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Travelling with Depression

Having crippling depression or anxiety can feel like a deterrent to ever getting anything done that you dream of doing.

Believe me, I know, I’ve been there. When seemingly simple and mundane tasks such as cooking dinner or going for a jog feel like insurmountable obstacles in your path to existence, who can you even begin to take steps to plan a trip abroad? As stricken as you may feel with wanderlust, the inner turmoil caused by unstable mental health simply shoves everything else aside. And it doesn’t matter how much you’ve loved travelling in the past, or how jealous you feel seeing everyone else’s pictures and stories from their trips, or how on a good day you start to fantasize about curling your toes in some warm sand or sweating through a breathtaking hike – the first step you take, any first step, into actually considering planning to travel, can be so anxiety inducing that you never even get to checking plane tickets or buying new hiking shoes.

Dealing with your mental health should definitely be a priority. If you feel like your current mental state is causing friction between you and the world, or in any way hindering on your ability to function, it should be the first thing you focus on. And there are many different ways a person can invest in their mental health, and everyone should find what works for them. Believe me, the amount of well intentioned but mind numbingly useless advice I’ve received over the years could fill an Amazon wish list. So don’t read this piece if you’re looking for the bit on “travelling will cure all your problems!” cause it won’t. Everyone needs to find the type of therapy, or lifestyle, or combination of things that works for them.
But let me let you in on a little secret – you don’t need to wait to live your life while you’re healing. And if travelling is the definition of living your life to you – then don’t wait. Even if you feel like you’re going through a rough patch, even if getting out of bed in the morning seems like an accomplishment (and it seriously can be), after you manage to get out of bed, head to the airport. I’ll show you what I mean.

I was recently “going through a rough patch”, to put it politely to people I don’t know well, or “dealing with crippling depression” to people I know a bit better. I had been planning a trip to SE Asia with a friend, and I had no idea how to tell her that I honestly wasn’t sure I could do this. I mean, if I had a flat out, breathless, can’t hold myself up panic attack after simply going for a jog in the morning, how was I going to trek across Vietnam and Cambodia with her, with all of the unknowns and lack of control and social situations and unforseens that that would entail? How was I going to handle not finding a hostel in a new town, or forgetting my passport at the last hostel we stayed, or not being able to communicate with the locals, or not being able to find food I could eat? Hell, how would I handle the beautiful views and the breathtaking culture and the enamoring nature and the wonderful experiences? Well luckily, I just booked tickets one day and figured I’d take it from there. Baby steps – I could handle packing a bag, and then I could handle taking the train to the airport, and then I could handle taking a tuk-tuk to the hostel. So what the hell, we’d figure it out.

But, this isn’t the part where I tell you that travelling solved all my problems, or at least put all my problems on hold long enough for me to enjoy SE Asia. Absolutely not. I had tough days while travelling just like when I’m at home. Wandering around Hanoi when it’s cold and rainy, you’re hungry and tired, and the option to escape to your couch is unavailable to you is tough when you’re healthy. When you’re unhealthy, this can feel like the end of the world, and that’s not an exaggeration. You can feel so lost that you can’t picture the sun coming up tomorrow, and you have no idea how to survive the next 5 minutes, let alone the next few hours or days until you can breathe again.
But guess what? When you can breathe again, when the darkness shifts just enough for you to be able to peak through your clouded vision of the world, when the metric ton sitting on your chest jiggles just enough for your diaphragm to expand so that you can inhale, you will find yourself facing the logic-defying beauty of the Sapa rice fields, or the healing serenity of Ha Long Bay, or even munching on some local noodles while watching kids laugh in the street. And in that moment, when you can breathe just enough to notice your surroundings, you’ll be thankful that you dragged yourself on a plane and made it halfway across the world to this spot. Because those moments where you can’t breathe won’t kill you. They will hurt, and they might even hurt more trekking around the unknown world than sitting on your inviting and comfortable and safe couch, but in those fleeting moments of calm you will remember what it feels like to live.

And when you return home to your routine life, whether you feel better or worse than you did before you left, you’ll be left with the memories of the rice fields and the laughing children. I will be honest and admit that my depression was far worse when I returned from travelling in SE Asia. Whether that was related in any way to trip or not, I have no idea, there’s a lot else going on. But I can tell you this – I wouldn’t exchange it for the world. I won’t tell you that I only remember the good times, or that I only remember the funny pictures and the impressive temples and the delicious markets and the beautiful art. It’s not true, I also remember the suffocation I felt in Hanoi, and the helplessness I felt on the bus back from Ha Long Bay. But I also remember surviving those moments.

And that’s something too.


Thanks to GLT member, Noga P., for sharing her brave account of traveling with depression! Follow her along her journey on Instagram or Facebook!
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1 Comment
  • Sam Newman
    February 16, 2017

    Terrific article! Eye opening and honest

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