Being the daughter of someone labelled a ‘paranoid schizophrenic’, being told I was ‘clinically depressed’ at 18, and working in the mental health field, I know all too well the struggles of living with mental health issues. The confusion, the misunderstanding, the fear and the utter hopelessness.
Medication seems to be, all too often, the first response as a form of treatment by most medical professionals. I lasted all of five weeks on anti-depressant’s before I told myself I was going to take back control of my life and deal with it on my own. After all, I had been suffering long before the official diagnosis. My GCSE and A level results hadn’t even been close to what had previously been expected of me, I was clumsy, an over thinker, a worrier, I was emotionally vacant and my moods changed almost instantly. Sometimes I found myself so desperately distraught and irrational for no reason. However, anti-depressant’s left me numb, even more vacant and feeling completely disconnected from my body. Perhaps I hadn’t given them time but I really wanted to find my own coping strategies, something that suited me better. Going out and being with my friends helped, but so did drinking. I knew that drinking alcohol to make myself feel better was a long, slippery slope and would only add to my problems.
It wasn’t until 3 years later and nearly 6 months into my travelling adventures that I stopped to reflect on things and realised I felt different, something had changed. For me, travelling and living in different countries has been my saviour. I can only account for one time since leaving the UK almost 5 years ago that I may have ‘relapsed’. This was over a period of 6 months and it was due to a change in my visa and work circumstances that left me struggling to keep control, but I made the necessary changes to come back from it.
I want to share the wonders about travelling and living and working in different countries that I believe have contributed to me being the happiest I have ever been.
Get some Vitamin D.
There is just something about the sunshine that makes you instantly happier and the sun-kissed hair and skin is an added pick-me-up! Travelling gives you the ultimate opportunity to chase the sun and living in a warmer country means you have more hours of sunshine and vitamin D fueled happiness
Have something to get out of bed for,
Whether it was to go work to teach 30 or so happy, smiling children in Thailand, or to go and throw myself out of an aeroplane in New Zealand or even to serve dinner to a bunch of grumpy miners in the Australian outback, there was and still is always something new, exciting or challenging that I actually want to wake up for.
There is nothing quite like getting some perspective on your issues. For a lot of people with depression, you have no idea why you feel the way you do, but you just do and it’s suffocating. Depression, like other mental health issues, is not something you can just snap out of regardless of what some naive people may think. However, to see children in an orphanage with no one to call mum or dad, to see war victims or disease stricken people begging in the street and to see mothers and children picking food from atop of a rubbish tip, you can’t help but feel grateful for your life. For those reasons, stepping foot outside the developed world for the first time is an experience that is bound to stay with you forever.
Sometimes just escaping the all too familiar can leave you feeling free. Free to sit and take it all in, free to reflect and free to be whoever you want to be. The air starts to feel thinner and you feel as though you can breathe more easily.
Appreciate the rising and setting of the sun.
Watching the sun rise and set has become one of my most favourite things to do. No matter where in the world you are or what you are going through, the sun will rise and set. With each sun rise comes a new day filled with hope and opportunity and with each sun set comes closure and reflection. The rising and falling of the sunlight holds much more significance in my life now that I have seen it in such vibrance and warmth all over the world.
Now this one isn’t entirely correct. I have always had issues sleeping as my mind just does not shut down, my thoughts race at 100mph and I over analyse everything. However, nowadays I have so much more positive things to think about before I go to sleep, like reflecting on all of my adventures and the moments that took my breath away or dreaming of new adventures and exciting opportunities ahead. Once I finally fall asleep I usually wake feeling well rested.
When we are having trouble expressing our feelings or regulating our emotions, it often helps to write thing down, keep a journal or write a letter. Travelling has allowed me to express myself through my love for adventure in numerous ways. From postcards to my loved ones, my journal and my travel blogs to my love for taking photographs, I have been able to capture how I feel right there in those moments.
Meet people from all walks of life.
Travelling will connect you with all sorts of people, often people you would never have chosen as friends for yourself. These people are the ones that will make the most impact, open your eyes and perhaps make you question yourself. Their stories, their ideas and their values could be so far from your own yet you start to think, maybe you’ve been wrong this whole time. Suddenly your life becomes so much more colourful and diverse.
You know that feeling when you are completely surrounded by heaps of people but you still feel so alone? In actual fact, sometimes you feel invisible. Well, I have never experienced that travelling, everyone is in the same boat and seem to be more willing to make an effort with you. Even living in a new country you will always find a little expat community that will stick together and look out for one another. You’ll probably find you’re invited out more than you ever were by your close friends at home!
Stepping outside of your comfort zone does wonders for the soul. That first leap of faith opens the doors to a world of adventure and spontaneity and leaves you hungry for more. I never in a million years thought I would physically be able to do a bungy jump or that I would sing through a microphone to a whole Kindergarten school full of children and teachers, but it’s amazing what you find yourself capable of.
Leave the drama behind.
Whether it’s the heartbreak and humiliation of a failed relationship, an unhappy relationship, the family feuds, the broken promises or the social pressures, sometimes it’s just time to leave. I know they say you should never run away from your problems but sometimes it is better to just cut the ties and move on… “out of sight, out of mind”. Once you are in a better place and have had time to reflect on things, then perhaps you will be ready to address them and seek the closure you need.
I am not at all suggesting travelling or moving cities or countries is a cure for depression and depression and any other mental health issue need to be treated seriously with support from the right people, but I absolutely believe it is my personal coping strategy. My travel experiences have allowed me to truly feel alive, to feel free, to fall in love again and to achieve things I never thought possible.
Travel is my very own anti-depressant.
Whether it’s just going somewhere new for one day, a week long trip overseas or a round the world adventure it’s all equally liberating.
If you are struggling with mental health issues but think you would like to travel, please talk to your doctor and any other support networks you may have available to you about the steps you need to take to ensure you are ‘travel ready’.