Hi! I am Bouwke.
Wauw. It means a lot just saying this. Introducing myself to you. Because I am able to really be me now. I can say it with more love and presence for the whole person I am.
Life has been a rough journey for me, and it still is at times.
I have high functioning Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and High Sensitive Personality (HSP). That’s a whole mouth full, but what it comes down to is that my feelings, thoughts and emotions are very intense and in crisis, very black and white. I have fear of abandonment, fear of failing and of being a burden. I can go from feeling ok, to feeling terrified, to feeling depressed, to feeling high in one day. I experience a lot of stimuli and stressors all day long. From outside and from inside myself.
Crying, screaming, irrationality and depression. I had experienced 2 burnouts already in my short 5-year career.
High functioning means that I can still function. I finished 3 university degrees (overcompensation 😉 ) and my management career was moving upward fast. I had friends and was active. High functioning also means, in my life, that you can pretend for a very long time. I can find creative ways and solutions to pretend or to still manage.
But, I was killing myself.
Literally banging my head against the wall. Having panic and anxiety attacks. Crying, screaming, irrationality and depression. I had experienced 2 burnouts already in my short 5-year career.
I lied myself through life. At first glance, I was doing great. Taking the obvious and expected route of career growth, relationship, house and car.
But as I said, I was killing myself. I was fighting myself, borderline and life. It is a dark struggle and very alone. I saw therapists and searched for answers in the medical field, but also in the homeopathic and natural healing field. I saw so many people and did so many things, all little steps toward one moment. The moment I decided that I could not go on like this. That I had to do something big.
I decided to reward myself upon finishing therapy.
That reward was travel.
I felt I could sleep for three years. I was tired and done. I decided to go for it. Therapy. With the whole me. Dedication. No excuses. No fleeing. I was afraid to lose my job and everything I worked my ass off for. But it had to happen. 18 months. Two group mornings and two other counseling sessions every week.
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My fear became reality, I could not hold my job and had to report ill.
Six months before the end of therapy, I experienced the worst depression I ever had. Exhausted and not wanting to go on anymore. I got medicine and when depression was clearing a little I decided to reward myself upon finishing therapy.
That reward was travel.
I finished! And bought myself a one-way ticket to Sao Paulo. I said goodbye to my love, my job, my car, and my apartment and I promised myself that I could come back home anytime I wanted. Because it could also turn out that travel was not for me.
I arrived in Sao Paulo on January the 27th, 2016. My journey began.
South America is beautiful! I fell into all the travel traps head first. I traveled way too fast, had way too much stuff with me, and after 6 weeks I was overstimulated and exhausted. I rented an Airbnb room and stayed indoors in the dark for 7 days, with only Netflix. The homeowner was worried and sweet and checked on me every day. I said to him that if I was ready I would come out again and he could show me around.
And surely enough, that happened. I came out and he showed me Mendoza. I ended up staying another 2 weeks before I got the feeling I wanted to move again. I erased almost every place I wanted to see and had only left the ‘must sees’ on my list. Like Macchu Picchu. All other things would just happen or come along. And I would travel slow, staying longer at locations I liked.
Solo travel, for me, was the quickest and best way to learn about myself, others, and my place in this world.
To see everything is impossible, especially for me. I had to take into account the whole me. I had to take care of her and make good caring decisions. What an eye-opener! The first big one.
Many eye-openers and beautiful landscapes and experiences followed. It was the best decision I ever made. Travel was the best follow up on therapy for me. I had given myself space to process everything I had been through in my life, in therapy and in very dark times. And space to learn from it. In the field. Solo travel, for me, was the quickest and best way to learn about myself, others, and my place in this world. I literally paused my rollercoaster life and hit the reset button. I created space to process my emotions and experiences. And that turned out to be my medicine: space.
What did I learn?
Travel is life. Life is travel. The metaphor is so accurate.
We, individually, are here for such a small point in time. You will know this when you see glaciers so big and old, mountains so tall and magnificent, waterfalls so never-ending and ever thundering, salt flats as far as your eyes can see that were once oceans.
One thing is for sure: you cannot escape life or yourself by traveling. You bring the whole you, baggage and all. Traveling is not only beauty. You are not and life is not. It can be lonely, stressful, exhausting, scary and all these other things that life can be. That’s why you learn so much.
But you also see so much beauty and so many different ways of living and loving. Oh, the beauty of this earth! It gave me such a sense of the miracle of life, of how small we are, of which things matter and how little influence we have in this great big universe.
When you see natural wonders, you feel your place on this earth. It’s nothing. It’s small, and we, individually, are here for such a small point in time. You will know this when you see glaciers so big and old, mountains so tall and magnificent, waterfalls so never-ending and ever thundering, salt flats as far as your eyes can see that were once oceans. It’s just humbling and magical. It gives you faith and hope. And spirit to go on and make something out of your tiny life.
I want to trade money for peace of mind. Earning less is a compromise for living more calmly, with more headspace.
What did I learn about myself?
I need space and time. Flexibility and slowing down. I am allowed to say no. I can give up on things and people if they are not for me. Not every encounter you have has to turn out to be love or friendship forever. People and things come and go. I am creative and love nature.
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I want to trade money for peace of mind. Earning less is a compromise for living more calmly, with more headspace. This leads to the blossoming of me as a whole person.
Stress is a part of me and I should be aware of that. The littlest things or thoughts can set me off into hypomania or anxiety and, if not taken care of, depression and crisis. But this happens less when I have space for these thoughts and feelings to go somewhere. To pass by.
I have to keep my balance. That does not mean I can’t do things that put me off balance (like travel/relocation days, making lots of decisions, being extremely happy, climbing a 5500-meter volcano, diving, meeting a lot of new people), it only means that I have to calculate in rest. To accept rest. To process. To accept being down. To be alone and stop.
Am I still going where I want to go? Am I still happy where I am? Ground yourself and listen. Reflect. And Adjust accordingly. Treat life in this way and you will have your journey.
And why do I want to tell this story?
One. To show that you can do anything you want. Even when you have a chronic (mental) illness. Even when others tell you that you can’t, for all kinds of reasons. You are the captain of your ship. Sail the ocean of life.
Two. I want you to know that you do not have to travel far or travel at all. Travel is a metaphor for life. Life is travel, and so you need to constantly check your heading and location. Am I still going where I want to go? Am I still happy where I am? Ground yourself and listen. Reflect. And Adjust accordingly. Treat life in this way and you will have your journey.
For me, it helps to be surrounded by nature and to really physically move from one destination to another. It helps me see the parallels with life and how I can find my path. I use the metaphor. I use movement to create inner and outer movement in life. My way is not the way, or the only way. Find your metaphor and your process of growth begins.
And finally, I want you to know that you are beautiful. You are part of this wonder called earth, part of the universe. We all are. That is a gift. That is hope. Please hold on and see this beauty. Do not try to understand everything. See, feel, listen and touch. Find your balance and your place. You have one. You are already here.
Since I started traveling, I crossed so many borderlines. Between countries and within myself. I saw my past, my now and am still trying to figure out how I want those things to come together in my future. Getting grounded again with increased self-knowledge, confidence, and tools.
Travel is not a vacation. Travel is life. Up and downs included. But, if you are willing to accept that and use reflection, curiosity, and openness, you will grow larger than you have ever thought you could.
Can you relate to Bouwke’s travel experiences? What have you learned about yourself through your travels? Let us know in the comments!
This essay is part of our Voices of Travel series. If you’re interested in becoming a guest contributor and sharing your unique traveler’s voice, check out our Call for Submissions. Sign up below to receive stories like these straight to your inbox.