I thought long and hard about whether or not to write this post. The internal battle that I had was mainly around the fact that there are people who read my blog who I know well, but they don’t know that I struggle with depression. Some are coworkers, some are family. Well, I bit the bullet and posted it. Cat’s outta the bag.
Let’s backtrack a little. I’ve managed a mild to moderate depression for the past couple of years. In reality, it’s probably been longer than that, but with the help of a fantastic family doctor and a phenomenal co-worker, it was finally diagnosed as such in 2012. Given the state that I was in at the time of diagnosis (mass amounts of personal and work related stress), I chose to take medication for it. Medication was exactly what I needed at the time. I needed to numb the bad days, because there were just too many of them. But, after taking medication for six months, gaining way too much extra weight (a side effect of Cipralex that I’m still working off), losing my hair (another fun side effect) and being numbed on good days too, I decided I was finally in a place where I could begin to battle depression without medication. After all, if the good days just feel blah, what’s the point of having a good day? It’s a personal decision, but for me, I wanted to feel the positives just as intensely as the painful days.
Fast forward to October 28th, the day we left for our trip. As I was packing up my toiletries, I came across my leftover Cipralex pills. I held the bottle in my hand, rolled it between my fingers and asked myself if I should bring them… just in case. Deciding against it, I put them back on the shelf and closed the cabinet.
Well, there have been a number of ‘bad’ days. There always are. I honestly thought that with the excitement of new places, new destinations, new smells and sounds, that depression wouldn’t touch me. But it can and it does. I did some research online, looking for the magic formula to recovering on the road, but couldn’t find the right fit for me, as many folks were talking from the point of view of taking medication. Also, before going any further, I don’t want anyone to think I trivialize my depression by calling them “bad days” because they are so much worse than that – it’s just my personal description.
So, I wanted to share my personal recovery strategy, in the hopes that it will help others who struggle while traveling with depression, or inspire those who are afraid to begin an adventure.
6 Coping Mechanisms When Traveling With Depression
1. Be Gentle With Yourself
Yes, you’re in a new place. You’re on the trip of a lifetime. Everyone should be so lucky. So why are you depressed? Um… first, stop beating yourself up. This is not your fault. This is not something that you can control, but it is something that you can work to manage. Be gentle with yourself and every time a negative thought sweeps in berating yourself for feeling depressed, stop yourself in your tracks. Don’t berate yourself for not being ‘normal’. This is your normal. You can and will deal with it, but give yourself the permission to do so.
2. Let Your Loved One Know
I’m lucky in that I have an awesome husband. But, even so, when I go through bad spells he asks, “what’s wrong?” and I don’t have an answer for him. There’s no one thing, no cause to my depression. It wasn’t triggered by an event. So, rather than get upset each time he asked me the question, I responded by having a conversation with him. I told him there’s no cause. I told him I just needed to have an “easy” day. Or I asked for some personal time. David was super understanding and just gave me the space and time I needed to recharge. Sometimes I just needed to sleep for twelve hours!
What if you’re traveling solo? I’d still let someone at home know. Someone that you know that even from a distance, they can offer the right support that you need. This could be a parent, sibling, friend. You name it, we all hopefully have that one person.
3. Eat a Little Bit Better
It is SO easy to eat crap on the road. You want to try every delicacy… especially the banana and chocolate roti. It seems a great idea to have pancakes every day. But try to balance it out. Messing with your diet can seriously throw your chemical balance out of whack. Yes, eat the pancake, but also get those dark, leafy vegetables in. Fibre is your friend.
Also… check your caffeine intake. I know, I know. I’m a caffeine addict too, but there’s a fine balance. A cup gets me going in the morning (without which I would despise life), but three can be treacherous and mess with my sleep and circadian rhythms.
During a particularly rough week, I went to a local yoga class. And you know what? The 90 minutes of pure concentration on nothing but the poses was a lifesaver. During that class I didn’t beat myself up, I didn’t cry and I didn’t think about why this was happening to me. I cleared my head and strengthened my body. And it was great.
So, I know that I said that when negative thoughts come in, to stop them in their tracks. For me that worked most of the time, but when I had seriously awful thoughts, sometimes just writing them down, accepting them as they were, helped. Once they were down on paper, I could see them for what they were. Just thoughts. Thoughts that in retrospect were not rational to how I feel on a day-to-day basis. Traveling with depression does not mean you magically ignore the bad days, but that you may need to work harder to push through them. Putting pen to paper helped scrub them from my day.
I feel like I caught up on years of sleep in Southeast Asia. Partly because it’s mother trucking hot here, so a twelve hour day is EXHAUSTING, but partly because of my mood. The day after an overnight train journey with next to no sleep, it was non surprise to me that I felt tears were imminent. It’s amazing what a ten hour sleep can do for the body and the spirit.
You CAN Travel with Depression
In a nutshell, these were the core things that helped me manage my depression while being on the trip of a lifetime. Yes, there were some pretty low days, but in no way did I let it stop me from experiencing the beauty of these countries.
If you’re considering traveling and have depression, I urge you to travel. There will be bad days, sure, but won’t there still be bad days at home? Better to travel, to see the world, to be stimulated by new things, than never to have travelled at all.
And for my other readers who don’t struggle with depression or aren’t familiar with it, I’d like you to know a few things. It’s a big thing for me to admit to having depression, but I do it in part because I believe the stigma that we hold against depression is wrong. One in five people suffer from depression and many in silence. A person with depression is not a weak person. They don’t just need to cheer up. Many of you know this already, I know that and I appreciate it.
People with depression can achieve great things. They can work at a great job. They can hold down a social life. They can have a happy marriage. They can accomplish their goals. They can travel the world. Having depression doesn’t stop them. It makes things different, occasionally harder, sure. But we can do it. So, please, if you’re asking yourself whether to stay at home or to get on a plane… get on the plane. It might make all the difference in the world.
For more information on depression, I encourage you to check out the following resources:
The Black Dog Tribe – A social network community for those directly and indirectly affected by depression
World Health Organization fact page on depression.
Depression & Amy Poehler – a blog post that I really connected with.