Some of Those Who Wander Are Lost


When I was a little girl, I journeyed to distant lands. I went on archeological digs in Egypt and on expeditions into the steamy jungles of the Amazon. I hung out with the Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert. When I stepped out of the back door of our house, the backyard and the neighboring fields transformed from small town Michigan into the world beyond. Sometimes, I was accompanied by my stuffed animals, my guinea pig, or my little brother Billy. Sometimes, I trekked alone into the wilderness.

When did curiosity turn into escape? Maybe it was always that way. Things were tense at home from the beginning. I have vague memories of thuds, screams, and my mother’s muffled sobs. School was hostile territory. The teachers and the other children made it clear that I was an unwelcome foreigner. My desk became a portal to Easter Island. A place almost too remote for their ridicule. In the third grade, when school became unbearable, I went to a place that doesn’t exist, a place from which I’d return exhilarated and uneasy. I called this place There. I had no memory of it after I returned. It was a void. Every time I went There, less and less of me came back.

As I got older, the internal voyages became less frequent. Life got better for a while, and then took a dive. My father defeated alcoholism only to be overcome by schizophrenia. I had a brief period of relative success in high school, but then I became the subject of vicious rumors. I got a job, saved my money, and planned my getaway to California. Everything would be better there, in a place where no one knew me. As soon as I graduated, I hit the road. And I’m still running.

An uncontrollable impulse or desire to wander or travel. – The American Heritage Stedman’s Medical Dictionary

We receive the messages that we need to hear when we’re ready to hear them. Several years ago, I happened upon this word in a magazine article. It appeared before my eyes during a random jaunt across the internet. The words knocked the wind out of me. I knew this behavior. Running away from the pain of loneliness and the fear of being rejected. Travel as self-medication. Always making preparations to flee. I was not an enigmatic vagabond, but simply a wounded person who was running away.

Dromomania is considered an impulse control disorder. With these types of disorders, there’s a buildup of anxiety and pressure that can only be relieved by performing a certain task – gambling, starting fires, cutting your own flesh. I don’t agree with the trend of designating every eccentricity as a psychological disorder. There’s probably a pill for this ill, but I refuse to take it.

Not all those who wander are lost. So said Tolkein. This quote has been so overused that it’s become a platitude. Whenever I come across it on travel blogs, I wince. Most people who travel a lot have healthy wanderlust. Some of us, however, have drifted into the murky territory beyond. Some of us who wander are lost.

Behavior becomes a problem when it interferes with a productive life. By the time I had lived for thirty years on this Earth, I’d had just as many jobs and residences. Every city I lived in eventually sucked, but the next one would be better. And, for a little while, it was. I attended five colleges, but I received no diploma, because I couldn’t bring myself to stay for one more semester. I flitted from job to job until I finally just signed on with a temp agency. As soon as I started to settle in, the assignment would end and I could disappear into the anonymity of a new post. It was perfect. Because once people got to know me, they’d turn against me.

In the worst years of my depression and misfortune, I went without food so that I could save up for a trip to Thailand. The malnutrition caused painful red cysts to erupt on my face. But the two weeks of escape from my normal existence was worth it.

I would stare for long periods of time at maps, transfixed, running my fingers down highways, from country to country, across mountains ranges and deserts and seas. So many empty spaces to fill. Once, a colleague caught me staring at the office wall map of the United States. I was so mesmerized that I hadn’t heard him come up behind me. Where are you going, Julie? His smile was kind, curious. I shook my head in annoyance and walked away. Nowhere. However, within a couple of weeks, my possessions were packed in a U-Haul trailer. I left that job without saying goodbye, as I had done so many times before.

You seem so lost. You’re running away. People told me this over and over. Even my colleagues at the travel agency thought I was extreme. I had hardly returned from one trip and I was planning another. I was devouring places rather than savoring them. I fled as if I was being pursued by a predator. And I was. The monster was myself.

There are worse afflictions to have. At least with dromomania there is discovery. From the ruins, I’ve unearthed that original joy of exploration. The solitude of the road is not a lonely place. I’ve managed to be married for fifteen years. These days, the itch of restlessness is less frequent. When I roam, I linger and luxuriate in every moment. Rejoicing in the bliss of finding my way back.

61 thoughts on “Some of Those Who Wander Are Lost

  1. It’s sounds as if life has been hard, but you’ve managed to stay above all the muck. I’m so sorry for your hardships and I’m hoping that you’ve found your peace. I think with age, we learn and can appreciate those parts of ourselves that may have caused us grief when we were young. I do love your writing, have you written books?

    • Thank you. Yes, I’ve found peace and have learned to accept my quirks as part of my personality. Thanks for the compliments on my writing. My novel was published a few years ago, and I’m currently working on a memoir related to the theme of this post.

  2. I so enjoy the honesty of your words, the clarity of your prose. Your writing reflects the life long journey and a determination to face reality. Your blog affirms the advice that says, “Life is an adventure; it’s okay to get lost.” The pressure to “be found” and self-assured is artificial, perhaps stifling. The writing craft reveals there are no short cuts. One must experience insecurity to write well and to live well.

    • Wow, thank you so much for your insight. You’ve given me lots to ponder. I totally agree that writers need to step outside of their comfort zone. Writing has helped me do something with all of the memories that I’ve accumulated in the place of material things.

  3. The contrast between the dreamy, classic image (right down to the Queen Anne’s Lace, pigtails and white picket fence!) and dark narrative is really lovely.

    Beautiful work. πŸ™‚

  4. A very stirring piece of writing . .. .don’t you just love it when you hear adults commenting on the amazing resilience of children! Your photo is downright gorgeous!

    • Thank you, Patti. The photo was taken by the teenage girl who lived across the street from us. She took several really nice photos, but this one is my favorite.

  5. I can really relate to this…it’s insane how far a child’s imagination can travel in order to escape reality. I have fought to keep my dreams big enough for others to not be able to crumble them down, but this world is so harsh at times. Sometimes you just have to trust your instincts and GO. I loved this, and the picture is very sweet. Thank you πŸ™‚

  6. Every voyage ends with a voyage to our inner Self, there is what we find what we are seeking…

    Good luck in your journey πŸ™‚

  7. Oh my beautiful Julie! How I have always loved that picture. You have always been the best of the best. Your writing of the past has always taken me back to all the pain you were always in. How very proud I am of you and the woman you have become. Your writing is amazing.

  8. Intense and thought provoking Julie, so much so I was moved to read the full Motion Sickness article. The real poignancy arises from the image of the little mite among the wildflowers – such a shame she should ever have to be exposed to the cruel world outside.

  9. I’m sorry that your childhood was as it was. No doubt you have been running for a long time, but I’m glad you now have the chance to linger. We all deserve an inner peace.

  10. Your words are very powerful, Julie and I’m touched that you shared them with us. It certainly leaves me knowing you a lot more … and what a courage to know.

    Having undergone my own wanderlust, survived, and found my way “back,” I reflect that place is always a part of time, and we can’t go back to another day. You’re right that Tolkien’s words, taken out of context, and applied to journey don’t really make a lot of sense to others whose journey has taken on life itself.

    It does make me think … and that is a great gift to be given. Thank you.

  11. That phrase, “not all who wander are lost,” has been misinterpreted, and misused for decades. I can only imagine what J.R.R. Tolkien would think if he saw it on a travel website.
    This is the full quotation, which speaks to your insightful post.

    β€œAll that is gold does not glitter,
    Not all those who wander are lost;
    The old that is strong does not wither,
    Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

    From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
    A light from the shadows shall spring;
    Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
    The crownless again shall be king.”
    J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

    Just today, my husband and I were discussing the mythology of the LOTR, specifically as it relates to the hero’s journey. He created a very dark possibility and those who dared faced incredible odds.

    You share a common creative ability with JRR – he believed that fantasy and creative thinking saved him during the difficult war years and loss of his best friends. In fact, I think that your imagination ignited the resilience within you. Another wonderful post.

    β€œFantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisioned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”
    J.R.R. Tolkien

  12. What a poignant piece of writing. Now it seems you savour places, this is certainly the impression I get from your beautiful writing and pictures. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Dromomania…motion sickness….maybe I had a mild case. People used to say, “Isn’t it hard, moving from place to place all the time?” I would say, “Yes, in a way.” But the hardest part of my life came when I had to stay put in one place; the place where I have been for the past 14 years; no escaping. Sometimes, I still feel an overwhelming urge to run off but it doesn’t last long. I am glad there are positive aspects of dromomania for you which we also get to experience through your wonderful writing. And that image is gorgeous.

    • Maybe you did. The “itch” is unmistakable. I’ve heard that question very often as well. The act of changing residence has become tiresome, and these days I prefer to stay put for a few years and just take short trips. That calms me down for a while.

  14. Reblogged this on eldershipcommunity and commented:
    I also wandered when I was just 7 and my bro was 4..My adventurous parents took us on the ride of our lives from secure UK to the temple of Karnak, the desert oasis of Petra, the diversity of Constantenople(Istanbul), the simple majesty of the Acropolis and awesomeness of the Colesseum. That was in 1964. We were given books on Greek myths, ancient civisations and
    archeology. Wow, what incredible food for an active and imaginitive mind and soul. The down side was coming back to ‘civilisation’ in Australia where my fathers family was. The school yard jungle was vicious in its racial expression and I was the target. I couldn’t reconcile what I had just been through with this childish hell. It took some quick adaption to quickly purge myself of any pomminess and my accent. I was still for many years an outsider and often alone if not lonely and isolated. A far cry from the warm friendly experiences when on my 6 month travelcade across the now EU, Middle East and the Baulkans.

    • How lucky you were to be able to really go to those places when you were so young. Too bad about the isolation in school. That seems to come with the territory of having a much more expansive mind than one’s peers.

      • Yeh right u r…I am presently going thru massive mental & emotional learning now ..even celebrating my 2nd “birthday” in AA, been dragged thru 4 deaths (some significant) and an amazin intimate wedding …I am now even taking a very low dose oif lithium carb at the suggestion of my holistic Doc…in conjunction with my sponsors in AA & wealth/health/wisdom sponsor…so Im now looking at everthing anew leaving my rose coloured glasses behind..Pain ahead so is growth…G Noosa..Australia

  15. Very beautiful and touching article, as always. You’ve a lot to endure as as young girl. My youth was easy when I compare.
    I never stood still by this, but I always want to travel when I feel bad (when I feel good too, but the urge is not so big). For the moment, I read a lot of travel stories and I would like to do the same, take 3 months or more and travel the world, but what blocks me is that I don’t want to do it alone.
    (So this was a little bit of what I’m thinking for the moment, sorry).

    • Thank you, Sunalee. I wouldn’t want to travel for 3 months or even one month alone. I think it would be okay if you’re a social person who meets people easily. That’s not my case, and I prefer traveling alone for short periods. After about a week, I start missing my husband too much. It’s been said (in articles and surveys) that the worst thing about traveling alone, according to solo travelers, isn’t feeling unsafe or lonely, but eating out at restaurants alone.

  16. From in the wilds of the mountains and foot hills, where trees reach for the sky and the tall dry grass crowds one in, blinding one to venture inside stories and a long climb to offer a briefest alluded escape as winds funnel up through Frenchman’s Valley across the heavy wooded tops of the Berserker’s, their mountains hiding a missing Winter Sun. Well that was my week. Lost or not, choice is always worth having when in knowing maps don’t limit us to the residues of what lies within their boarders and authorship.

  17. In my family, there is a tendency to wander as well. For some it is long-ranging, happy to go, happy to be at home. For others it has been: happy to go but upon arriving, there is an impulse, almost desperate, to immediately turn around and go back. I think the wandering in my family comes through our voyageur ancestors, and the 400 years of wandering from one continent to another and almost every generation moving on again. My brothers have been to what they call “the ice”: one to the Arctic, another to the Antarctic, and yet another to the Aleutian Island chain for an extended stay. It’s a blessing and a curse.

    • I’ve read that there’s a “wanderlust gene”. My grandmother has said that I’ve got it. She’s the one with the gypsy blood and most of her children moved far away from home and it took them a while to settle down. Funny how it’s being discovered that much of our personality is genetic.

  18. I rarely read blog posts. Well, let me rephrase that, I rarely read them all the way through. For some reason I get bored with anything too lengthy- which is a bit strange as I love to read books, novels. So what kept me reading your post to the end? A real interest in your style, your plight, your story. Thank you for writing this! For sharing this!

  19. So beautifully written, Julie, with such understanding. Quite a challenge to be able to stand outside yourself looking in. The journey to discover yourself is never complete, but the time spent searching is never wasted. Christine

  20. I think, I also know quite well the terrible need to just run away from myself and it was quite hard to go through that period, but now I also have the feeling the I can understand people with similar problems much better. Many thanks for your contribution, also for the beautiful and hope inspiring quote by Tolkien. Best regards

    • It’s true that it’s easy to spot someone else with the same issue. I find that I’m less understanding of those who are my age and still don’t realize that they are running from themselves. Intolerant, I know, but I reckon that if I could figure it out then they can. Thanks for reading and adding your thoughts, Martina.

  21. I competely understand your point! I think, however, that I’ve already given up that hope or expectation of people, because, and unfortunately, many people just don’t come to grips with all kinds of problems in life, so I try to take them as they are. I wish you a good day.

  22. so touching post. it seems that you spent well the time searching for your inner sides. Every child has fear or situation to face .. the way in which he solve them make himself a better adult.

  23. You write so well. And you have important experiences to write about. That photo from long ago had me immediately and I couldn’t stop reading. You have been through so much…I have travelled much, but always had my home here. I have never lived anywhere else in the world…My childhood was filled with security, fantasy and dreams, growing up with my grandparents and mother. I return to that picture…it could have been me…dreaming of all those foreign countries and places – in my grandmothers garden. Aren’t we all dreaming?
    You write so well. And I’m so glad your inner journey turned out the way it did. My inner journey has been a crooked one as an adult, and in a way I’m lost in my journeys in the world. I want to savour them more – I recognize your description of “devouring places”. My way has more and more become the way of taking pictures and savouring my travels when I’m back home. That works well of course, but mindfulness is something everyone should work on.
    I’d love to read your novel. You have a beautiful flow of words and something to tell us all.

    • Thank you so much, Leya. Being “present” during journeys takes a lot of work. There’s so much distraction, both internal and external, to deal with.

  24. you are so beautiful, perfect photo
    you wrapped by all that texture

    do I understand this post
    glad you let go
    we all have to let go at some point
    but sometimes it comes back

    and it is ok

  25. What an honest and genuine account of your life. I am hoping that you headships are behind you and that peace and joy have intertwined in your life journey.

  26. I love the title. I don’t know why being lost has to be hid, because I feel lost most of the time. I don’t know what course would be right for me, what I am supposed to do in life and I get bored of anything and everything. The mind wanders, and it is lost most definitely.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You’re asking yourself questions, and that’s much more than most people do. Being “lost” is equated with weakness, that’s why we hide it. However, I believe that those who take the risk and stray from the beaten path, get lost, and, finally, find their way back are much stronger than those who never venture beyond known territory.

  27. I’ve been wandering through your blog now for the last half hour or so. I absolutely love your writing. Thanks for sharing your honesty and your paths through life.

  28. Your life is so interesting. It’s been quite an adventure. Your blog posts feel like fiction because it reads like a real adventure. The photos accompanying them also have a surreal feeling. I read more because your writing has a fascinating unique voice. The word “dromomania” is so cool…
    PS I love Tolkien <3…

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