This is a story about being alone.
I have suffered depression my whole life. For as long as I can remember. Through primary school, I didn’t fit in. I had no friends. I was the kid nobody wanted to sit next to. When the teacher would assign them to sit with me or be my partner on a project, they would act disgusted and protest in front of the entire class. I felt like I was dying on the inside, awkwardly standing by at 11 years old and trying my best not to burst into tears. Totally alone, I was without a single friend to run to for a hug or to vent.
I remember breaking my father’s razors and bringing them to school. When things got ugly and I was made fun of or laughed at, I would run to the bathroom and ￼dig that razor into my arm. I would scream and cry at the top of my lungs and start punching the wall until I had blood dripping from my knuckles. It’s hard to fathom now and it hurts to think of an 11-year-old doing this to themselves today.
Surfing did give me an escape, but only to a certain degree. Liquid therapy is the best, or so they say, but it isn’t always there. It isn’t something you can call upon in all of the darkest times in life. The ocean is a short-term fix that won’t always be there — especially the days when you feel trapped; when you decide life has no direction, and your purpose on this earth is meaningless. Over the years, I’ve come to realize this level of loneliness is something 90 percent of people must feel at some point in their life. So what do we do when we hit that lowest of low points?
By the time I started high school, I was starting to understand why I felt so different from everybody around me. Puberty was in full swing and I was discovering my sexuality. I cried my eyes out the day I realized I was gay. I had already spent my childhood feeling like an outsider and didn’t want to become even more of an outcast in every other aspect of life. The truth is, however, that everybody is an outcast at that age. We just haven’t found our path in life yet.
I have fought many demons in the past years that have come close to breaking me, and at times I still just hold on by a thread. The biggest demon of all was my fight against being alone in my younger years while coming to terms with my sexuality. I remember spending hours online as a kid searching for other gay surfers. Could I really be the only homosexual surfer on the planet? Of course not, but it certainly felt like it. I had no one to relate to, aspire to be like, or identify with having gone through similar battles. I had no one to share these experiences with.
What I do know now, for anybody feeling the same kind of loneliness, is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I waited until I finished school to come out. It turns out no one really cares about your sexuality. Gay or straight, they all have their own fight. So nothing changed when I came out and in hindsight, I’m still not sure what I expected to happen by openly declaring my sexuality after all those years. I did start to change on the inside, though. I became more confident and happier with myself, no longer carrying the extra emotional weight of keeping a secret from the world. It taught me that anybody can feel like the loneliest person in the world but in one way or another we are all alone. We can’t rely on others to bring us happiness. That comes from within. I wish today that I could go back 10 years and tell my high school self that. Now I know that once you sit back and learn to embrace your own company you’ll actually never be alone again.
I’ve now traveled the world with friends and I have traveled the world alone. I’ve traveled to contests by myself on the LQS, striving to make the world longboarding tour but always coming up a bit short. I’ve been lonely, but never alone. I always choose traveling by myself now over traveling with a companion. It’s shown me what it means to be free and to find my own direction. I was homeless on a trip to New Zealand last year because it was simply something I’d always wanted to do, having no worldly possessions other than a tent and sleeping bag. I spent a hundred days alone, drifting from place to place. I slept miles away from the nearest person, on top of my sleeping bag, underneath the stars. I learned what true happiness is and what it feels like to be completely content with myself, all because I started embracing being alone. Ironically, I discovered this while alone.
I’ve even noticed how people are now drawn to me because of the way I carry myself. I once spent a month living on an island near New Zealand and became known to the locals as the “bearded Irish man in the bush.” In the literal sense, that’s exactly what I was doing, living in a bush along the beach. Some mornings, people would stop by with fresh fruit and sit down to talk for hours. Things like this were pretty common, with locals constantly stopping by to share their company, leaving me in awe of their generosity and a little bit of extra help to get through each day. I was alone and so were they. At the end of our time together, we would each leave a little more relaxed and a little bit happier. No matter how wet or miserable the weather might be, my faith in humanity was regularly restored. If all these people wanted to sit and spend some time with me then I must not be half as bad of a person as I’d grown up believing.
When I find myself lost and feeling alone now, I look back on that place in time. Technically, I was experiencing true loneliness but I’ve still never been happier. I was happy inside and that rubbed off on even the strangers passing by. What I took away from that trip to New Zealand is that you can have absolutely nothing and no one but once you are happy within, somehow, people will always be near.