I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression almost two years ago. I was put on anti-depressants and started going to therapy.
But this isn’t a coming-out story of my depression. Instead, I’d like to talk about what it’s like to travel with this illness.
For those of you not familiar with depression (not the kind where you get sad when your dog dies), it’s really really tough. It’s different for everyone, but for me it includes extreme fatigue and I can go for days without eating or eating too much, and gain weight very easily. Sometimes, during a depressive episode, I feel rage, but most often I feel nothing.
You can understand my anxiety before we left. I worried about whether or not I would be able to handle the stresses of traveling long term. I wondered what would happen on the days I just couldn’t get out of bed. I prepared as best as I could—making sure I had enough meds, discussing things with Ricky. But in all honesty, there’s not a lot you can do to prepare.
I did ok for a while. The momentum of beginning such a great adventure carried me through fairly well. Because of the medication, however, I still suffered from fatigue. Some days were hard to get through simply because my body was too tired. On those days, I napped. Ricky would usually occupy himself with the guitar, or video games, or chatting with fellow travelers. And things were fine.
They didn’t stay that way, however. After a while, when the novelty and some of the excitement of traveling wore off a bit, and the stress set in, the depression came back.
On my bad days, I am barely able to get out of bed. I don’t want to see sights or talk to people or eat. I just want to sleep and cry. Sometimes this presents a problem when we are on a tight schedule with sightseeing or traveling to a new city. The last thing I want to do when I feel this way is be surrounded by hundreds of people with body odor on a train, or walk for hours looking at temples that kind of just look the same. I know it can be frustrating for Ricky when I slip inside myself, unable to talk or care about what we may have to do that day. Somewhere deep inside my brain I know I have to get out of bed or keep walking or simply communicate a little, but it’s as if the rest of me won’t allow it, and it’s all I can do to keep breathing.
The worst thing, however, is knowing that I shouldn’t feel this way. I am here in China, or Laos, or Cambodia, or wherever we are at the time, seeing beautiful things, eating amazing food, meeting wonderful people, and all I want to do is sleep through it all. I hate feeling like I just don’t care about anything, especially the amazing time I could be having if only I found the strength. I feel guilty for not appreciating the opportunity I have to travel. That guilt adds to the depression which makes it even worse. It’s a cycle that often threatens to destroy any possibility of enjoying what I came here to do, which is simply to enjoy being here.
Back home, I had more freedom and ease in keeping my depression under control. I saw a therapist once a week, had regular checkups with my doctor, attended Zumba classes 3 times a week and went running another 3 times, I ate healthily, and made sure to have quality time with people I cared about. It all worked very well for me.
But traveling, it’s very difficult. Eating healthy food is hard, especially if you’re on a budget. We can’t cook for ourselves so we resort to fried rice, noodle soup, and other less-nutritious local dishes. Exercising is hard without proper shoes (I love my Keens, but not for running), and I often don’t feel comfortable enough in an unfamiliar city to go running (which I hate to do anyway, and without the motivation of a large class, I don’t last very long.). All said, it’s pretty difficult to do those things I know work to keep the depression down.
Coping with my depression isn’t easy, for me or for Ricky. But we do our best. We’re trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t and what to do when I get really down. It’s a struggle, and both of us are learning patience as we try to work through it.
It’s hard but it’s not impossible.
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