It’s taking a lot for me to share this post. This is exactly how I have been feeling deep down inside. Martin was able to articulate it when I haven’t been able to and he deserves a ton of credit for that. His 2018 expedition coincided with the timing of mine on the Mississippi.
Martin, what’s wrong?
Published 26 May 2019 in LaPresse.ca
Martin Trahan crossed Canada in 2015 before tackling the Yukon River the following year. In 2018, he headed for the United States, which he crossed from Oregon to Florida. As rich in memories as it is, this last expedition was followed by a painful return home. In this text, the 38-year-old man recounts his post-expedition depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and presents his new big goal.
“I was not there at all this winter. I was sad, all crooked and I missed life on the water. After my adventure, I had the impression of returning to a world that did not look like me. It’s as if my life on the edge, by canoe, has become my real environment. Besides, I often say that I get closer to happiness one adventure at a time.
There are people who will call it post-expedition blues. I think rather that the real term, to assume, is post-expedition depression. When we talk about it, we see the look of some people change. It’s rare to brag and say, “Hey, do you know what, I’m in a depression, things are not okay.” With social media, we try to show ourselves in the best light, but I always wanted everyone to meet me. I do not want to project the image of a superman or a hero.
So this year, I accepted the inevitability of post-expedition depression. I hid it for a long time from myself. Many adventurers experience this, but it’s taboo. They do not talk about it, they keep it to themselves; maybe they fear how it will look to others.
Adventurers are perceived as people who are brave, courageous, unshakable, strong, and who take on insurmountable challenges. After my first expeditions, I returned fitting in a little bit more into that mold and I tried to project that image. Finally, I realized that I was not like that.
When I finish an expedition, I am always divided between the euphoria of having achieved my goal and the exhaustion. The question I am often asked is: “What’s next? What’s your next epic trip?” But, in fact, the adventure that I just lived is not over yet. The return home is part of it and it is, for me, the most difficult part. It is much more complicated to manage than planning, storms, or conflicts with teammates. It’s a kind of empty feeling.
The winter has been long, gray, and cold in Montreal. I felt good alone. I did not expect others to understand what I was going through. Our friends are fine and they want to help us, but I have the impression that they do not understand all the darkness that can inhabit us. It’s even more than that, it’s a form of sadness that is inexplicable. I’ve asked myself several times this winter: “Martin, what’s wrong? You came home, you found the people you love, you have the comfort of your bed and the good food.”
But when you spend so much time in a canoe, in a tent, and the forest is your home, it becomes your identity.
Before, I was Martin the friend, the social worker, but now, I’ve become Martin the canoeist and the adventurer. It is a lifestyle so different that it is necessary to have a period of adaptation during the return.
I know that this period will always accompany my next expeditions and that this will be the hardest part. By knowing it, it allows me to accept it.
I did not have only post-expedition depression as a result of my crossing the United States from the Pacific to the Atlantic. I also faced Hurricane Michael near Panama City, Florida, which resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder.
Without exaggerating, this is the first time I accepted, for 15 minutes, that my life was going to end. I was totally helpless in the face of Mother Nature’s omnipotence. I should have ended my expedition right after the hurricane, but maybe for a question of ego, I went back on the water. I was so zombie. I went into survival mode.
When I returned, I thought I was equipped and well-supported to deal with the situation, but that was a mistake. I remember a day when there was a strong wind. I got out of my car to go shopping, but my reflex was to get back in immediately. I said to myself, “Relax, Martin, you’re in Quebec, there’s no danger, you’re experiencing hurricane post-trauma.”
I also woke up in nightsweats during the first nights in Quebec. I felt like there was a hurricane and sharks in my bed. As a result of the hurricane, when I went back to paddling in the Gulf of Mexico there actually were sharks everywhere. I quickly saw that I now had a phobia.
The way I managed my depression and my post-traumatic stress was to launch myself thoroughly into my job. I think I did 350 or 400 hours overtime. It was a way of hiding and not coping with what I was going through.
I thought I would let the dust fall during the winter knowing that I should then look for help with that. I want to make sure I’m on the right track now.
Through the emptiness felt this winter, I understood two things: I became dependent on this way of life, on an expedition, and I feel good when I am consumed by a project. Six months ago, I said I was too old for big expeditions and I was going to hang up my paddle. I had a hard time projecting what I would be doing 24 hours later, so I was not thinking about planning an upcoming adventure. But spring has arrived, the snow has melted, the rivers have been free of ice and my energy has returned.
Chase the natural and it comes back at a gallop. I went back to dreaming and, after some research, I decided to embark on a new adventure.
I will cross Russia in 2021 and travel 4000 km in 125 days. We will start at the border of Mongolia, on the Selenge River, which will bring us to Lake Baikal. After that, we take the Angara River which, a little further north, joins the Yenisei River. We will end up in the Kara Sea, in the Arctic Ocean.
Russia has always intrigued me and its grandeur allows me to make long expeditions. Not only is it the crossing of Russia, but also of Siberia that we hear about in our history books and in films. It is one of the most remote places in Russia.
There is no better way to discover a country than to follow the waterways. Adventures make it possible to have magical encounters. They also allow me to feel as alive as ever. “