Brandy Bell of It’s One World…Travel! is next in our Living in Darkness interview series. She paints some excellent imagery about what living with depression is like.
How can I tell you what it feels like to be depressed? You’ve had three hours of sleep and the alarm is blaring in your ear. The sickening realization that you have to get out of your warm bed and put your feet on the cold floor. They’re all waiting for you, you have no choice.
What was your experience with depression before you began travel?
Puberty. The gift that brings tits, also brings trouble. While blossoming into a young lady awkwardly trying to figure out bras and mascara, my new hormones were also throwing curve balls at me.
It felt like being trapped in a bubble. I can hear you talking just fine, but your words aren’t penetrating the barrier, they’re not getting through- something’s in the way.
My solution was sleeping more than waking, so that I didn’t have to feel it: the pain, the nothingness, the heavy blanket of blah that had been draped over me.
How has living with depression impacted your life?
Oh it’s the best– you’ve got to try it!! Just kidding. Being depressed has made me funnier, because when you’re laughing, you’re not realizing there’s something wrong. That I’m not lifting my eyes to yours, that I am trapped inside of my head, fruitlessly running in a hamster wheel of sickness.
Depression has made me introverted (though you’d never notice), and very nearly divided in two. Living inside my head are these ugly thoughts, but if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all, right? Instead I opt to talk fluff, politely agree and nod my head because it’s too hard to say what I actually feel, what I think.
Living with depression means I carry a mask at all times, ready to throw on a smile at the drop of a joke.
What types of medications or medication alternatives have you used to try to treat it?
Therapy. I gave it my best effort. I did my part, talking, answering, thinking, wearing turtlenecks and nodding deeply, in sync with the therapist to show my accord. Leaving the office, I’d feel no different.
Social drinking was an excellent excuse to have a glass of wine with friends, take your mind off “things” and let the good times roll. Then it got to the point where the social aspect of the drinking was no longer desirable, only the buzz, that uncontrolled stagger of the mind and body. Thoughts come and go as they please, filtered through 70-proof vodka. It didn’t work.
Was it hard to consider travel during depressive episodes?
On the contrary, it was hard to focus on “real life”. There seemed to be so much more waiting for me on the other side of the life I was living.
What have you noticed about how depression has affected you during your travels?
Travel is not a cure-all for depression. There have been moments of my travels that have brought me to darker places than ever before. Seeing the poverty of our planet, child sex slaves, war victims, and something as simple and impactful as neglected animals have penetrated my heart and left me short of breath at times. It’s easy to let these upsetting issues merge with my own depression and become one massive unsolvable problem.
Many long-term travelers that I have had the pleasure of meeting experience depression in one form or another, and it’s a topic that is easily broached after a hard day of travel. There’s something about being two people out of your own country that forges a bond with a fellow traveler, and the walls come down. I’ve had some of the more honest, open and uplifting talks of my life in hostels with people I met merely moments before.
If you have long time periods when you don’t travel, do you tend to experience a relapse?
It’d be safer for me if I had rubber walls after a bout of non-travel. Anxiety for the road and disdain for everything that is not travel silently mount and attack like a tsunami at the most inconvenient of times.
Some days I find it very difficult to care about things that aren’t travel related. Having learnt this is what makes me come alive, it’s too hard to care about the obligations of daily life that don’t directly result in travel.
Does living with depression change how frequently you travel?
Absolutely. After discovering the magic of solo travel in 2006, it was something I lusted after. Hard. I dreamed of a nomadic life, and remembered fondly the sweet taste of freedom that saw beams of light through the darkness. I spent several months abroad over the next three years, and finalized my plan to live permanently abroad in 2009.
It’s almost as if I am on the move, the depression can’t catch me.
Have you found any non-travel-related activities that have a similar impact for you?
Exercise: If there’s not some daily physical activity, my mind starts to feel it, and after a few days of not exercising, my mood is positively miserable.
Orgasms. Because sometimes heaven does come before death.
Proper Water Intake and Nutrition. If we do not water a plant, it wilts before it dies. It’s not as easy to see the visible signs of human wilting, but I have come to feel the difference within my body when it’s nourished. It’s all mental—I take care of myself because I love myself, I love myself because I take care of myself.
What advice do you have for other people who are dealing with depression?
Keep trying. Keep a diary of the thoughts you’re not willing to say to anyone else, but make sure to record the good along with the bad. This helps to give perspective and remember that it’s not all dark.
Nurture your friendships with those you know to be good for you. It can be very hard to reach out to people and ask them for help when you’re swimming against the tide of depression, but sometimes even a silent presence can be enough.
Any thing else you’d like to add?
If you’re reading this because you suffer from depression then you already know what I am saying to be truth.
We call this depression darkness, because it can dim the lighting of our lives to the point of being pitch black. But those moments when the sun breaks through: be it your first breath in a new country, learning a new word, or experiencing the sheer overwhelming beauty of the world hits you like a ton of bricks. Everything is lighter than light.
Against the blackness of depression the moments of happiness shine blinding white. We are the lucky ones, who pack up our depression, carrying it on our backs and leaving a small piece of it behind in every country.