Living with Darkness–Interview with Forrest Walker

As I wrote when I shared about my long-term battle with depression, I am introducing an interview series from fellow travelers who have dealt with depression to share not only their experiences, but what also helps them deal with the condition.  I hope sharing their stories helps others.  I’d like to thank Forrest of The Other Side of the Coconut for sharing part of his journey with us.

dealing with depression, monks, asia

What was your experience with depression before you began travel?
My clinical depression started with the death of my seven-year-old son. He was not only my son, he was my sun. He died due to a combination of an incompetent MD and a greedy insurance system. Four hours after the doctor told me to go home and give him some Tylenol, he died in my arms.

This led to divorce because the life I was leading was all about raising this boy, and I saw no sense in jobs and mortgages and being in the neighborhood where all his friends played.

How has living with depression impacted your life?
I asked my wife to let me go so I could pursue lifelong dreams of seeing the world without any responsibilities to the mundane.

What types of medications or medication alternatives have you used to try to treat it?
I tried two different anti-depressants, but they both made me careless. By that I mean I couldn’t care less. I was doing stupid things that could well have led to a not pretty death. They made me suicidal.

Was it hard to consider travel during depressive episodes?
No. Travel was my ultimate medicinal remedy. The idea that something different was beyond the horizon, or a plane ride away, kept my will to live alive. Still does.

dealing with depression, buddhist monk, asia

What have you noticed about how depression has affected you during your travels?
I find that I am intolerant of people who cannot control their children on planes, in restaurants, or anywhere else. I get seriously saddened by children in poverty or begging.

If you have long time periods when you don’t travel, do you tend to experience a relapse?
No, because I am always planning that next trip. Studying my next destination.

Does living with depression change how frequently you travel?
Oh yeah. I must take a trip sometime in the foreseeable future or I get lost in my despair.

Have you found any non-travel-related activities that have a similar impact for you?
Writing fiction. Reading adventure novels. Blogging.

What advice do you have for other people who are dealing with depression?
I tell them it will not go away. Avoid meds. Speak to a decent shrink often. Find diversions that occupy your mind.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Being a depressive is no fun, but burdening others with your state of mind or your sad story is not fair to them. Find a partner like I did who loves to travel (or shares some other love) and work with that person towards a lifetime of peaceful happy diversions.

Forrest has written about this topic on his blog a couple of times. You can find those posts at and

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  1. I wonder if either of you have advice on how to respond to a friend who is cronically depressed?

    It isn’t so much that she constantly refers to her bad luck so much as it makes her bitchy, critical, attention-demanding and apparently jealous of friendships amongst others within the group we both hang out with. It’s easy to see that beneath it she is a very good person. The problem is that the bitchiness affects us all, makes us defensive or irritable. I’m not a stranger to depression, and have a father who is severely depressed and refuses treatment, so it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to. The advice often given to us to make our lives more positive is to disassociate ourselves from people who bring us down, and yet how do we reconcile that with being supportive of a friend in need?
    Linda recently posted..2012: Postcards to MyselfMy Profile

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    • It’s a challenging one. Sometimes people who are in the depths of depression or other issues (I’m not so sure what you’re describing is from depression, it sounds like something else), try to bring others to their level of suffering. Firm boundaries are really important.

      Your question was great, so I asked on our FB page. You may want to check out the comments:

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      • It really isn’t, but sometimes you DO have to draw the line. There is a great book I suggest to people called When Helping You is Hurting Me.

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  2. Talon and Forrest, thank you both for sharing your journeys with depression in such an open forum. Forrest, I am so sorry for your loss.

    It is stories like this that bring light to such an often hidden subject. Thank you for your bravery.
    Laurel recently posted..My Travel Relationships of 2012- Snapshot StyleMy Profile

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    • Thanks. My hope is that sharing these stories helps others and continues to remove some stigma.

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    • It really isn’t and can be especially hard for some. I look forward to sharing the other inteviews.

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  3. Thanks so much for this series. I’m sure it will help a lot of people. I’ve lived with depression since I was about 13 years old, and it’s never easy, especially when your specific buttons are pushed. Looking forward to more stories.
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  4. Talon, thank you for running this series. I have family who’ve struggled with depression, and hearing these stories helps me understand a bit more what they go through. My heart goes out to Forrest – I have a seven year old son – I can’t begin to imagine the heatbreak of losing a child.
    Micki recently posted..In Mexico The Past is Never Dead: The Yellow City of IzamalMy Profile

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    • Such a horrible tragedy.

      I’m glad it’s helpful. Depression is one of those things that if you don’t deal with it can seem so weird. Sometimes people don’t understand why people can’t just “snap out of it.”

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  5. Wow, so open and honest. It’s often, sadly, the things that really shake us that move us to travel. It has a way of healing that nothing else does.

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  6. Not sure I agree with all the points he made but that is where depression is very different for every person I think. One of people I am closest to will never go off the meds because she knows it does help her. And talking to us is definitely not a burden on our lives! We need to know how she is feeling so we can help when needed. But glad travelling does help :)
    Cole @ recently posted..Competing in the Auckland Harbour SwimMy Profile

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    • Depression is definitely one of those things in life that is very individual. I have only needed meds intermittently and for short periods of time, but I know people who really can never go off their meds.

      About talking to friends and family I agree with you as well. I think Forrest was encouraging people to not overburden their friends and family, which can happen. It’s also one of those “your mileage may vary” things. Some of us have friends who simply don’t want to hear about it because they lack the skills to help us. Others have family that are virtually worthless.

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