1. Searching for the Peace of Mind. Travel and Well-Being

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    For the last few weeks I have been thinking extensively about well-being. I am confronted with that topic as a long-time individual activist who in their lifetime had suffered much from burnout, small breakdowns and moments when all was thought to have been either lost or done for nothing. I also manage a staff of 5 whose physical and mental health is one of my key priorities. Every single action or development I consider a success is a result of a series of previous attempts, failures, frustration, small steps, bigger steps, but what is most important is motivation that fuels every single step along the way. This is where I start talking about well-being.

    Which is exactly why I’m writing these words half-way through my one week vacation. Every three months I try to take between 3 and 7 days off from work, knowing that they will give me the much needed energy to get through every difficulty that arises through the year. You see, I’m a workaholic. I work constantly. Every working day I wake up at six thirty in the morning to sit in front of my computer and work (with a short shower break) until it’s time to get to the office, where I do the same thing. By the end of last year, I introduced weekends to my schedule, giving myself two days to unwind and to try to connect with my loved ones, myself and some of my smaller hobbies that I abandoned for the sake of work.

    The reasons why I had to put restrictions on my activities are easy to understand – identifying with my work and the organization which I currently lead made me tired of reality. I wasn’t able to start my usual work without following trans and LGBT media outlets, reading transphobic comments online as well as comments on various message boards about myself and my colleagues. Don’t get me wrong – I still do it, because I still care. What changed, however, was the fact that I am now finally able to draw the line and tell myself when I had enough. When was the right time to stop.

    What put me out of this dreadfulness was an anonymous online bully who started stalking me through my ask.fm page. Contemplating whether or not to delete that profile, when I saw another one of those “you’re just a girl who’s crazy” comments, I realized one thing – this was all online. The second I realized it, I switched all my devices off and went for a walk. And then it hit me. Moving places. That was the one thing, which helped me not lose my mind in a maze of emotions, whether connected to my work or not, navigate through fear of being recognized and ridiculed or beaten on the street and through the toughest times when I had to confront myself with… well, myself.

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    A picture from today’s travels.

    I was lucky enough to be brought up by a family with a little above-average income. You may say at some point we were somewhere in the upper-middle class part of society, with me currently feeling quite cosy in the lower-middle section with not that much ambition to move higher. I do hold a stand that if I am able to support myself without creating debt, that is quite enough. At least for now. This initial luck made me appreciate the concept of travel. My parents used to take me to different places abroad, showing not only the world outside of my native Poland (although it was quite touristy, something I don’t do as much today, as we did as a family back then), but also exposing me to traveling as an action and a process.

    When I was between 5 and 11 years old, that was definitely a family experience. We talked, sang songs together, stopped when I got car-sick, visited the weirdest restrooms and had numerous important conversations, my favorite being the “Are we there yet?” game. When I became a teenager things definitely changed. I was not an easy youngster to manage. I had it all – angst, hatred for the world, absolute disgust in life and grownups, unfulfilled love and a passion to coin these emotions into characters and write long and complicated stories of their messy existence. I wanted to travel alone and experience being with myself on a completely different level. And eventually I did. When I was 16, I took my first 7-hour train ride on my own. And it was amazing.

    There was something extremely soothing in watching the landscape moving through the window. I sat in my own reflection capsule. Listening to my favorite songs and not minding other passengers, I soon discovered that travel can be absolutely inspiring. And not in just seeing places which make you see the world from different perspectives (although that also played a major role in my development), but also with giving you the possibility to connect with yourself. If I was to name three places I usually let my emotions go and cry, they would definitely be home, train and airplane. I even remember crying my heart out while coming back home from one of work-related trips, because the sky was just SO beautiful that day!

    What really constituted traveling as a way of life were some of my past relationships – a number of them were long-distance with trains going back and forth through Poland and other countries. And if there is anything I can say I definitely miss from these experiences is the anticipation of arrival. The absolute thrill of having someone wait for me at the end of the road. Even when I went steady and moved in together with one of my past partners, I still had to travel. And not just for work. I needed to move, I wanted to leave to be able to come back. Traveling reminded me what of importance awaited me by the end of it. And now – whenever I travel, I try to reflect on these positive and fulfilling feelings. It makes my heart grow with thankfulness and fear. Thankfulness that I had the chance to experience such wonderful moments and fear that I may never experience them again.

    For a number of years traveling has been an obvious part of my life. I traveled for work, to see loved ones, to do research, to meet someone I only knew through a chat window and to deliver important decisions face-to-face. I left two partners based on reflections I made while traveling. In both cases I remember exactly what helped me ease in to the idea that mine and someone else’s time together was coming to an end. Observing changing backgrounds and recalling various events from these relationships put me at ease, even though I was boiling with troubling doubt. I suddenly knew where I was going and I could definitely say that those people were not able to keep up with what I had planned and that I also could not be the person they wanted me to be. Both of these decisions had a great influence on my life and even though I am still struggling with what came from one of them, I am absolutely sure I made the right choice. And I also know that traveling helped me to not only make a conscious decision but also to find peace of mind.

    Every time before an airplane I’m on takes off, I close my eyes and ask myself if there is anything I regret doing or not doing with my life so far. If I find such a point, I hold on to it strongly, breathe in and ease myself into one simple sentence: You did everything you could with the time that was given to you. With these few words I find serenity and open my eyes, ready for take-off. Because whatever happens next, is never in my own hands.

    Traveling helps me to let go. And letting go has always been for me one of the many steps to achieve well-being on different levels. Traveling makes me also insignificant. Moving from place to place, I am never alone, always surrounded by people who have their own destinations, whether significant or not. When I travel, I feel as if I was a part of something bigger, something of which I am only just a tiny fraction. It teaches me to stay humble.

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    Not surprisingly, I wrote this particular post during an 11-hour train ride. This is the final stop. 

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