Between November 2010 & June 2011 I was heavily depressed.
Before you continue reading, this isn’t a cry for sympathy, it all ends rather nicely. Okay? Good.
Depression had come onto me around about the time my employer was having trouble paying the rent, trouble paying for their insurance & trouble coping with a public that was beginning to fall out of love with their product. I was working for HMV, a British retailer with a 90 year history of selling music via gramophones and the vinyl itself, cassettes, CD’s, MP3’s & now the replacement – iPods, Tablets & Netbooks.
Being face-to-face with customers who’ve done nothing but read about yet another high street chain in trouble during a worldwide recession on the verge of closing, like many big names that had closed in the preceding years; was mighty tough. Explaining that it’s not as bad as it looks (a lie), explaining that there are lots of reasons why more than five of the top ten selling CD albums that week were completely out of stock before hitting mid week, also explaining that we couldn’t order right now ‘because we’re changing ordering systems’ (another lie) – yadda yadda yadda – was stressful.
I’d come from a background of working for worldwide brands where I was constantly on my toes, constantly working at 100% because there we’re always queues and queues of people to keep me there. Working for a record store had been a decade long dream that I grabbed with both hands. By then I was regretting making the switch.
Personally I was taking it all quite hard, not just because I had designs on scaling ladders & getting somewhere with something I could be passionate about, but more because of events that had happened over the past 18 months.
These events usually involved this unusual person:
Franca had come into my life about 5-6 years previously, introduced by a good friend & former band member. After that initial greeting neither one of us exchanged a word for pretty much the entire 5 years following (unless those awkward smiles & waves you give to people as you walk by count) until one day one of us decided to get in touch (five awesome points to me, grazie).
During the last 18 months I’d seen more of life & living than I had in the previous 24 years. From very early on Franca began to introduce me to a world that I never really understood I was a part of.
Within the first 9 months we would take our first holiday together – Berlin – and move in together. Both exciting events on their own merit.
Going to Berlin was a revelation. Other than a trip to Amsterdam with some friends four years previous, my distance travelled around the world could be counted in hundreds of miles rather than the thousands Franca had clocked up with her travels to the UK, Spain, Australia, Germany & a couple more. Our time in Berlin served as a wake up call that there was more to life than staying within your hometown doing your 9-5, waiting for the weekend, where you might finally have some time for yourself, your interests & your friends – before it all starts again.
Berlin contained Architecture, Art, Design, Food, History & also a new collection of friends. Spending hours walking the streets of Berlin with Franca’s hand in mine, taking absolutely everything in that the city had to offer, was like seeing the sea for the first time, like the tingle your lips get the first time you ever kiss someone, just as the hairs stand on end on your neck when the perfect musical note is struck, whistled or sung; it was perfect.
So fast forward a little. We’re living together, we take another trip – this time to Italy to ‘meet the family’ amongst other things – and then the depression starts to kick in. It’s horrid. For a while I say nothing, tell noone & pretend like nothing’s happening. Some might say a recipe for disaster. They’re substantially correct.
Life became unbearable. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t stay awake. I was melancholy, I was crying in front of customers. I wanted to do more, but my energy was gone. The passions I had were going to waste; the band I had fell to pieces. I no longer cared for it even though I wanted nothing more than to do it full time. I wanted to break free from the 9-5, but knowing that throwing away a job when jobs are scarce was tough.
I saw a doctor who just tried to feed me pills. I refused. I didn’t want to start taking anything without knowing what the true source was, at this point I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. It was affecting work, my friendships, but most importantly – my time with Franca.
Then three things happened.
Someone within my family passed away. It was probably the first time I’d been to a funeral for someone I’d really had a bond with. It was outside of my immediate family but someone who’d always played a massive part in my growing up. One of most caring, fun loving people, that I’d the ultimate fortune of being related to.
On the day of his funeral I saw his open casket and it terrified me. It was the first time I’d ever seen someone who’d passed away & the image is as fresh in my mind now as I type this as it was that day. Following that, over a collection of months I couldn’t stop thinking about dying. It was forever in my head. My own sense of morality had suddenly been woken up.
Unknown to me, Franca had been conspiring with my employer to get me some time off around my birthday, the plan? To take me to Venice.
The perfect pick-me-up. Time away from work and my troubles plus a chance to soak up some sun, some 1000 word views & get a little time to think over what was happening & where I was going. It was like visiting Berlin all over again.
I loved walking through the streets not knowing where we might end up. I loved walking in & out of buildings meeting with happiness & surprise at the age and types of places I was surrounded by. Visiting the Peggy Guggenheim museum was probably the icing on the cake. Coming face to face with classics in such a relaxed setting, laying eyes for the first time on my favourite artists work – Magritte – made me stop still, just staring, wondering why this wasn’t the everyday of my life? Why can’t I fill my life with art? Fill my life with new experiences? Fill my life with life, with Franca beside me.
During some house sitting for some good friends, we ferreted around for a film to watch, something that required no thinking but would entertain us without the lead actors being either Bruce Willis, Robert Pattinson (ew!) or whoever else was in absolutely everything.
We chose Pixar’s UP!
If you haven’t seen it, you can watch the first 5 minutes & last 3 in the YouTube video below. Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers. Watching this video will not impair watching UP! in the future if you haven’t already.
For the end of this post to make sense, you pretty much have to watch this video. You won’t regret it.
Watching this film startled me. It upset me yet made me smile so much, the tears were there filling up the corner of my eyes. The thought of seeing someone I loved not being able to fulfill their dreams saddened me, really deeply. I couldn’t stand that there could be a possibility that something could happen to the person I loved most before they ever had a chance to attempt to grab hold of their dreams. My heart was stopping & starting, my brain swelled & my thoughts ran over & over everything that had been happening.
I suddenly realised there was only one thing to do.
FULFILL FRANCAS DREAMS – and mine.
Obvious. It was all clearly obvious to me now that there was only one thing to do. We were going to leave everything behind and do that which we both really wanted. To travel, to look forward, never behind. We put into motion the building blocks of making it a reality. We started reading up every piece of information we could find. We started to save money in every way we could. We downsized our rental property, we cut off almost every subscription to every service possible. Out went the trips to Starbucks. Out went the trips to the cinema. Within a year we’d eventually quit our jobs, sell everything we own & bid goodbye to many friends & family. That’s how we came to be here in Italy now as I write this, more than a month into our journey.
If it wasn’t for Franca and the decisions we’d made, I’d never have seen these places that will live with me until the day these moments stop.
If my life must come to some kind of finale, I’d rather it was on my own terms with the person I love most beside me as we accomplish things that we’d only reserved for dreams.
So why do I travel? Because of this lady…
…and the (odd) things that we’ll do.