A quick shot of me during a pit stop on a drive through the west Highlands

My first ever multi-day hike | Preparing for the West Highland Way

Health and Wellness Travel, Hiking, Life Lessons, mindfulness, Scotland, United States

I’m doing it—finally. I’m hiking the West Highland Way in September, and as of now, I’m doing it alone.

Am I scared? Yes. I spent one night in the wilderness alone once and shit myself. But it was worth it. The self-confidence I gained from taking the plunge and wild camping alone continues to radiate from me to this day. So, I can only imagine what 8 days will do for me.

What’s the West Highland Way?

That’s right. I’ll be hiking and wild camping for 8 days straight through the west Highlands of Scotland. The West Highland Way is a trail that begins near Glasgow and extends for 154 km up to Fort William (aka the most beautiful place on Earth). It attracts around 80,000 people every year, of whom more than 30,000 walk the full route.

Although I’ve never actually walked any of the trails that are part of the WHW, I have been to a few of the destinations I’ll be seeing throughout the hike and let me tell you, I am far beyond excited to be back. Scottish scenery is some of my favourite. The green is lusher than any other green I have ever seen, and the endless supply of grassy hills and forest could steal the breath of even the most cynical urbanite.

Why am I putting myself through this?

As terrified as I am to stay overnight alone in the wilderness, nothing in this life has brought me more joy than a good hike. That said, I’ll see if I still feel that way after 8 days of hiking (or 7, depending on how much work I do on my cardio before then). No movie, book, TV show, job, game or any other distraction has fulfilled my soul and balanced my mental health the way nature can. So, needless to say, trekking into the wild for a wee while is a no-brainer.

Also, it’s a goal of mine to complete a proper through-hike by the time I’m 35—that’s one of those massive months long expeditions you hear crazy nature buffs and hippies attempt (examples include the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail which take six and three months to conquer respectively). I feel like my upcoming Scottish spirit quest is a good stepping-stone to that eventual adventure. The hiking isn’t too difficult on the WHW, and the wild camping is pretty straightforward. There aren’t any real predators in Scotland (minus badgers and angry sheep) and I think they only have one type of poisonous snake, maybe. In comparison to the other massive trails in the US—the PCT goes from the Mexican border all the way up the west coast to the Canadian border—the WHW is no big deal.

What do I have to do to prepare?

In short, A LOT. But what would I have to write about for the next seven months if I gave it all away right now? Some blog posts to come: fitness prep, buying a new backpack, figuring out how to filter water, hesitations with shitting in the ground, and more. Be sure to check back soon!

What a damned ridiculous year – thank god for it

depression, Health and Wellness Travel, Life Lessons, mental health, mindfulness, Toronto

2019 started rough. Really rough. My Scottish partner had to move back home for visa reasons. We didn’t know when or even if he’d be back. I had to hold down the fort, our apartment, on my own, without any idea of how to even function all alone.

Surprisingly, after a couple weeks, I was completely fine. In fact, I thought I felt more like myself than I had in ages. That’s because I was doing what I had done best up until that point – run away from sad feelings, escaping through work and parties and drinking and smoking, and anything I could pack into my calendar to be out and about ignoring everything that was painful.

I stopped writing for myself, using my job as an excuse: “I write so much for work, I can’t be fucked to write anymore when I get home.” But I didn’t realize that neglecting my way of reflecting was causing all my negative feelings to swell up and accumulate into a tumbleweed of unresolved trauma that I chalked up to my depression. “My brain is broken.” Is all I could think. “Why can’t I be happy?”

My relationship eventually ended, and when it did, I went through the motions. I cried. I resented and eventually relented. But I never deeply evaluated why it happened. In the end, we were both shitty to each other. We couldn’t make long distance work because we were both too selfish to properly keep in touch. My addictions (there are a few, less substance, more emotional), got the better of me and he withdrew. I’ve thought about it now, and I know what we both did wrong.

That said, I pushed all those negative feelings away too, hopping on dating apps and immediately jumping into something I forced seriousness on far too quickly. It’s all a cycle of habit that I’ve finally started to work on, with the real tough self-reflection shit beginning on my solo travel adventure in Arizona.

At the beginning of every year, I write a list of all the great things that happened to me in the year previous. On January 1, 2020, I did it differently. First, I wrote down everything I went through in 2019, all the hardships. I faced a lot, more than I could’ve imagined. Relationship issues. Apartment issues. Family issues. Mental health issues (big one).

Really, we all faced intense hardships last year. And every year gets harder. But I’m finding, as I age, I’ve been getting stronger and better at dealing with the shit that’s thrown at me. I think that’s true for everyone too. The key is in being mindful of and grateful for the good things, no matter how big or small. That was what was beautiful about starting with the negatives of last year. In comparison, I noticed that the fun times, the healthy times, the times of self-discovery and self-improvement and times of pure joy, those far outnumbered the painful ones.

So, I implore you to do the same. Write down what’s been hard for you the last little while. Yeah, it fucking sucks, and some of these hardships will sting you for a damned long time, maybe even forever. But never forget, that list of the great shit you’ll write, the one with the beautiful moments and powerful learnings, no matter how big or small it is, should forever be your reason for pushing forward. Beauty lies in the endless opportunities for happiness ahead of us, and that’s a perfect reason to smile and work on getting yourself to a good place.

A tearful trip to Phoenix, AZ

depression, Health and Wellness Travel, Hiking, Life Lessons, mental health, Prose, United States

“Let your tears water the seeds of your future happiness.”

-Steve Maraboli

My trip to Phoenix, AZ was the first one I’ve ever taken that was not fun. It was hard. But it was necessary.

The day of my departure was relaxing and smile-inducing. I met a friend for lunch and laughs and hung out with my mum for a bit before heading to the airport. With my old, trusty, green pack strapped to my back, I smoothly made it through the craziness of YYZ and sat down with a beer and a book, waiting to board my flight. I was calm. I was happy. And for the first time in my life, this vampire was excited to bask in the glorious sunshine and heat that was waiting for me upon my arrival.

Mellow beginnings

On my first morning, I thought I’d head out bright n’ early to the market for some tasty eats and then do some museum exploring. But, of course, I got chatting over breakfast at my hostel with a really cool entrepreneur trying to make a living in the life coaching space. We exchanged Instagram handles and wished each other good days ahead.

A little seating area in the back of HI Hostel Phoenix

The market gave me some pretty epic hummus and flatbread for lunch and the Art Museum opened my eyes, as art always does. Art inspires art as they say, but I’ll leave those learnings for another post.

The sunshine I was hoping for didn’t quite appear from behind the clouds that day, which was a wee bit disappointing, but I was still happy to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt, exploring cacti-covered streets and snapping pics of palm trees.

The Foundre in Phoenix, AZ

By 3PM, I was back at the hostel reading in a hammock, loving life.

But something deep down wasn’t quite right. I was restless. The peaceful feeling I was riding from the day before was quickly evaporating and a tightness was beginning to stitch my stomach lining together. I recognized this feeling all too well. The consuming loneliness of my depression was threatening me, toying with a trip I’d been looking forward to for months.

Floating in worry

I decided that this was probably the perfect time to try one of those float tanks everyone’s talking about these days. From what I had learned thus far, they’re meant to be great at alleviating depression and calming the mind. What better time to seek mental clarity in a dark space than while on desert-y solo spirit quest?

Well, to be honest, as much as the whole thing was relaxing and good for my skin, being trapped in a pitch-black room for 60 minutes really only heightened my anxiety and led me to over think everything that’s happened to me in the last year. I emerged from the tank feeling physically mellow but mentally depleted, and incredibly lonely.

It was around 8:30 by the time I left the float centre, so I decided to take myself for a Mexican feast then get to sleep early to be ready for my big hike in the morning. I was hell-bent on conquering this wave of sadness that had washed over me by staying busy and keeping my chin up.

Climbing a mountain, and crying

That hike was incredible. It was the first of its kind for me, having to scramble up rocks for about 20 minutes near the top of Camelback Mountain. I pushed myself further than I ever had before alone on a hike and was so proud to have accomplished it. My soul felt fulfilled by an abundance of unfamiliar natural surroundings and from the hot sun beating down on me for my hours.

After conquering Camelback, I decided I had plenty of time to consume even more nature, and made my next stop the Desert Botanical Gardens (the part of my trip I was most looking forward to).

This is where emotional shit got real.

Suddenly, while regarding a host of cacti and desert shrubbery, I started to bawl. I left my sunglasses on to keep my tears hidden from the many people around me. But I couldn’t stop crying. Everything I had felt while swinging on the hammock the day before just exploded out of my eyeballs.

 

Desert Botanical Gardens view in Phoenix, AZ

You see, I’ve been working with a therapist the last few months to help me get through a very difficult year. The deeper I dig and further back I remember in these sessions, the more my wounds are opening and the more the tears spill out.

I’ve learned a lot about how I handle unpleasant emotions, especially since moving back to Toronto and being totally out of my happy zone. That is to say, I don’t handle them at all. I use alcohol, and friends, and relationships, and marijuana, and work, and exercise, and even travelling as an escape from ever feeling the bad stuff. The hard shit. Those feelings that actually just make us all human.

I’m finally starting to understand that those feelings, the ones we don’t want to feel, are wholly necessary to feel and to reflect upon.

My therapist said something like: “you need to be able to work through your emotions and face them head on.”

To which I replied: “how does one ‘deal with their feelings’? I have been doing that. Going for walks and exercising and socialising and moving forward. Yet here I am, completely depressed and emotionally fucked.”

She looked surprised and thought about it for a second.

“Tori, you just have to sit with them. You have to be sad. You have to allow yourself to feel hurt and angry and upset. It sucks, but that time to reflect will eventually help you get past them.”

Fuck, I thought to myself. Sitting around, being sad, crying. I had never once been told that those things are healthy. I had been told that my problems aren’t as bad as others’ and to be thankful for that. And I am. I still have a hard time not feeling guilty about being depressed when my life is easier than 99% of peoples’. But it truly is all relative, and the more we push down our negative emotions, the shittier and shittier we feel, and the more our mental health suffers. It’s a vicious cycle.

Final days in Phoenix

Really, the rest of my trip consisted of more of the same. I just couldn’t stop crying. But instead of fighting it, or ignoring the tears, I let them flow. This year, I faced a lot of tough shit. Shit that was tougher than I wanted to let myself believe. Everything I had been planning for, the future I had created in my mind, was totally set back by something completely out of my control.

That’s life, though, isn’t it? Nothing ever goes as planned. People come in and out of our lives so quick, steps backward have to be taken to move forward, and bad things need to happen to make us stronger. But instead of fighting against the sadness and darkness that comes with these changes, I’m learning to embrace the emotions. To cry without limits, to give myself days to mourn the loss of a life I thought I’d be living, while simultaneously starting to piece together a new future.

By the time I was packing up my bags to leave the friendly and beautiful Phoenix, I was exhausted. I was depleted. I was low. But I felt better than I had in a long time. Lighter. I felt like the sunshine I was blessed with the majority of my trip. My eyes were heavy, but my heart wasn’t anymore.

So yeah, in the end, my trip to Phoenix wasn’t fun. It was the hardest trip I’ve ever taken in my life. But it was revolutionary for me, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

lUaolKMhR26fLtKUonrSzQKRA4Td8XTUCeThXsDp0r1A5gB1Hd2FQ7Wc+NZfKBoQTw53brjGuXTrGcQ%mFCP0VMgz9aUSgbHRZeiRXY2JRCLegZ26x2pV8SRev04WI%nmjUQ

Tribulations of an over-thinker (and Tantallon Castle)

Life Lessons, Scotland, Toronto

My brain has always worked at a pace I can’t ever get ahold of. Small worries turn into big worries which manifest new worries all together. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try. Just now, my heater made a little cracking sound. Instantly, I sat up, looked at it, switched it off, and moved to the other side my bed in case of possible explosion. Which turned into: if it explodes, will I survive? Have I accomplished everything I wanted to up until this point? I haven’t. What a sad death that would be. You know what would be a sadder one? If someone broke in and stole all my things and finished me off before leaving.

As you might’ve guessed, it’s generally negative things I over-think. To a less dramatic extent, let’s say at work, it often goes something like this: Oh no. I told someone I didn’t like their idea. Ugh look at their face. Their smile faded ever so slightly. Are they judging me? Are they upset that I said that? Will they ever enjoy working with me in the future? I hope I didn’t hurt their feelings. I’m worried I’ve made them feel awful.

 I’m hoping by now you get the picture. Not only is it absolutely useless to think in this anxious cycle of negativity, it’s bloody exhausting. Friendships, relationships, all the ships, are so stressful, not in and of themselves, but because my brain makes them that way.

I know, I know. I’m working on it. I really am.

I started seeing a therapist, which I really should’ve done much sooner, who is teaching me a little about acceptance. Acceptance that I am the way that I am, and I can’t do anything to change that fundamental piece of my brain. But I can learn to reprogram those negative thoughts into positive ones, simply by accepting that I am going to feel how I feel but also offering my head a new thought to snowball from. Something more positive.

It’s definitely a process. But I’ve finally had the epiphany that maybe being an over-thinker isn’t bad. It’s just a part of who I am. And there are so many positive facets of my personality that come along with the wheels turning so quickly in my brains. I’ve become more and more empathetic with time, since I think so much about how people are feeling about things. I’m also very good at my job and problem solving because of my innate gift to overanalyze every situation (which is wicked cool because my high school math teachers would argue that problem solving was never my strong suit).

All this thinking about overthinking leads me to remember the time I spent in a cabin by the sea in North Berwick, Scotland, and my visit to Tantallon Castle. I wrote about that adventure in a blog post a while back and it’s helping me to reevaluate myself a bit. What we think of as being flaws in our personality are actually what make us special. Everything we’ve been through in our lives has brought us to the point we are now with our mental health and ability to move forward. And it’s okay to feel broken. Like Tantallon Castle, destroyed in battle to almost complete ruin, it’s our broken bits that make us more beautiful, more unique.

I’m starting to gain a little more clarity on my brokenness, and I’m finding I’m not so broken after all. It’s just a part of who I am. A part that makes me a much more deep, dynamic, and aware person. The trick is, remembering these lessons, no matter how dark it starts to get.

 

How I’m really feeling right now

Life Lessons, Living Abroad, Poetry, Toronto

When I left Edinburgh, I cried tears not only for what I had to leave behind but also for everything I came to experience, to love. For all that I gained. But where is that woman I became so proud of overseas? Only remnants of her are left. I feel broken into hundreds of little pieces that I’ve been trying to force fit into a shape which no longer exists.

If a flower isn’t growing how it should, you move it to more favourable conditions for it to flourish. That’s a big lesson I’ve learned, one that seems to cross my mind regularly now, especially after travelling to Halifax and feeling real air, ocean air, salt spitting against my skin. Being so far away from it for so long has left me with a hole in my heart, the depth of which I can’t begin to describe. I know in my soul that there is more adventure and happiness ahead, but oftentimes the big city wares me down to believe I’ve reached my maximum potential and all that’s left is utter stagnancy.

Lately I’ve been afraid of being honest on my blog about how hard it’s been for me in the big city. I’ve tried to maintain an air of positivity about my personal purgatory but sadly, the happiness I feel here appears in small waves stifled by the overwhelming loneliness that comes from living in a place where people are often so disconnected from each other.

I realize it’s all about perspectives. Maybe I just feel this way now because I had a lovely weekend away in a place that has always felt more like home than Toronto. Maybe tomorrow everything will be easier. Depression has a way of doing that to you – suddenly tricking you to believe you’re much less happy than you are in a specific moment.

But the bottom line is, my soul is aching for more than what I think I can find where I’m waiting now, and I reckon it’s only a matter of time before the hundreds of pieces I’ve broken into fly too far away for me to bring back. The pieces that believe in the power of nature, loving everyone and smiling from dusk ‘til dawn every day.

If you’re reading this, I’m okay. Don’t ache for me or anyone else struggling a bit to cope. We’ve made it this far and we’ll continue on. Ache for the experiences you never had because you were too afraid to try. Ache for the people you never got to know because you were too proud to ask for their friendship. Ache for the love you never let yourself feel because anger is easier to bare than the possibility of being hurt. Ache for your life and strive to take the steps you never took before to move forward. That’s all I can do right now. Ache for the life I know would make me happy and strive to make it there as soon as I can.

My partner in crime is about to leave. And while we anticipate this next big step, it’s hard to accept the fact that someone who loves more parts of me than I do won’t be around for a long time. Before we even really got to know each other, he taught me more about myself than anyone ever has – about my propensity to dwell on my imperfections and about the depression that lurks within dark forgotten corners of my mind.

As we struggle to make something work, the romanticism of falling in love with someone from somewhere else has completely faded. The magic from our love has been beaten out of us by arbitrary borders that, from historical evidence, have done nothing but divide us and promote hatred and fear of others. Every time we take a step forward, we fall back several feet into the unforgiving concrete that is thousands of pages of paperwork, all written to keep families apart and force so many to suffer.

This may be the most poetic piece I’ll ever allow anyone to read. I don’t normally write like this, but to be honest, it’s the only way I can really describe what I’ve been feeling. Poetry is overindulgent. It allows writers to brood and extend their verses to anyone willing to listen and feel sympathy. I’ve never been much for producing it, let alone presenting it. But after hearing the pleas of others suffering as I do, as so many do, I’ve granted myself clemency to write freely and put forth the following poem. It’s a snapshot of a hard time from a couple years back. Reading it now and knowing I overcame one of my most prominent roadblocks, gives me hope that I’ll make it through this episode and be fine. It gives me hope that if I overcame my worst, my friends can too. My family can too. My love can too. You can too.

 

Low point

My brain currently thinks and feels in snippets.

Little moments that flash through my mind like lightning.

Quickly bursting and dissipating

leaving me feeling anxious and uncomfortable in my own skin.

I don’t trust myself anymore.

I don’t know myself anymore.

I don’t laugh anymore.

I just feel.

Desperately feel my insides eroding

and my happiness evaporating

and everything I love slipping through my fingers.

My eyes are open but sometimes I can’t focus on anything.

It’s like there’s a glass wall between reality and me

and I’m floating out into nothingness.