As a society, we are quick to share our positive experiences. Social media allows us to post updates immediately after a dream job offer, a proposal, or a trip to paradise. I believe the ease and accessibility of it all gives us a false perspective of our friends. I, like most, fall into the “comparison trap” of looking at other peoples’ lives from behind my screen and thinking, “They are so lucky” or “why isn’t that my life?”
For whatever reason, talking about darker times and sharing less-than happy experiences is a bit taboo, so what we read online is usually only half the story. It would be easy to share the stories of my trips abroad with a fine sugar coat, but I prefer to live more transparently than that. Where I am, what I have seen and the person I have become would not mean anything without the journey it took to get here.
When I was 15, I began a long-time battle with an eating disorder. For years I was in and out of appointments, hospitals and rehab. It became the only thing that mattered to me and I lost every ounce of myself through the process. Eventually, I surrendered my body and braced myself to face the worst.
During my last (and final) visit to the hospital, a therapist challenged me to set one goal for the future. At the time, I had no plans for the following week, never mind the next year, because I didn’t think my body would survive much longer. Then, one day I thought about traveling. I thought about what it would be like to see the other side of the world, to splash around in foreign seas and explore unknown lands. For the first time since being consumed by the deadly voice in my head, I was able to imagine a future for myself. Lying in the hospital one evening, I decided I would recover and see the world. With that, I started the process of giving up my eating disorder and I contracted a new disease: Wanderlust.
Recovery was a long and painful process, as it is for most people with addictions, but I was determined and persistent. By the time I was 22 I was emotionally, physically and spiritually sound, and I was confident in my ability to lead a healthy life on my own. I packed my belongings into three bags, got on a plane four planes and flew from Florida to Cambodia to become an ESL teacher.
Once I received my TESOL certification, I moved to Chiang Rai, Thailand where I was hired at a small Montessori school. After I had been teaching for nine months, my family journeyed to my side of the world for some rest and relaxation in the Land of Smiles. We spent four days exploring the islands surrounding Krabi. I had previously seen pictures of Krabi’s postcard sunsets and flawless sea, but I never could have imagined the breathtaking views I was able to see during my vacation. Despite the fact that Krabi is a tourist destination, its natural beauty is undeniable. No amount of people could take away from its picturesque scenery.
During a day trip to Railay Beach, while cruising through the crystal blue waters in a long-tailed boat, feeling radiations of love from my family and the Universe as I looked out at the perfect view, I found myself thinking, “I have arrived. This is life, and it is so effing amazing.” I remembered the 16-year-old version of myself—the girl who barely had enough strength to stand, who had no hope left and who had lost herself completely. I immediately became so overwhelmed with love and gratitude. I breathed in the fresh, sea-salt air and exhaled a quiet “thank you” to my former self. A thank you for believing a better life was possible, for bringing me to paradise, and for letting me experience everything I had dreamed of. I thanked her, and I was in awe of her…I was in awe of myself. I had set a goal, kept my promises, and (against the odds) I succeeded.
It’s hard to feel connected to the person I was and the person I am because we are very different. I often think back to Hermann Hesse’s words, “The river is everywhere.” I am she and she is I. No matter where this life takes me, my past will always be a part of my present. I truly believe that the struggles and so-called “bad times” are the parts of our lives that paint our stories with color. Those are the parts of life that allow us to experience awe in all of its purity and appreciate how beautiful this journey really is.
About the Author: Melinda Nelson fancies herself a land-roaming mermaid. She currently works as an ESL teacher in Chiang Rai, Thailand and is passionate about her volunteer work with the National Eating Disorders Association. Melinda believes in “paying it forward”, feeling connected, good energy, and hugs. You can contact Melinda on Facebook or follow her journey on her blog.