How Travel Can Help Beat Depression
In light of the heartbreaking news of Robin Williams’ suicide, I wanted to write something personal this week.
Umm, Mandie, don’t you always write personal stuff?
I try to, but often I edit myself to portray the good parts. Today, you get a little Mandie uncensored. I’m hijacking my own post schedule because if someone who brought so much joy and laughter to others could feel desperate enough to take his own life, anyone can.
If you’ve been following along you know that I tend to be an upbeat, goofy, easily amused person. I choose to focus on the good things and look for the uplifting message in whatever I do. I get my kicks from the little things in life. But I have not come by this naturally. It’s a long, arduous work in progress.
Since I was a child I’ve suffered from clinical depression and anxiety attacks. I have a mild case of agoraphobia. Having to make a phone call is enough to bring me to tears, and I score a bit higher than “normal” on the scale for Asperger’s Syndrome. Whatever the f*ck normal means, anyway.
So how the hell is someone like me backpacking around the world by herself, having little to no concrete travel plans, without having a complete mental breakdown?
One day at a time, my friends.
The longer I travel, the clearer it becomes that everywhere I go and every person I meet teaches me something new. It’s not like all of my problems have magically disappeared; I’m just gaining new abilities to cope with them.
Do I still have trouble breathing when I’m surrounded by strangers? Yup. Do I still panic just a little bit every single time I arrive in a new city? I sure do. But I have developed an override switch.
The more often you face fear head on, the easier it gets.
My greatest fear is making a fool out of myself, so I use humor as a defense mechanism. I act like a goofball; an impenetrable wall. If I’m laughing at myself, no one else’s laughter can hurt me.
Most comedians deal with significant levels of depression and self-doubt. To make other people laugh you have to be gritty, raw, honest. You have to look into the darkness within yourself and make a joke about it. After all, it’s only funny if it’s true.
You might be thinking right now that I’ve never REALLY been depressed. Sure, anyone can say “oh, I’ve been depressed.” But clinical depression isn’t just “feeling sad.” It’s a chemical imbalance in your brain. It feels like a weight is crushing you, but you don’t really care. Because you don’t care about anything.
There’s a little voice in the back of your mind telling you that you should get up, take a shower, change out of your sweatpants, but it’s not loud enough to drown out the voice that’s telling you it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. YOU don’t matter.
Depression is an invisible wall that cuts you off from the people who love and care about you; it is the worst kind of liar that tells you how alone you are in the world.
Guys, I’m not saying this to get attention. This happened years ago, and is a part of my past. But it’s a part of my past that I feel is relevant today, because I want to speak to anyone who might be feeling like they just want to give up.
I’ve taken Prozac, Zoloft, and Wellbutrin. I’ve changed my diet, frequented tanning beds (yep, that was therapist-issued advice), and started new exercise programs.
You know what I’ve found to be the best way to overcome depression and anxiety?
Traveling. Challenging myself. Getting outside of my own little world.
Want to silence the nasty voice in your head? Step outside of it. Get a new perspective. Stop over-thinking everything and just do it. Throw yourself into situations that scare you again and again. One day you’re going to wake up and realize that you just rocked something you would have found terrifying 6 months ago.
When you travel you realize what a tiny, tiny part of the great wild world that you are. And how absolutely beautiful and freeing that is.
Because, guess what? When I’m traveling through a foreign country I’m going to make a fool out of myself. Unintentionally. A lot.
And…life goes on. And it’s freaking beautiful.
This is what you learn as you travel – that there is always a plan B (or C, or D, or Z). That no matter how devastating things may seem at that moment, there is always a way out. That people you don’t even know will go to incredible lengths to help you out of a sticky situation. That complete strangers can become friends in a matter of minutes.
Fear tells you that terrible things are going to happen. Depression tells you that the only way to make it stop is to end everything. Anxiety tells you that you can’t handle this.
Travel teaches you that you can.
I’m not saying it’s a magic answer. There is no magical solution to depression and anxiety. This is just what has helped ME, in addition to the love and support of my friends and family. It has helped me learn to express gratitude for the little things in life, and your attitude towards the little things can change the big ones.
You know what I’m grateful for today? Clothes dryers. Big cups of coffee. Good, cheap wine. New friends. The support of old friends. Having someone wonderful in my life who makes me feel safe and special and able to achieve anything in the world.
Sometimes depression, fear, and anxiety seem to win. They spew lies and take beautiful, inspirational people out of this world.
But they won’t win in my life, or hold me back from chasing my dreams around the world. They can tag along if they want but I’ll just keep stuffing them further down into that dark, smelly corner of my backpack.
I hope they enjoy my dirty socks.
This post is linked up with the fabulous #SundayTraveler. Link up your own or find other great travel-related posts at Chasing the Donkey, The Fairytale Traveler, Pack Me To, A Southern Gypsy, or Ice Cream & Permafrost.