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Meet Will Collett…
Where it all began.
I was an extremely happy child. I had a great family unit and was lucky enough to have had a privileged upbringing, growing up in a village just outside of Cambridge. Little did I know how things would change in my adolescent years. From the freeing nature that comes with the innocence of youth, to the bottomless pit that can be one’s mind. This is my attempt to share my ongoing journey from those happiest days, to battling my demons. A fight to the death. One that I almost lost.
It was the summer of 2011, I had just finished my GCSE’s and I felt like the world was my oyster. Life was good. I had the boyish naivety that can be expected at that age. Nothing could possibly get better than this. And in many ways I was right. Even if I knew back then, that they were to be the last few months I would be living a problem free life, I don’t think I would have lived them any differently.
Growing up in Cambridgeshire meant that summertime was largely spent in the surrounding villages or perhaps slightly closer to town, in places such as Grantchester Meadows; a grassy stretch of land leading from the outskirts, right in to the centre of the city. Ideal for picnics, barbecues and swimming in the River Cam.
Having spent the past 5 years with my best friends on a daily basis, I was not ready to accept that this was all about to change.
It was the beginning of September, 2011 and the time had come around to tackle A Levels. The majority of my friends were following the same route, whilst some of the others pursued alternate paths in order to secure apprenticeships [paths that were perhaps more suited to myself looking retrospectively]. Looking at the various options that were on the table, it was clear that our group of friends would no longer be spending every day together.
It was the opening week of Sixth Form College when things started to change. Whether it was the pressure of starting in an intense and new environment or it had always been dormant in me but had somehow been triggered, my stomach became a source of much discomfort for me. After several trips to my local doctor I was diagnosed with severe Irritable Bowel Syndrome [IBS], much to my confusion and horror.
Prior to that appointment not only had I never heard of it as an illness, but I had spent my whole childhood believing I was bulletproof. Not fully understanding what was happening to my body was discomforting in itself. With no real direction from the doctor himself, I took it upon myself to learn about the condition.
It all seemed to start so quickly from nothing. Every food I seemed to consume would trigger explosive bowel movements and the stress and embarrassment of the situation only made matters worse. I felt like an alien, like the only person alive who could be going through this.
My journey to college in the morning, a mere 25 minutes, suddenly became the most impossible task. I would dread the mornings travel, knowing what lay ahead. A hint of traffic and my mind would race, fearing that we would be trapped without access to a toilet. For the first few months, there wasn’t a single day where I managed to do the whole journey without stopping at least once.
Now having arrived at college I had the unenviable task of making new friends whilst trying not to seem like the weird new kid who has to run off at the end of every lesson bursting to go to the toilet. As soon as each period was over, I was off like a greyhound, sprinting in order to make it to the toilet and then find my next classroom before the following lesson began.
As the day wound to a close, I started to feel nauseous. I knew that the time had come to make the dreaded journey home.
Despite the initial diagnosis, it was an extremely long time until I gained an in depth understanding of how to manage this condition in day to day life, a time in which unfortunately my anxiety surrounding any form of journey worsened dramatically.
Fast forwarding through my years at college, a journey in which I would slowly begin to get to understand how my body now worked, I finally found myself at university.
This was supposedly the pinnacle of education and had been the direction I had been pushing towards all the years prior [including 2 extra years of A Levels due to resist].
Unfortunately for myself, this is the time in which my anxiety went up several notches and developed into a severe panic disorder. This had monumental impacts on my life and was the first time I sought professional help.
With both my physical and mental condition induced by stress, the intensifying level of study had a direct correlation with my wellbeing.
Following a period of 2 weeks where I was unable to leave the house and then having a breakdown, my girlfriend demanded that I removed myself from my environment, whereby I returned home and stayed for the following months to recover.
Surviving such a harrowing struggle with the mental health issues I faced, where I went as low as is humanly possible, myself and my girlfriend decided to leave the country in hopes of finding solstice for myself as well as what would perhaps become adventure.
Embarking on this trip before I was ready mentally, turned out to be the best thing I could have done at the time. It was my first ever extended trip away and I was thrown completely into the deep end. I had no choice but to face journeys, as they were everywhere.
If I had stayed in England there is no chance I would have ever got on a bus, but somehow having flown to the other side of the world, I found myself on overcrowded buses travelling for hours across Philippine islands, admiring the breathtaking scenery they have to offer.
The trip which was originally going to see us back in a matter of months, turned out to last almost two years. Looking back on that time, the personal growth I undertook was incredible. So much progress was made.
Having had to bring the trip to a sudden and unexpected end due to the arrival of COVID-19 was heartbreaking. Arriving home to the UK the day after national lockdown was announced brought us crashing back down to reality.
After the novelty had worn off following our return home, I witnessed a huge spike in my anxiety, much to my dismay, having previously thought I had conquered my demons. I have come to accept that this is not something you can just conquer, however it is a journey you must learn to manage.
The following months have been a battle with both parental and societal pressures of getting a ‘secure’ job. With time being one commodity I have plenty of due to the pandemic it has allowed me to realize what I truly want and that is simply to be happy.
The societal idea of ‘success’ could well lead me to an unfulfilling and unhappy life. With times like these making me realize that ultimately, happiness is the most important thing in life, I look back to what makes me the most happy I have ever been. The answer is simple. Travelling.
Not only do I realize that I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the countries I want to travel to, I am in a position where I can help others out in a similar position who may have never made the jump and gone travelling.
I want people who may have IBS or who may be dealing with inner demons to realize that you are not alone and it can be done. Not only can it be done, but by doing it you will conquer more fears and learn more lessons than if you stayed on the path you were on otherwise.
I realize that this is a heavy post, however I felt that is important to be as open and honest as possible. You never know who you might be helping.
Will & Collett
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