Post Expedition Syndrome, in short PES. I made up this combination of words the other day just before reaching Buckingham Palace and the end of another Expedition. I felt it even coming before I had made it to the end. This is one subject of exploration very few explorers want to talk about, but after chatting to quite a few who are spread all over the world, I know I am far from the only one going through this quite disturbing time. The reason nobody want to talk about it is because it is mainly dominated by the darker forces of life. Like sadness, emptiness, pure exhaustion, loss, fear of the future and a sense of not belonging to the normality of modern society.
Sure, when I reached Buckingham Palace and met the rest of my family, and the following two days was some of the happiest in my life. But already at the airport and especially when taking the train back from Copenhagen Airport to Malmö, it was all on. I wrote this in a small note to my Facebook friends:
“Back in Sweden…..and you know what…don´t laugh Georgia Villalobos I miss England and the kindness and helpfulness, because after taking the train from Copenhagen to Malmö, what can I say…the Swedes are such a unhelpful bunch of assholes sometimes….we had four big pieces of luggage, a stroller, two toddlers…people didn´t even move their feet to make it easier for us to get on the train and not one, not one single person offered to help us…amazing! This would never, ever happen in England! Thank God we have great friends in Malmö, like Karolina Jeppson and David who are putting us up until we know what to do….otherwise I would have returned to Moss Side!
These so called sourswedes (sursvenskar) as my friend the writer Lasse Berg calls them are the worst of the worst. They´re so incredibly self occupied, spoilt and scared of being talked to…my God!
I am off to bed….I´d like to do a documentary about these Sour Swedes (sursvenskar), but it would be incredibly depressing.”
There´s no doubt there´s quite a lot of truth as regards to the sourswedes, as many other Swedes also noted as replies to my angry note, but most of all, this was a pure sign of PES. Pure exhaustion combined with the fear entering into to this complicated world called normality. It causes loss of patience, anger and just a big wish to return to the known world of exploration.
I think it is really important we start discussing this issue because there´s a lot of people who have to suffer the consequences of PES. Like my own family. Even though my wife is the most tolerant of people, after being away from her for two months, the same applies to my oldest daughter, they want to be with you, they want a functioning family and when one has lost all physical and mental energy, this is a very demanding task. Because there´s no doubt, even though I can´t scientifically prove it, that a year on an Expedition, equals 5 normal years. A doctor once told me this after I had returned from 2½ years cycling in Africa. And I´d like to included our year in Moss Side into the Expedition picture. That is the physical and mental damage involved. I am not complaining, just stating a fact for other explorers and those involved with this life, for better understanding. And this is a feeling coming even though the Expedition has reached its target. I can´t even imagine the extra feeling of loss if those goals haven´t been reached and it is a failure in one´s own eyes.
Even though the England Expedition was far from being one of the hardest I have done physically, we averaged about 8 miles (around 13 km) and we walked every day even though some was strolling only around in a city, I´d like you to note that we were 24/7 ready to film, talk to people and figure out things. Plus that Dana is still a toddler with all that included. So, as a whole it was a hard Expedition in my eyes. Yes, Dana is sort of suffering from a light PES. She is very needed for mummy and fed up with dad! Or she is punishing me for not being on the road. The future will show what it was.
So, how do I feel right now? I feel utterly exhausted, I don´t know how to get my act together and just feel I don´t belong anywhere. I have no idea how I would feel if I didn´t have this extraordinary family. Probably much, much worse.
I have written this for others involved in this odd life, and their family and friends, to read to understand and realize that it is is very common. Even though nobody wants to talk about it. Only time, patience and rest is the cure.
Dana just woke up, I need to change her nappies. Her mum and sister are out sorting things out. We are staying with friends right now, our flat is in somebody else´s hands still for awhile.
* If you have time to kill after reading this, why not check the photo album from Expedition England to remembering the easier life on the road.