The Itch

You know that itch that’s been bugging you at your desk job for the last year? The one that makes your brow furrow and your back stiffen as it whizzes around your skin? I urge you to scratch that itch.

For me, it happens every winter. November is shitty, but October was beautiful and at least Christmas is soon! Then December comes; time to focus on family and seeing friends and finding gifts for people and planning New Years. Too busy to even process the fact that it’s setting in.

Theeeen January rolls around and so begins the official trough of my year. It is a downward slump of boredom and restlessness fused together in the perfect mixture of overall discontentedness.

It’s not the weather, really. And it’s not that the holidays are over. It’s not that I can’t go hiking in a t-shirt or grab a beer on a patio in the warm sun. And it’s sure as hell not the crippling feeling of envy and spite I get as I see that kid that played the piccolo freshman year of high school is now engaged to a smokeshow biochemist with a trust fund. Should I have played the piccolo in high school? Nah, that doesn’t mean I’d be engaged to said smokeshow, anyway…. Does it?

But it’s not not those things either.

Regardless, January blows. And in my opinion, February, March, and even April might as well be lumped in with January as one giant season of wind and loneliness. Don’t get me wrong, I love the snow. And I love activities that involve snow too. Hell, I was born and raised in Colorado – my initial gut reaction after waking up to 8 inches of fresh powder is still to this day “FUCK YEAH, NO SCHOOL!” But that’s beside the point.

January is when the itch sets in. I start to feel cooped up and restless, like a kid in a car seat or a dog on a leash. I want to run around outside and climb big rocks and throw my sleeping bag down under the stars. But what I want to do most when January arrives is travel.

Getting the urge to travel come winter is something I am so used to by now that I often plan my year around it. I budget for it during the summer months and incessantly update the bucket list on my phone. I’m one of those people that constantly needs something to look forward to, whether it’s margaritas on Thursday or a trip to Asia in two years. I know this about myself. I know that when I don’t have anything planned or haven’t taken a trip in a while I start to get irritable, lazy, and above all, depressed.

Depression isn’t anything new to me and these days I can feel its creeping, sinister approach from a mile away. I know that when I begin to feel unproductive and lethargic on a consistent basis, it is time to make a change. And what’s the first solution my brain cooks up to combat the looming cloud hovering toward it? Travel, of course.

Traveling becomes a beacon of light that I can focus on down the road. A lighthouse that shines so bright I don’t notice the encroaching storm. A call that beckons me so enthusiastically that I forget about the quicksand of banality beneath my feet. And by the time that date arrives and I board the plane to whatever destination I chose, I feel weightless. No more downward pull of gloom brought on by complacency and comfort. Pure, unadulterated freedom and bliss.

Being such a classic Type A individual in so many ways while yearning to maintain spontaneity and explore new things leads me to inevitable exhaustion. Travel provides me a respite from such neurotic tendencies. It is the only time I feel truly free from the anxiety that plagues my day-to-day. I don’t have to think about when I’m going back to school or what I’ll study. What amount of my paycheck I should contribute to my Roth IRA or when I’m going to need to purchase a new car. Or if I do, at least I can plan it all out while sipping a caipirinha on the beach.

More likely though, my brain will be filled with which overnight bus I’ll take to get inland or what the fuck this tongue-like lard ball is floating around in my soup (it’s a tongue, by the way). When I’m traveling I occupy my thoughts with what is directly in front of me rather than the far out future that my brain usually winds up contemplating back home. Of course on those rest days, usually while journaling in a coffee shop or lounging in a hostel hammock, I occasionally make my way back to those future thoughts. But for some reason the anxiety just isn’t there. It’s as if I can contemplate the worries and fears on my own terms, when I want to confront them.

Life on the road forces me to live in the present, something I struggle with back home. At home I ruminate over the past and worry about the future. But travel throws life in your face so unremittingly and with such force that you have no choice but to open your senses and take it as it comes. I see sharper, hear keener, breathe deeper; I feel more.

One of my favorite feelings in the world is buying a one-way ticket and not knowing exactly what lies ahead. Where will I be tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Who knows? But I know that whatever life tosses my way, I will catch it and run. And that is the most glorious, empowering, and freeing feeling on earth.

The itch to get out and do something new or exciting is inherent; it’s in us all. It’s not always easy to pinpoint where exactly it lies or what scratch will satiate it. Perhaps you have no wish to travel but you sure as hell don’t want to be stuck in the rut you’ve dug for yourself over the last month or year or decade. It doesn’t always take a drastic action like moving across the country or quitting your day job either. Maybe for you it’s picking back up that hobby you loved in high school or starting a book club with your friends. Maybe it’s running or knitting or getting back out into the dating scene. Or maybe it is buying that plane ticket to a place you’ve never been but always wanted to go.

I urge you to find something that reinvigorates your passion for living. Find something that pulls you from the melancholy grips of monotony and forces you to be present. Follow your lighthouse and chase it ruthlessly, relentlessly. Whatever it is that opens your eyes a bit wider and gets that pesky itch to go away, I urge you to find it. Because if you do, I promise that you will feel happy and whole… at least until next January.

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