Depression is often described as a hovering storm cloud, threatening rain and casting shade. I’ve always felt it as a fog: oppressive and heavy, making the air difficult to breathe and settling its weight on my shoulders. Traveling through a fog can be blind, exhausting, and terrifying, but also incredibly worthwhile.
I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder and Clinical Depression in college. Over several years, school was getting more and more challenging not because of the material, but because I couldn’t focus on homework for more than 15 minutes. It was frustrating at first, then alarming as my lack of focus turned into episodes of uncontrollable sobbing. Believing my inability to focus stemmed from an undiagnosed learning disorder, I saw a psychologist for several expensive tests. The results: I had above average learning abilities, anxiety, and depression.
Not much has changed since then. Depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand, coming and going in perpetual cycles. I take medication to keep my mood stable in the day-to-day, but my mental illness has impacted the way I live and travel.
Even without the extra element of mental illness, long-term travel can be terrifying! There are unknowns that are impossible to anticipate, loneliness and homesickness, and no support system like back home. Adding depression and anxiety can be too much, leading many people with mental illnesses to decide that living abroad isn’t an option. I’m here to tell you it is!
It has been a challenge, for sure. I have had more than my share of “depression days” and panic attacks. But I refuse to let anything stop me from exploring — in fact, I embrace my mental illness as an additional challenge, proving my mental fortitude to myself. You learn quickly how to get through hard days and you learn to be kinder to yourself. If you have to spend a few days recovering alone in a hostel, you do it. You don’t feel bad about “missing out” because you’re caring for yourself. If you have a panic attack in the middle of an airport because you don’t speak the language and you can’t find the desk for check-in, you learn how to soothe yourself through the worst and you find the strength to figure that shit out — then pass out on the airplane from pure mental exhaustion. But I feel so proud of myself for overcoming these obstacles and refusing to let mental illness hold me back. In turn, that pride gives me the confidence to continue my travels and throw myself into the unknown!
My depression and anxiety are part of who I am, but they don’t limit me. I have found ways to manage my mental health and still live a life of adventure. And if I can do it, anyone can!