So it has finally happened. After 40 years on this earth I have finally traveled outside of the States. I mean I’ve been to Mexico a few times, but I’ve never really traveled. To be honest, I never thought I would ever make it out of my home country, but now here I am in Thailand.
Exploring the world was never on my radar. Needless to say, I didn’t do any traveling growing up. Processing my life out with my therapist has helped me understand that since I have been in survival mode since I was 7 years old, there wasn’t any room to think about travel or vacation. Like most people, I've had vacation time and been to a few local places, but never voyaged that far from home. Back in the day, I would build up my vacation days and use them one or two days at a time to extend out a weekend or take a few days to go somewhere with friends or my significant other. Vegas was my favorite getaway. I would go there every other weekend back in the day. Yosemite was another place I frequented. A weekend out in the wilderness was and always will be a nice quick trip, but still “real travel”, it is not. Catalina Island, near LA, was my version of a getaway. I mean you have to take a boat to get there, so I considered that “real travel”. Nothing could have prepared me for the feeling that I have right now, as I sit here, writing this blog over 8000 miles away from home. It’s sheer joy. I feel like a giddy kid going to Disneyland for the first time.
So I have two versions of myself now: pre-stroke Joe and post-stroke Joe. Pre-stroke Joe was stuck. Lost. He was only looking to survive the day and looking for comfort of some kind in any place he could find it. Post-stroke Joe has grown tremendously. I now take chances and do things I would never have even considered before. I mean, I am blogging now. Never before in my life would I have even considered talking about how I feel, let alone share my intimate thoughts and experiences. I’m starting up my first podcast called NeuroNerds with my awesome co-host Lauren and we are now having discussions about doing some episodes abroad. I've emceed a few events and plan on doing more in 2018. Again, all of these new experiences wouldn’t have been a blip on my radar pre-stroke and now they have wet my appetite for even more.
I knew that I wanted to travel, but I didn’t really put much thought into it past that. The first step was to get a passport. I did that a few months back (and thank goodness I took a good picture). Getting a passport was a big deal for me. I never thought I would need one, let alone use it. I remember speaking in passing to several people about where I would go first. It was a simple question that I had no answer to. I was also asked what place I had always wanted to travel to. Again, I had no answer. I always liked Canada, I guess. I had no real reason why I wanted to go there. I just kind of wanted to go. The motherland to me is Puerto Rico, but it might be a while before I could visit considering that so many people still don’t have power there yet. Ireland, maybe? I do love beer. I felt bad not really having a place that I wanted to travel to, but that feeling didn’t last long. I realized that the destination didn’t really matter to me as much as the act of travel itself and for the first time, traveling was within my grasp. I couldn’t stop thinking about the process of traveling - the planning, the packing, the plane ride, the new people, culture, sights, sounds, food and customs. I was mentally prepared and just waiting for an opportunity. That opportunity came much sooner than expected.
My buddy, Sleep, had spoken in passing about taking a trip to Thailand in early 2018 and how it would be cool if Felice and I could join him. We discussed it and thought it would be a good idea. Sleep and Felice would be able to work on music for her album and I could get my podcast in order for release and travel for the first time with an experienced international man of mystery. We were in. We bought our tickets and it was official - I was going to Thailand. In the days leading up to the trip, I wasn’t nervous. I was oddly calm. Even on the day we left, I was excited, but not really nervous. I just couldn’t wait to get going. It was the longest plane ride of my life. We had one pit stop in Nanjing, China and for some reason they kept our passports before our connecting flight. It’s a long weird story for another time, but it ends with us avoiding an international incident, getting our passports back and making our flight to Thailand. That was just over a week ago, but for me it seems like so much more time has passed. The whole experience is still very much a blur, but it has all been full of joy and excitement. After a 20+ hour flight and a 2-hour taxi drive from Bangkok to our Airbnb in Pattaya, I was exhausted. I did my best to take it all in. Once I was settled in, I went to the restroom to splash water on my face and shed a tear. I made it. I traveled halfway across the world. Nothing like almost dying to open your eyes to a better way of living. In so many ways, I am a brand new person. I have a second chance. I’m not just a survivor. I have always been that. I am a new and better version of myself on my way to being the best version of myself. Most importantly, I am alive. For the first time in my life I am truly alive!