Jeannie writes on her site Nomadic Chick. She has traveled extensively and has lived as an expat in various parts of the world. After reading one of the posts in this series about living and traveling with depression, she offered to take part and share her story. As with the others, I hope her experiences help others dealing with depression.
What was your experience with depression before you began travel?
Depression first hit in my teen years, but in Asian families depression is an unspoken secret that nobody addresses, so I suffered in silence much of the time. I recovered for several years throughout my 20s, but by my mid-30s depression came back with full force. That’s when I plunged into years of therapy. Luckily I was in a wonderful place mentally when I embarked on my RTW trip, which carried through until I had a relapse two years later.
How has living with depression impacted your life?
When I am suffering from a bout of depression, everything kind of stops in my head and it’s hard to think or function some days. I become more socially withdrawn and inward. I view people with depression as humans who see, feel, and think harder and deeper than others, so another impact is I am highly sensitive to what changes, either moods or situations, for example.
What types of medications or medication alternatives have you used to try to treat it?
I definitely considered medication at one time, but wanted to try other methods of coping. This sounds odd, but medication to me is yoga and meditation. The jolt of endorphins I receive from both is the equivalent to pharmaceuticals for me. Studies have been conducted to show how the brain waves alter during meditation; it’s quite astounding. It’s what feels most natural to me!
Was it hard to consider travel during depressive episodes?
I have this strange ability to separate what I must do (travel) with what inner turmoil I’m struggling with. But once I do land somewhere, I tend to isolate myself and have no desire to see sights.
What have you noticed about how depression has affected you during your travels?
There has been episodes when I can’t make decisions on where to go next or to bother with logistics. Depression really saps my energy and often I feel exhausted.
If you have long time periods when you don’t travel, do you tend to experience a relapse?
Travel helps to distract me to some degree, but I’ve found that not traveling versus traveling a lot doesn’t affect the thoughts in my head much. They are there whether I’m inert or not. However, when I am traveling, I have noticed how much easier it is to get out of my head and spring into a newer mindset. Traveling as long as I have is the great reality check, too. Yes, I suffer when depressed, but have seen many others in the world suffering with much more, like where their next meal will come from.
Does living with depression change how frequently you travel?
I want to stay put somewhere longer and just hide in my hotel room. It also changes how I travel, not just frequency. I have difficulty keeping up with social events, and staying with friends becomes hard for me as I feel guilty that I’m not capable of being my usual self. I’m best as a lone wolf while I ride out a bout of sadness.
Have you found any non-travel-related activities that have a similar impact for you?
Again, yoga and meditation always help lift me outta my head and into a happier, more peaceful zone. Being in a live yoga class does the same. It’s a place I can meet like-minded people and feel a sense of community – and less alone.
There’s also no one-size-fits-all way to cope, find what works best for you. Most of all, never be ashamed of who you are or your feelings.
What advice do you have for other people who are dealing with depression?
You will have sunny days, along with the dark ones. And to accept that this is part of who you are, which is seen as a deficiency to many, but acceptance and employing tools to cope is the difference between chaos and balance. Strive for balance as much as possible, slow down and work on rebalancing when you’re not, and try to harness your empathic, sensitive nature in positive ways by writing or expressing yourself (art, photography, poetry). There’s also no one-size-fits-all way to cope, find what works best for you. Most of all, never be ashamed of who you are or your feelings.