There we are in Austria filming a frisbee practice with young Syrian, Afghan, and Iraqi refugees —some of the most important footage we’d captured. David Picon, my cameraman, receives a call from back home in his birth-country of Venezuela. He puts down the camera and takes a couple steps to stand by a tree in the park. The call lasts for a short while before he hangs up and drifts back over to us. In the seconds before he speaks I can almost taste what he’s about to say in the back of my throat. “My aunt,” he says to me holding back tears. “She was hit by a car crossing the road, and they’re taking her to the hospital.”
Just a week before, Picon and I were walking around Amsterdam shooting some b-roll. It seemed like the rain and gray had followed me from Seattle and weighed heavy that day of Dutch summer. I had just arrived to reconnect with Picon and my friends Mike Palmer from Adelaide and Amsterdam’s Hilco Beukema. With Skyd, we were filming games at Amsterdam’s Windmill tournament, one of the happiest places in the ultimate touring scene. I’d be overseeing our production and competing with Graz’s Catchup while gathering footage for a new episode of Ultimate Globe Trotter.
From Windmill, Picon and I were to travel to Austria to tour Graz and film more with the team, thanks to our thoughtful ambassadors Valentin Vogl and Richard Bartle-Tubbs. I’d then spend the rest of the month making my way to London to run video production at the 2016 World Ultimate and Guts Championships. It was really a dream trip: a month in Europe playing and being around ultimate and amazing people. At least, it was supposed to be. I kept hearing this voice in my head, this feeling that I just didn’t want to be there. None of this was new, I thought, and I’m absolutely exhausted. This was supposed to be another unforgettable journey with some of my favorite people in the world, but there I was wishing I was back home in Seattle, sitting by the water and doing nothing. What was wrong with me?
That wrestling match continued in my brain for much of the trip. I’m supposed to be having fun. What aren’t I happy? Be happy! I hated myself for being unhappy, and was unhappy with myself for knowing that I shouldn’t be. Rather than spending time fully engaging with friends both new and old, I’d often retreat back to wherever I was staying and lie on my bed alone, flipping through my phone. At my worst, I’d find myself unable to move; unable to interact. I’d sometimes feign excitement and assume a mask of normalcy, but it often felt foreign and hollow, as if everyone was seeing right through my charade. And I didn’t care. I didn’t fully comprehend it at the time, but I knew exactly what was wrong with me. I was depressed.
It’s a feeling that I had felt many times before, perhaps surprisingly many times in traveling for ultimate. For many LGBT people, it’s a feeling that becomes all too common in youth; trying to hide who you are for fear of society’s shun. It had been a long time since I came out, so this depression wasn’t about that, at least not directly. It was about something else.
I could never have predicted my life with Skyd and ultimate and the gift of being able to travel the world meeting amazing people and playing a sport I love. Along the way, I’d constantly assess myself on where I was in life. Do I have a steady income? Do I have a boyfriend? Do I have strong friendships? Do I own a home? Often the answers to these questions would be no, and I’d decide that I didn’t deserve to have much self-worth, despite everything I had accomplished. I would continually measure myself against the assumed standards of others and decide that I just wasn’t good enough. Again and again, this would hit me. I’m supposed to be something else now.
When I was moving and had something to do, I’d sometimes automatically, sometimes with a fight, pull myself to a place where that weight wasn’t there and I could be happy and I could be myself. Coffee would help. To be clear, this trip wasn’t all bad by any means. Quite the opposite. I will cherish so much of my June of 2016. But it was in those moments where things slowed down and I had time to think, that my brain would tell me that all you’re doing is spending time off the path that’s supposed to get you those things you think you want. Looking back it’s easy to be frustrated at myself further for not always embracing such an incredible trip filled with truly special moments and people.
So why am I sharing this? Partly, it’s to excuse myself for likely not being all that great to be around during this time. Partly, it’s to explain how depression can hold you down in moments that don’t make much sense for it to and how it’s okay to talk about this. And partly it’s to share how I feel that been able to address this rotten feeling.
He picked up the camera and propped it back up on his shoulders. “What can I do for you?” I ask him.
“No, let’s keep filming.” Picon says collecting himself. His words are shaky but deliberate. “There’s nothing I can do. We’re here now, let’s keep working.”
We spend the next hour or so gathering footage until the skies open and heavy rain starts to fall. We wrap our shots and Picon receives another call. He walks off again into the rain, while Rich and I take shelter under a tree to wait for him. Rich goes to get the car and Picon makes his way back, t-shirt soaking from the downpour, and water dripping from his glasses. He’s looking towards me, but it’s hard to see he eyes.
“What’s up?” I ask.
“She died,” he whimpers… “She was such a kind woman, she would always call to say hello. Such a kind woman.” I put my hand on his shoulder, not knowing how he wants to be consoled.
It would be another few days before Picon returned home to his wife in Barcelona. Our trip, booked in advance, had us going to Vienna for a few more days and he insisted on sticking with his original itinerary. “We’re here now,” he’d repeat. “I’ll have time to deal with this later.” Making a trip back to Venezuela in time for the funeral would be nearly impossible.
I didn’t recognize how important that moment was until long after.
The ultimate community is special. That’s something I’ve heard again and again. It’s something I stopped believing for a time and it took me a while to realize again how special it is to be a part of a community at all. Some people will go searching their whole lives to fit in and find people to care about. People who will invite you into their homes, make you dinner in Vienna, go out of their way to make sure you have a bed in Hong Kong, or despite tragedy, keep filming for some modestly popular project just because he believes in you. I think that’s more important than those other things I thought I needed at the time.
My life has not taken the conventional path that I thought it was supposed to and I’m so very glad it didn’t. The gray still returns to me from time to time. But I do my best to remind myself what I have, as opposed to what I don’t have. “You’re here now,” I’ve started repeating to myself as a reminder to keep pushing forward, despite the gray inside, despite what you think you’re supposed to be. Be here now.
Every episode of Ultimate Globe Trotter is made with passion and struggle. With beautiful moments and missed opportunities. With stunning photography and imperfections. With bad audio and unforgettable prose. They’re stories of travel and the wonderful people we meet along the way, but they’re also my stories. They’re experiences that serve as the detailed and distinct foundation for a brief glimpse into something bigger. This episode is no different.