Updated: Jun 26, 2020
| This is the 399th story of Our Life Logs |
When all is behind you,
When sharp pebbles and raindrops have faded into your footprints
And the path ahead is new,
Take heart once more.
I was born on a Thursday in April 1986 in Rutherglen Maternity Hospital, on the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland. As one of my favorite poems says, “Thursday’s child has far to go.” I was destined to go afar. When I was just two days old, I was taken on a twin otter plane to the Isle of Tiree. This was my home for the next eighteen years.
I was the oldest of two girls and loved spending time outside with my sister and parents. We could freely roam the beaches and watch the sun set over the shoreline. However, when it comes to making friends outside my family, I came up nearly blank. Because of that, my childhood was lonely, mostly. And on top of that, I was often bullied in school.
As I got older, I’d go for long walks alone on the beach to think. I dreamed of doing more with my life someday.
After high school, it came time to choose a path for my life, and I decided to study business at university in the nearby city, Glasgow. I enjoyed the program, but I struggled a lot with anxiety and depression during that time, because I feared I was on the wrong path. Eventually, I dropped out of school and wandered around, lost. I had no indication of what I wanted to do next with my life.
I had a hard time finding meaningful work and often compared myself to others, who all seemed more successful than me. I found myself going from one dead-end job to the next with a weighted feeling of despair. I didn’t really like living in a city, and I felt trapped. I knew that I wanted to change my life and change how I was feeling, but I just didn’t know how.
Things became worse for me mentally after I was attacked by two teenage girls on a train who tried to rob me. Not long after this, I started to have panic attacks, and I didn’t feel safe going out at night. I became more withdrawn, staying at home so I didn’t have to face the world and its scary realities. I struggled to fit in and cope with “normal life.” I was plagued by suicidal thoughts and even began saving up tablets that I considered over dosing on. I didn’t really want to die. I just wanted things to be different.
I was officially diagnosed with anxiety and depression and was later sent to a psychiatrist who said I had anxiety disorder. Discovering this made me feel worse, like I was even weirder.
I was in desperate search of direction or purpose in my life. In 2008, I went back to college to study art and graphic design and finished my courses two years later in 2010. Still unable to find a job I wanted, I decided to apply for a working holiday visa to New Zealand. I thought maybe I’d find healing in another country.
After living for a year in New Zealand, I caught the travel bug. From there, I worked in Australia for two years and spent some time in England at a Buddhist center. All the while, I was still struggling internally with my anxiety and depression.
Through the Buddhist center, I met a girl from Taiwan who was planning to walk The Camino de Santiago. It was a 560-mile trail that spanned the length of Spain. It started in St. Jean Pied de Port in France and ended at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. It sounded like a great challenge, and I was mesmerized.
I began researching The Camino de Santiago on the internet. The scenery looked breathtaking and I read stories about people who had made dramatic changes in their lives after walking the Camino. It was transformative and spiritual for them. Many people walked it to heal emotionally. I think that was what appealed to me the most. I desperately wanted that. I wanted change.
My dream of walking the Camino, however, didn’t happen immediately. After England, I returned to Glasgow and got another job far from my passion. I worked as the “unofficial” assistant manager of a charity shop that helped those with terminal illnesses. My job was to sort through piles of donations, which sometimes wasn’t so bad. But other times, all people would donate was rubbish; tattered clothes and broken bric-a-brac.
I knew I was helping others and I was working for a good cause, but I felt that my dreams resided elsewhere. Plus, I was miserable in this job. I called myself the “director of chaos” because we were often short-staffed and most of the time, I was left to run the shop all by myself. I got obnoxious hagglers, an old man who stalked me, and once, I even found a gun in one of the donation bags. It brought a mountain of anxiety.
In 2016, I tried starting a graphic design business on the side, but it just wasn’t taking off. So I continued to work at the charity shop. Meanwhile, I kept in touch with my Taiwanese friend. After she walked the Camino and told me all about her adventures on the way, I wanted more than anything to walk the trail myself someday. I ordered a guide book from the internet with maps of the walk and promised myself I would do it. But for years, it was just a distant dream. I kept pushing it off to save more money, but I think I was also too scared to take the risk. I knew it would be a great challenge, and I was afraid to leave my comfort zone.
At the beginning of 2018, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression for the second time after I started experiencing weird new symptoms. I lost a lot of weight and looked like skin and bones because I was too busy and stressed to eat. Lights seemed too bright, and everything seemed too noisy. My senses couldn’t cope with my daily life, and I felt like I was going crazy!
A counselor later told me that the symptoms I’d been experiencing were of a nervous breakdown. It made sense. I mean, I constantly thought that something terrible was going to happen. I never felt safe, and I started having dreams about the shop. I would often go home after work and sob into my pillow. I fantasized about escaping and walking the Camino, but I was worried about leaving my job. There seemed to be a lot of unemployment in Glasgow and I worried where I would find a new job after coming back. I felt that I was lucky to have a job, even if it was a bad one. I tried to grin and bear it. But then it got to be too much.
One day, after an unreasonable customer threatened to punch me, I decided that I’d had enough. It was time to stop putting off my dreams out of fear. It wasn’t worth it. That same week someone had donated a pair of walking boots to the shop and just for fun, I tried them on. They fit perfectly. I took this as a sign to finally walk the Camino. I bought them and abruptly quit my job in September 2018.
I walked out of my life, and I didn’t stop walking. The Camino de Santiago was waiting for me.
Some might say that I arrived at the start of the Camino de Santiago underprepared. Within two weeks of quitting my job, I was standing at the entrance’s trail indicator with little idea of how long it would take me or if I’d have enough supplies to last the adventure. As I stared at the windy trail in front of me, I drew in a deep breath and took my first step, hoping that this journey would be as transformative as I’d been told.
Near the end of the walk, I attended a community dinner at a hostel, where we were given the opportunity to reflect on our Camino experience. A clamshell with a candle was passed around the table like a talking stick, and we were asked to answer how the Camino changed us. The energy in that small circle of people was so special, unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It felt like a safe space to speak whatever truth you kept hidden in your heart.
Dealing with anxiety for years, I was not usually one to talk about my feelings, especially to a lot of strangers. However, during this ritual, I felt totally calm. I was able to express myself clearly for the first time in a long time. I told the group that the Camino had helped me feel calmer and more connected to myself. I said that I had left a bad job and was looking for more purpose in my life. As I sat around people as vulnerable as me, I felt an immense sense of confidence inside me. After years of being scared, I finally felt courageous and determined to get more out of life. It was time to pursue my true passions.
I walked almost 560 miles across the whole of Spain, through vineyards and cornfields and across the Meseta dessert to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela and finally to the ocean in Finisterre. The walk took me five and a half weeks altogether. By the end, I felt rejuvenated and healed and returned with lifelong friendships from people of all ages and nationalities. Through hearing their experiences, I healed myself and became stronger than ever.
Since coming back to Glasgow in November 2018, I decided to turn a new leaf and chase my dreams. I jumped back into my graphic design business and started to improve it. I also found a love of freelance writing and even gotten a few e-books of my short stories published.
What I’ve come to learn is that you can’t wait for your life to begin and you can’t live in fear of the future. If I had kept doing so, I would likely still be working a dead-end job that’s harsh on my mental health. When life gives you a sign, don’t ignore it. Take it by the horns and let it guide you to your destiny.
This is the story of Abi Latham
Abi Latham currently resides in Glasgow, Scotland. she grew up with a lot of anxiety and depression that made it difficult for her to continue with her education and build a career in life. She worked in a lot of dead-end jobs and after a particularly bad experience at work, she decided to quit and walk the Camino de Santiago, a 560-mile trail across Spain. This walk helped her gain her confidence back and heal from her past to pursue her dreams full force.
After walking the Camino, Abi finally realized her passion of becoming self-employed and has since written two e-books of short stories on Amazon. Her art website can be viewed at: http://www.abilathamdesigns.com. To keep herself focused and on track, she has written a list of her goals and dreams and is refusing to let anything or anyone hold her back.
This story first touched our hearts on July 21, 2019.
| Writer: Abi Latham | Editor: Kristen Petronio |