Today is now day 18 on our transcontinental trek, and it’s been quite the ride. Today we made it to New Orleans, after travelling through the night and having a minor carburetor problem shortly after crossing into Louisiana from Texas.

It’s all good for the time being, but these little moments make me realize why they stopped making cars like that. Old cars are cool and all, and I do love Gus, don’t get me wrong, but there are a few little things that would be nice if they were a touch more modern, like the engine, the sound system, and brakes. At least we have discs on the front brakes.

I believe we last left on our departure for Utah. We made our way up to Salt Lake City where we had our first scheduled interview with a life coach named Nanice Ellis, who has just finished a book about depression in America and how to escape this system of depression that we’re programmed into. Talking with Nanice was incredible, because I felt like she pulled together an array of thoughts I had strewn all over the place, as if she took a string and connected a bunch of Froot Loops scattered across the ground.

She talked about the basis of our system of operation in this country, starting from the time we begin school. We’re taught to be and act a certain way, and that if we don’t fit the academic mold we’re poured into that we aren’t good enough. Our schooling and grading system conditions us not to celebrate the good, but to focus on what we did wrong. We tell children that they need to be good at math and grammar, and if they’re not we don’t help them find the things they like and have a knack for. We tell them they’re dumb or they have a poor work ethic.

She calls it “the matrix of depression”, because it’s a system that we’re built into, but we have the power to bring ourselves out of it. The secret is to find who we really are. To find what we really love and what drives us. By finding that, and finding the joy within ourselves, we can break ourselves out of the groove we get trapped in.

In my opinion, it’s not so much a pursuit as it a break-down. In my journey to find who I really am, it wasn’t about me going out and chasing and arriving at my true self. It was more a process of un-becoming everything that I had tried to be and felt like I should be. It was a removal of layers on layers that had been built by what I thought I needed to be, until all that remained was me.

I had to re-learn a lot of things, and re-learn how to learn. Because the way I was taught to learn growing up didn’t really teach me a whole lot. It taught me to briefly retain a bit of information to regurgitate it on a test, before it left my mind forever. But by not getting caught up in the things I should have been, I was able to really learn. I learned to entertain and process ideas instead of just memorizing the ideas of others.

And this is where I found myself and the things I really love. I was able to explore new ideas that I hadn’t encountered on the track I had been set on, and luckily I had parents who supported me venturing out and finding what I really do love and want to do. It took a bit of adjustment before they accepted that the track I was on wasn’t what was best for me, and a bit of me convincing them that if I am making a mistake that it’s my mistake to make, and it’s something I’ll have to learn and grow from on my own.

While in Salt Lake City we were blessed to have been able to stay with a former neighbor of my father’s while he was growing up named Sharon. Sharon is an absolute gem of a person; making the most of an unfortunate situation she’s found herself in. While Sharon struggles sometimes with the difficulty of her job as a student psychologist at a school for autistic children, she recognizes the importance of her job, and loves when she can actually make a difference.

However, as someone who’s on the front lines of mental health every single day, she recognizes the system as broken. Children simply cannot get the help they need. Schools are not offering it, and when they do get some kind of help, it frequently doesn’t last. This contributes to the rise in numbers of adolescent depression, because it’s not being treated as it should be.

A theme I’ve seen recently that started with Sharon, is the acceptance of some things that you just can’t change, and to find the joy in those that are within your sphere of influence. Sharon has experienced a shift in the way she perceives happiness, to move towards finding the joy in the small things in her life.

Our next destination was Colorado. We stayed with a friend’s parents, Phil and Aimee, who are some of the best people I’ve ever met. Philip, her father, is a surgeon at Denver Health. He belongs to the group of doctors who didn’t lose sight of why they became doctors, and never fell victim to the substance abuse or burnout that many suffer from.

Phil’s life is centered on helping and healing others. He also sees our current healthcare system as flawed in some ways, because it doesn’t cater to the needs of patients but the bottom line of business. Patients are seen now as numbers, and doctors on average let their patients speak for a mere 12 seconds before interrupting them. But it’s not at the fault of the doctors, because they’re told they need to be cranking out these high numbers.

The change Phil believes in is more time spent with patients, learning about them and their situation, and after-care. The care of a patient does not end with their time in the office or under the knife. That’s why Phil gives every single patient he sees his cell phone number, and makes himself ever available to continue care.

While he could go into private practice and make obscene amounts of money, that is not and will never be what medicine is about for him. He’s in it to help people, and that’s why he works in a public hospital. He wants his services to be available to those in need, not just those with money, and that’s evidenced in Phil’s life every day. As a man named Two Feathers shared with us in Taos, New Mexico, it seems that the people who have the most share the least. This is not true in Phil’s case. He shares what he has. He spent his younger years traveling and making memories, and now he wants to help others do the same. Phil and Aimee sent us off with more than we came with, because they wanted us to be able to follow our dreams and make this movie happen.

People like Sharon, Aimee, and Phil, are a refreshing change of pace that help put things into perspective. While we’ve met some fascinating people while walking about the streets of the places we’ve visited, it seems as though we’ve approached many of them because they stand out in one way or another.  The people we’ve stayed with can represent a group that we might not have spoken with otherwise, and these three in particular have taught me so much. They share what they have, and just want the best for everyone else. Life for them is about the enrichment and the exchange, and they brought us in and treated us like we were members of their family, and in a way, we were.

After we left Colorado we made our way down to New Mexico, and I have to say Santa Fe was one of the coolest cities I’ve been to. Maybe that’s because I’m not a big city guy, but Santa Fe provided a beautiful cross between a large city and a small town. The town square, where we spent a good bit of time, had such a beautiful, eclectic group of people who were more than happy to share.

The first people we stopped and talked to was a retired couple from New Hampshire, who were on a cross-country road trip. The sentiment they shared with us was that as they got older, they saw the lives of a lot of their peers coming to a close, and with both of them having been in healthcare their whole lives, much of what they heard towards the end was “meant-to’s”.

Sentiments like “I always meant to…” and so they are living their lives without meant-to’s. The advice they sent us off with was to do everything we mean to. The things we meant to say, the moves we meant to make, and the things we meant to do, don’t leave them undone.

I really loved that, because I sometimes find myself not saying the things I want to say. But from now on, when things come to me that I mean to share with someone, I will. Because the worst that can happen from me sharing isn’t as bad as the chance left untaken.

On our way across Texas we stopped at Balcones Wildlife Preserve, where we took a much-needed detour to go swim and lay in the sun for a bit. The time to care for ourself is vital, because as Phil pointed out, no one can heal if they aren’t healed themselves. As enriching as this trip is, I find myself just absolutely exhausted every night. Some nights, depending on where we are, I don’t sleep well, and then we’re going all day every day.

As we pulled into New Orleans yesterday, we were planning on filming at night, but in addition to the filming and driving, we’re also in need of administrative work of sorts, like grant applications and sending emails, and I didn’t have it in me to expend the energy on filming. The brief periods we get to regenerate a bit are vital, and that’s not exclusive to this journey. No matter what we do in life, taking the time to step back, relax, and let your mind and body journey elsewhere is so important to mental health. Without it, we’re at risk of burnout, regardless of how much we love what we do. Self-care is so important, and we don’t give enough to it.

Today as I was writing an afore-mentioned grant application, I got a call from Paul telling me to go meet him ASAP—FREE CRAWFISH! Which, honestly, was the one thing I needed to have from Louisiana, but wasn’t sure it would happen because of our limited budget.

And at this crawfish boil, I met some of the best people. These people invited us in to eat and share with them, and I had some wonderful discussions with people, young and older alike, who all had thoughts to share on our journey, and what it means to be happy.

Everyone has his or her (we also need a non-gender-specific pronoun) own story to share; it’s a topic everyone can relate to. An interesting thing that I hadn’t expected before we left was how much this can pull people together. While this may seem paradoxical, I expected that it would bring people together, but on an individual basis. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but bear with me for a minute. In sharing my story, I had a lot of individual outreach, which is what I expected this to bring: people discussing their stories one on one, and creating individual connection.

But today I got to stand with a group of women and have a discussion about life, our travels, happiness, and depression, where we were all able to talk together. And that was awesome, because that’s one further aspect of breaking down the stigma. These things can be hard to talk about, and they’re even harder to do when you’re not just sharing with one other person. By speaking with bigger groups, we just get that much closer to having a more open culture.

-Max