Depression and Travel: My Story About Travel Depression
Given recent pop culture events about depression and travel:
I’ve decided to share my story about solo travel and depression.
And trust me, solo travel didn’t give me depression.
I suffered from depression LONG before I ever traveled alone, and I didn’t even know it.
Just Know That:
I share my story not because I am a victim or because I want sympathy.
To be honest, this post about travel with depression isn’t even really about me.
It’s about all the people out there who are suffering from solo travel depression or travel depression of any kind.
This is for the people out there who feel completely lost and alone; like you’re permanently damaged and like there is nothing that will fix you and your soul sickness.
And You convince Yourself that:
You just have a bad case of post-travel depression and don’t want to be back home.
Your travel depression symptoms don’t go away. And the more you try and travel for depression relief, the more you begin to see that not even the joy of travel can cure your aching mind.
At least that’s how I felt.
But I can’t speak for anyone else. I can only share my experience because depression is a cunning foe that affects everyone differently.
This disease insidiously creeps into your soul and slowly eats away at all the joy in your life, one painful day at a time.
There is no joy left.
That’s Why It Can Be So Difficult to Understand and Diagnose.
I literally had one psychiatrist inform me that I couldn’t possibly be depressed because I wasn’t sleeping in bed all day.
I was going to therapy, work, and traveling for depression, so clearly, I was fine.
But the Most Ironic Part Was That:
The time when I felt the most depressed was the time when everything in my life was a 110% fine.
Except for me.
I was as far away from fine as you could possibly get.
And That Was the Hardest Part:
I was sad, confused, overwhelmed, constantly crying, and always alone because I didn’t have the energy to be around people,
Nothing in my life was actually wrong.
I Had Everything I Could Want.
I traveled, had a new car, a nice place to live, a great paying job, amazing friends, a healthy family, and still, I was absolutely miserable.
And I Couldn’t Understand Why:
Was I so maladjusted that I was incapable of finding any gratitude and happiness in my life? I started to think I was.
So Everyday Felt Like an Eternal Struggle.
Unenthusiastically, I would wake up and mechanically go through the intolerable, totally mundane motions of my day so that I could finally retreat into the bliss that was the solitude of my home; the only place where I could catch my breath and feel a bit of peace from the onslaught of demons that tortured my mind.
***FYI travel depression is a very real thing and it can manifest itself in many different forms, For example, you can feel guilty about spending money on a trip but know deep down inside that you really need a vacation. You also might not be excited about your trip and feel like the vacation planning process is totally draining. And with every flight delay and the lost piece of luggage, you get more and more overwhelmed by the entire trip. Plus, when your vacation finally does end, there’s the depressing thought of returning to the awfulness of work and everyday life (also known as post travel depression symptoms).
But I Was Never Supposed to Be Depressed
In my family, you weren’t allowed to be sad. Whatever blows life dealt out, you were supposed to suck it up, slap a smile on your face, and trudge through your day.
Because crying didn’t make anything better. So you just needed to man up, stop complaining and move on.
Any problem that you did have was much better than what your parents went through. So clearly if they got through it then you should easily be able to get through it too.
But I don’t Blame My parents.
They Did the Very Best They Could.
They Didn’t Make Me Depressed.
I just learned from an early age that sadness was a shameful emotion that was to be suppressed immediately, by travel, since people never want to be around sad people. .
I slapped a smile on my face, went about life, traveled the world, and covered up my pain with a series of jokes that masked my true self.
I felt like my soul fit me all wrong and like I was beyond repair.
That’s why I never showed you my true self. If you saw the real me then you’d never be able to love me. I was just a fundamentally flawed creature who was entirely unlovable.
That’s Why I smiled my way through life (People ask fewer questions when you do).
I also did everything I could to appear as “normal” as possible on the outside; I got good grades, played sports, went on killer vacations, and hung out with my friends.
On the Outside, I lacted the way a well-adjusted woman should.
But inside, I was a tornado of self-hatred, anger, bitterness, resentment, fear, and sadness; a jumble of emotions that had no place to go.
“I wanted to talk about it. Damn it. I wanted to scream. I wanted to yell. I wanted to shout about it. But all I could do was whisper ‘I’m fine'”.
And So It Begins
To cope with the never-ending torrent of negativity that was my mind, I did one more socially acceptable thing.
I lost weight. A lot of weight.
And the more people praised me, and the more likes my travel posts got on social media, the more weight I lost. If I could just lose enough weight then maybe you could love me.
Maybe you could even love me enough for the both of us.
But it doesn’t work like that. The more weight I lost, the more miserable and hungry I felt.
I would binge because I thought that food would make me feel better, but it never did.
The cycle continued on for many years; me always trying to travel for depression relief.
Periodically, I would try and tell people how bad things were. I would open up the wounds of my soul, revealing how little I ate, how much I exercised, and how my period was a distant memory.
But no one heard me.
Everyone just smiled and told me how great I looked, that I was totally fine, that it would pass soon, and that everything would be okay.
So I shrugged my shoulders and went on.
I accepted that I was an eternally, unhappy people who would get up every day and pretend that she loved life and everything about it. I would then laugh and smile on cue, to cover up the torrent of hate that swirled through my mind.
I would pretend all the time, and you know what? it was exhausting.
I covered up my never-ending sea of insecurities since everyone around me was growing up, moving on, and learning how to love themselves.
Everyone, that is, except me.
I was always different; a walking disease that would never find a cure.
I Need a Change
Travel was always the one true love of my life. So I traveled to make the pain go away.
And it would, temporarily.
But as soon as the novelty of a new city or a new country wore off, the pain would surface and course through my veins with a fury that made me realize that it had never left at all.
That scared me.
Travel, the one thing in my life that had always brought me tremendous joy, had now stopped working. And I had no idea what to do.
So I decided to Make a Change.
I started to go to therapy, eat well and share my feelings with another person.
I started to take care of myself and wanted to be cured so badly, but I wasn’t.
I still felt so sad every day.
My therapist told me it would eventually get better and so for two years, I just kept talking about it.
But it didn’t get better.
I even went to a psychiatrist for help. I asked her about my condition and suggested that I might have depression.
She just smiled and said there was no way that I could be depressed.
If I was really depressed then I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed.
And this is when I almost lost it.
Everyone kept telling me that I was fine:
But I didn’t feel fine.
I wanted to hurt myself to ease the torrent of pain that had starved me of joy for my entire lif.e
But I couldn’t.
I didn’t want to end up in a psych ward and have everyone think I was crazy.
I was also scared that if I tried to kill myself, I would screw it up and just end up brain damaged, in a hospital, even more miserable than I already was.
***If you know someone who suffers from depression, please do NOT say,
“You need to snap out of it (It’s a chemical imbalance so that is impossible to do)”
“Have you tried thinking more positively (Wow, I never thought of that. What a great idea, said no depressed person ever. If we could we would)?”
“Be strong for your family and put a smile on your face (It’s not about being strong or not. Depressed people can’t control their emotions).”
“Happiness is a choice (if it was then I would instantly choose to be happy. But it’s not and this totally invalidates someone’s feelings).”
And my personal favorite, “Life is hard for everyone. Just look at so and so. They have had it way worse than you and are just fine (Gee thanks, Guess I suck at life way more than so and so. Thanks for making me feel like a wretched person).
*** I know people are not trying to be mean but saying these sort of things does not help. Many times, in fact, hearing these things actually makes people who already have low self-esteem feel worse
Depression is living in a body that fights to survive with a mind that tries to die.
That’s When I Decided to Speak
I tried to share my pain with my family, but they couldn’t listen. They couldn’t recover from their own pain so there was no way that they could accept mine.
So I finally spoke to people who did listen.
They validated me, told me that they were there to help, and shared their personal experiences so that I wouldn’t feel alone.
They showed me that if they could face the cunning foe of depression and emerge victoriously, then maybe I could too.
For the first time, they made me feel like I wasn’t completely different from the rest of the world
And they were right. I changed therapists, got the help, and medication, that I needed, and gradually got better.
I began to emerge from my fog of depression, but it took time.
I went on and off several different medications before I finally found one that worked.
It turned down the noise in my head, and the insanely overwhelming volume of my life, so that every day seemed somewhat manageable. It was like the noise of my pain had dissipated enough to let me feel other things too.
But I’m still scared, even today.
Yes, I take my medication. Yes, I write in my journal. Yes, I go to therapy and try and take care of myself, but there is always a nagging sense of doubt that quietly whispers, “What if it comes back?”
So with every tear and bad day and fleeting sense of sorrow, I wonder, “Is it back?”
Usually, the answer is no.
Usually, my feelings are the result of a no good, rotten day that comes everyone’s way.
But there are still shadows of doubt.
However, my doubt is a voice from the past; a voice that no longer controls my life.
I CANNOT afford to listen to that voice.
I do everything I can to ensure that tomorrow will be a better day.
Why Share My Story?
Look, depression is pretty crap. It makes you feel awful and totally worthless.
If you are diagnosed with depression, you can encourage others who suffer from this disease by showing them they are not alone and that yes, other people really do feel like this.
And Most Importantly:
You can show them that even though you have depression, it doesn’t mean you need to give up a life of travel.
Thereby transforming a negative into something that positively affects another person’s life.
At least that’s what I hope happens when someone reads my story.
But the Question Remains:
How Do You Cope with Depression While Traveling?
(AKA 10 Ways to Deal with Depression While Traveling)
1. Establish a Routine
Look, the emotional upheaval of depression creates a chaotic, out of control feeling that pulls you into a churning storm of unease and uncertainty.
But by Creating a routine:
You can counteract these feelings of anxiety with a bit of stability in your life; a certainty that you will always go out and have breakfast every morning. Just something small that you can rely on when your emotions are a mess.
This also prevents you from staying in your room all day and watching Netflix.
I mean Netflix is great, just not when you’re isolating because of your depression.
But whatever you do:
Try not to lay around, alone with your thoughts. The more you think, the sadder you get, especially if you’re traveling alone in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language.
2. Connect with a Therapist Online
One of the BEST things you can do is talk about your feelings with a trained professional; a process that is incredibly challenging when you’re traveling long-term and haven’t really set up roots anywhere.
Well, thank God for modern technology!
In this fast-paced era of texts, tweets, Skype sessions, and Instagram posts, it is now easier than ever to connect with a therapist online and get the help you need.
And you have a ton of options.
Between Talkspace, Betterhelp, E-counseling, and evideocounseling, you’ll find a therapist that you can take with you while you travel the world.
You can actually talk about your feelings and not just eat them away with a box of donuts. Not that I’d ever do something crazy like EAT my feelings (LoL).
3. Make Sure You Pack Extra Medication
Medication is insanely important.
Without mine, I turn into a heap of a woman who is uncontrollably sobbing on her bathroom floor.
So moral of the story?
Always pack extra medication in case of an emergency.
Because when you travel, emergencies can and do happen:
Yup, I totally forgot to pack extra meds and ran out. #travelfail
So don’t be like me and always pack extra medication (most pharmacists will fill several months of your medication as long as you have enough refills listed).
***I am NOT a medical professional so always run this stuff by your doctor.
***If you’re going away for a really long time, bring a copy of your prescription with you so that you can take it to a local pharmacy and get your prescription filled there. However, there is no guarantee that a pharmacist will fill an out-of-country prescription, or that your specific medication and dosage will be available. Therefore, it’s always best to stock up on your medication before you leave the country.
***Also check to make sure that your medication is legal in the country that you’ll be visiting. Also be aware of any negative drug interactions with your medication.
Example: Mefloquine (a common antimalarial) interacts badly with antidepressants, so this medication should be avoided if you’re on anti-depressants.
4. Eat Well
Good self-care can go a long way towards improving your mood.
The better your nutrition and eating habits are, the better you’ll feel about yourself and the more energy you’ll have to go outside.
I’ve done the whole eat my feelings thing and it just makes you feel worse, You start to hate yourself because you feel like a fat, beached whale.
And Next Thing You Know:
You avoid going outside because you don’t want people to see you while you’re feeling so incredibly fat and gross; a cycle of isolation that is a recipe for disaster.
Try eating at places that won’t completely deplete your energy because of forced interactions with too many people; places like cafes, delis, street vendors, and hotel room service are all really good options.
Look, we’re not talking a triathlon here:
But light walking or yoga can help improve your mood. Such activities create endorphins that keep you more alert and energized, thereby counteracting the severe energy depletion associated with depression.
Oh, and get outside:
Staying in your room, with the curtains drawn is only gonna make you feel worse. So get out into the sunshine and soak up that Vitamin D.
No, I swear it’s true!
It’s been scientifically proven that time spent outdoors + Vitamin D = better mood.
6. Create a Support System and Be More Socially Daring
You can’t bring your entire support system with you while you travel the world. Sorry, bui it’s just not gonna happen.
So For all the Hard Core Introverts Out There Like Me:
You’re gonna have to put on your big girl pants, step out of your shell of social awkwardness, and create a new support system for yourself so that you don’t feel totally alone.
And Believe It or Not:
Most travelers are open to meeting new people and are all too happy to chat with you about anything and everything over a nice coffee or drink.
But What If You’re Staying in a Stuffy, High-End Hotel?
Never fear! Just take a group tour and chat with people on the tour. Clearly, you guys have something in common since you’re on the same tour. And this is actually the way that I have met some of the coolest people I know (hostel bars are a great place to meet people too).
***I know we all want to keep in touch with our loved ones but too much contact will make you feel like you’re missing out on everything that’s going on back home. So to avoid feeling left out and alone, try and limit your contact with friends and family from home. Instead, devote your energy to making new friends while you travel.
7. Be Kind to Yourself
Look, if you feel like total crap, don’t force yourself to smile, giggle, and pretend you’re having an AMAZING TIME.
It’s okay if you’re sad on vacation. You’re human after all.
Just acknowledge it, feel it, and then try and move through it. Just don’t pressure yourself to be and feel something that you’re not.
And if you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up!
No one is perfect and mistakes happen. It’s part of being human and not a reflection of you personally.
Trust me, you’re an amazing person even if you don’t feel like it.
Feelings aren’t facts.
8. Remember that Travel Won’t Fix Your Depression
When I was Younger:
I moved to Korea with the desperate hope that travel would fix my depression.
But it didn’t.
Once the excitement of the move wore off, I was stuck with myself and the same negative feelings. Only now I was a thousand miles away, in a country where people didn’t speak my language or understand my culture,
And then the negativity came back, with vengeance.
Before you travel, just remember that no matter where you are, you are going to bring yourself with you, depression and all.
So don’t fool yourself into thinking that travel is some sort of mood disorder cure all.
Not a chance.
Just accept that while you travel, you’ll probably have to deal with some negative feelings as they come up, just like at home.
9. Do Something that Scares You
You don’t have to go skydiving or do anything crazy like me.
Just do something that frightens you a bit so that you can get out of your head and away from that negative thought loop that is depression.
Instead of thinking about your depression, you’ll be thinking about your adrenaline inducing, white water rafting trip down some iansnely awesome river in Asia.
You’ll be proud of yourself and feel like you’ve accomplished something that you never thought you could do.
Be less in your head and more in the moment as you think about all the crazy stuff that you’re about to do.
10. Don’t Compare Your Insides to Other People’s Outsides
OR Stay Off Your Phone!
Look, this happens all the time, especially with social media. You log onto Facebook, see all these beautiful pictures that inevitably make you feel crappy about yourself and the life you lead.
This is what happens when you compare your feelings of depression to what other people display on their bright, shining, smiling faces, or social media accounts. Whatever works.
And guess what?
That’s not reality!
Sure people out there are happy, and that’s great. But social media is never the WHOLE truth. Trust me, people are never going to show the screaming match that they just had with their boyfriend on their Instagram Stories.
They’ll post a stunning picture of themselves in an epic red ballgown, with flawless makeup, as they fiercely stomp their way along some exotic beach.
But just because they look amazing, doesn’t mean they’re not feeling the same way as you on the inside.
So stay off of social media and focus more on yourself and less on other people.
That’s All She Wrote (About Depression and Travel)!
I know I try and keep my posts rather light-hearted and fun (did you know a human sheds forty pounds of skin cells in their life time?), but depression is a serious illness that can rob you of so much, including your joy for travel.
Yes, these tips may help you cope with depression (Solo travel depression, post travel depression, wtc.), this post is not and never will be a cure for depression.
If it was then I’d be rich.
So always consult a doctor about your depression symptoms and discuss any travel plans with your doctor before you just biz-ounce out of the country.
Geez, now I sound like a commercial for some new prescription drug.
(noted side effects include, death, death, and oh yeah, death).
If you treat your depression then there is really no reason why you can’t do some long-term travel and live the travel life that you truly want.
I’m done. I really have nothing else mildly insightful to say.