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.

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Put a Big Bird in a Small Cage

Life Lessons, Prose, Toronto

Since moving back to the hustle and bustle of the big city, I’ve not been doing much blogging. But that’s not to say I haven’t been doing much writing. I’ve successfully made a career out of something I both am good at and like to do. And I’m happy about that, for the most part.

You see, that whole annoying belief people have about doing what you love for work seemingly holds some validity. Once you turn something you love into a job, it becomes just that – a job. I’ve not been finding solace in writing for myself anymore, simply because I do it far too often for other people.

I am sad about all this. I miss seeing beautiful things and pouring my heart out in to a notebook. How am I to write poetry and prose about the beauty of nature from behind the walls of a concrete jungle?

Okay, yeah I know, I’m being overdramatic. Really, Toronto’s been good to me. And even though the big city can sometimes be overwhelming and cold, I’ve also met incredible people I’m lucky to call friends and have found a comfort in knowing there’s always something going on.

I’ve just moved to a new area steeped in colours, curious architecture and best of all, interesting and “interesting” people. There’s never a dull moment or dull wall this side of town (see graffiti photos below) and I’m feeling incredibly fortunate to have found such a great wee home.

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Sadly, besides all this greatness, I’m still having trouble coming up with innovative ways to inspire myself creatively. I’ve spent so long drawing inspiration from mountains and oceans and wildlife and inactive volcanoes, finding it in city streets spattered with litter, vomit and all matter of atrocious things has proven difficult.

But I recently felt a spurt of hope after listening to an old favourite tune. It’s called Big Bird in a Small Cage by Patrick Watson (shout out to Mel Lyon for introducing me all those years ago).

The song has always been one that I sing along to but never fully understand.

A line in the chorus goes: “you put a big bird in a small cage and he’ll sing you a song.”

In my mind, the whole song is about the birth of art and how perhaps the most beautiful creations come from a place of perceived suffocation. For the last couple years, my creative periods have occurred during a significant transition or when I have immersed myself in nature. Though big changes and wide-open spaces have played a large role in my soul-searching, I’m realising that being in a place I find small and uncomfortable may in fact lead me to produce more beautiful work than any amount of running space has granted me in the past. Perhaps it’s where we find ourselves least comfortable that we will learn the most.

So friends, I’ve turned a new leaf since deciding that my small cage (Toronto) won’t stop this big bird from writing and singing and blabbering on about things I’m sure you’ve all already figured out. But, you know me. It takes me a long time to come to simple conclusions.

Tori, signing off for now but not for good.

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On the plane to Toronto

Life Lessons, Living Abroad, Scotland

 

I don’t want to be on this plane. I never wanted to be on this plane.

 

No, not just because the assholes in front of me have reclined all the way back to the point where I’ve spilled my rum and coke (I went for it). But mainly because I feel like I’m being ripped away from a home I could have easily spent many more years in. I feel like I’m being dragged away from a new family kicking and screaming, but without the dramatics.

 

It’s easy for everyone to tell me this isn’t the end but a new beginning and it’s tempting to think of it that way. But to me, to negate this ending is to erase the whole experience I’m leaving behind me. It IS an ending. It’s an ending to my time in a city that helped me become a much better person. It’s an ending to many friendships that I fought hard to cultivate and an ending to walking past architecture, green-space, and spots that hold hundreds of significant and not-so memories. It’s an ending, no matter how you package it.

 

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Although leaving Edinburgh is an ending, I know that moving to Canada isn’t necessarily moving back, but moving forward. But I don’t want to. If I’m being honest, I feel like living in Edinburgh brought out the best in me. It helped me heal from an intense depression I didn’t even recognise I had until moving away. It helped me rekindle a love of reading and writing I thought was snuffed out for good. It built my confidence up higher than I ever thought it could have and it introduced me to some of the most inspiring people I have ever met.

 

I had a conversation with an incredibly wise friend while sharing our worries about the future in the Highlands last year. I expressed to him how I thought it was silly that I was nervous to move back to a place I associate with my worst self, when I’m sure it’s not so much Scotland that changed me but more so the lessons I learned while living there.

 

As he is one of the most honest people I know, he said something like this:

 

“Think of yourself how you might think of a flower that’s wilting in a corner of your living room. Generally you wouldn’t blame the flower for not flourishing, but blame its environment. Move the flower to a sunnier spot and perhaps it’ll grow stronger and more beautiful.”

 

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That’s how I feel about my move–well not moving to a sunnier spot, obviously, but one more equipped to bring me joy. Edinburgh and the people I surrounded myself with there encouraged me to blossom from a sad and wilted orchid (I like orchids) into one everyone would opt to purchase from their local florist.

 

I suppose what I take from this is that not everywhere in this world can help you to grow an amazing amount, but I guess that doesn’t mean you can’t grow a little from these places. Sure, I’m going back to a city I have negative feelings towards, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t regard it as an opportunity to learn and move forward. Currently I’m considering Toronto a positive purgatory where I can build up the mental stability and resources necessary to continue my exploring. I have an idea of the type of city or town that helps me to be the most positive version of myself, and being around family and old friends I love and enduring the busyness of a big city will more than likely help me get to my next home faster.

 

I will miss you, Edinburgh. After taking all I could take from your people, I’ve decided the most important lessons I’ve learned from living in you are self-love, acceptance, and patience. I hope that this time around in Canada I’ll grow in ways I didn’t expect. Maybe Toronto will envelope me in positivity the same way Edinburgh took me in and nurtured me for two beautiful years.

 

Scotland, I will never forget you: the challenging and dark beginning of loneliness and internal struggles, the educational middle full of healing, smiles, and new friends, and the end when I finally learned how to feel stable and balanced while living in the present.

 

I’m only 26, I’m not kidding myself. I know years or even just months from now I’ll probably reread this and think how foolish I was to be so nervous of moving to Canada. Tracking my progress through my writing has made me proud of my growth every step of the way, and I’m excited to face what’s next head on with the grace, confidence, tenacity, and love Scotland has instilled in me.

 

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A new-found fear of sheep

Living Abroad, Prose, Scotland

The short, sassy, and stupid tale of a city girl taking on a night in the Scottish wilderness

 

Through and through, I was a true city girl. I adored shopping, shoes, the hustle and bustle of a city centre, business folk storming subway stations in suits, and taking Ubers in exchange for 20-minute walks (this remains true today as well). I was a sucker for busy cocktail bars and huge cinemas, hectic streets and expensive eats. That is, until I decided to sell all my belongings and move to Scotland.

Once I arrived in Edinburgh, the peacefulness of the nearby ocean and excellent hiking spots right in the middle of the city forced me out of my usual comfort zones. I started to understand what all the fuss was about when it comes to beautiful natural surroundings. And since the sun is a rarity in this part of the world, one’s desire to spend time outdoors skyrockets, everyone sharing the mindset that if we don’t soak in some vitamin D at every opportunity we’re sure to die of rickets.

One rainy day I found myself in bed watching the film Wild—you know, the one where Reese Witherspoon takes on a three month hiking journey from Mexico to Canada and battles inner demons and coyotes and rapists and such. It’s based on a true story and sure enough started making me wonder whether, with my new-found love of nature and desire to roam, I could fare on my own solo, Scottish spirit-quest.

The next day I ventured out to the Mountain Warehouse closest to my flat and spent far too much money on shit I really didn’t need. After buying two pairs of “hiking socks,” a spork, water purification pills, and a well-stocked and bulky first aid kit, I felt as prepared as I ever would be. I booked a return ticket to an unmanned train station in Loch Lomond National Park and was given a map of the area to navigate myself up the top of Beinn Narnain (a Munro or small mountain) and find a smooth, sheltered, grassy spot to pitch my tent and toast marshmallows.

When I arrived, I managed to make it to the nearest town and find what I deemed to be a woodland path up to the peak of the Munro. Alas, t’was not a path. I ended up wading and fumbling across a very large beaver dam and sliding through mud and what looked like deer shit for about two hours before finally making it to a clearing. My obvious inability to properly read a map led me to believe this clearing would be near the top, when in fact the summit was still about an hour walk away.

 

 

A woman defeated is not a woman tae fuck with, so when a bunch of fellow hikers yelled at me from across a cliff and took the piss for walking slowly, I waved a giant middle finger in their direction and sat my tired ass down on a boulder, ready to call it quits.

But I decided to continue on to the top of Beinn Narnairn, tent, sleeping bag, and other gear on my back, floor mat in hand. It was tough but I was proud of myself for doing it.

On my descent I was searching for the perfect camping space, which I found. A great little flat patch of grass next to a river where someone had already built a fire pit.

As a bonafide city-girl, camping doesn’t come second nature to me. So of course I took the proper precautions and practiced setting up my tent in my living room the night before. It seemed excessive at the time, but I’m glad I brought that bulky kit full of useless shit. You see, somewhere on my hike I managed to drop my bag of tent pegs.

Nae tent pegs? I thought as tears welled in my eyes. I decided I could either turn back before it got dark OR I could suck it up, MacGyver something together, and be the strong, independent woman I’d wanted to be since three days prior while watching Witherspoon win at womanhood.

Nae tent pegs? NAE PROBLEM!

 I pulled out two pens, a Swiss Army knife, rope clips, and of course, my trusty plastic spork, and started fidgeting around with the tent and tarp.

I did it! I thought, completely in awe of my genius. I’ve got this now.

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My set up for the night. Note the obviously crooked tent tarp.

 

After the tent debacle, I lit a campfire, toasted marshmallows, boiled some water for tea, washed a bit of myself in the river, and settled in with some crossword puzzles, snuggled tightly in my sleeping bag.

But at approximately 3:30 am, shit got real.

I woke up to the sound of hooves muddling around and short, loud, breathy, grunts echoing outside my tent.

It’s just sheep. It’s just sheep. They’re harmless, go back to bed and when you wake up you can get the Hell outta here and enjoy the majesty of nature on YouTube, like you shoulda done to start with.

Though it was definitely just sheep—there are no large predators in Scotland—my mind kept creeping back to a certain headstrong ram that, hours earlier, was staring me down as I stood above it on a hill. It looked about ready to charge so I made a speedy U-turn to the next path over.

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Blurry shot of said ram, but you get the picture. It looks like it fuckin’ means business! 

It must be the ram, I thought, Swiss army knife in hand whilst sitting up straight and petrified under my sleeping bag. He’s come back for revenge. I’ll be the first person in history to be murdered and eaten by sheep. What have I done? WHAT HAVE I DONE?! Goodbye cruel, cruel, world. I’ve lived a full life.

 Waiting for the sun to rise with no cell service and sheep brushing against my tent felt like years. When I checked the time and saw it was nearly 5:00 in the morning and that a bit of sun was starting to creep through the tent fabric, I made the daring decision to unzip the tarp flap and loudly flail my way out of the tent in hopes of frightening away those fluffy, white, terrors.

To my surprise, when I emerged frazzled and in a cold sweat, there were absolutely no sheep around. No animals, no people, no birds, no nothing in sight. In my panicky state I managed to spend an hour and a half making up noises and confusing the wind rustling the tarp with sheep trying to break in and kill me.

Even after all my stupid mistakes and unrealistic fears, I made it through. And though I’m proud of myself for doing it alone, I will never look at a sheep and think “wow, what an adorable, beautiful, harmless, little mammal,” ever again. And rams? Rams, you can go f*** yourself! From now on my adventures will go back to consisting entirely of hikes through shopping malls and pushing my physical limits with late nights of dancing and short walks to the fridge.

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Quartz!

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“I like that boulder. That is a NICE boulder.”

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Kate Moss

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Everyone here hates the rain, but really that’s the reason everything is so incredibly green and lush! Like what’s a bit of rain when you get THIS BEAUTIFULNESS right outside your door always? Sheesh!

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The majority of the so-called path through the woods I “found” (slash made) was right beside a beautiful, wee waterfall. Coulda been worse.

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That jaggedy beast in the background is called The Cobbler. I was meant to climb that originally but I went for the smaller one in the end…okay so sue me!

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Another view of The Cobbler.

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Poetry about boots

Amsterdam, Living Abroad, Norway, Poetry, Scotland

Here’s a quick poem about my boots that have been to so many places over the past couple of years. If I’m being honest, the ones I wrote the poem about have now gone to shoe heaven (may they rest in peace) BUT all the things I said they’d seen they really had.

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These Boots

 

No, I’m not referencing

the back trunk of a car.

Instead I mean the soles on my feet,

the ones that have travelled oh so far.

 

They’ve seen the highest mountains.

They’ve seen the brightest cities.

They’ve seen sublime castles,

and things that weren’t so pretty.

 

The scattered sands of beaches

sprawled across the toes

have left wee little stains

like scars left by noble foes.

 

These boots down on my feet

have been left sitting by the sea

waiting patiently for me to surface

in not but my skivvies.

 

From the top of Mount Floyen

to the red lights of Amsterdam

they’ve walked every where I have,

reminders like passport stamps.

 

Their black, worn-out leather

shows new marks from year to year.

Stains from grass and dust and soil

and the salt from several tears.

 

These boots have left footprints

almost everywhere I’ve stepped,

but what’s more are the imprints

on my soul those places left.

 

 

Departures

Life Lessons, Living Abroad
Sitting, waiting, wishing, scared shitless.

Sitting, waiting, wishing, scared shitless.

Writing and photo by Janine Lameiras

As I stood in departures, a one way ticket in hand, I felt consumed by a sense of loneliness, fear and vulnerability. I kept trying to make sense of these emotions pouring through me, and couldn’t comprehend that I was about to leave behind all that I knew to be right, a life I had built for myself, that housed a sense of comfort, security, and certainty. In that very moment, my desire to explore the world quickly diminished. I couldn’t process all the uncertainty that awaited me nor could I make sense of the journey ahead. The one that, up until now, I longed for.

Some of my favourite childhood memories are set in airports. Every time I would step through the doors of an airport, I felt a sense of adventure, desire, or happiness, even if I wasn’t the one leaving. For such a long time, I admired what these walls contained: the untold stories of lovers embracing one another, tearful goodbyes, and the excited faces of those preparing to explore the world. Yet, all these thoughts and moments in which I had always found comfort felt like reasons to resent where I was now.

While trying to avoid a mental breakdown in the security line, I thought about how I was going to write my own story of the faraway places and new faces I would come across during my travels. How one day, I’d be back in this airport and remember standing alone, fighting my own thoughts on abandoning this move, but not yet realizing what great moments were ahead of me. I started to enjoy the idea of not knowing what would become of me and being able to experience things far greater than I could ever imagine.

Humans seem to be conditioned to find a sense of security in things like our jobs, our communities, and our families. Consistency makes life seem a little easier and bearable. The moment you have none of that, no home, no exact plans for tomorrow let alone the next few months, you feel vulnerable and you begin to question whether or not you’ve been chasing happiness in all of the wrong ways.

I’ve always craved a life of adventure, having a desire to live an unconventional life. So far I’ve learned that chasing this lifestyle comes with a lot of self doubt, days that cease to end, breakdowns in bar bathrooms and seeing yourself in a state you never knew (unkempt hair and smelly clothes). That being said, as the days of not having a home, sleeping on someone’s couch, and living out of a backpack continue, I realize I’ve already grown more than I had ever imagined.

I try to remind myself that life has a mysterious way of working itself out, even when you feel like you have finally got the hang of things and it all changes. There are so many uncertainties that lay within taking a risk and changing your surrounds. All you are ever promised in life is this very moment in time.  As much as I have felt as if my loneliness was consuming me fully or that traveling across the country is physically and mentally draining, there are moments where you find peace in the unknown and start to love all that comes with it.

Now that we’re beginning to settle into Edinburgh and I have time to reflect on the first days of our trip, I realize that I’m not as frightened as I was before. If I’m honest with myself, it’s been a challenge to move here. But truthfully I’ve never been happier. Though I don’t know what the future holds, for once, it’s a thought I can actually come to terms with.

Edinburgh strolls

Enter: Edinburgh

Life Lessons, Living Abroad, Scotland
Edinburgh strolls

Sometimes when Janine sees something she thinks is cool-looking, she asks me to stand in front of it. I hate it. But I love her so I do it anyway.

Written by Tori Dudys, photos by Janine Lameiras

There are those cities that suck you in to them. They grab your heart and squeeze, tugging on heart strings you didn’t know you had. Those places that look and feel magical in even the dodgiest corners. The ones that seem to hold a piece of your very essence. It’s almost like this place knows you better than you ever knew yourself and what you wanted in life.

The minute I stepped into Edinburgh, it felt like I was transported to one of those incredible nights where you meet a new person who you know is going to become a great friend. It’s like the city and I talked for hours and clicked in every way possible. Everything feels like home here. I even had a perspective-altering experience in a church, of all places. No, I didn’t see angels, or speak to Jesus. I just wrote.

I’ve never been much for God. There’s something about the act of worship that doesn’t sit well with me. But being in a church always puts me at ease. It’s this inner peace I don’t manage to find in many other places.

So there I was, sitting in St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, feeling more peaceful than I’d ever felt. It was the first time I’d sat and written in a church. And surprisingly to me, after months and months (I think 5 in total) of not wanting to write anything at all, it was in the presence of God that I came back to myself.

I’m not trying to imply that I had a religious epiphany or that it was God that bestowed upon me the desire to write, but I did begin to realize the importance of being open to believing in something. Or at least not rejecting the spiritual because it’s impossible, but rather appreciating it for its possibilities of inspiring. Whether inspiring people to be better people, inspiring people to find closure when their loved ones pass away, or inspiring dried up writers to finally put a bloody pen to a piece of paper and scribble down a string of words that wouldn’t mean much to readers, but that mean everything to the sanity of that writer.

Bottom line, from the first day we landed in Edinburgh, I felt a sense of tranquility I hadn’t felt in a long time. And after a 13-day tour through Scotland and Ireland, and a short blip in London, I’m happy to be back here in Edinburgh, sleeping on the couch of a kind, used-to-be stranger, feeling more excited about just being alive than ever before in my life.