When Nothing Else Matters

Action Life, Travel 0 160

There was a very bleak time in my life a few years ago when I felt like nothing mattered.

I’m a very normal guy, we are all different in our own way but really, I’m just like everyone else. So when I hit “rock bottom” in late 2013, I don’t believe there was anything unusual about the dark thoughts crossing my mind or the many depressing evenings I spent cursing my own situation. I felt sorry for myself but somehow managed to get out of bed each morning and continue to live through an existence that was making me completely miserable.

I try not to allow the loss of both parents some years ago to account for any of this situation but I will fully admit to using it as an excuse to have little or no concern for anyone else. I had become self destructive in this time, my acute anxiety issues were spiraling and I continued to make so many bad decisions one after another – I truly hated the person I was becoming.

A lot of people think highly of their own character, I’m sure many also believe that more people would like them “if only they got to know them” and this was most certainly the case with me. However the truth is, I thought more about myself than anybody else, it was my biggest flaw and it became the catalyst for why I decided my life needed to change.

In late 2013, I could see no way out of feeling depressed other than to do something drastic. I realised early on that whatever that something was, it had to be a challenge of some sort, it had to involve something I was genuinely interested in (travel) and I needed to do it alone. I had no experience but for some reason decided a two wheel journey would be the best way to go about it and the most terrifying place I could think of to travel by bicycle was Africa.

Derek cullen when nothing else matters bike africa

Life possessions on a bicycle and ready to take on another wilderness in Northern Kenya

Ultimately, I figured by doing something that scared me so much and by doing it alone – the uncertainty of this trip would address a lifetime of fear or anxiety and the time alone would allow me to get to the bottom of who I wanted to be, rather than who I was becoming.

This entire thought process occurred while I stood over the River Liffey in Dublin one Monday morning trying to figure out what to do. I walked home that day, booked a flight online and one week later I was in Cape Town, South Africa looking for a second hand bicycle. It all seems so crazy now but maybe that’s because it WAS a bit crazy.

derek cullen biking africa desert

There were many desert crossings. this was the first – Naimibian desert

 

Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

The year that followed changed everything I thought I knew about life and about my own self. Each day I cycled into the unknown, camped beneath the stars and the next morning I usually made coffee on a tiny stove as the sun rose over the many deserts or African plains. The locals were friendly as always, helpful, inquisitive….the children would follow for miles. I have never been so terrified as sleeping in the tent wondering what animals were outside, I spent some nights shaking with fear for this alone and there were too many moments when the solitary nature of the trip made me pain for someone to talk to, to touch, to tell me everything was going to be okay.

derek cullen bikes africa

Overcoming anxiety/Northern Kenya: By the time I cycled alone into a place where everyone told me not to go, I knew that my anxiety issues would never be the same again

 

On the very first day riding a bicycle through Africa, I collapsed after just 30km feeling very stupid indeed. But I got up the next morning and tried again, the same process reoccured over and over. It seemed dream-like arriving to the foot of the pyramids in Egypt - I had cycled the length of Africa and the only reason it was possible, was because I didn't give up

On the very first day riding a bicycle through Africa, I collapsed after just 30km feeling very stupid indeed. But I got up the next morning and tried again, the same process reoccured over and over. It seemed dream-like arriving to the foot of the pyramids in Egypt – I had cycled the length of Africa and the only reason it was possible, was because I didn’t give up

 

In the end, the adventure of riding a bicycle across Africa taught me to love the uncertain nature of life itself and when I realized what I worried about each day never came to happen, my anxieties all but disappeared.

It was a beautiful journey in many ways but mostly for personal reasons. By facing into the unknown each day, I learnt to stop procrastinating, to embrace the fear and to push on past self limiting beliefs. By starting this cycle with no experience or planning, I came to understand how being “ready” is not always important and in fact, it is mostly just an excuse – the only important part, is that we do something at all. By meeting the many faces of Africa, I realised how we all have the same hopes, same needs and same dreams. There is no difference between what any of us want.

When I look back to that moment a few years ago when I felt like nothing mattered, it seems so ironic to have unknowingly used my darkest moment as an opportunity to change everything.

I guess it’s not really about what happens in life, it only matters how you respond.

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About the author / 

Derek Cullen
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Derek Cullen is an Adventurer, Blogger & Filmmaker from Dublin, Ireland. In late 2013 he began riding a bicycle solo across Africa while sleeping in a tent. It was here that he discovered a true passion for the outdoors, filmmaking and the general unexpected nature of life. Derek is currently making a documentary about the journey and training for the next great adventure. www.NoHangingAround.com

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