Desert Sunrise (Photo by Shaniece Maldonado)
Addiction is a subject most people try to avoid. The reality is, however, we are all addicts. We live in a world in which we are increasingly being alienated from our most basic sources of sustenance, so we fill those voids with other things. Maybe it’s something obvious like drinking, smoking, drugs, or prescription pills. Maybe it’s the internet, TV, or video games. Maybe it’s work. Maybe it’s school. Maybe it’s never simply allowing oneself to be alone in silence. Whatever it is, it is very hard to break away from this pattern of constant stimulation. When you travel, however, you are forced to adapt your defenses and coping mechanisms.
When I was eighteen, I was diagnosed with major depression and anxiety disorders. Basically, I had a complete mental breakdown and could no longer deal with any of my obligations. It took several years of therapy and antidepressants to get to a point where I was somewhat emotionally stable and reliable. These treatments were not especially effective for me after a few years, and I discontinued them once I felt stable enough to manage my issues. Since I have managed to do very well academically, I wasn’t worried about coming to India without consulting a therapist. Gujarat is a “dry” state, which means alcohol is prohibited, and since I don’t drink very much I didn’t consider that to be an issue either. I figured the stimulation and opportunities available here would be manageable enough without the aid of medication or other ways to “take the edge off.”
I certainly didn’t anticipate the difficulty I would have regulating my emotions in frustrating situations. That is not to say I wasn’t warned. In the manual, it specifically says that after the initial “honeymoon” phase where everything is new and exciting, a second “negotiation” phase would follow in which simple things become extremely frustrating. For one, there were technical issues such as the water not working and the power (and thus air conditioning) going off during the hottest parts of the day. Another issue that really bothered me was the obliviousness of some of our photographers, whose equipment and copious photo-taking, in my view, often proved disruptive to our explorations. The people we were visiting were often so wrapped up in wanting to get their pictures taken that we were not able to properly observe their activities. Of course, our presence itself was inherently disruptive to a degree. What made it worse was the fact that, for example, when we attended the wedding, people were more interested in getting their pictures taken than the event that was taking place. This angered the priest and the bride’s father, and we had to leave early.
What set me over the edge was when we went to the desert to meditate. First of all, I was grumpy, as we had to wake up at 3:00am after being asked to stay up until 10:00pm the previous night to rehearse for a performance at the end of the month. So when one of our photographers decided to fly a loud buzzing drone overhead during the entirety of our meditation session, I was enraged. I tried not to be, but at that moment I realized with all the stimulation and lack of alone time, I needed a moment to connect to myself in silence and appreciate the magical moment of the sunrise and the whispering wind. After that point, I lost control emotionally. When we got to the next stop and some of us were told we weren’t covered enough to go into the temple, I burst into tears. For most of the day, I felt like an overflowing well. The water just kept on coming. That upset me even more because I felt myself slipping and was terrified I would have another serious breakdown. Thoughts started surfacing in my mind that I didn’t realize I was still capable of having. I watched as everyone else enjoyed themselves, wishing I could partake in their happiness but feeling incapable of doing so. At the end of the day, I was solely responsible for my misery.
I took the next day off to process what had happened, and I realized that being in this vulnerable position was bringing up lots of old feelings that the busyness and comforts of home had allowed me to avoid dealing with. The fact is, the people taking all the photographs and flying drones were coping too. To engage deeply is not easy. It feels safer to be behind a screen or camera lens, especially if that is a skill one has confidence in. In fact, for some people like the photographer with the drone, it is easier to engage deeply from behind the lens. Additionally, the photographers were not usually able to capture authentic, candid moments as the attention was so centered on their equipment. We all have to deal with our own challenges and obstacles. One photographer dropped her hard drive, and another dropped an important lens. We are all human and vulnerable, which is not a comfortable feeling, and we deal with it in different ways, some of which are at odds with each other. As we have gotten to know each other, many of us have revealed tragic losses and difficult experiences which we haven’t dealt with emotionally yet or in a long time. I feel so grateful for all of these amazing people, even if we occasionally drive each other crazy. They say that you learn as much about yourself as you do about these places on study abroad, and I wholeheartedly concur. Although this experience has been emotionally challenging, I’m so glad I have this opportunity to challenge myself to feel things I haven’t let myself feel in ages. I’m grateful for the realization that I needed to connect with myself without the distracting comforts of home.