Editor’s note: The person responding to this interview requested to be anonymous.
What was your experience with depression before you began travel?
Since I now have years of 20/20 hindsight, I can say that I have probably been depressed since I was a child. A seemingly charmed upper middle class American life was fraught with turmoil, and sexual abuse at the hands of my father. However, it wasn’t until I was in my late 20’s that clinical depression became a “thing” and was acknowledged and addressed by the medical community on a large scale, but the stigma still existed and I did much to ignore it. I always tried to convince myself that it was situational, and if I changed this or that the depression would cure itself.
How has living with depression impacted your life?
It impacted every moment of my life. From the ability to stay on top of bills, to the university classes I was trying to complete, to the ability to maintain a relationship with my daughter, as well as relationships with friends and significant others. I found myself becoming increasingly selfish, although I am, by nature, a very giving person. I lost a great deal before I was able to recognize the situation for what it was, an illness.
What types of medications or medication alternatives have you used to try to treat it?
I was prescribed a multitude of antidepressants, but the side effects made it very difficult to maintain the daily dose. I couldn’t deal with the spaced-out feeling, the drowsiness, and the sense of absolute numbness. It was almost as if I had traded feeling sad and hopeless for feeling nothing at all. I was also prescribed, and over prescribed, Xanax for anxiety, but that was a slippery slope I wasn’t prepared to go down, and I found myself addicted. Because I was under the care of a county mental health system, my medications and my reactions to them weren’t monitored very closely, and I found myself in worse shape than when I started. I had to self-wean from Xanax, which is a dangerous undertaking even with medical supervision. Luckily, I survived.
Was it hard to consider travel during depressive episodes?
For me, travel was the thing that kept me treading water. Just the thought of seeing, doing and experiencing something new allowed me to escape when I had those moments when I was stuck in my head. When I finally did begin my long-term travel quest I found myself in a country whose medical community doesn’t subscribe to the US method of tossing antidepressant prescriptions around like candy. With the help of a kind and knowledgeable psychiatrist, I became drug free in a matter of months.
What have you noticed about how depression has affected you during your travels?
Honestly, in the two and a half years that I have been traveling, my symptoms have lessened dramatically. When I do have “those” moments, I feel like my own self-coping skills have increased to the point that I have no problem handling my situation. I also have the support of a very kind, grounded and rational person who has helped me in more ways than I can count.
If you have long time periods when you don’t travel, do you tend to experience a relapse?
Not so much anymore. Again, I think the coping skills I’ve learned as well as the support I receive have helped me maintain through all types of situations.
Does living with depression change how frequently you travel?
Not in the slightest. There will never be a time that I turn down a travel opportunity because I’m depressed. Just like many other people who have found that their passion is bigger than the disease, I have mine, and it has worked well so far!
Have you found any non-travel-related activities that have a similar impact for you?
Exercise always helps, as does eating well
What advice do you have for other people who are dealing with depression?
Listen to your doctors, but listen to yourself more. Investigate alternative therapies that don’t involve pharmaceuticals. Get involved in an activity that takes you outside of yourself.