Quite often I’ve been told by my friends to get out and travel, and (because I have other priorities or a small budget) I would internally roll my eyes and think something along the spectrum of “I got this”, “I don't need to”, to a more wholesome “I doubt travelling would give me anything more than I need”.
I also developed an annoyance towards the repeated mention of travelling (more so, solo travelling) which is quite the trend on social media and dating profiles, to the point where they incessantly use hashtags along the lines of #travelbug #wanderlust that lead to #eyerolls.
But everything aside, that bias was challenged by a spontaneous/mandatory trip I took to Koyna recently. I’m not going to lie, I was actually looking up places closer to Mumbai because I was at the fag end of my leave. I wanted a place where there were not too many people but also one that looked good in the rains. I found Koyna, in fact, a small voice inside me found it, and after a long while, I took that voice seriously.
Covid-19 and a spate of really poor (read: emotionally abusive) relationships had left me in a state of paranoid anxiousness, leading to me giving in to my self-doubts in the past. I had to enrol myself for therapy to deal with what I was going through. Although I am better, I don't feel the same anymore.
Right at the start, every decision I needed to make was peppered with self-doubt. What if I took the wrong route? What if I had to pay much more to get to Koyna and it was out of my budget? What if I had to cancel at the last minute? Or my cat fell sick? Could I really do this ? What if I was overestimating myself?
Saying this out loud right now makes it sound really frivolous but these thoughts scared me, almost into not going to Koyna at all. See, I knew that a change in location makes a difference in how I feel and I really needed a break, and if I didn’t do this, however small, it would make me feel a little rotten about myself. But I was also scared.
So I took a couple of deep breaths, realised that I need to exercise reasonable courage and then asked myself the most important question at the moment: “so what?”. So what if all that I am afraid of happens; how would it impact me and what would I do? It helped me breathe easy for (the moment) because I had a plan B (and plan C) ready.
If I missed the absurdly early morning train, I could catch the bus. If I got lost, I had my phone. If I was mugged, well, I just had to be careful, carry limited money and hope for the best. So ‘what was in my control’ and ‘what was not in my control’ and ‘what I could exercise control over’ were quite apparent now.
I knew that once I reached the location, I would get help navigating to places, and for the most part, I wanted to just chill and enjoy the view. This was a very small treat for myself after a particularly tough two years.
From looking up how to get there, to booking my train tickets (half asleep and not realising which train I booked for), these small steps felt like big ones for some reasons, but I knew I had to/want to do this. I didn't know how to get to Koynanagar from Chiplun, and there was that harsh voice in my head in anticipation of being scolded from outside, “you should know where you are going etc etc “
But I persisted.
With my broken marathi, I made enquiries and found Chiplun bus depot; some more broken marathi got me the ST bus; and more broken marathi (interspersed with anglicised hindi) got me directions and a rickshaw to the hotel I was staying at.
Yes, I was consistently made aware (through subtle looks and double takes) that I was a woman travelling alone, but that was another battle. To top it all off, Koyna surprisingly had no signal for Airtel and I was really surprised how my brain very easily found a way around this.
I was scared but at that moment I didn't want to let it show. “Fake it till you make it'', I told myself, and while I hardly believe in that adage, there is a time and place for everything. Doing the tiniest of things like primarily travelling by the ST bus, coordinating sight-seeing for myself, haggling for a better price, taking a solo trek, chatting with the local housekeeping staff, and meeting new people made me realise how pleasantly different these interactions felt for me now. Where there used to be a lot of self-consciousness, somehow surprisingly, there seemed to be self-assurance.
I remembered that a long time ago, I did feel confident in doing these things and it felt really great doing them again. Each part of the trip, planning, the self doubt, the anxiety over finding my way, sightseeing all by myself, interacting with people and most importantly, experiencing that it was not all as bad as it was in my head, helped me rekindle my connection with a part of myself. A part of myself that had gone into hiding because of these past encounters that left me questioning my judgement and confidence.
Just as those encounters led me to hiding, these ones gave me an opportunity to meet myself again and recognise the parts of me I find hard to connect with now.
The thing about trauma (whether it is big or small) is that it can really disorient you, feeling like you are stepping into a new world where the internal landscape keeps changing and you have to adapt. Recovery doesn't happen overnight; it seeps in as subtly as the impact of the experiences of the small traumas and accumulates over time and it can take a situation - an event where you find yourself responding differently - to realise that things have changed and you maybe, just maybe, getting better. For me it was this short inconsequential journey, one that helped me remember that ‘I can’, as cliched as that sounds.
I can trust people and most of all, I can trust myself.