Camino De Santiago

Sorry folks, I realize it has been a while since we’ve posted. Wander Woman is being worked pretty hard out there in Ghana where she has been helping teach classes and has been unable to post about her experience. Hopefully, she’ll have more time when she moves on to Spain in a few weeks to walk the Camino De Santiago. With her about to do the trek and my best friend having just finished it a few days ago, I figured I would take a moment to discuss my own experience across the Camino.

The first marker I saw on the road
The first marker I saw on the road

It was almost 8 years ago I decided to do the trek. It had been introduced to me via the wonderful writings of author Paulo Coelho and I immediately wanted to do it. So, in the summer of 2006 I decided to finally go. I had just graduated college and figured I would never get the chance to do that kind of traveling once I started working a “real” job.

Messages written on rocks from previous pilgrims over the years
Messages written on rocks from previous pilgrims over the years

There are so many reasons people have for doing the trek and so many vast experiences one encounters along the way. People will do the trek for religious reasons, adventurous reasons, and even health reasons, but for me it was mainly to face my demons and lighten the load of my emotional baggage.

A hill made from centuries of pilgrims carrying rocks from all over and leaving them here as a symbol of casting off their burdens
A hill made from centuries of pilgrims carrying rocks from all over and leaving them here as a symbol of casting off their burdens

For most of my life, at the time anyway, I had dealt with serious bouts of depression, daily suicidal thoughts and a few failed (thankfully) attempts at suicide and the end of a relationship that had just left me emotionally devastated for years. Seeking therapy was less accepted and understood back then and I was very ignorant to the whole process. I never sought the help I sorely needed in fear of people finding out about my issues and also the fear of being put on medication.

It was much too easy to not deal with my issues and find ways of distracting myself instead with TV and video games and yes binge eating and occasionally drinking. This trip would take away those distractions.

I swore to cut myself off from the world. I simply emailed my family once a week to tell them I was alive but would not read their replies. I didn’t sign on to MySpace, the social media of choice at the time, and thanks to my own extremely introverted nature and inability to speak any language except English, would easily be able to get through the days on the trip with very little social interaction. For five weeks the only voice I really had to listen to was my own inner monologue constantly dwelling on the past and all the reasons why I should just no longer be a part of this whole living thing.

My days were spent hiking the various distances, letting my mind wander and trying to find the strength to fight my depression and my nights were spent with a notebook writing page after page of all the things I had yet to forgive myself for doing and all the issues that would constantly drag me down. I wanted/needed to leave them all here.

One of the many evil demons I had to face along the way
One of the many evil demons I had to face along the way

I was never a religious person and am still not to his day but Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer, better known as the Serenity Prayer had always stuck with me since my Drill Instructor in boot camp would always make us recite it before we went to bed. There are a number of variations on the wording of the prayer but they all have the same message. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the prayer it goes as follows (at least the version I had to recite every night):

 

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

Santiago de Compestela, the traditional end of the pilgrimage
Santiago de Compestela, the traditional end of the pilgrimage

I wanted to find the way to live those words. To cast off the burdens of a past I could not change, the courage to reinvent myself as the person I wanted to be and the wisdom to be able to know the person I am and how best to manage the insecurities and the things that would cause my seemingly endless spiral of depression.

By the time I had reached the 0.0kM marker at what used to be thought of as the western end of the world I had faced all of my demons and while I won’t say I had defeated them all at the time, I had certainly survived and was better off for it.

The 0.0kM marker at the "End of the World"
The 0.0kM marker at the “End of the World”

I was a different person when I returned but I was still not through the battle. It was an extremely drastic move that made me feel horribly vulnerable but I decided to take my journal, filled with most of my darkest thoughts and secrets, and wrote an unabridged and unaltered version and posted it as a blog on my MySpace page for any of my friends to read. I didn’t know what kind of reaction to expect but in the end it was a very positive experience for me. The freedom I felt afterwards and the lightness in my heart changed me forever.

August 19th of this year will be exactly 8 years from me reaching the 0.0kM mark. I no longer have suicidal thoughts and have not slipped back into a state of depression.

Traditional touching of the Portico in the Cathedral signaling the end of the journey
Traditional touching of the Portico in the Cathedral signaling the end of the journey

Also, while I was walking through Spain on the other side of the world was an incredible woman also on her first trip by herself who decided to turn her back on her high paying corporate job in favor of searching for her own happiness while backpacking through Latin America. In her hands was that same Coelho book which introduced me to the pilgrimage.  Months after we both returned from our trips I would meet this woman and soon after we would fall in love and eventually decide to buy a van and travel the Pan-American Highway together.

 

To anyone reading this who is going through similar bouts of depression please don’t rely on yourself alone. Trust in your loved ones and they will be there for you and never feel ashamed to seek professional help. You may feel as if you’re alone out there but trust me you’re not.  

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