I welcomed 2018 at a crowded dive bar in Sun Valley, Idaho. I was sick (recovering from the worst flu I’ve had in my life), freezing (a constant occurrence in the Idaho mountains — especially when you’re used to Hawaii weather) and irritated with my (then) significant other (for reasons I can’t remember, but I’m sure were completely valid and had nothing to do with me being sick and cold).
As midnight approached, the band stopped playing and everyone in the bar waited for a countdown that never occurred. Instead, the final minutes of 2017 slipped quietly and unnoticeably away, while 2018 somehow snuck up on an entire bar of inebriated Idahoans. There was no large roar of “Happy New Year” or noise makers, no passionate midnight makeouts or new year toasts, rather a bar full of confused patrons who, one-by-one, realized that it was now 12:04am and we had somehow, collectively, missed the climatic transition from 2017 to 2018.
That colossal New Year’s fail hinted towards what the first few months of 2018 would have in store.
Q1: The Struggle
Similar to New Year’s Eve in Sun Valley, my life has always included an element of — for lack of a better term — winging it.
When it comes to the perpetual degree of confusion that dictates more of my decisions than I’d like to admit, it’s not always easy to know if this laid back approach to life is inspiringly bold or recklessly stupid. And, really, the only distinguishing factors between those two polar opposite classifications are whether or not you die, go bankrupt, or get hurt / hurt someone else.
That being said, “intentional living” has always been a goal and area of improvement for me. However, considering the utter lack of intention that began my year (who the hell misses midnight on NYE?) it’s no surprise that my dive into 2018 was as graceful as Bambi on ice. And I ultimately found myself stumbling and sliding powerlessly into three months that would test my heart, resolve and sanity.
In the first two months of 2018 I went through a break-up, moved apartments, and took on an intimidating amount of new clients/projects that were meant to keep me distracted, but ended up further stressing me the f*%ck out. There’s actually a list of the most stressful life events, and I had endured three chart-toppers in a matter of months.
Needless to say, the year didn’t start off on a strong note… whatsoever. (During that time there was also a missile threat and volcanic eruption, but those paled in comparison to my own personal drama).
Since I’ve always believed life is a balancing act, I would balance the aforementioned low points with my own highs: drinking, partying and essentially attempting to cleanse my stress with wine in the way that one might flush out an infected wound with antiseptic. When I found those temporary highs to be just that — temporary —I decided to try something more… dangerous.
While most normal people turn to stiff drinks, hard drugs, religion, or Ben and Jerry’s, I found my “pick me up” in the ocean, freediving with over 15 HUGE sharks. No Netflix and cry sessions, no protective cages between me and a bite that could take my arm, just recklessly swimming through shark infested waters like Nemo (which, in retrospect, is a great metaphor for how my life was going at the time).
I needed an adrenaline rush big enough to fix the perpetual numbness I had used as an irreversible defense mechanism during those miserable months, and getting within touching distance of several 15-foot sharks definitely did the trick. I felt alive, and scared, and excited and amazed and vulnerable and invincible. But more importantly, I felt something.
Q2: The Comeback
It seems that in times of great stress, we flick into survival mode. And in that realm we find traits we never knew we possessed. Like, in my case, the art of emotional enveloping. When everything around me was falling apart, I had to hold myself together. And that meant “pausing” any emotion while I dealt with the issues at hand (like finding a place to live, establishing a routine with new clients, remembering to feed myself and breathe).
However, once I “woke up” (thank you sharkies) and the numbness started to dissipate, the watergate of feelings surged in. When I stopped running from the hurt and blocking out my feelings, I discovered the freedom that can be found in a broken heart. It was only then, when no one else was fighting for me, that I learned to fight for myself. While I’m no stranger to this war, I’m still mastering it. And though it’s not the easiest battle, it’s definitely the most important.
In that time of revival, I found myself in my friendships and family. Impromptu trips, mindless chatter, Thai food dinner dates, clinking margarita glasses and trips down memory lane. I was reassured and emboldened by the women who encouraged me to be brave and be unapologetically me.
After that there was only one thing left to fix: I needed a change of scenery.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that, if your life is falling to pieces around you, living in Hawaii is an ideal place to deal with the subsequent stress and depression (it’s hard to stay in bed and mope when the sun is always shining and the birds are screaming and the ocean is waving). However, in the wake of internal chaos, island life can seem quiet and uneventful.
As I worked on adjusting to my new normal, I started to feel as if “real life” were happening elsewhere, while I was napping on a beach. Granted, I needed the alone time to process, but I also found that, If you live in your head too long, you run the risk of becoming your own secret. Here I was in paradise, trying to overcome my own personal hell.
So, I did what any sane person would do, I booked a series of one-way tickets.
Q3: The Climax
In the spring I spent two months traveling around the United States and checking items off my bucket list. I visited New Orleans and the Kentucky Derby, I spent a couple of weeks with an old friend in Nashville and returned to Portland for a few days before bouncing around Southern California. I ate, and drank, and laughed and loved and lived every moment knowing that these days would fall into the realm of the “best of my life.”
Once I came to terms with my newfound freedom, I exploited it. Hopping from place to place on a series of spur of the moment decisions, and traveling to new cities I chose according to the caprices of my wanderlust at any given time.
In the summer, I visited Japan and relished in the culture shock that Tokyo imposed. I ate ramen and drank sake with a poisonous snake in the bottle. I got a tattoo and attended Fuji Rock Music Festival with an All-Access artist pass (shout-out to my friend in Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats).
In the fall, I spent a month in Europe. I visited Amsterdam and several other cities in Holland, as well as Spain, Germany, Portugal and the Canary Islands. Each city introduced me to new languages and foods and cultures and customs and people. I pushed myself well beyond my comfort zone and, in doing so, I grew in ways I couldn’t have at home.
In that time I learned a lot about the world, but I also learned a lot about myself. I knew now of what adaption I was capable.
I was the happiest I’d been in a long time. And I couldn’t help but think back to the beginning of the year when I wondered if I’d ever be happy again. It’s funny how life has a habit of balancing itself out if given the time and faith to do so. Dark pasts can lead to bright futures and the pain we endure, in the end, becomes our strength.
Q4: The Resolution
In 2018 I survived a break-up, a missile threat, a volcano, a mall shooting, a hurricane, a couple (minor) car accidents, a typhoon, and President Trump. Additionally, this year brought pain, love, loss, happiness and growth. I have no idea what 2019 has in store, but I know I can face whatever the new year throws at me.
I have learned that my “just wing it” approach to life isn’t necessarily the worst way to proceed, and I’ve found happiness in enjoying the present without anxious dependence on the future. I have no idea where I’ll be next year, or even next month, and I’m okay with that. I love the fact that everyday I get to reimagine who I want to be.
So I’ll keep trying all paths and roads until I find one that sticks. There’s no logic in where I may go from here, but there’s also no limitation.
To, 2018: Thank u, next
Sounds like you had an eventful 2018!
I’ve always heard that the Kentucky Derby is one of the wildest parties imaginable. That one is on my bucket list.
I love everything about this! Your brutal honesty and willingness to open up and share your vulnerabilities, your comeback story, and the stunning images! Can’t wait to hear what else you have to say! I’ll definitely be following.
Travel always makes me happy..my total passion!
Your images are so beautiful!!
This was such a great read! The freediving sounds amazing, but so scary! So glad that it helped you get through your tough times! Here’s to another year!
Girl, your resilience is inspiring! A friend of mine had a similar breakup experience and is currently doing just what you did – she bought a couple puppies, lost a shitton of weight, and is traveling wherever she feels like traveling. I’d love to think if (God forbid) anything similar happened to me, I’d have the strength to pick myself up and do the same. Rock on, Brianne – can’t wait to see where you go next!