I take a lot of walks along the lakefront.

Reclaiming my life.

Someone once asked me why I like long-term travel. I thought for a second before replying,

“When you’re home you wake up every morning and think, ‘What do I have to do today?’ But, when you’re traveling, you wake up and think, ‘What do I want to do today?'”

It was harder going from a full-time life of wants to a full-time life of have-tos than I led myself to believe.

I was more depressed, coming home from travel, than I led myself to believe.

That’s not to say that being home isn’t what I wanted. That’s not to say that having a home isn’t what I wanted. That’s not to say that having a full-time job, a consistent job, isn’t what I wanted.

But my life over the past twenty-two months hasn’t been what I wanted.

Over the past two years I came home “permanently,” accepted a full-time job, got an apartment, bought a couch, fell into a slump, gained 50 pounds.

I had had such high hopes, so many plans, for being home. I looked forward to all those things that came with being in one place, being a local. I looked forward to taking art lessons, music lessons, dance lessons. I looked forward to having a gym. I looked forward to writing at the same coffee shop every weekend. I looked forward to having a core group of friends around.

But, I did none of that.

I signed up for a jewelry making class as soon as I got home, something to keep me occupied, something new to learn. But then, on the day of the second class, I couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed and go. I stayed in bed the entire day. And I did that every weekend. And I skipped the rest of the lessons.

And that’s been my pattern. I’ve spent most of the past two years in bed.

And my sleeping patterns were going in weird, complicated, cycles. For months I would stay up until 3 in the morning every single night and then hit the snooze button a million times over each morning. I’d spend my days as a zombie, day dreaming of sleep, only to stay up all night again. Then, for months, I’d go to sleep almost as soon as I got home, having no energy or desire to do anything else. And then I’d still hit the snooze button all morning. And I’d still spend the entire day day yearning for a nap.

I was sleeping and eating and working and binge watching Netflix and not doing much else. I was doing nothing, but felt like I had no time to do anything.

I was existing.

If you can even call it that.

I knew I was in a slump. I knew I was depressed. And I couldn’t get myself out of it.

But I’ve become sick of just existing. I know there’s so much more out there and I know I don’t have to be traveling to feel whole again.

Lately, finally, I’ve felt myself crawling out of it all. I’ve been feeling more balance in life, making time for exercise, socializing, work, and personal projects. I’ve been sleeping on a semi-normal schedule. I’ve been active.

I’ve been happier.

I’ve been reclaiming my life.


I’ve stopped making to do lists

There are a million things I want to or have to or should be working on at any given moment. My blog. One of my other blogs. Online classes. Going to the gym. Cleaning my apartment. Paying my bills.

And, so every week, I’d create a to-do list. Often it would be impossibly long, completely unattainable. And I knew that but I’d still challenge myself to do as much on that to do list as humanly possible.

I kept thinking, as soon as all those projects are done, as soon as everything is in order, I’ll be happy.

But then I became a slave to my to do lists. If I wasn’t working to cross something off I’d feel anxious, guilty. I’d say no to going out because I had things to accomplish and if I did go out I’d spend the entire time thinking about what I could be accomplishing instead. And if I didn’t finish my list, and I never finished my list, I just felt more weight on my shoulders.

So, I stopped. It wasn’t a conscious choice, really. I just went a Monday without writing everything down. And then another week went by and then another. And I finally felt like I could breathe again.

Yes, I still have to clean my apartment. Yes, I still have to pay my bills. Yes, blog posts aren’t getting written, online classes haven’t been completed, and web projects are laying dormant.

But I don’t feel as anxious, as guilty. I’ve been going out more because I feel like I have the time to go out more. And when I’m out I just enjoy being out.

I’ve slowly started writing to do lists again. After all, there are things I want to get done. But I’m trying to keep them more manageable, I’m trying to focus on one project at a time, and I’m trying to remind myself that it’s OK if it doesn’t get done right now, that there’s always next week.


I started walking

I’ve become obsessed with walking. You can blame my Fitbit for showing me just how lazy I had become. Since March I went from getting 2,000 steps a day on weekends, from struggling to reach 10,000 any day of the week, to averaging 24,000 a day. I get off the train three stops ahead of work and walk the rest of the way. I go for a walk on my lunch break when I would have just sat at my desk. I go for a walk after dinner when I would have just sat around watching reruns on Food Network. I wake up early every weekend and walk. I’ll walk four and a half miles down Clark Street and return up Lincoln. I’ll walk ten miles, from my apartment to Montrose Beach, to Navy Pier. I walk as much as I can.

And, somehow, despite spending hours and hours more a day walking, I feel like I have more time. I feel like I’m getting things done. I’m waking up even earlier than I had been but not feeling quite so tired. I have more energy.

And I’ve lost 15 pounds.

I take a lot of walks along the lakefront.

I take a lot of walks along the lakefront.


I signed up for guitar lessons.

When I moved into my apartment one of the things I was most excited for was living near a music school. I started taking guitar lessons a few years ago but couldn’t continue because I was traveling at the time. When I moved near the school I was eager to pick it up again. But, I didn’t. A year and a half went by and I didn’t sign up for lessons. I always had that excuse of money or time, but, really, that will always be an excuse.

I signed up for Guitar 1, retaking the class I already took, because that was apparently four years ago and I can’t remember anything. I start lessons in two weeks. I’m ready to make some music. (Though, what I really need is a banjo…)

So ready to learn how to play this thing.

So ready to learn how to play this thing.


I bought a Groupon for salsa lessons

I realize that I always say I have no time and then add a million more things to my plate. But I sometimes feel like there are all these things I want to do and then I never do them.

I fell in love with salsa dancing in Colombia. For two and a half weeks it was all I did with myself, it was all I wanted to do with myself. I rediscovered dancing and remembered how much I loved it, remembered how happy it made me. And I promised myself that I would continue dancing when I got home.

And I didn’t.

So, when I saw a Groupon for half off of a month’s lessons, I bought it. Now I just have to use it…


I’m traveling

It’s over halfway through 2016 and I’ve used approximately one day of vacation time. I wasn’t actually planning on going anywhere, I had no trips planned, and couldn’t afford anything. But then, a few weeks ago, I thought, fuck it, and booked a trip. I’m going to Austin and Seattle over the next week to visit friends and eat everything in sight. And then, next month, I’m going to New Orleans for a conference.

So, nothing big, not right now, but exciting none the less. I’ve never been to Texas or Louisiana so I’ll be crossing off two more states. I’ll be seeing some friends I’ll be happy to see. And, did I mention, I’ll be eating everything?

I'm pretty much the lightest packer ever.

I’m pretty much the lightest packer ever.


I really have started to feel happier lately. I’ve been turning my life in Chicago for a life of have tos to a live of wants. I want to travel. I want to walk. I want to play the guitar. I want to dance. I want to write.

I’m ready to wake up every morning and think, “what do I want to do today?”

I’m ready to reclaim my life.

Reclaiming my life.
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What do you want to do today?

Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

  • Ali
    August 19, 2016at10:19 am

    This makes me so happy, Val! I’m so glad you’re doing better and taking back your life. I’m so glad you’re signing up for classes you’ve been interested in for so long. I’m happy for you that you’ve started walking so much and lost 15 pounds. Those have-tos and to-do lists can be killers, even if they are sometimes necessary. It’s important to balance them out with the want-tos and the fun stuff. Also, you have me thinking about getting a Fitbit now…although since I work from home, I’m kind of scared to see the thing say “100 steps” at the end of the day!

  • Scott
    August 19, 2016at10:45 am

    Good for you! I always come home from trips motivated to become a tourist in my hometown and go out and do all kinds of awesome things… and then I sit on the couch. It’s tough to break that cycle but you are on your way. Walking is a big one. Any time I’m in a strange city, I will walk anywhere that is less than 2 miles away. Yet at home I rarely do that. Getting off the train early is a great idea!

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