Travelling so many long kilometres, it gives you a lot of time to contemplate the road ahead, and not just the black top under the vehicle.
When we talk about our trip, we’re often asked what we’ll do when the journey is over, the Legend is returned to Nissan, the camper trailer returned to Cub Campers. What will we do when life goes back to normal?
Kirstine has come to the conclusion that there is no “normal” life for us. The plans we had when we first married have for the most part gone out the window. Oh sure, we still want our “happily ever after”, but our perspective on that has changed dramatically since Paul got sick last year. When you get married, you plan on spending the rest of your life with your partner, and eventually taking care of each other when you grow old. That’s how it goes in the movies, isn’t it?
In 2016, nine days after we got married in New Zealand, Paul had multiple heart attacks and nearly died. Less than three months after we eventually returned from New Zealand, Paul told Kirstine that he nearly took his own life on the way home from work. The fun loving but strict father who used to spend time on activities with the children, disappeared. The ambitious and efficient husband, who’d had such a successful high-level career, who laughed at his wife’s wacky ways, changed. Paul could no longer go outside, kept the curtains closed, shook uncontrollably with anxiety, lost all interest in life, and was enveloped in an impenetrable cloud of darkness. Shortly thereafter Paul was diagnosed with PTSD and major depressive disorder. Kirstine’s domestic job description changed from Mother & Wife, to Mother, Wife & Carer. Kirstine looks at family photos she’s taken over the last couple of years, and can’t believe the change. Not exactly a Disney movie, huh?
Yet, those incredibly dark days, weeks and months, which still linger and haunt, led us to where we are now. It’s definitely not all sunshine and roses, travelling full time with children, and talking about our experiences. Sometimes people, under a guise of caring, want to know specifics about the events which culminated in Paul’s breakdown, and he becomes disillusioned with the ghoulish intentions, retreating from everyone again. Kids, being kids, bicker and argue. We get cranky with them, they get cranky with us. Even Paul & Kirstine get frustrated and snap at each other occasionally. Kirstine is teary every time she talks about her role as a Carer and concern for Paul’s health. It’s an emotional rollercoaster for all of us!
And still, we are always complimented on the kids’ behaviour, and their ability to help set up/pack up camp. They surprise us with the details of sights we have seen and how it has impacted on them. They are excited every day to see where we are going. Paul & Kirstine still sing duets in the car, much to the amusement of the kids. We are making memories as a family, and putting all else into perspective, what’s an adventure without some stress to make you appreciate when everything is running smoothly?
Kirstine met a kindred spirit in Wagga. Mrs G, a woman whose husband was diagnosed with PTSD after serving 24 years in the NSW Police. After two-three years, her husband has returned to work in a completely different field, and has purpose again in life. He no longer takes a huge list of medications the way he used to. Mrs G’s story ran concurrently to ours in so many ways. Her husband’s illness showed the true colours of “friends” and family, and brought out the people in their lives who truly cared. They stopped socialising with people who couldn’t understand/believe that her husband was mentally ill after a successful career. They made new friends. Most importantly, Mrs G told Kirstine that it’s “early days yet” in Paul’s illness. “It may take a couple more years, but he’ll get better”, she said. “PTSD never goes away, but there IS a light at the end of the tunnel, hang in there!”. Like Kirstine, Mrs G’s eyes were watering, the emotions of a Carer always run just under the surface, showing themselves when happenchance brings you into the path of another who understands and empathises.
This amazing road trip that we are on is changing us fundamentally, as a family and as individuals. Whatever comes afterwards, we’ll be together as a family. It won’t be a Disney movie, but we’ll find our purpose, our happily ever after, by working hard at it. You can keep your “normal” life. We like ours just fine, warts and all 🙂