By September 2013 I felt like one of those hoary old travellers you meet on the road: hair dangerously close to dreads; skin a little too sun burnt... feet would hold an intervention if you offered anything more stable a structure to walk in than the humble flip flop. You know the kind - looks like they haven't had a good wash and a proper home cooked meal for weeks!
I was expecting to be riddled with mixed emotions, fears and thoughts of the future when it came to returning home to London after 19 months solid of travelling the world.
Yet when it comes to it i'm looking forward to seeing friends and family again after all this time. I'm looking forward to roast dinners and a nice glass of Sauvingon Blanc, and most of all I feel a sense of huge achievement and pride in myself. I had always wanted to travel the world by msyelf and live and work abroad. And by Jove I did!
But it hasn't all been plain sailing and the last few months basedin Thailand proved to be downright difficult. So what better time than a 13 hour flight to reflect.
I doubt i'll get much sympathy when I do touch down. Somehow explaining you've spent an inordinate amount of time on a beach or tropical paradise to those still slogging it out in the 9 - 5 doesn't really garner much sympathy. And yet as one wise man entitled a book:
"Whereever you go that's where you are,"
I sometimes feel like my trip would have been absolutely wonderful if I hadn't been on holiday with...well... me. Me and the voice in my head that never seemed to shut up berating, bashing, worrying and analysing.
By the end of summer I was hamstrung with indecision. Where to go next? When to go home?
For some reason I just couldn't decide. (In the end I stayed another couple of months in Chiang Mai to "work" on this site and going freelance.")
I realised a couple of things in that time.
How to Make Decisions
Sometimes when i'm feeling low I am absolutely unable to make a decision. It was only with a great deal of perspective later that I realised I'd actually become quite lonely living in Thailand.
Whilst i'd met plenty of people travelling I realise now that the pressure you feel when you move from the corporate world to the rather more isolated world of a freelancer working from home is ten times harder if done in a country the other side of the world away from your usual support network of friends and family!
The path is clear why do you throw stones in it?
I decided to stay in Chiang Mai an extra couple of months and put myself under an inordinate amount of pressure to complete the website i'd been working on and start building clients. I also felt a lot of fear around coming home - would there be any work, how would things be with all my friends and family that I left behind over a year and a half ago. It almost felt like i'd been away too long, friends had given up hope of ever seeing me again and just got on with their lives. I suppose it would be incredibly self indulgent for wanting them to be hanging on my every travel tale, but I also missed their support as well.
In the end through all that striving, struggle and effort didn't need to be like that. Sure, doing anything new means recognising internal obstacles and fear as it comes up and working through the discomfort. However I didn't need to keep myself held in an environment that had lost it's novelty for me. I'm a London city girl and as much as I love nature - a small town like Chiang Mai did loose its draw after a few months. LIkewise many of the expat community in the town can be quite damaged. Either lost souls looking to escape the trials of the western world; men searching for Thai brides or those with quite serious alcohol and drug problems
As a freelance writer and traveller with all of my life packed up in a 12kg backpack, I could have gone anywhere. I didn't need to hold myself in an environment or around people that weren't a positive influence on me. Yet somehow I managed to build myself a cage an inch wide of "shoulds" that kept me feeling trapped and stuck.
I think one of the set backs i've experienced trying to live my life in a conscious manner is this almost "Buddhist" desire which becomes a pressure to feel happy inside regardless of one's external circumstances.
I realised a very simple and obvious home truth in my time living in Thailand. Whilst inner happinness is a great goal - we mustn't overlook the obvious. There are things in our external world that we have the power to change - people and place are two of those things. If our immediate environment doesn't feel good we can change it - and make lives a bit easier for ourselves.
Finally I understood the true meaning of the AA's Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Likewise the desire to live and make decisions consciously set the voice that likes to worry, analyse and make sure everything's perfect into overdrive. Suddenly I wasn't making conscious decisions, I wasn't listening or hearing my gut intuition I was frozen and overwhelmed. Not making any decisions at all and then berating myself for making the wrong one!
As it came time to take my final flight home the voice went into overdrive with shoulds and shouldn'ts.
"Why didn't you fly here, that ticket was cheap, what a waste not to see this country!"
And finally another much calmer, kinder voice cut through the nonsense.
"You've had four hours sleep and you are going home after 19 months. Give yourself a break."
On my final flight high up in the clouds above Asia I come to another truth, there really is no such thing as a wrong decision. No wonder we tie ourselves up in knots and not move forward at all if we place so much emphasis on getting it right first time.
We are not born perfect we are born imperfect. Life is not about getting it right but making mistakes and learning from them.
As I stare out the window of the plane watching the wing hover high above the clouds of a faultless blue sky i realise it's not about the decisions we make but having the presence of mind (or mindfulness) once we've made them, to adjust our course if necessary.
I'm not sure anyone ever got anywhere in a straight line from a to b - life is more like a series of stops, starts and zig zags. But as long as we are able to become aware of how we are feeling and gain the clarity and perspective needed to just adjust our course as we go along.
Becoming aware of the present moment helps us in this, if you are looking to develop more mindfulness in your daily life check out my free Meditation course. It's a beginner's guide to meditating and the exercises only take 10 mins a day.