14 Dec

Leaving India: One Year Ago

G In The Autorickshaw, Delhi

We left India a year ago today.

We left in a state of deep despair; saddened that it wasn’t working out, wondering what it was going to mean for us, and fearful that it would mean the worst… that we were going to have to go home.

For a long time I couldn’t talk about our time in India or our decision to leave. I was, and still am, very emotional about our time there and our leaving – it all still seems very raw even a year later.

There was never any doubt that we had made the right decision. In fact, within one day of being in Thailand, we were feeling back to ourselves and the two weeks we spent on Koh Phangan over Christmas were heaven, punctuated often by the phrase Best. Decision. Ever.”

But what had gotten us to that point? I still don’t know what caused the perfect storm that culminated in us leaving, but I have come to a few realizations:

I had unrealistic expectations of Jason. I think I wanted him to make it all better for me…and he couldn’t. He was struggling as much as, or more, than I was and so didn’t have the strength to hold me up as well.

Coming to India was not his dream, it was mine and I was upset that he couldn’t stand up to it. I was upset that he didn’t like it and thought that if he just tried harder it would be better for both of us.

I was more than unfair.

We were sick and I refused to believe it should matter. Jason came down with a terrible respiratory infection. I caught it too.

I thought that it would pass and then, once we felt better, things would get better for us. We had hired a car and driver and had an itinerary to keep so we soldiered on thinking it would go away, but it just held on strong.

There were times we could barely get out of bed from exhaustion, we were barely eating and were wracked by coughing but we still forged ahead with the plan until it became clear that we could no longer. We ended up in an Indian emergency room buying medication from who knows who and holing up in our room pretending India didn’t exist.

I wonder how things would have been different if we had taken the time to heal.

I wasn’t behaving how I wanted to behave. I knew at the time that I wasn’t behaving how I wanted and, despite giving myself numerous talking-to’s I continued to behave badly.

I was short with Jason, didn’t try to understand how he was feeling or what his experience was. I was sullen when things weren’t going well and cynical when they were.

I had allowed a rift to form between us and I was too proud to reach across and help fill the gap. I was unable to support him and give him the help that he needed or to ask for the help and support I needed.

It makes me weep now just thinking of how I behaved. I am not proud and am deeply sorry. It fills me with shame but I have to admit that it is perhaps my behavior that was the true downfall of our time in India.

I think that’s why it has been so hard to talk about; because it means looking at myself with unabashed honesty and taking responsibility for my actions. I am finally ready to do that publicly, one year later.

Our year away was one of the hardest years in our 12 year relationship and, for a time, I thought that the three weeks in India might have done us in. Our decision to leave was based entirely on our one guiding principle; that traveling would not be the undoing of us. We left to preserve what little was left of us and to start rebuilding so we could carry on. We were lucky – I have read of many couples that did not withstand stress such as this and ended up parting ways.

I am grateful that Jason had the strength to eventually say that he thought it was time for us to leave and I am thankful that I had the wherewithal, finally, to realize it was true.

I knew traveling in India would be difficult, and yet I am loathe to blame her for any trouble that we experienced. I guess it’s akin to not blaming a petulant child for her actions…she is only as good, or as bad, as her history. I think she does her best, but expects a lot; is unconventional, but wants to please; is wanting, and wanted.

I left saying I would never return, but I don’t say that anymore. The country has an un-describable hold over me that I can’t deny. I will be lucky if there ever is a next time, but I will approach it with caution and respect taking the lessons learned from this time and apply them wholly and thoughtfully.

36 thoughts on “Leaving India: One Year Ago

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Leaving India: One Year Ago | One Giant Step -- Topsy.com

  2. Great post, Gillian. I agree with Ayngelina, things are not always perfect while traveling. Scott and I have been through some times where we have wanted to go home, and I think it’s natural. Especially if you are battling sickness. Maybe it just wasn’t the right time for you to be there. You never know, you may very well go back to India and love it!
    Christy @ Ordinary Traveler recently posted..How to Live an Extraordinary Life 14

  3. Scott and I also had our ‘times’ during our travels. It wasn’t really until 4-5 months in that all spats and upsets at each other stopped. Traveling like this is a huge adjustment not only for yourself but for your relationship as-well. I can’t even imagine how much this adjustment is excelled in a place like India!

    I’m so grateful for our trip not only of course for the experiences we had and the places we saw but for what it did for our relationship. I can’t even remember the last time we had a spat was….. def over a year ago that is for sure! I’m more aware of my actions towards Scott and I feel he is the same towards me now too.
    Deidra recently posted..10 random observations of Hanoi

  4. It’s definitely hard to admit when you’re wrong & I admire you for putting this out there. I’m glad your relationship survived & I’m sure the experience has strengthened you both. Thanks for sharing!
    Ali recently posted..A Day in London

  5. I have been to India many times in my life to visit family, I know it can be overwhelming at best. I’m sorry to hear that India didn’t work out for you that time, but I hope you and Jason give it another chance.

  6. Thanks for such an honest post. It does take courage to admit that travelling isn’t always perfect, and especially that we don’t always behave perfectly. Everyone has a completely different experience in a country and many factors affect your trip – getting ill certainly doesn’t help.

    I’m curious if you were in Northern India. Most people we meet who didn’t like it started there, which we found more hassly and stressful than the south. Kerala and Rajasthan are like different worlds. We worked our way from south to north and adjusted to the craziness gradually.

  7. Just read this post as I prepare to go to India the first time. Appreciate your honesty and glad to hear you worked things out!

    My husband and I met while living in South Korea; the stress of living there almost did us in.

    Best of all it doesn’t sound like you’re blaming India for how things went, but rather the physical/emotional reactions to it – a healthy attitude!

  8. Thanks for the post, I think many travelers come to India thinking they are going to travel the same pace and then just totally burn out. Then they go to the touristy areas and the infrastructure just hits them in the face and many cannot see beyond and what India is really about.

    If you return you should really find some friends to stay with. I stayed with friends for a week and it is a totally different experience than being a western tourist.

    Also the South is better to travel than the north or the Eastern Coast.

    The behavior is normal, I mean getting sick, dealing with the traffic style, the noise, and the infrastructure and such. Under those circumstances some strange behavior can occur.

    I have been in India for a month now and will be until the end of April, but staying in Egypt for five months makes India easy.
    Shawn recently posted..Home-Stay in India and Organized Tours

  9. Wow, I can feel your pain–I even shed a tear while reading your post. See, we had issues as well on our 13 months of traveling and I think it was because we had the expectation that we were on vacation and DAMMIT, WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE HAVING FUN!!! But the reality of long term traveling (no matter where it is) is that it is frustrating and you are always thrown off balance by something or another. Then, you throw in a spouse and wow, that just compounds it. Talk about something that brings out the worst in someone–it’s travel. We totally weren’t ourselves many times. In fact, when we finished our travels, we set out for some marriage counseling, not because we were going to break up, but just to figure out what the hell happened and why we had the feelings we had. It’s all good now and we look back on our year of travel as a wonderful adventure.

    p.s. Thanks for sharing–would have loved to have seen a post like this before we went so we would have been more prepared emotionally.

    p.s.s. We too were going to do India, but at the end of our trip, and thought it might be too emotionally draining (and we could do it on it’s own another time) and went to Egypt and Greece instead–so glad we did.

  10. I remember being with you in Bangkok just after your arrival there. I remember that you were both raw, both open wounds emotionally. You have always been that person that I felt the saying ‘Still waters run deep’ applied to. But those days in Bangkok, the water was not still and I felt that coming upon you so exposed, forged an even deeper bond between us, that for me, I am grateful to India as it gave me another Gillian I had not known and I love her dearly.
    Lisa recently posted..Blog Shorts Chapter 6 – Prince Valium

  11. Wow, what a brave post. I am very grateful that you had the courage to write the truth like this. One of my big fears about our upcoming RTW trip is how I will handle certain situations inevitable during travel. I know I can be stubborn, controlling and all of those other things we don’t like to admit about ourselves. I sometimes don’t want to be out of my comfort zone. Anyway, thanks for the reminder that travel can be emotionally hard on a couple. It will help us remain vigilant and remind us to put our relationship first.
    Kim recently posted..My favorite hikes near Portland- Oregon

  12. WOW Gillian, great post!

    RAW, REAL, DEEP and HONEST…Thanks for sharing so bravely, so openly. Kudos for pointing the finger at yourself**

    And travelling India is a tough test on most relationships…I call it the ‘home of my heart’ and have been travelling there for the last 13 years, and worked there for 10 (not based there though) and there are very few people I would take with me…long-term travel can be emotionally hard on a couple, but long-term India couple is hard on it ALL–emotionally, physically, mentally.

    Happy to discover your blog–lookin forwards to divin in to some more reading!
    Claudia recently posted..Love- Fear- and the War of Hearts

  13. What a brave and honest post! I didn’t want it to end. I think it’s incredible that you listened to your gut when it was such a difficult decision to make. Thank goodness you didn’t let an unfortunate trip ruin your relationship. India will be waiting for your return patiently. :)
    Andi recently posted..Chile- Argentina &amp Uruguay- Day 1

  14. Thank you everyone…I appreciate the support. Sometimes I get the sense that reporting back on travel should all be happy and lightness, but in reality, there are many gritty moments. Although this time was very difficult for us I wouldn’t trade the experience. I am better for it. Cheers!

  15. Gillian, thanks for sharing your feelings with us. India is a challenge and a complicated place. I am trying to write up a post about India now, and I am having a hard time. One of the reasons I didn’t like traveling in India was because I wasn’t myself there – I was very moody, overemotional, and overreacted to lots of things. There was definitely more fighting than usual between my husband and I, and I didn’t like it. So I can see why it was a difficult time for you and Jason. The most important thing is that you weathered the storm in your relationship.

  16. Totally captivating post Gillian. I worry about something similar between my wife and I when we are in Indonesia. How will we react to a totally different environment? How will staying for awhile with the in-laws affect our family dynamics. Will we struggle the same way you and Jason did? I guess we won’t really know until we try. I applaud your courage in this heart-felt post. It’s comforting to know that despite the trials and tribulations of the journey the two of you survived.
    Matt recently posted..Unconventional Book Tour – Stop 53 Portland Oregon

  17. Followed Ayngelina’s RT to get here — how was I not following you?!

    I love introspective, honest, raw posts like this and am going to take a look back now at your travels. Just started following you on Twitter.
    Heather recently posted..Life of an Americaussie

  18. I understand how your feel about India. I’ve had similar experiences. When I am there I can’t wait to leave, but as soon as I do I want to go back :)

  19. Wow…that was a incredible post…so authentic and powerful. I felt like I was right there with you and related to it based on some of my own experiences a while back.

    I admire your willingness to be so introspective and to share your story. It’s very mature and healthy. And it’s awesome that your relationship survived the experience. I would imagine that it’s stronger and better now than before…
    Lisa E @chickybus recently posted..Trippy Travel Photo 2- Guess What &amp Guess Where

  20. I think every day we were in India we remarked how we could understand why it was you paid all that money for that drink at the airport. Reflections are the overlooked part of the journey and kudos to you for keeping this going so long after the fact. (btw, don’t know how but we weren’t on eachother’s blogrolls…just fixed that!)
    Danny & Jillian recently posted..Photo Tuesday- Treasury

  21. I appreciate your honesty. My wife and I struggled while living in Southeast Asia and I can relate to your journey, the loss, the joy and lingering hold a place can have. It is true that people mostly want to hear how amazing it was, to see the colorful photos and believe that while traveling everything is easier and better. But in reality, some things get harder and somethings seem impossible.
    again, thank you for your honesty.
    be well!

  22. I am so glad that you left a comment on my blog so I could find your blog! I’m saddened that I had not found it earlier.

    I love your unabashed honesty in this. I have been with my husband for the better of 12 years and am so scared about our upcoming trip to South America. He is wanting to go but not nearly as much as I have it ingrained in my soul to be there and I’m sure it will carry its own issues.
    Erica recently posted..Travel Vaccines – The More You Know

  23. I remember reading your post a year ago and we were feeling the exact same way. We ended up taking a month break in Sri Lanka which helped a lot and then we went back to India. But it didn’t make us like it any more than before. It is still our least favourite country in all our travels. I think it is a good thing that you went to Thailand. Travel is supposed to be fun and if you were miserable in India, why be there? I had a respiratory infection the entire time I was in India and it didn’t heal in time for Nepal either. You did the right thing to leave and get better. You shouldn’t have any regrets whatsoever. We react and behave the only way we can in a moment. When emotions are running high, there is no censoring yourself. It is just good to see that your relationship was strong enough to make it through a difficult time. Glad you two are doing well. Wishing you the best in 2011

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  26. What an honest post. I like what you said about traveling not being your undoing. Even though traveling is what may make you who you are, it can never replace the people you love.

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  28. India is, indeed, a great challenge. I am glad to see that in retrospect you are considering going back (and can attest to the fact that life in the south is easier although.. it is still India!). We spent a couple of months there and often had the same reaction as you; how can they NOT see the filth and poverty and cow shit simply everywhere! And then, we’d round the corner and find an amazing market overflowing with flowers and spices and all would be well. But, we love it and hate it still, but must admit I have never felt more alive than while visiting that chaotic craziness and perhaps that is what draws you still. I think one should never feel bad about not loving every place they travel, and good for you for being strong enough to admit it.
    Rhonda recently posted..The Joy of Long-Term Friends

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