What No One Tells You About Traveling and Depression

Let’s talk about depression.

Isla de Lobos, a small island off the coast of Fuerteventura

Today is World Mental Health Day.

Considering I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety so much, even my inner demons have started to roll their eyes and go, “Seriously, again?” while listening to my internal dialogue for the upteenth time and sipping La Rioja wine out of one of my nine wine glasses.

I’m not kidding. For some reason that I still have yet to understand, my apartment came with four water glasses, three coffee mugs, and nine wine glasses. What am I supposed to do with nine wine glasses?! I have more options for getting drunk than getting hydrated.

Anyway. Where were we?

Oh, yeah. Depression. Fun topic.

Los Tilos de Moya

Depression and I go way back. When I was around 12, I noticed I felt incredibly sad for no reason at all. At least at the time, I thought it was no reason at all; now as an adult, I can see that years of bullying and low self-esteem had taken a toll.

And even before depression, there is another friend I must introduce you to (I need to use up these nine wine glasses) . . . let’s give a warm welcome for social anxiety!

How I look so fondly of those years where I was too scared to pick up the phone, order my own food at a restaurant, raise my hand in class, and stand up for myself! How I cherish those moments of feeling like I’m balancing myself on two moving tectonic plates as I say hello to a stranger!

Cue Selena Gomez singing: Look at her now (in Tejeda)

If I could go back in time, I would have told myself that I was just an incredibly sensitive human being, and that there was nothing wrong with that at all. I would have told myself that I’m not shy, but reflective, introspective, and empathic, and that is beautiful. I would have told myself that I didn’t have to change my personality to try to fit in, because the people who matter will love me for who I am. And I would have used some choice words to tell all those bullies to back off.

I didn’t start to accept who I am until after graduating university, and even then, it’s been a journey. Had I started to accept myself at a younger age, then maybe I wouldn’t have spent years dealing with anxiety, which turned into depression, which turned into many years of pain that would be a lot for anyone to handle, let alone a kid.

I lost a significant part of my childhood, in a way. Yes, I was materially stable, an honor student, an athlete, a cheerleader, a volunteer, in so many after school clubs, went to almost every school dance . . . but what good is it if you can’t enjoy it? When you’re in so much emotional pain that even your body hurts?

Family vacation to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes in northern Michigan.
Cheerleading in my freshman year of high school.
Roasting coffee in the Valle de Agaete, the only place in Europe where coffee beans are grown

Things did turn around. After I graduated high school, I got a job, started university, fell in love with learning, and in a matter of months, most of my depression was gone.

To anyone going through any mental health crisis, trust me on this one, nothing lasts forever. You’ll make it through.

If you could go back in time and change everything, would you?”

I’m sure a lot of us have thought about this question.

I went through a lot as a child with my mental health. I still have flashbacks every now and then. And I experienced this during a time where it was still very taboo to talk about mental health.

If I didn’t have depression or social anxiety, maybe I would have had a normal childhood. I would have been able to enjoy the American high school experience that so many people around the world watch on the big screen. Maybe I would have had an easier life.

So, would I change anything?

Not a bit.

I wouldn’t change a thing about my past.

Depression took away much joy from my childhood, but it gave me something else: resilience.

After you conquer something difficult, no matter what it is, you know that nothing can stop you.

Depression leaves scars in your heart, and those will never go away. But like a scar on the skin that grows back stronger, depression also builds you, if you don’t let it destroy you. If you choose to learn from it, you will build character, persistence, grit, and even faith.

One of the most gorgeous cathedrals I’ve ever seen in Arucas

The Japanese have a tradition of repairing broken pottery by putting gold in the cracks. To all my people who have struggled with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health challenges, let’s raise our glasses to our beautiful sparkly golden unbroken hearts. (Seriously, take a glass, raise a glass, anything to put these nine wine glasses in my apartment to use).

Difficult days can still end with beautiful sunsets.

Because after you go through hell, and after you understand how worthy you are, what’s going to scare you? Who’s going to knock you down? Nothing and no one.

And this is the strength I needed to find the courage to leave everything behind and travel the world alone.

When you choose to work on your mental health, you feel like life has a purpose again. When you start to see your life get better, you realize that you were unstoppable all along. I’m not saying that we’re without limitations and that we’ll never encounter challenges again, but we know that if we conquer ourselves, we can conquer anything.

So of course I could travel the world alone. Of course I could uproot myself in a new country. Whatever challenges I’d come across, I knew I’d make it through. And I have over and over again – sometimes by a lot, sometimes barely, but in the end, I made it.

No makeup, sore, and running on 5 hours of sleep – but it’s all good, because I’m on a ferry

I came across a Steve Harvey motivational video recently, and something he said really moved me:

“Do you realize that every day you thought you weren’t going to make it … do you know that your survival rate for every last one of those days is 100%? Your track record for surviving bad days is 100%.”

That 100% track record gave me the courage to do what few people do. I’ve had unique experiences, moments of intense joy, and seen places many people haven’t seen, and I don’t think I would have chosen the road less taken, had I simply been comfortable.

I’d been uncomfortable before, so I knew I could deal with whatever came my way. And what came my way were moments of wonder and joy that I never knew I could feel.

That moment where you have a gorgeous town in the mountains all to yourself

Depression also peaked my curiosity to see what else is out in the world. When you’re in the hole of depression, darkness is all that you see. Except for one speck of light that someday, things will get better. I didn’t know what was on the other side of that light, but it was my lighthouse for many years.

Once I got out of the darkness, I felt like I was reborn. Leaving depression behind really is like a rebirth. You get to have those moments of awe and curiosity all over again. And those moments fueled my curiosity to see the world, and what else was out there beyond my small suburban town.

Tejeda. I had no idea this place exited a few months ago.

I wanted to see everything this beautiful world has to offer, and to use every drop of my potential that I have been gifted.

And when I visit a new city, a new country, and see landscapes that look out of this world, all I can say is Thank you, thank you, thank you to the girl with a 100% survival rate, who knew deep down that someday, things would get better.

And they sure did.

One final thought I’d like to add:

Traveling will not cure your depression.

By all means, travel. But just know that traveling alone won’t make all of your problems go away. No matter how far away you go, you can’t escape you.

I’ve been in beautiful places, and have taken dozens of smiling selfies, only to still feel miserable and heartbroken.

However.

Go anyway.

Entering Los Nevados park before the hike 4000+ meters above sea level. Did I have that hiking experience before? No. Was I thrilled about getting up at 4am? No. Did I survive, and was it worth it? Yes and YES!

Be safe about it, obviously. Make good choices. Assess whether you’re in a state of mind where traveling is healthy for you. I don’t know you or your situation. But if you’re in a place where you can travel, a shift in environment can cause you to at the very least reflect.

There is so much more than what you see on a daily basis. Different vegetation, food, languages, cities, lifestyles, celebrations, so much more that we can learn from. And sometimes, putting yourself in a new environment is enough to shock yourself into making a change.

A message to anyone who needs to hear it

I don’t know what you’re going through. Maybe you’re having a bad day. Maybe you’ve had a rough few months. Maybe you’re going through a dark night of the soul. Whatever it is, believe me that these moments will not last forever, and that if you choose to learn from this time, and to see it as a blessing (even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time), you will emerge far stronger and be more understanding than you ever thought you’d become.

I know nothing I can say can make your life better. I just urge you to believe it will get better eventually, and to never give up on yourself. I may not know you, but I believe in you.

I’ll finish with one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books, Think and Grow Rich:

“Every adversity, every failure, every heartbreak, carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”

Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill
Photo and stargazing tour thanks to Stars By Night

Stay strong, because there are beautiful experiences waiting to happen for you.

4 thoughts on “What No One Tells You About Traveling and Depression

  1. McKenna

    I got to the point where my dreams were bigger than my fears. When I was 22, I wanted to travel the world so badly, and to speak Spanish fluently, that I didn’t care how scared I was. I would rather push through the fear to follow my dreams. And as I got older, whenever I’d have moments of social anxiety and depression, I’d think back to the timed where I survived it. And knowing I’d made it before, gave me the confirmation that I’d make it through again.

    Also knowing that other people have gone through it helped me feel less alone. I grew up feeling so isolated, and now that people are using these platforms to talk about their experiences is bringing light to it, and letting us all know we are not alone. Knowing you’re not alone and that others have overcome what you’re going through also helps.

    Liked by 1 person

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