I traveled this past Sunday and Monday. As a single mother without extended family, traveling isn’t easy. I have to ask friends for help, or pay for overnight babysitters. Neither option is simple for me. But as an extrovert who loves interpersonal exchange and public speaking, traveling to conferences and giving presentations does give me that motivational shot in the arm for the days I don’t leave my house. This trip was preceded by several days of intense anxiety. I knew it wasn’t related to the trip. I was getting a memory back. I was getting some sense of it in my dreams and my mind activity. But I could not seem to overcome the anxiety and release the memory.
When I got to the destination airport on Sunday night and went looking for ground transportation, I was sidetracked by someone who had a particular interest in guiding me to a particular cab. My gut was saying to walk away from this guy, but I was tired, and he was already taking my suitcase and piling it into this cab. I was planning to find an Uber car, but this guy didn’t even give me a chance to ask. He was wearing an official airport shirt, but I guarantee he was making a commission from the cab company. Once I was in the cab, I knew I would spend more than I wanted. And being on a tight budget, I was not happy with the outcome. In the scheme of things, it was probably an additional $20, but the trigger overwhelmed my system. I had been ambushed.
And that was the word that set the tone for the rest of the night. This concept was directly related to the memory and it sent me to a very dark place. I knew cognitively this feeling was not about the taxi experience at the airport. I knew cognitively this feeling was an old response to a horrific ambush of much greater proportions. But I could not shake the darkness. I sat staring at my computer in my hotel room. I had not eaten, but I could not seem to do anything about it. I had work to do, but could not engage with my email or social media pages. I was paralyzed. I could not get present. I had no sleeping kid heads or dog bellies to rub (which always brings me back to the moment). It was just me in a strange hotel in a strange city, and I was spiraling down.
I went to the darkest of places. I took a walk around the hotel. I stopped and looked at a menu, but I didn’t want to eat anything. I watched people at the bar talking and laughing and wished I was them. I walked to the conference center to see where I would speak (as I often do), but could not even open the door to look at the room. Nothing mattered. And then I saw the pool. I am a really good swimmer. But I am also really good at not swimming. I contemplated for that one moment what it would be like to leave – just for that one moment. And then went back to my room to lie down.
I was in it. I was all the way in it. And while I knew it wasn’t about now, I couldn’t shake it this time. But then, the universe was there. And for the next day, I received some messages, some signs that I was going to be okay. It started just before I closed the computer for the night. One of my clients sent me an email just to say thank you. She wanted me to know how much I have helped her and how much she admired me for traveling and presenting in other places. She told me she wants to do the same thing one day. And believe me, I know she will. But in that moment, I heard that I mattered. And her message was enough to let me sleep.
After my presentation, Bukola Oriola, a survivor friend who lives in the area stopped by to see me. I confided in her about my state of being, and she changed her schedule, so that she could take me to lunch and the airport (at no charge of course). She talked about her big plans that everyone says are impossible and how she deals with the bad days. She talked about how she fights to meet her goals and how she does her best to avoid that all-consuming negativity. She talked about her struggles as a survivor. And in that moment, I heard that I am not alone.
Later that evening, I boarded the last plane of my travel experience expecting to read or sleep for that final two hours. But I sat next to a man who had energy that matched me on my best days. We dove right in to one of the deepest and most authentic conversations I have had (outside of my work) in a long time. We talked about how we thought we knew everything in our twenties. We talked about how parenting snapped us out of that delusion. We talked about how hard it is to be a parent. We talked about the yelling we wish we didn’t do. We discussed taking risks in life and whether it was worth the fulfillment to feel that fear. We talked about our failures and what matters to us. We even talked about inner parts. He never judged. I didn’t think twice about sharing exactly what was on my mind. And in that moment, I heard that it was perfectly acceptable to be authentically me.
So a bad night turned in to a good day. I am not through the darkness yet, but I did choose to notice what the universe sent my way. I took the messages to heart. Actually, I grasped them for dear life because we must take the strength from what we can. And these three lovely people provided me with some important information from the universe. Even in my darkest moments, I matter, I am not alone, and I am just fine as I am. And for now, that is so much more powerful than the darkness.