I won’t sugar coat it.
It’s a filler, anyway. A cover-up. Its sole purpose is to make you think what’s underneath is something better even though it would have done what it was meant to do without it.
Too much sugar and you get sick. Forget what real tastes like. Then you need more more of the fake stuff and before you know it, you can’t stop pretending like you don’t need it to cover up the truth.
When I was in New York, I stumbled upon a fairly, let’s say “remote”, part of town and got a tattoo on my wrist representing one of my favorite Buddhist sayings. By some hippie chick who didn’t believe in bras or possibly showers. But she free drew the images on my skin and it seemed that much more authentic because of it.
“Three things are not long hidden. The sun, the moon, and the truth.”
Virginia dug up a lot of sugar-coated truth for me and by the time the dust settled all I had was a valley full of tiny particles it seemed would take a lifetime to sort through.
This one stung a little bit.
Spring and summer in New York was one hell of a spin cycle. Probably top 3 seasons of my life. I did allllllll the things. All of them. And then I got to the next adventure and, guess what?
I. Was. Burned. Out.
I couldn’t breathe. But anyone who’s ever ran on the beach or through the woods and then sat down afterwards looking out at the world that was just buzzing past you moments ago will tell you… once that adrenaline plummets and you finally sit with yourself… just your skin pumping sweat and your lungs pumping air and your heart pumping blood… you start to realize things. That high coming down presents things to you with a clarity that doesn’t always come instantly or without some painful realizations. Everything in me was trying to tell me to slow down. It took a complete burnout for my stubborn ass to finally see it.
After New York, Virginia had its pull on me. I felt this push to be closer to my mom’s side of the family. Halfway through my search for the next gig, a job came up in Colonial Beach. A quick google search would tell me this was not 45 miles from where I was born. 45 miles from my roots before Pittsburgh became my answer to the question “so where are you from?” Where my mom and dad built our farmhouse and barn on 20 acres from the ground up. Where my brother and I learned to walk and run in the dirt and where we ate things off the ground that we definitely shouldn’t have but no one was quick enough to stop us.
(And by we, I mean him. You were lucky to get me to eat a vegetable, let alone something off the ground. That’s your son, dad. Sorry, bro)
This was land where I rode on horses before I could crawl. Where a fuzzy memory fades in of hide ’n’ seek behind a honeysuckle bush. (I can still smell honeysuckle from a mile away to this day…) Crouching down by that one spot on the corner of the house with the flower beds under the kitchen window where the paint had been rubbed off by so many hands hiding in the same spot. I can still feel the blades of tall grass I played with between my fingers while I watched my mother “search” for me.
She used to say that everything comes full circle eventually. She passed away before I got to the age where you learn that the other shapes have names, too. When she died, we sold the farm and my dad took us back to his hometown of Pittsburgh. It turned into my hometown, too. By the time I finished high school, I had spent 75% of my life there and it was the best place to grow up. It molded a city girl with a country soul. It turned a shy, passive, cowgirl-boot-in-the-city-schools-wearin’ ginger kid into the “love and light but, like, don’t f*** with me” woman I am today. And this full circle thing? It’s no joke. I would come to find life would (and continues to) present full circle moments to me almost daily.
More googling told me this town in Virginia was an hour or so from the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Where, after our mother died, my brother and I spent every summer visiting her parents until we got too caught up in extra-curriculars to have the time to go anymore. But where we would continue to return as adults and make different kinds of memories.
Where we made up games and fantasy worlds with all the neighborhood kids until the street lights, cicadas, and lightning bugs turned on.
Where apparently (according to my grandmother), I was the “chief” of all the neighborhood kids… is anyone really shocked by this?
Where we made picnics on the beach and had the same spread of fruit, cheese, crackers and ginger ale for lunch every day but it didn’t matter because every single day of every single summer we spent there was a dream.
Needless to say, I took the job and I just knew I was about to see some epic full circle shit about to happen.
Turns out, the day I would end up moving there was the anniversary of the day my mom died.
That circle, man.
*fb post* about mom
I have been to many places on this travel therapy journey. I’ve been to ice fishing towns and waterfall towns and Mark Twain towns. Colonial Beach, Virginia is a golf cart town right on the Potomac River. I made my way through my new neighborhood on that first day in September with the windows down and the sun shining on the river a block from my new street. As I got deeper and deeper off the main road I began to notice a pattern.
Every few houses had a golf cart parked outside. Totes adorbs (are we still abbreviating things? Is it lit?) Anyway, the houses without golf carts slowly became fewer and fewer and soon enough every single house on both sides of the street had one. I thought: “where the hell am I with all these golf carts??”
where am i gif
Some were plain, some were decked out, some were well used with beach towels and sand buckets hanging out of the sides where you just knew someone’s grandkids had been making memories the day before.
Shortly after settling in, after I picked out my grocery store and my coffee shop and figured out what day to put the garbage out… I started feeling it. The burnout.
Let’s address the elephant in the room.
There’s a difference in letting the windows open for the first time after winter vs for the last time after summer. After winter on that first barely warm day you feel the sun a little differently. That urge to be out in it as much as you can and bathe in it like it’s coating your skin. That first semi-warm breeze after 6 months of chill in the air. Then there’s that other day. That day after the last really warm sunshine bath. When you know it’s probably your last chance for fresh air inside the walls and it’s a little chilled but you just can’t seem to shut it out just yet.
That’s how it felt.
I realized pretty quickly I did not feel the same here as I did on these other assignments. I couldn’t seem to muster up the same passion for exploring. For never stopping. For not sitting down to breathe for longer than half a day because I just couldn’t wait to do it ALL. The panic increased. More and more situations set me off into a spin of uncontrollable anxiety and depression. I felt this constant pressure in my chest. Something telling me something was wrong every single day. Like when you’re camping in the woods and have to be on high alert in case, ya know, a bear comes out of nowhere and you have to run for your life.
Every. single. day.
It is exhausting.
I cried all the time. About nothing. About everything. About anything. I couldn’t stop. It was like filling up a water balloon with as much ammo as you could until it popped and everything splashed everywhere.
Everything splashed everywhere.
It’s taken a long time to find each fraction of splintered balloon. Some days it feels like I still don’t have them all back.
I would soon come to terms with it, but that’s a post for another time. The recovery. The finding ways to keep it the anxiety at bay so I can function. So I’m not that girl that sends all her friends encouraging texts and care packages when they’re having bad days even though some days I can barely get out of bed myself… realizing that I had this sliver of darkness amongst all my positivity and light the whole time but it took burning out to realize it was a problem.
So I realized I had to do things differently here if I wanted to get my sanity back. I needed to slow down. I needed a routine. I needed to take as much pressure off myself as I possibly could.
So instead of spending all my weekends driving all over God’s green earth exploring as much as I could, I spent them dog sitting for coworkers. And going to the movies in pj’s and a blankie with new friends even though they totally judged me for the blankie (ahem, Garett *sideye). I spent them walking a block to the river and back every day. Sometimes twice a day even when it got cold and y’all know how much I hate being cold. Past the severely out of place and random halloween inflatable with creepy music you could hear from blocks away that became oddly endearing after awhile.
I spent them at the bay and at my aunt’s house eating popcorn and watching hallmark movies in the rain.
I spent them going to biker bars during bike week by myself as I waited for my friends to get there and everyone I know being surprised that I stayed as long as I did.
I took myself on dates to Olive Garden and to movies to shamelessly sob uncontrollably at the movie theater alone (Thanks Lady Gaga and Brad… you know what I’m talking about.. side note: has anyone watched that movie more than once?? Cause I. can’t. do it. Nope)
Where I sat at a bar alone thoroughly enjoying my own company and having a woman sit down with her husband and look at me with pitying eyes, not possibly fathoming that maybe I was there alone on PURPOSE and I liked it that way.
I learned hard lessons.
Like what happens after the smoke alarm goes off because you’re just trying to cook a decent meal for yourself and you open the doors to let the smoke out and then forget to close them…
*spongebob two hours later*
I stumbled upon a massive creature on my living room floor and couldn’t get close enough to tell what the hell it was. Had to be some sort of australian exoskeleton that migrated to virginia and was about to infest my house with plate-sized winged rats. I proceeded to grab a shoe and attempt to swat at it, thereby discovering it was in fact a grasshopper… judging by the fact that it POLEVAULTED in 3 bounds across the room. I then screamed, dropped the shoe and my neighbors probably thought I was being murdered. Although no one showed up at my door so thanks neighbors 🤨 Anyway finally got the thing after properly stalking in a circular motion so it wouldn’t vertical jump over my head. At that moment is when I realized my house turned into god damn Jumanji in the last two hours because when the smoke alarm yelled at me earlier I opened the back door (because, you know, air circulation) and then proceeded to eat my dinner in peace forgetting that said door was open and letting in the entire population of flying insects this side of the bay.
I also thought I knew how a breaker worked. I’m an independent woman. I got this. My daddy taught me well (who might I add is a retired ELECTRICIAN).
First time I tripped the breaker in this house without knowing that’s what it was, I called my airbnb host to figure out why only half the rooms in the house were out of power, who instructed me to and I quote “check the breaker”.
Me to airbnb host: “yep its there”
*forehead slap* sorry dad.
Slowing down helped me in this valley. What also helped me was immersing myself in the “culture” of the town. Guys, I can’t stress this enough. If you’re taking travel contracts, you’re not doing yourselves any favors by going off on your own every time you want to do all the things. I don’t care if you’re an extrovert or an introvert. Or an extroverted introvert (like me). Eventually if you don’t make enough connections with people… true, authentic, REAL connections with the tiny aspects of the truth of a place… you will burn out. One day while I was wading through the fall leaf pile in my driveway to get to the mailbox (heaven forbid I pick up a rake, I wasn’t THAT domesticated yet), I was asked by one of my neighbors who is on the town council to help man the craft table at the fall festival. I sat in a goofy headband with my dog in my lap also in a goofy headband, watched the decorated golf cart parade line up and helped kids get glue off their hands for 4 hours *laughing face*
So. My advice when burnout in the travel healthcare world happens. And it will. You can choose to hang up the travel boots (and trust me, I have on multiple occasions and there will come a time when I will). But if you choose to continue do this: Help with something local in the town. Skip that popular club or restaurant. go to a dark dive bar that not a lot of people have heard of where you can sit with a beer and just observe (within reason, be safe ladies people be cray out there). Slow down. Develop a routine. Your own routine, that has nothing to do with other people or outside factors.
One of my patient’s at this clinic towards the end of my assignment asked me if I ever get lonely on the road. I said yes, of course I do. But I get through it. She said “of course you do. Because you carry your soul with you wherever you go.”
I’ve never stopped being amazed at how true it really is. The full circle thing. Traveling for work has brought me to so many places that forced me to grow. Each stake in the ground stirred up something new I learned about myself and about life. Each hardship and difficulty of a contract prepared me for a new challenge on the next one. Each one taught me something different for what I needed at that phase of my life. I truly believe each one has prepared me for the next new step in my life. I realized that every time I felt “off”, it was usually because I was fighting some true part of myself that was trying to break to the surface. I know it won’t be forever, and I have no idea how the path will unfold but that’s the beauty of it. I’m in control of it. I can form whatever path I want or need to form. I can do life however I want to do it. I can slow down or speed up whenever it feels right.
I only recently was given the nickname Ging or Ginger. This red hair, ya know. My friends in PT school started it. It seems to have caught on and now it’s just me. I’ve always had a wanderlusting soul, however I was told to read a book once (by one of the same people who started the Ging thing… looking at you, Caitlin) with a main character named wanderer. Wanderer was simply a “soul” made of light who wandered to other worlds and adapted to each life; embracing the culture of wherever she was for whatever time she wanted.
I used to tell people I’m a physical therapist who gets to travel. Now I tell them I’m a wanderer who gets paid to help people learn to move again.
So. Let yourself break. Break in two’s, three’s, four’s, if you have to.
Don’t bother glueing back the pieces exactly as they were. They’re better now. With jagged edges to help bend the light exactly where it needs to go. As uneven of a circle as it may be.
One more thing. My mother? Her name was Virginia.
Ging for short.
Ahh. That circle.
“A Ginger Wanderer”