I have mentioned in a previous article that I use travel as a coping mechanism. It helps me get out of a funk and makes my depression more manageable.
Once I'm abroad, I am generally in the clear. Everything is so new and exciting that I don't have time to get lost in my mind. But every once in a while I'll be enjoying the foreign cuisine of god knows where and depression will suddenly rear it's nasty head. It comes out of no where and doesn't come often, but when it does, it's the worst.
I recently got into a conversation with another traveler who battles depression and we commiserated on this terrible feeling. The more we talked, the more relieved we felt. There were multiple times when both of us would say, "It feels so good to know someone else feels this way."
That is why I am writing this. So that those who do not experience depression can gain a little compassion and those that do can gain a little comfort. Because you are never alone.
Anyway, enough dancing around the subject...
This is how if feels when depression hits while I am traveling
I want to curl up in a ball. I want to spend all day in my room. If I was home, that's what I would do. I would close the blinds, ignore my texts, and watch Netflix for 8 hours straight. I'd let the food in my fridge rot and when I did need to eat (which would be less frequent than usual) I would order shitty Chinese food and have it delivered to my door.
I want to disengage.
I want to disappear.
Then the guilt hits.
"You're in a foreign country!" The voice inside my head starts to pester me. "You can't just spend all day doing nothing. You have to explore! You have to adventure! What kind of traveler are you if you spend all day in your room? What will you have to show for today? What was the point of traveling halfway around the world if you aren't even going to move? This could last forever. You could feel this way forever. You are probably going to feel this way forever. So you're just going to spend the rest of your life sitting in your room doing nothing like a good-for-nothing, useless piece of shit? You disappoint me. No, you disgust me. If anyone knew what you were thinking they would be disgusted by you. Stop being a baby. You don't have depression. You're just a wimp. A wimp who wants to be lazy and useless. God, you're so useless. Do something with your life, why don't you? Just get out of bed already!"
The voice is relentless.
Eventually, I get out of bed.
I smile through breakfast and if anyone asks what's wrong, I shrug my shoulders and mutter, "just a bit tired."
If I'm lucky, I can disappear all day. I'll meander through the streets, wallowing in my own self-pity, wishing I was in bed. I might stare at painting in a museum, pretending to care. More likely I will find an air conditioned café and retreat to the corner with my trusty book.
Such luck is rare.
More likely, a fellow traveler will want my company. A fellow hostel guest might suggest we grab food and explore the far side of town. A fellow camp mate might invite me to play volleyball on the beach. A fellow volunteer might have grand ideas about hiking that 7 mile trail we've been talking about.
My heart whispers, "No. You need alone time right now. Grab your books, grab your journal, and disappear. Take care of yourself today."
Easy enough when I'm home and all I have to do is not answer the phone.
Not so easy when fellow travelers stand in front of you, expecting you to be as adventure-hungry today as you were yesterday.
I am about to claim a stomach ache when that pesky voice in my head comes back.
"Really? You're going to be that girl? How long do you think you can pretend to be sick? They'll see right through it. They'll think you're boring. An outcast. A weirdo. A loner. Plus, you've said a million times that the best part of travel is the people you meet. So get out there! Go meet people! You know yourself well enough anyway. Stop being such a baby. Suck it up. Make friends. Live your life. Go with them. Go. Go. Go. Go!"
Inevitably, I go.
And I spend the whole time wishing I hadn't. I try to be engaged, but I'm locked way down deep and no matter how close we stand, I can never quite reach them.
I become convinced in a matter of minutes that my depression is oppressive.
I feel certain they can see through my veil of smiles and I worry that my sadness is ruining their day. I want to cry out an apology and run as far away as I can.
Instead, I stay a foot behind them and do whatever they do. I wonder if they realize their company is a ragdoll.
The day feels excessively long. Every hour feels like ten and the minutes can't pass quickly enough. I jump at the first opportunity I get to disappear.
Finally, I'm in the safety of my own room. I lock the doors and turn off the lights. No one needs to know I'm here. If I'm quiet enough, I can disappear.
By 9pm I can't keep my eyes open any more. I feel exhausted. Depleted. And much worse than I did in the morning.
I go to bed, but I make myself a promise first. I promise that I will rest tomorrow. That I won't let the pressure of living up to the term "traveler" take over. I will do what I need to do to get better now so I can enjoy this country later.
When the morning comes I pull the covers over my head and tell myself, "One day of rest. That's all I need. One day of rest." But then the voice comes back.
The voice always comes back...