I had big plans when I left the UK last August. I was going to start a brand new life; one that was focused on forging a career out of the things I loved. I was going to explore the world and document my journey – “one blog post at a time” etc etc. You know, the usual sort of bollocks you see written on people’s Instagram biographies. Ok, so maybe I wasn’t really going to do the whole “one whatever at a time” thing but I was genuinely excited about the future. I had already achieved more than I ever expected to with this blog and now I had an opportunity to build it up even further. But there were a few things I hadn’t counted on… Losing my mojo and the consistent, crushing blows from my diabolical mental health.
I knew that this was a pretty massive change and my mental health situation means that dealing with change isn’t one of my strong points. I was firmly expecting some degree of uncertainty, of upset and upheaval. I was expecting to feel like the rug had been pulled right out from under my feet. So part of me was relieved when a close friend of mine decided to join me for the first few months. What I didn’t realise was that having another person around 24/7, one who has completely different expectations for travelling, would prove to be a challenge. I wasn’t on an extended holiday; I was working freelance for several clients as well as trying to fit in my own projects. Absolutely none of this was the fault of my friend but trying to balance the numerous, conflicting demands on my time became hugely stressful. I would get up early in the morning and try to get a few hours of work in before a day of sightseeing started. My clients were my priority so any snatched hours of free time were spent on their needs. I didn’t want to be anti-social so the blog was put on the back burner. Finding content became hard. The structure that working and blogging gave to me and my mental health had disappeared.
So I was already freaking out over leaving London and being in a strange place and all that. Now I was also freaking out because I wasn’t doing what I left London to do. I wasn’t having a good time. I was horribly, bitterly homesick, anxious and strung out. Which is ridiculous considering I was essentially on a grown-up gap year. My days were spent drinking beer in the sun, exploring temples, historic towns, cute cafes and exotic markets, snacking on street food and paddling in the sea. I was experiencing so much of the world but I was utterly miserable. I left London because I had stopped feeling like a human being and I wanted to do something to bring myself back. Kind of like the mental health equivalent of defibrilation. But it hadn’t worked. I was just as stressed out and just as unhappy. I was still dead inside.
So when my friend and I parted ways, I slumped into a massive depression. I was probably already depressed, even before I left the UK, but being alone with my thoughts meant there was no hiding from my mental health anymore. All the excitement I’d had about my blog and all those grand plans to turn it into something amazing had fizzled out. I had completely and utterly lost my mojo. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t take photos. I worked for my clients and I went through the motions of an average day. I moved from country to country. I saw things of great beauty and they did absolutely nothing for me. There were about two solid weeks when I was on the verge of tears every day. The smallest incident would tip me over the edge. Most of the time I was crushingly lonely. And when I did find the energy to work on my blog, no-one read it.
I know it’s not about the stats or the publicity but it’s still soul-destroying to spend time and effort on something that is then roundly ignored. When my first few travel posts flopped it stressed me out, but I picked myself back up and thought “ok, what do I need to do to make this work?” When the next posts flopped even harder I lost all motivation. I felt like a total failure and that made me question why I was still doing this. Blogging wasn’t making me happy any more. So I stopped.
I decided to concentrate on my photography instead and gradually the mojo started to return. I was happy with what I was producing – for the most part – and this gave me the energy I needed to inch my way out of the pit of depression I had tumbled into. Sylvia Plath had it bang on when she described depression as being a bell jar. It’s like a huge weight is on top of you and all you can do is lie there, watching the world go on around you but not being able to participate. Escaping from the jar or the pit or however you choose to describe it is a slow, exhausting process. I’m not fully out of it yet – but I’m getting there.
The time I spent away from writing was a tonic. I stopped caring about my website hits and my social media reach. And then, one day, I suddenly realised that all this stuff is bullshit. I started this blog for me and somewhere along the way I lost sight of that. I stopped writing because I enjoyed it and started writing for other people. I changed my style because I spent too much time listening to all those “increase your blog traffic by xxx million in one month” people. Blogging success shouldn’t be measured in terms of numbers. Ultimately it’s all about whether YOU enjoy what you’re doing or not. So, no offence to any of you lovely lot, but I’m going to start writing for me again.
Update: I started writing this post last year and it’s taken me until now to finish it. That’s how bad things have been. I have been utterly unable to write. Unfortunately the black dog never truly left my side; it’s been an almost permanent fixture for at least a solid year. I’m trying to find something to make it disappear but sadly this quote is still as relevant today as it was last year: “wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”