After travelling through Australia with my husband for ten months, I announced one early November morning that I was leaving. For me, our marriage was over.
I needed more from my life than existing. While travelling full time sounds amazing – and it is – it can also become a task of checking off boxes and planning the next destination. And, when you travel with someone else, it becomes clear what your thresholds are. Something was telling me I needed space for myself. Mental space. Emotional space. The pressure cooker of travelling is real, and it can kill relationships instantly when the heat is turned up too high.
But this was different. This feeling had been brewing in me for a long time. I needed time to work out what I needed for myself. I knew we would implode if I stayed, and there would be no coming back from that. I felt like a trapped animal scratching at the cage lock. I remember a day of looking out at the vast plains we drove through, thinking that while it looked like freedom, I didn’t feel free at all. I can’t tell you why I felt trapped. My husband is a good guy. Supportive. Loving. It was more that I needed space, mentally and emotionally, to work out where I was going with my life.
I knew I could live independently. I hadn’t always been in a relationship. When my husband and I first came together, I told him I wanted him in my life, but I didn’t needhim there. And on this November morning, I didn’t want him in my life either. Not as my husband, anyway.
Trust me, it wasn’t a straightforward decision to make. We’d been together for a long time. I was almost fifty, racing to that age of invisibility. I was intricately woven financially to my husband. We had one car, which we were travelling the country in together, so it wasn’t like I could pack my bags and drive away, leaving him to do the dishes.
Turned out, leaving wasn’t that hard logistically. Since our plan was to travel indefinitely, we had already donated all our belongings and now lived out of suitcases. Financially, it was a simple form to fill out. I could leave anything with my daughter that I didn’t immediately need, so within a week, I was free.
Leaving emotionally was harder. The one thing I felt guilty about was I was leaving my husband in a country that wasn’t his own. It was worse when he said he’d wait for me. The guilt was thick.
But when things aren’t right, you know. And my gut was telling me to leave. I knew then – and today – that it was the right decision to make.
I listened to my instincts and, by doing so, I found my voice again. Over time, it became less crackled. Stronger. I learned I had something to say.
As I drove myself from Los Angeles to Chicago (via the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas), I dove into what I really needed – and wanted – from my life. Podcasts would spark one thought and a song would reveal a past trauma or memory. I kept sorting through those traumas, memories, and dreams as I walked 800km across Spain. It was like a game I’d played as a child: ‘Pass the Parcel’. Instead of unwrapping a joke or a chocolate with each layer, I unveiled a clue or a revelation. Inside, at the very end, was the prize: Me.
What I determined through this soul-searching was quite surprising. At least to me. I needed to write fiction. (I had been writing non-fiction all my adult life.) I wanted to live by the water. (Flowing water calms me). I needed a deeper connection to people, but I did not necessarily want to converse with them every day. (I realised I was an introvert). I needed to live in a regional area, because I hate feeling of neighbours peering through the windows. (Growing up in the country was more engrained in me than I realised.) I needed a quiet space to create. (I do best in silence to think and explore). I needed to remove toxic people from my life, people who judged me or made me feel unworthy. (This was a huge one mentally, and not an easy one to implement.) I wanted to be successful in what I did, but didn’t need to be successful monetarily (although it helps, of course.) I was curious about the world and therefore wanted to travel more. (I find inspiration in travel more than anywhere else). And I wanted a partner in life and love.
You’ll notice I used the words wanted and needed in those sentences. There were things I needed to survive and/or find inner peace, and things I wanted, to keep my happiness moving forward. My instincts told me I was right with these things, so I drew a line in the sand. The needs were none negotiable, but I’d do what I could to achieve the wants as well.
My husband and I are together again. It took ten months of soul searching, understanding what I needed in my life, how to find my voice again, before I realised we weren’t the problem. (Although we had issues we needed to resolve before reconciling.) It was me. (And yes, I groan at the adage: “It’s not you, it’s me.”)
In that ten months, I learned more about myself than I had in the twenty years prior. Without that space, I wouldn’t have found greater creativity and contentment in my life. Would I do it again? Most definitely. Mental space is actually one of the things I negotiated when my husband and I reconciled. When I need space, I go away for a bit to reset. It might be a day, a week, or even a few months. The difference is now my husband knows I’ll return to him, a happier, more content person.