Updated: Feb 27, 2020
Moments. Moments that build up into a big ball of “why’s”. Have you ever found yourself in the middle of some mundane part of your day like a phone call, a medical checkup, the office, traffic, or even just watching a movie… When out of nowhere, an invasive voice in your head asks you, “What the hell are you doing here?”
Like the annoying sound of an alarm. One that somehow you can’t manage to turn off, yet you keep on hitting its snooze button... again and again. Personally, I’m one to go for those five more minutes of glorious oblivion. That quick return to sweet but oh so short sleep. Only there’s a certain amount of times you can keep on snoozing until you face the fact that it's time to wake up. No matter how exhausted you are, you don’t really have a choice. So you open your eyes… cranky, confused, and sometimes even frustrated.
They say life is measured by moments. I say life is measured by a sum of moments.
And here's my sum. Starting from the moments.
At the age of nineteen, I left my home country, Venezuela, to study photography at an art school. I had many dreams of going to Vancouver, B.C., a city on the West coast of Canada, but for reasons I’ll discuss later on, I ended up in Calgary, Alberta. A freezing cold city during the winter- yet friendly and familiar. It was during those maddening winters that I started to lose my inspiration to photograph. Coming from a third world country where I documented protests and slums, I could not find myself as a photographer in such a clean, well ordered city of suburbs.
Living in such a peaceful city, free from any kind of political war taught me some values, that in Venezuela, we simply do not possess. However, after a while, this kind of perfection tired me, and I couldn't help but feel homesick. Even though I had spent every summer of my childhood in Canada, adapting to an Anglo-Saxon culture and its very different social dynamic was much harder than I imagined. After five years, this never really changed.
At the age of twenty, I spent my first summer off school back home in Caracas. That summer, I fell in love. The kind of romance I thought only existed in movies. That man had everything I ever wanted. He was a Venezuelan filmmaker, a photographer, a poet, an artist, but most of all… he was passionate. Those were two things I had never shared with someone in a relationship: art and passion. And he just happened to live in my city of dreams, Vancouver.
At the age of twenty-one, I made a decision to follow my heart completely for the first time in my life. And despite many contrary opinions and the advice not to, I temporarily quit my studies and moved to Vancouver to live with this man and continue my studies there. I did it all with the great hopes of becoming someone and building a future together.
This was my idea of a happy ending. Although we were so young and had only dated for a short amount of time before deciding to live together, it felt right. And I’m not going to lie, I’d been fantasizing about something like this since I was very young. However, when your heart says yes to something, how do you know if it’s betraying you? When it comes to making certain decisions, how do you balance between what rationally seems absolutely crazy, yet emotionally feels just right?
At the age of twenty-two, it didn’t take long for reality to slap us both in the face. The reality of what it truly costs to become an independent adult at an age where you’re still figuring out what and who you are. The reality of compromising all your needs and desires with another individual, when you’re still trying to understand what exactly it is that you need and want for yourself in the first place. I went from having a vague notion of self-identity, to sharing it completely with another entirely separate human being.
We both busted our asses off trying to afford our life as domestic partners. I sacrificed my weekends and any spare time I had during the week to work several jobs and pay my half of the shared living expenses. All while I went to school full time, worked hard to fill up my resume with actual career related experience, and tried to develop myself as an artist.
And so, our relationship was left with the crumbs of whatever small chunks of time we had left to spend time together. We were continuously forced to quickly overcome our personal challenges, or our relationship suffered. Inevitably, we couldn't catch up with it all and suffered the consequences. It took an incredible amount of hard work and persistence to keep our relationship solid. We were attached to the dream we had of this perfect life together and we were not about to give it up.
At the age of twenty-three, that alarm I mentioned started to go off. Pangs of depression came and went consistently. Yet I was so disconnected from myself, I didn't realize why or where it came from. Although I probably should have and had to- I still was not ready or willing to give something up. I thought I could keep it all and still make things work. I said, "Everyone else is doing it, so why can't I?".
So, I kept on hitting that snooze button, again and again. Patching things up in whatever way I could. Making decisions that seemed to help in the short term, but only ended up being destructive in the long term. No matter how much I tried, I could not keep escaping the annoying sound of that damn alarm. And by refusing to listen to it, I felt further and further away from my own dreams. The ones I had beyond just the fairy tale ending.
At the age of twenty-four, something had to give. Like a domino effect, everything came tumbling down. I had lost myself completely in a whelm of torturous self-doubt, and confusion had gotten the best of me. Trying to juggle so many things at once while fighting to keep myself together, I forgot what was most important: my own mental health. And at this point, I didn't even know how to regain it.
After going through three different types of therapists, desperately looking for someone to tell me what to do, one of them asked me a question. "Close your eyes," he said. "Now forget about everything. Your relationship... your jobs... your home... your studies. If you had the choice to do just one thing, what would it be? Where do you see yourself? And what do you see yourself doing?" And that's when I heard it. That little voice inside of you that's so hard to listen to. I knew what I wanted. I had known all along. But I was not ready to face the consequences of making that decision. What became certain to me was that in order to regain some sense of clarity, I had to give it all up and leave.
And so that's what I did. I walked away from it all - my home, my studies, my jobs, all my belongings and my relationship. Still with the hope that, once I figured out what the hell this alarm was, we could be together again.
So, I packed a small carry-on suitcase and got on a plane to Vietnam, where one of my oldest friends from childhood was living. While I sat on that plane, I really had no clue what to expect. I went on this journey on a quest, yet I had no idea what it was that I was looking for. The only thing I knew for sure is that I had hope that at the very least, I could regain myself.
And there it is for now. The sum of moments from the start of my twenties. Some beautiful, others tragic, but a good chunk unforgettable. In other words... life.
But what was the sum of these moments? Well, I like to compare it to the big bang. A painful collapse of everything I thought I wanted, everything I had created up until that point, in order to start from scratch and evolve into something new. That alarm was a call to wake up and realize it was time to take a different direction. What I realized is that, sometimes, we unknowingly become attached to the things we desire to create in that time of our lives. And somewhere along the way, this attachment prevents us from accepting that, maybe, this end destination we are struggling so hard to get to, is not where we are meant to go.
Do I ever regret the choices I made prior to that breakdown? No. Do I think I made a mistake by choosing to prematurely live with someone I had fallen madly in love with? No way. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. We courageously dove deep into building a life together and for a while, created a beautiful partnership. With all of the work it took to maintain, the amount of personal growth that we got out of that experience was truly priceless.
I know a lot of people think that what I did was not wise. And some of them have even taken it to themselves to let me know that what I did was a huge mistake. But I'm proud that I chose to listen to my heart back then. I'm glad I decided to break the rules instead of "playing it safe." I don't think you can grow all that much by being perfect and trying to live life by the book.
Sometimes, you have to make a mess. And, other times- you have to be a mess. Those years marked a truly unforgettable time of my young adulthood and no one can take away from me the lessons I learned from it all. I consider myself far wiser than those who have criticized me or labeled me as reckless. And I don't disagree with those who say a lot of it had to do with my age. But I do feel sorry for those who continue to dismiss the value of people's lives and the choices they make because of them being "too young to know better."
It was the sum of these moments that made me who I am today. And without that breakdown, I would have never ended up in Southeast Asia- and lived the amazing adventures that have shaped me into something I never thought I could be. Did I “find myself”? Well, I'm not sure I even know what that truly means. Do you ever actually find yourself? And if and when you do, does that mean there’s nothing left to search for within yourself?
And so here I am, at the age of twenty-five, back in my home country, Venezuela. Telling you my story with the intent of starting something bigger. Creating a space where I can tell stories that I think need to be told. Starting with my own.
In my next post, I’ll be talking about my trip to Southeast Asia. If you’re looking for tips, or a list of places to go to, you won’t find it there. But if you’re curious to know how a trip to a region so different from everything you know can be so transformative… then, welcome, mi casa es tu casa.