Since I haven’t been travelling in a while (although I have a backlog of travel posts staring at me right now!), I thought I’d go for a more personal post today. In my blog introduction, I explained briefly why I love travelling – the promise of endless first times, of breathing new air, and of discovering new ways of being. These things are especially precious to me, as for the past 15 years, I have struggled with mental illness. Depression, generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, and phobias have been part of my daily life since I was a pre-teen, and if you have grappled with any of these, you will know all too well that mental illness can end up defining your identity. Which is soul-destroying. I spent so many years trying to fight my way out of the paper bag that is mental illness, all the while wondering who I would be after the fight was won.
One of the only things that keep me going is travel. There are other things too, of course – support from my husband, friends, and family, medication, and the hope of a life beyond my illness – but travel is the one thing that has an amazing, immediate power to bring much-needed perspective into my life.
There are so many beautiful metaphors that describe the experience of depression, but two resonate with me the most.
Depression is like becoming progressively short sighted – and eventually, you become so myopic that in the darkest days, you barely see anything at all. There is no perspective; only one way of being, and only one way of feeling. In the worst times, isolated and spiralling into despair, the tunnel vision offers only one way of escaping – suicide. It is hard to imagine this if you haven’t experienced it, because depression and anxiety both make irrational thinking your default way of life. Logic is long gone by the time you reach rock bottom.
Secondly, having depression is kind of like drowning. You start treading water, others nearby are treading water too, and you accept that life can be difficult at times and it requires you to be strong. But then you realise that others start to swim, whereas you start to sink. You wave out for help, but everyone thinks you are just waving, not drowning.
Travel is a unique and treasured coping mechanism for me. I don’t even need to go far – 20 minutes away there might be a village I have never seen, interesting buildings, a kind of pastry only made in the local bakery. Travel gives me the perspective that keeps me alive – it shows me a world simply bursting with possibility. It cracks my tunnel vision wide open, letting the light in, and helping me to breathe. Travel literally saves my life.
I hope to one day have my mental health managed, and to show others how liberating and healing travel can be 🙂