ADHD and restless wanderer are nearly synonymous in my book. The thought of permanently settling down actually gives me anxiety. And it turns out it might be written into my DNA.
I know, there is beauty to routine, to habit. There is so much value to really exploring a place, getting to know its ins and outs, coming back to the same spot time and again to observe the small, nearly imperceptible changes, to see mother nature do her work. I have read Byrd Baylor and Peter Parrnall's, “The Other Way to Listen” to my children to instill an appreciation for that incredible gift of learning to really get to know something or some place really well.
My Restless Wanderlusting Ways
I can even do it, IF I know that one day, doesn’t matter how far out in the future, I’ll be moving on to somewhere else. The thought of future vacations isn't enough. It's the knowledge that wherever I am will not be my permanent home. that thought makes me want to crawl out of my skin.
Permanency makes me nauseous. I guess that’s why I’ve changed career paths at least three times. I’ve never lived in the same place for more than four years, except our one stint in Los Angeles when I lived there for 7 years, 3 of which were spent on law school – I still needed some sort of major change in my life to be happening to stay sane.
I used to hate myself for it. Why can’t you just stick to something, Veronica? Why can’t you just enjoy mastering one thing? Why are you a Human Rights generalist, why not specialize in something and gain deep knowledge to foster deeper understanding of a subject? Why didn’t you stick with one major and write a thesis instead of double majoring and last-minute tacking on a minor? Why am I juggling the possibility of starting a career in functional nutrition, social media management, picking up weaving and wood carving in more than just a hobby kind of way, all at the same time?
The only space I never encountered these thoughts was when traveling. And I don’t just mean the “Why” questions. I mean, I didn’t have this propeller inside of me pushing me to look for something else, pulling me away from the present. I could just be. I could just explore, learn, stay present, discover, absorb everything the place had to offer. I didn’t even mind traveling to the same place over and over again because there is always something new to uncover, even in the same activities, or the excitement of sharing the space with someone new.
But keep me there too long, without a set plan to go somewhere else later? I just couldn’t handle it. I’d start taking on more and more projects, activities, responsibilities to fill that need for novelty, renewed learning, until I’d be so overwhelmed and so overcommitted that everything would fall apart.
My Genetic Predisposition to Wanderlusting
Just a few months ago, I learned something about myself that made this restlessness and anxiety about permanence (and negative self-talk) all make sense:
I have ADHD. I’ve had ADHD my whole life. I’ve lived with a motor inside me that just couldn’t stop for as long as I can remember.
It was never the kind of ADHD where I couldn’t sit still in the classroom or I daydreamed while the teacher frustratingly called my name until I snapped out of it and back into the classroom.
Mine was a dive-into-every-activity-at-250%-with-all-my-passion-until-I-burn-out kind of ADHD. It was an I-can’t-just-do-one-activity-at-a-time-but-have-to-have-every-aspect-of-my-life-consumed-by-multiple-ongoing-projects kind of ADHD. It was the I-must-experience-new-and-novel-places-spaces-cultures-languages-all-the-time-or-I'll-resort-to-self-destructive-activities kind of ADHD.
I went from ballet and piano, to ballet, karate, piano, and ice skating, to ballet/contemporary dance, swimming, track & field and more piano, with a dabble in violin, and so on. I went from a pre-med psych major, to a psychology/sociology double major and philosophy minor and forced myself to stick to it, even though I was starting to get enthralled by economics and political science.
I left college with a desire to pursue a graduate degree in economics or political science to prioritizing paying off my debt, to becoming excited by my background casting job, to then becoming frustrated at the lack of intellectual stimulation, to law school, to a career in international human rights litigation partly because I loved the work and partly because I wanted a career that allowed me to travel internationally (I got to move to D.C. for a bit), to merging my passion for teaching and the law through developing human rights clinics at my alma mater and then at the University of the West Indies (notice the change of geographical location?), to burning out on giving everything 250% in addition to wanting to be a present and mindful mother to two children, and so on…
And to this day, I want to learn EVERYTHING. There is literally not a single thing I’m not interested in. I was to learn every language, how to cook every culture’s food, the herbal wisdom of all cultures, art history, history or all parts of the world, woodworking, weaving, organic farming practices, animal husbandry, cheese-making, astronomy, foraging, child development, metal-smithing, marine biology, sustainability practices, film-making, photography, ceramics, drawing/painting, survival skills, sewing, fermenting, real estate, coding, paleontology, anthropology, sociology, psychology, linguistics, ...
My life's unintentioned motto:
In an age of specialization people are proud to be able to do one thing well, but if that is all they know about, they are missing out on much else life has to offer.
I say unintentioned because, I've tried so hard to make myself do one thing well, and my self-love, value, and pride has depended on that. Whenever I start going deep, I begin to wonder about everything else I'm missing out on.
I Exhaust Myself. . . Except When. . .
By the way, just sharing all of this is already exhausting. My brain is exhausted by how exhausting it is.
But do you know when my brain doesn’t exhaust me? When I’m traveling. When I’m planning a trip. When I’m exploring and even re-exploring something, some place.
I think I’ve always known that. That’s why I had to get away for university (New York, and exploring the East Coast in my spare time). That’s why I chose international human rights litigation (Law school pursuits got me to D.C., Detroit, Seattle, Argentina, Costa Rica, Belgium, Job 1 got me to D.C., Job 2 to D.C., New York, Jamaica, Geneva, Job 3 to Trinidad and Tobago, Brasil, U.K, Geneva, Dominican Republic).
But the motor kept running. The anxiety would creep in – after 9 months, after two years. What next? Is this it? Do I keep showing up to work every day? Yes, the careers I picked came with novelty – new cases, new human rights issues, new countries to sue, new NGOs to work with. . . but the itch to go somewhere, switch up the day, incorporate aspects of art, literature, learning new crafts, subject matters, go back to school to explore other degrees, go places beyond those which my projects were focused – that itch wouldn’t go away.
Being on the road or planning when I’ll next be on the road is the only time that itch disappears. It’s the only time I can breathe.
My DNA Might Make Me that Way
I’ve tried so hard to fit into the mold: having a home base, traveling from there part of the time, and coming back to that home base. I’ve tried for myself. I’ve tried for my parents. I’ve even tried for my children, because I know the value of consistency that the whole world speaks of when it comes to children.
But I just can’t. I was not designed that way. Did you know that the same gene that predisposes to ADHD also predisposes to wanderlusting? Did you know there's a gene, the DRD4 with the R7 allele, that is disproportionately found in persons who wanderlust and who have ADHD? It's the thrill-seeking gene, more than anything (and to just speak of this one gene doesn't even begin to get at the complexity of how we are wired). Still, it's funny how all the pieces of my life fell into place in a way that matches up with all of this research.
And when I say I do not want to live any other way, that I feel like I will suffocate if I do not embrace this piece of myself, maybe it is my genetic make-up that is driving me to accept my desire for nomadism. The more I try to force myself into another way of life, the less pleasant of a person I am to be around.
And the one thing I’m certain of is that my mental health and sanity is probably just as, if not more, important to the healthy development of my children than the consistency of place and schedule.
If my parenting is not consistent, if my mindfulness and presence is not consistent, if my engagement with them and expression of love to them is not consistent, no amount of consistency in place or schedule will compensate for that.
My Non-f*ckery Moment - Embracing my ADHD through a Nomad Life
So, in September 2021, when this vision came about – converting a van, home/wild/worldschooling the kids, embracing a nomadic world where our little home on wheels would come with us wherever we went. . . it just felt right.
Nevermind the fear of never having done something like this, nevermind having to figure out every single aspect of home/van-building, nevermind it all!
I briefly digress in an ode to Mark Manson's, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, on my audible shelf right now. Literally, when listening to chapter 1, "Don't Try," I realized it has all come down to not trying, to not giving a f*ck. I've finally had my non-
Everything felt right. Every bone in my body felt it. I finally let go of all the expectations I didn't realize were expectations that I placed on myself. I didn't realize that everything I was trying to was part of trying to fit myself into the box of of needing to settle down, of needing to stick to one career, of needing to dive deep into one or a few things.
It’s just not part of my make-up. It quite literally is not in my neurological make-up. And it feels so good to create a lifestyle that fits my neuro-atypicality, instead of consistently failing at trying to make my neuro-atypicality fit into neurotypical expectations I’ve placed on myself or consistently failing at finding a happy medium between the two.
And this isn’t just some romanticized vision. From figuring out where to boondock for the night, to where to explore, to the challenge of maintaining our drinking water supply, to rationing food for the week, to disposing of our waste, to managing to survive with two kids in 100 sq. ft. of space. All of it is spot on for my ADHD brain – managing the logistics, dealing with constantly novel challenges (even the mundane ones), even the drama of it in such tight quarters.
Life will always have challenges, we know that. So this choice, this embrace isn't about trying to avoid challenges, but rather, finally figuring out which challenges I choose to take on and creating a life where those are the challenges I face. So, . . .
Nomadism is how my ADHD manifests perfectly. Rather, nomadism allows me to embrace my particular manifestation of ADHD as it is. The more this story unfolds, the more authentic it feels, the more true to myself I am. Nomadism is the fullest expression of my self unencumbered.
It finally feels right and sharing this perfectly imperfect journey just feels like the thing to do. So, thank you for being here and being in this shared space.
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