The essence of recovery part 1: enjoying Lombok's Gili Islands

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June 20th 2015
Published: June 21st 2015
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I write in honesty. I am on a journey, as are we all. My explorations in Indonesia are merely steps on a greater venture, they are the path I chose to take after the road I'd been following took a twisted turn and I fell.  Supported to climb back up, I sought a new path to destinations unknown. What have I found?  A clearer view and many encounters.

It was recently suggested to me, in friendship and genuine concern, that in taking this time for myself perhaps I should conceal the 'fun' and share only the 'recovery'. Wise words, for perception is everything. But to me, this misinterpreted the essence of recovery. When I shared my aspiration to seek meditation and wellbeing in Indonesia, a friend advised that it should be meditation, wellbeing and play. She was right. Many things feed the body, mind, heart and soul, and to explore, befriend others, frolic, feel joy and experience the beauty and privilege of life are core ingredients. Play is part of human nature. Crucial for child development and found in various forms the world  over, to 'play', to laugh and to enjoy life fuel happiness. Of course, survival comes first and some of us can indulge more than others. Though I believe that as social beings the basic need and desire for enjoyment is with us all.

I came out here as a step to recovery. Recovery from illness and heartache. My long term anxieties around sleep and difficulties with chronic fatigue will not be 'cured' by this trip. I am not so naive. I have a long climb ahead requiring dedicated time, belief, effort and work.  Yet recovery from  depression and emotional pain has proved an easier step for me (my personal experience, not always so for others). I did not come out here to 'find myself', I came to get myself back. To be once again the person I used to be and know I am, who had over time become distanced, partly altered and temporily trapped.  I still carry a broken heart and deep hurt, which resurfaces on occasions to torment me, but I'm so happy and grateful to declare that even with my 'issues' I have not felt so alive, so loving of life and so 'me' for a long time. Whilst my mind and heart need further attention, with time, space and means for adventure my soul and spirit are healed and thriving.

Observing the beauty of the world around me has been a key part of this. As I write, I am sit alone on the bridge of a ship ferrying me back to Bali; breathing in the ocean air and admiring the gilded waves as they pass between the distant clouded horizon and my sunsoaked self. I feel relaxed, grateful, privileged and enlivened.  A crucial brick within my path to this state of mind and emotion has been fun; play, venture, enjoyment and the healing qualities these hold.  So to exclude these from my story would be to tell half a tale.

I have never been at risk of self harm or suicide, though many struggle with this including some of my friends. When I was unwell I was trapped in negative thinking patterns and on occasions experienced dark thoughts, images of harming myself, making the misery stop, though knowing that I had no intention of acting on it because I desperately wanted my life back. I felt like an outside observer, looking at a world I knew from experience is beautiful but unable to fully engage in it. This was distressing and further fuelled my sadness, despair and the depression. Now, with a change of situation and room for healing I have freed my mind and emotions. As I sit on hilltops admiring majestic panoramic views, and dive with tropical fish and turtles, my eyes are once again open and I'm fully here, seeing and experiencing the beauty and wonder of the world, feeling privileged and grateful for life and questioning how I could ever have contemplated such tragic thoughts. The point I am making is that adventure, fun and enjoyment are healers and a crucial part of recovery. So I shall share with you my experience of rest, adventure, play, fun, learning and healing in Lombok.

Part 1: Two faces of Gili

Lombok's Gili islands are like porridge.

Gili Trawangan is hot and not for the fainthearted...this bustling hotspot for party goers was tasty to sample but an indulgent dish.

Gili Meno I deemed to cold for my taste, a quiet destination for alone time or loved up couples, I passed on the menu.

Gili Air was just right. The baby bear's breakfast of islands balancing tranquil tropical lanes with mellow beach restaurants, bars
R&R on Gili T after the partyR&R on Gili T after the partyR&R on Gili T after the party

Enjoying a Berry Antioxidising juice
and a spattering of dive shops. Clear blue waters lap onto soft yellow sand strewed with coral titbits from reefs beyond, whilst just offshore turtles swim with tropical fish inviting snorklers to join them. Scents of bbq'd fish waft after sundown, enticing hungry diners to feast alongside the starlit sea. As grilled snapper and tuna are digested, the only party to be found is an impulsive jam session where a happy few visitors joined locals playing guitars and a water bottle drums to catawaul half known lyrics to Indonesian and English songs alike.

Gili T - a hot start

Stepping off the boat you find yourself on a spot of cigarette butt littered sand where hourdes of backpackers jostle to disembark/ board in transit to and from the party. A few steps further and you've arrived; the east side strip where bars, restaurants, dive schools and shops throb, buzz, call and cater to the throngs of tourists swarming up and down the narrow lane. Transport options are bicycle, foot or horse and cart. The latter follow the Indonesian highway code, honk your warning loud before the survival of the biggest. As the tourists relax and frolic, the islanders work and the horses toil harder. Slaving in the heat, the decorated ponies ferry people and luggage to and fro whilst their cinderella sisters cart bricks and imported wares.

Having settled into my friendly little guesthouse, tucked safely away from the bustle but near enough for convenience, I rented a bicycle and explored.  Bumping down dirt tracks and onto the mainstrip, I whizzed along it all, past the corn on the cob and icecream vendors, the snorkeling trip sellers and the line of bars with live reggae alongside throbbing bass, pumping up the daytime vibe with promise of the party after nightfall.  My exploration took me to the top of the island where I found a small reggae beach bar nestling on white sands in front of blue ocean. I took a seat on a tree swing and watched the coral mobiles sway in the breeze as I swung to and fro, breathing in the view and revelling in the sensation of peace, freedom and awaiting fun.

As the sun goes down the night market rises.  Stalls compete to sell bbq'd fish and chicken accompanied by a wide selection of tasty morsels and rice (Nasi Campur). Travellers meet and
Dancing on my last night on Gili TDancing on my last night on Gili TDancing on my last night on Gili T

I found an Italian who loves to dance as much as I do
greet over food and bintang; friendships are made and nights are planned. I joined a group of Canadians and Brits for a classic traveller chat ("where are you from?..."where have you been?"...what do you do back home?" goes on...)  Long timers on the island they were heading 'home' for a quiet post dinner bintang, so with different plans I ventured out alone.  Each night one of Gili T's alpha bars hosts "the party", and first up was live reggae bar Sama Sama, a split venue where dancing spills onto the adjoining street. Walking in I felt like a teenage girl plucking up the courage to ask a boy to dance; I scoped the field, hovered around, delayed and eventually took the plunge. 'Hi I'm Lauren, can I join you guys? I'm travelling alone
and you look really fun', worked a treat, I was welcomed in.

As bintangs were drunk and tunes were played, I found myself in conversation with an American digital nomad / recent buddist convert about the deeper meaning of life, awareness, presence and being. Both drawn to Indonesia on a path to recovery and vitality, as the party thrived around us we shared life stories and debated the essence of mind and self. In keeping with this country's spirituality, the Indonesian night inspired our examination of our understanding and approach to life, interspersed with dancing in the street and on the beach.

Gili T provided rest and play but as I'd anticipated I soon tired of its bustle. With ample taste of this popular dish I moved onto my meal of choice.

Gili Air: Goldilocks' choice

A tranquil tropical community of lush palms, quiet lanes, small homes and mellow beach bars. Banana trees grow next to palms, children ride scooters down dusty lanes, teenage boys earn their keep waiting waterfront restaurants and visitors sit by the ocean's edge or explore what lies beneath.  A quiet yoga retreat offers nuts and banana bread to nourish the body and hatha yoga to feed the mind and soul.

Amongst this tranquility hammers hit wood and metal scrapes cement onto brick. The Gili islands are hive of building activitity as locals respond to the popularity of their idyll and convert it accordingly.  As trees give way to air conditioned bungalows, there is hope that the locals' ramshackle lodgings may one day follow suit.  Rubbish is burnt, plastic bottles are piled away from view and the money rolls in. A catalyst for change, tourism seeks to preserve what it feeds on; pitting fisherman against entrepreneurs, diving schools raise funds to rebuild the coral graveyards of the reefs decimated first by dynamite fishing and then in vengeance when the two industries clashed.

On Gili Air I rested and revived. I sat by the sea, snorkled and dived with turtles, sang with strangers and practiced yoga and meditation to candlelight at sundown, focusing on my breath as an anchor to my mind.

A healthy complexion and a beautiful mind

The hot Indonesian sun and tropical climate provides for an exotic complexion.  In Lombok I perfected my daily beauty and self care routine to a fine art.  I will share a few tips for the vain intrepids amongst you.  Step 1 shower twice a day, step 2 apply creams (antihystermine, antiseptic, steroid, anti inflammatory), step 3 take nutritional supplements (multi-vitamins combined with antibiotics, antihystermines and antimalarials), step 4 massage in lotions (waterproof factor 50 suncream in the morning, aloe vera at night), step 5 spritz liberally (50% deet mosquito repellent), step 6 accessorise with sticking plasters, step
Carmen & DaveCarmen & DaveCarmen & Dave

Snorkeling trip around the Gilis from Seniggi
7 finish with a touch of waterproof mascara, et voila, I've never felt so glamorous.  Cara Delawho I hear you say...

In all seriousness, my skin's objection to the Indonesian climate led me to health clinics and pharmacies and I'm now ever more grateful for the NHS. In a country where the many people lack basic hygiene, healthcare in Indonesia leaves much to be desired.  My most concerning experience was in accompanying a friend suffering with an infected spider bite to a 'doctor' who readied himself to attack the wound with unsterilised implements on the dirty front desk: we swiftly left to seek a second opinion.  Luckily with technology in hand, I managed to access the seemingly appropriate medicines, firstly with the NHS Choices website and  'I think I have this, I need antibiotics' and secondly whatsapp messaging my doctor friend in the UK to get his medical opinion and steer on which set of conflicting advice I should take! Two weeks later my skin is appeased but my friend had to access the Australian clinic on Bali to be treated and is still on the mend.

Following from these experiences and reflecting on my own journey towards wellbeing, my venture to mainland Lombok left me pondering the state of physical and mental health amongst the local communities. On an island of stunning natural beauty bathed with sun, welcoming, relaxed and friendly people scrape by to make a living. At first glance you may mistake the joking, laughing, fun loving surf school instructors for an exemplar of positive mental wellbeing but scratch below the surface and all is not what it seems. Though this is a tale for my next chapter...


28th June 2015

Travel heals the soul and spirit
Hi Lauren - continuing to love your blog, really appreciate your honesty and can totally relate to many of your insights on mental health and wellbeing. My own recent travels were so healing of many things but especially the soul and spirit - having time to stare, to ponder was such a luxury and to not worry about targets, just not 'to do' let alone have a 'to do for others' list was such a relief. Continue to enjoy every moment and may those moments create a new way of being. Having been back in the UK for two weeks now, it's good to be 'home' but I am curbing the tendency to revert to redundant habits of 'doing' rather than 'being'. Fondest love to you shining star, stay safe and happy. Lisa x
18th July 2015

Back to doing whilst trying to be
Hi Lisa, thank you for your lovely comment and I'm so sorry for my slow reply. I somehow managed to miss it and only found it a couple of days ago. I'm now also back and readjusting. How are you getting on? It would be lovely to meet at some point. I'll be making my way to Chelmsford in about a month to catch up with people once I'm a bit more settled (read have found somewhere to live and moved!) xx

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