When Traveling Gets Dark (West Coast Girl, Pt 5)

Here’s a list of the previous chapters just in case you want to catch up to speed:

To Write Is An Adventure (Pt 1)

Writing In The Mountains (Pt 2)

Balancing Writing & Travel (Pt 3)

Living The Dream In Banff (Pt 4)

Banff, Alberta

Winter 2013-2014

After the amazingly fun summer at the HI in Banff, I really missed my old crew. Meeting some new people and starting paid work helped fill the days and my homesickness for the volley room started to subside. Sebastien was there so it was nice reconnecting with one of the volleys there. He arrived at the HI a little later than I did, so I wasn’t as close with him as I was with Aline, Kata, Jacky, and Steven, but he was a nice familiar person to chill. In many ways, he was like a bridge between my early Banff life and the later one.

The people in my new staff house were fun, but chill. I had my own room again and was able to balance out my writing with socializing and work. At least, at first it was a decent balance. I remember two of my roommates from Quebec, Erik and Alan, were super helpful and kind with helping me settle into the house. I’m also not proud to admit this, but I found that housekeeping job to be triggering. I think it’s because there was no set schedule or target. They’d just spring the work on us and I always felt like we’d never get out of there. Combine that with the ill-fitting scrubs we had to wear and I was not only depressed but I felt frumpy. Erik and Alan were a big support to me during that time.

“We realize women have that time of the month so you’re not always in the best mood,” said Alan kindly.

I usually cleaned the chalet kitchens while they did the harder jobs. It made the days pass a little easier. Looking back, I can see how volatile I was when I was out of my comfort zone. It’s amazing what a little therapy and combating faulty thinking patterns can do.

We’d often hang out in Erik’s room, which was decked out with an amazing sound system for music and movies. One night we went out dancing and it was so much fun. They both had such defined dance moves, unlike my basic chill moves. One night it was just me and Erik watching a movie and he was trying to make out with me, but there was something childish about him and I didn’t feel comfortable going there. He was more like a little brother to me. Unfortunately, he wasn’t interested in just being friends and quickly moved onto a new girl crush. Alan and I were still good though. One night Sebastien and I grabbed McDonald’s after a night of dancing and Erik walked in with a black eye – apparently he’d gotten into a fight at the bar. I rested my hand on his shoulder and asked him if he was okay. He looked surprised, but shrugged me off.

“You don’t care,” he said coldly.

I felt bad, but my intuition was right to not get involved with him. He ended up getting fired soon after, but I don’t recall hearing the exact reason. It’s too bad, but it wouldn’t have been a good permanent home for anyone either way. I’d never experienced roommate situations before in college or after so it was hard to get used to living with the same people you’d see at work everyday.

When some new people moved in, the vibe changed drastically – the new roommates wanted to party just about every night and they seemed to have no idea what personal space was. The times I spent out with them were fun, but when I wanted to get back into my writing/nature walk routine, they would keep bugging me to go out with them. I’m not judging – a lot of these people were really young. I understood their need to experience certain things when it was their first time away from home. I had that experience already when I was at the HI in the summer. I didn’t want to party every single weekend anymore. While I loved dancing some Sunday nights (It’s Sunday Fun Day in Banff!), that didn’t seem to be enough for them. They seemed to make it their mission to harass me to drink or go out with them. Guilt ate away at me every time I said ‘no’. Saying ‘no’ wasn’t easy for me – unless it was something extreme like sex or drugs. It’s harder to say “no” to an invitation to hang out – at least for me back then.

One night when I was out dancing, I bumped into someone else I’d met back at the HI. It was nice to see a familiar face. Seeing me on the dancefloor, he slipped over and whispered in my ear to ask if I wanted to go outside. I’d been dancing for a good few hours and needed a breath of fresh air. We left together. He’d found a cooking job in town and I was glad to hear that he was settling in. He was far more mature than most guys in their early 20’s. He was ready for a relationship and he was handsome, but I felt like something was off, like he was moving too fast before we got to know one another. He suddenly leaned in to kiss me while we were talking. I said good-night and we continued to message each other on Facebook. One day we went for a walk to the cave basin which was a gorgeous scenic walk. While he was nice, I didn’t feel a romantic connection with him. It’s funny how that happens – connections are such an interesting mix of factors. You either feel something for someone or you don’t – there’s no forcing it. It didn’t erase the fact that he was a great person.

I was looking for a warmer winter coat that would help me brave the frigid Alberta winters. Knowing this, he stopped by my place once to give me his smaller coat. It was so kind of him to help me out, but he hadn’t given me any notice and I was in the midst of befriending a new coworker. He saw that I was with other people and not very welcoming to his unannounced visit. He apologized, bowing out. I don’t know why I allowed that friendship with him to slide, because it would have been helpful to have someone who was more stable. The people in my house, on the other hand, often served drama right on my lap. If I was in the mood for partying and liveliness, it was okay, but some nights I just wanted to relax after working and writing all day. At this point in time I was writing A Season To Fight or The Red Coat and the Redhead. My favourite cafes to write in Banff were at the Starbucks, Wildflower, and Second Cup. They all had such a cozy vibe with a gorgeous view out the window.

I remember writing an intense fight scene at the Starbucks there one evening after work. It was cold and snowy, but my soul glowed. I came inside and sat on the couch, gushing to Katelyn, my girl roomie, about my writing session.

“Oh my God you’re like so giddy,” she said happily.

It was nice they supported my writing. It wasn’t always craziness and toxicity, but it can be tough to function peacefully in a house filled with people who have different values and lifestyles. I admitted to Katelyn and Cain one time that I was divorced. They listened to me without judgement and I really appreciated that.

“I can’t picture you married,” said Katelyn with a laugh. “You’re so independent.”

“I mean, he did help out with the chores so it wasn’t all on me,” I said. “He just didn’t support me in the ways I needed. He was always out for himself. He didn’t even like cuddling.”

I didn’t like talking about the marriage. To me, it was in a past life. I moved on and was becoming my own person. I did see myself getting married again in the future. It had to be a great romance the next time, because I didn’t want to go into something that would probably end like the last one. I was out to discover what I really wanted so that in the future I could be the best possible person for my future partner. In 2013, I probably wasn’t a very good woman for anyone.

My time in Banff was a reasonably productive time for my writing. There were also a couple of really fun nights where me, Katelyn, Cain, and Phil would go out together to play pool or dance. I felt like we were in the middle of The Reckoning Song – those were some wonderful nights. It was also cool we shared similar tastes in music – we all had an appreciation for 60s rock, grunge, and modern stuff.

The problem for me was that they wanted to have those kind of nights all the time. It felt like the nights I did go out with them weren’t enough. In a place like Banff, many people party every night. Going out once per week is considered to be “never going out” there. You might as well never go out if you’re only going to dance on the odd Sunday night. This rapidly turning cycle of fun, happiness, annoyance, stress, and guilt flooded my body with stress hormones. I was entering a very dark chapter in my life. I remember wanting to leave and get to Vancouver before the winter hit, because I sensed something bad was about to happen. This impending doom was not a figment of my imagination.

I let my workout routine slip, which led me to experience the worst 6 months of my life. Health and fitness are the backbone of my mental health as well as physical health. I felt stuck, much like how I did right before I left my home city. That is a very dangerous place for me to be. I wanted to leave and go to Vancouver where I knew I’d be happier, but I didn’t have enough money to leave and start a new life. My low mood impacted how much I could work – which led to a vicious cycle of working just enough to pay for my rent and some food, but not enough to save up and leave. When you’re in that mode, it feels almost impossible to get out of it, like you’re trapped with no light at the end of the tunnel. By the time I realized I was in survival mode, it was already too late to try to prevent it.

One night, the darkness won. I was hanging out with someone whom I’d had some difficult conversations with before and for some reason, I was expecting him to be civil with me that night since it was a party. He’d been so kind and interested in me when we first started talking. In that moment, we were giving one another verbal jabs on the couch until he got up and handed me his beer.

“Hold my beer,” he said.

“No way in hell,” I said, walking away.

I was not well. Maybe it sounds childish now, but in that moment, I felt very low. I started hyperventilating and was saying very bad things about myself. Katelyn was able to talk me down and guide me to my bed.

“Just rest and if you need anything, I’ll just be in the next room. Okay?”

While her kindness and maturity de-escalated my moment of crisis, I was too restless to sleep. I sneaked out and went out for a long walk around the town. While it was late, there were still people out and about. It was surreal that I considered hurting myself just an hour ago, but Katelyn had helped me. She was a very good person. Despite how we’d bicker sometimes, she was there when I really needed someone.

The fresh air and movement did me some good. I took some deep breaths, reminding myself of my dreams and goals – to publish many books and to live in Vancouver. I was learning how dangerous it can be to drink alcohol when I’m feeling down for any reason. With me, any emotion I’m feeling is intensified by alcohol. If you are already feeling bad, drinking alcohol can make you feel worse.

On Halloween, I put some special makeup on and fought the depression in the best way I knew how. I went out dancing with my roommates. I remember how hard they tried to hype me up. I felt like one of the characters I wrote about years ago in 2010 – back then I didn’t know what real depression felt like. Sometimes creatives glamourize darkness a little too much, but there is nothing romantic about depression. One minute you’re listening to a little too much Lana Del Rey and the next you’re fighting for your life.

A photo of my cat costume for Halloween 2013.

On new year’s eve 2013, Katelyn and I left the party early. I was having a nice time dancing, but she wasn’t feeling the vibe so I left with her.

“I’ll always remember spending the end of 2013 with you,” I said to her as we walked back to our home.

“Me, too,” she agreed.

Some nights she wasn’t having fun and I’d always go back with her. She needed people to sort her emotions out with. I seemed to sort mine out better when I had space. Ken, a guy who lived downstairs, knocked on our door around 2 AM after the party was over. He was playing a guitar and serenading me to open the door. Kateyln, who was sharing the room with me, opened the door. His eyes were as cold as a villain played by Cillian Murphy. Ken had done something against my consent a few weeks earlier in his room. I was drunk that night and no one believes drunk girls. I’m not complaining, I’m stating the truth. This is how many social dynamics tend to work.

I was just trying to stay away from him.

“You have a guy who wants to sing to you on new year’s eve!” cried Katelyn. “Don’t be so fucking rude.”

I went to him and told him I was too tired. It was past 2 AM.

“I’m sorry if you feel bad about the other night,” he said. “I know you’re not that kind of girl, but I’m that kind of guy.”

It was hard to move on from what happened when he would pop back into my life sometimes, but I did my best to shake him off. The problem is Katelyn and Cain were friendly to everyone – even to Ken after I told them what happened. This is what I mean when I say toxicity. I loved them as friends, I really did, but they helped enable bad behaviour from a guy we barely knew.

I started having stomach issues so I went to the doctor to have some tests run – all the results came back negative. That was when my doctor asked me if I was feeling depressed. I told her I was.

She nodded empathetically. “You don’t have Celiac or diabetes or any other physical issues. It’s the depression that is causing you the discomfort.”

I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so when she recommended that I take antidepressants, I thought it would be worth a try.

“These will give you the energy you need to get more active and see a therapist,” said my doctor gently.

I admit it helped me feel better after a few weeks, but not in the rejuvenated way. I felt numbed, but it was a lot better than having that exhausted, sick, sad feeling every day when I got up. I think the counseling at YWCA was the most helpful thing for me – my therapist showed me a realistic plan on how to move to Vancouver while learning to function in the day to day life in Banff. She used a blend of talk therapy and CBT. There were things that I knew would help me feel better – spending time at the gym, working more to save money, setting healthy boundaries with people, but I felt so unmotivated at that time. It’s like I needed a little boost, just enough help to give me some momentum. The pills probably helped with that a little, as did her counsel.

I saw her once when I was writing at the café. She was with a guy and they seemed happy together. I’m not sure if it was her husband or boyfriend, but it made me smile. They weren’t just tourists passing through and working odd jobs before they left, they’d made a home in Banff as a couple. I smiled as I watched them walk away. They must have been so happy. It made me realize I could have something like that one day, too.

The photo above was during an amazing day tubing. This is a great example of the good days I had despite my internal struggles. Even though I was going through a tough time, there were many good memories that were made.

Because I couldn’t drink with my antidepressants (That’s a dangerous mix), I had the perfect excuse to not party with my roommates. I needed a break from that life. Alcohol and parties can breed drama – not just fun. I was grateful that I didn’t get into that scene when I was younger. I don’t think I would have had the capacity to handle all that goes with parties and party people. The times back at the HI were amazing, because the people I went out with were relatively responsible. A couple of them had professional careers back home and they didn’t ever get wasted. Steven was fairly mature for his age as was Sebastien. They had restraint.

To add more complications to this situation, there was a crush between Cain and I. He was very sweet at times, but I mistook his actions to mean that he cared for me. It broke my heart when I realized it was all just a bunch of fun for him. Some things happened that shouldn’t have, but at the core he did want to help me feel better, even if the way he did it made things worse. He and Katelyn had been through their own struggles – there was a reason why they left their hometown to travel. We were all just trying to survive in the best way we knew how when we were there.

I remember one morning I woke up to Cain playing Stairway To Heaven on his acoustic guitar, perfectly and beautifully. It was one of the things I loved about him – his taste in music and artistic soul.

This is the hardest part of traveling – once the novelty wears off, there will be bad days and challenges. It isn’t all romantic hikes and fun nights dancing away. No place in this world will be perfect. I needed to give myself permission to set healthy boundaries and allow myself to process all the emotions that happen when you live in a tourist town. People come and go – often too soon due to the transient nature of Banff. The people who stayed seemed to only want to party and weren’t interested in creating a healthy routine. I needed my own place, but I also needed money. I had to recognize the reality that saving enough money was necessary to move on. This experience helped me learn what type of environment I would never want to live in again. I also learned more about my needs, especially after taking therapy.

It was wonderful to have a professional counselor at the YWCA acknowledge some of the abuse I’d experienced in the past. I hadn’t even meant to talk about my past relationships in Ontario; I tried to weasel my way out of the past. In my mind, it was another life, but my therapist skillfully asked the right questions, probably to get to the bottom of why I was currently allowing such bad treatment in Banff. She could see that I was capable in many areas of my life – relationships just seemed to be a struggle.

At least Ken’s ending in Banff is somewhat satisfying. He wanted to take two weeks off to visit Tofino with a friend, but they got I.D.ed by a cop at some point on the drive to Vancouver. His passport wasn’t up to date so he got deported back to Australia. According to Katelyn, he had been in Canada illegally for several months. He wouldn’t be back in Banff or anywhere in Canada for some time. I had a good laugh about that one.

In mid-February, I visited my family in Ontario for a few days. I remember their look of surprise when I met them in the airport.

“You looked very Banff-ish with your beanie and your backpack,” said my sister.

I was such a girlie girl when I left Ontario. Of course, I’d always been into fitness and nature, but living in the mountains definitely brought out some of the rugged-ness in me. The transformation must have been dramatic to them since they didn’t see the gradual changes over the past year.

“My baby girl!” cried my mom as we hugged.

I hugged my dad and sister, too. I confided in my sister about what happened with Ken, among other things. I wondered if my parents knew.

It was nice to see them after being away for almost a year. While I was happy to see them, I felt a strange negative energy from being back in my home city. The bad feeling didn’t go inside of my parents’ home, though. My Mom had a lovely display of tea and scones for when I came back and it was so sweet of her to do that. I realized how lucky I am to have a family who loves me. I don’t think it’s the city itself that gives off a bad vibe, but it was a warning as to why I left there in the first place. My time out west had only begun; I just needed a break from the housing situation I was in.

On my way back to Banff, I booked a hotel room in Calgary with a gift card that was given to me by the resort for Christmas. When I landed in Calgary, I was excited to have a full night and morning to myself – something I hadn’t had in so long. I remember how refreshed I felt after one night alone. It reaffirmed my need to save some money and get my own place as soon as possible. While roommate situations might be necessary sometimes, they’re not healthy or sustainable for people like myself.

After I checked out of the hotel, I went to get my hair done. I felt almost like a new girl as I headed back to Banff.

The photo above was my view from the 54th floor of the hotel room. It was kind of the hotel to give their employees such a generous gift. Calgary is a nice city overall. While I couldn’t see living there with how sunny and cold it gets, it’s a nice place to visit. The city is modern and clean.

When I returned to Banff, everyone remarked how refreshed I looked. It had definitely done me some good to be away from the staff housing and all the drama it brought. Cain and Katelyn set up a single room just for me – there would be no more sharing. I was touched at how kind they were to do that. They were starting to understand my need for privacy and it meant a lot. Despite the dysfunctional dynamics of the household, I did miss them a little. After everything we’d been through, we remained friends. The new room was a great way to restart my time in Banff so I could eventually leave on a good note. I didn’t have the heart to flee like a wounded animal. I wanted to feel strong when I left.

When Cain left, it was pretty sad. We had a big going away party for him. I remember how he hugged me last and told me he hoped I’d make it to the west coast. Katelyn and I mourned his departure together. He was on his way to the UK and we Skyped him once. Our little Banff family was scattering. As new people came to work with us, Katelyn and I gravitated to other groups. I think we needed time apart.

One day, two new German guys started working at the resort. Spring was coming and the nasty coldness was gone. My mood was improving after stopping the antidepressants. I quit the pills cold turkey and in my case, I felt nothing negative aside from some light sensitivity. My mood actually improved after stopping them. I knew that my issues weren’t due to a lack of serotonin, but from the stress that comes with living in an unstable environment. One day I worked with both of the new guys and we talked about going to Tim Hortons. I asked them if they wanted to actually go there and have a talk, amazed that there were finally people who enjoyed the simpler things in life like coffee dates. They expressed a lot of enthusiasm to meet me and my new roommate, Angel, there. Their arrival was like a breath of fresh air and slowly, my depression began to lift.

“I’ve been out on that open road
You can be my full time daddy white and gold
Singing blues has been getting old
You can be my full time baby
Hot or cold

Don’t break me down
I’ve been travelin’ too long
I’ve been trying too hard
With one pretty song”



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