FLIPFLOP LOUNGE HOSTEL, CHENGDU – Here’s the backstory…
I had a piece of gum in my head.
And I kept mashing it and mashing it and mashing it. Over and over again. The gum was a series of painful thoughts that I just couldn’t banish from my head. To the point where I couldn’t think about anything else.
I couldn’t parent. I couldn’t contribute at work. I couldn’t be creative. I couldn’t make decisions. At its worst, I couldn’t read or watch TV. When people engaged with me, I seemed distant. I was exhausted the whole time. I had such bad insomnia that I developed a tremor in my fingers.
At one point, I hadn’t slept in a week. My hands were shaking like rattles. My friends took me to a psychiatrist…
Hit the Road
I’m writing to you today from Chengdu, a city in central China that’s famous for its pandas. I’m with my ex-wife, Kate, and our three kids. We’re staying in a cheap hostel, sleeping in bunk beds and hanging out in the common area, meeting other backpackers.
We’ll stay here a few more nights, and then we’ll move on to somewhere else…
Sixteen months ago we gave away all our things, handed in the keys to our apartments, and hit the road. We’ve been traveling like this ever since, living out of a suitcase and homeschooling our kids. But that wasn’t the beginning of this story.
My mental illness was.
The psychiatrist called it “chronic rumination.” It’s painful, but it’s not the worst part. The worst part is you start believing the thoughts will never go away. That you’ll be in this prison forever. That you’ll be stuck mashing that awful gum.
It’s a resignation to suffering. A tiredness. An acceptance of permanent mental discomfort. That’s the depression.
The moment you wake up is the worst part of the day. Because you remember who you are and the prison you’re in. “Another awful day pushing this bloody rock up the hill,” you think. You long for the day to end so you can turn off the thoughts, stop the brainmashing, and go to sleep.
Except you can’t sleep. Now you have to spend all night mashing the gum. I felt so lonely at night. I’d long for the morning to come so I could go out. And thus, the cycle went on…
That’s when I started fantasizing about death. “The eternal bliss of suicide,” I called it.
I tried everything to make the pain go away. I took Prozac. I took sleeping pills. I went to therapy. I meditated. I exercised. I went to church and prayed. I read a hundred self-help books. I even went to AA meetings.
This went on for months. But nothing helped. I was so confused.
Finally, I said “enough.”
I packed a small bag; left my home, my work, and my kids; and I went traveling overseas. To have a change of scenery. To get my head straight. To ride some trains. “Hobo rehab,” I called it.
That was nearly two years ago. I’ve surfed in South Africa. I’ve climbed mountains in Scotland. I’ve ridden lots of trains. Then, Kate invited me to travel with her. We’ve taken our kids across America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia and, now, China.
Not only has my depression gone, but I’m having the adventure of a lifetime. I’ve never felt so close to my children. My passion for life has returned. I’m writing again. And Kate and I will get remarried!
– Tom Dyson
P.S. People gave me all sorts of advice. They told me to treat myself with kindness, do nice things for others, take one day at a time, stay busy, surrender to God, meditate, read such and such a book, find a therapist, blah blah. They meant well, but they just didn’t understand that when you’re gripped with anxiety, depression, and chronic rumination, you can’t do anything.
In fact, I stopped even trying to “fix it.” Because I now believe there is no “fix.” You just have to stick it out, like waiting for a thunderstorm to pass during a round of golf, doing your best to stay dry.
Reader question: What devices do you carry? Is it easy to get online?
Tom’s response: We have two iPhones and an iPad, which we all share. Yep, it’s been easy getting online everywhere but here, in China, because of the firewall. It’s also easy to buy SIM cards for our phones and get 4G. We usually do this at the airport when we arrive. It typically costs about $15 a month…
Reader comment: Love reading your notes from your travels. The travel bug bit me hard many years ago. Quite funny, really, when I think back at it. I lived through the dot-com boom blissfully unaware of it as I saw the world. I have a conservative outlook similar to yours at the moment. The numbers simply do not stack up. I’d be interested in your opinion on whether it is still a good idea to convert to gold from cash. I went all in to cash about a year ago.
Tom’s response: Can’t give you personal advice, but I definitely applaud your decision to go to cash. You’re already in a far better place than the average investor. I like gold more than cash, though.
Reader comment: I was a subscriber to The Palm Beach Letter since 2012, and to the options program you launched – and missed you when you suddenly left! It’s heartwarming to hear about the re-piecing together of your family – congratulations to you and your wife-to-be for making such an inspiring commitment! I love reading about your travels, and I’m not surprised at the move you made to liquidate pretty much everything and move into gold. I did the same. I am grateful to you now, for sharing your journey.
Reader question: Your Chinese visa in Hanoi reminded me of when we were in Egypt planning a trip to Budapest. The Iron Curtain had not fallen yet. First, we had to find the Hungarian Embassy. Then, leave our American passports for a week. And then, we had to hope we did not have to show identification to anyone while the embassy had our passports. How did that work in Hanoi?
Tom’s response: We had to leave our passports at the Chinese embassy for only four days, so it wasn’t a problem.
Reader question: Find it interesting following your travel notes and thoughts. How do you pay for the hotel and daily living expenses from food, to transportation, events, sightseeing, clothes, accommodation, phones, etc.?
Reader question: How do you invest in gold in order to have the liquidity to travel the world? Really enjoy your postcards. Experiencing other cultures and traditions is great for the perspective of what matters.
Tom’s response: We bought gold coins but left them in America. We kept back just enough dollars to pay for our travels. We draw local currency out of ATMs or pay by credit card. I’m amazed how easy this aspect of the trip has been. We haven’t had a single problem accessing our funds in America.