea of swampy, alligator-infested waters actually became a place of tranquility and renewal. Even if you have the chance of being thrown off an airboat.
I started the morning with the weight of humidity on top my shoulders as I mounted a tin-rusted boat with large steel blades sucking in the moist air. The funny thing about having anxiety is that you imagine every method of dying: I saw myself standing and falling off the boat. I saw passengers rushing to one side of the boat and tipping it over. I saw myself leaning to the side of the airboat, peering into the darkness of the water and having an alligator jump up from the water, crooked arms tucked into his scaly chest, jaws and teeth closing my neck and dragging me under. Lucky, none of this happened. The Everglades was gorgeous as we drifted around its vastness. You could see Tricolored Herons and White Storks confidently gliding as kites and indifferently landing in the shadowy water-abyss below. The clouds puffed like popcorns and everywhere you looked it was green. I see the truth in President Truman’s quote about the Everglades:
“Here are no lofty peaks seeking the sky, no mighty glaciers or rushing streams wearing away the uplifted land. Here is land, tranquil in its quiet beauty, serving not as the source of water, but as the last receiver of it.”
The greatest thing about being in the Everglades is that you are reminded of how meager you are compared to the natural world. It seems cruel and almost nihilistic but I believe it is renewing. In midst of all anxious feelings, it is great to know that the natural world views you insignificant. It is not cruel nor judging but just exists with you. You exist in its world as a traveler, a hiker, an enthusiast. The sawgrass, the steady lake, the alligators drifting like dead logs care not that you are a teacher, a male, a slave to depression and anxiety. You are a traveler, a hiker, an enthusiast.
Sitting on the airboat looking into a horizon of coffee-colored water and colossal sawgrass, I had an excitement for life. There were vigor and vitality in a place that is unrelenting and aloof. I have always had a Whitmanesque/ Romantic poet soul. Nature has always been my form of therapy.
Knowing this vacation was essential to my mental health, I booked a trip to a place that I believed saved my life: the ocean. Ladies and gentleman, I bring you to Key West, Florida.
It is a Floridian tradition that you visit the remote Keys at least once in your life. Towards the end of my trip, I was touring Duval St. with sweat skiing down my back and the sun piercing every inch of my skin. It was great to take a ferry 70 miles west of Key West to the most inaccessible National Park, Dry Tortugas (formerly known as Fort Jefferson).
The water is so clear and the Fort lays entirely on top of the sandy little island. Even there, the natural world takes ownership. Cacti grow on top of the fort where soldiers once talked about their family so distant from them next to shining iron cannons. The bricks have fallen and have become pieces of foreign coral to the sea life. There are hills of grass and reigning trees in the middle of the court where once Naval officers slept. As you look around the island, on top of that isolated fort, you see nothing but clear blue a horizon that looks like the edge of the world.
Vacationing is vital for not only teachers but everyone in general. I know this sounds like a cliché but I think of my parents who work unceasingly. My dad had to be talked into taking two days off to join us in Key West. Taking vacation—or what I like to make myself believe, a hiatus—is essential for all human beings especially teachers. We work endlessly in our classrooms. Motivating young adults and marketing content needs a clear, rested mind. What I love about vacation is that I am able to bring my experiences to my classroom (even if it’s not about the places I have visited). For instance, I picked up Ernest Hemingway’s short stories and easily found 2 short stories I could use in the classroom—one of them has a lot of cuss words in Spanish, so I know my students will love it.
So this is the end. I am writing this blog seated on Spirit Airlines intoxicated with their Buzzballz Mixers, Lime ‘Rita flavored and the recollection of memories of my vacation in Florida—Actually, this gay flight attendant has been giving me free drinks and food. Is it because I am wearing my new Express suit?
It has taken me longer to write this blog because I am writing this in the dark of the cabin, the misspelling of words, (is it the 3 margaritas?) and the optimistic happiness of being alive and living my dreams with the dread of the plane going down. I am going back to Colorado refreshed and ready for the school year. I have plans of becoming an integral member of my school. I am also looking into new opportunities to lead my staff and department. I think of this amazing teacher I work with. Before she really knew me she said I had a presence of authority and asked me if I have ever thought of becoming an administrator. That comment has left a weight on me. I see how many people recognized this apparent talent and leadership but I don’t see it. She has inspired me to take on more than what I believe I am capable of being. Having motivating and inspiring coworkers does well for those in depression and anxiety. Ms. H believes in me as a teacher and as a human being. She is influential and has made me feel proud and honored to be a public school teacher
I am regretting drinking this much but am hoping this flight attendant offers another free drink.
—I hate to break the narrative even as it is harder to type but I have had the strangest encounter on the plane. A woman was waiting in line for the lavatory facility. Being cheap, the room on Spirit is very tiny and packed, almost like a hamster cage…dwarf hamster. A woman’s buttocks were close to my iPad screen. I shut off the monitor off anxious that she would know I was journaling my feelings on WordPress. She then apologized for her butt in my screen and told me (at least the pieces I can gather, that she was wearing no panties and laughed and said she was drunk. The flight attendant (the gay one) came by as she was telling me that in her youth she was a fag hap (the reason she had no eyebrows and apologized she was drunk). He said something inaudible because of his heavy Cuban accent but we all laughed like school children. I sat completely drunk (I scored another free drink a couple of minutes earlier from this flight attendant) and insecure (I kept asking myself why I decided to drink so much!) She then proceeded to tell me that her daughter came out to her as pansexual. I kept thinking as a member of the LGBTQ I should know what Pansexual meant.
But honestly, I could not remember. So she continued her story of how she was a supporter but also conservative. She was molested at age 5,6 in her words exactly. She would make these homophobic remarks but still claim support of her “gay daughter’s homosexual encounters.” But technically if one is Pansexual they aren’t fully gay? Yet, she proclaimed tolerance. Meanwhile, I sat and wonder how this whole situation is possible. That out of all of the passengers, I was unlucky enough to have a woman, eyebrowless, squatting in the aisle next to my seat without underwear, slurring a story that I could not relate to nor care…when just moments ago, I felt extremely lucky that I did not pay for a “first class” seat and still got it by the luck of the draw (first class in Spirit is nothing but sitting in the front with an elongated tray). Yet, here I was—a person who considers himself an introvert and loner, having a drunk mini gay party with not along a stranger but an employee of the airlines. Having anxiety is hilarious. I am nervous of what the people must say about me or more specifically us, a drunk woman in the aisle, a flamboyant flight attendant who is bending down and partaking in the discussion, and a teacher drunk speaking to all in cordialness. I worry about being to belligerently drunk and getting arrested on the plane…but that is the anxiety I am sure no one truly gives a shit. This is my life and I sometimes wonder if the nervousness is a made up syndrome. I often feel too happy and too relaxed to be suffering from anxiety and depression with situations and experiences comical and horrific that seem to be scripted for a film.
—So I sit here, drunk and enthusiastic. I feel ready for the school year and extremely hopeful. I see the Snaps of teachers I have worked with and see them laudable and electric. They hang their motivational posters and feel unstoppable. I worry that they will become defeated and resentful within the school year as this cycle often carries out in the school year.
I am awake and aware. In 4 years of teaching, I can finally say I am proud to say I am a teacher and a damn good one at that!