The Reality of Traveling Depression and How to Cope
When your feelings won’t let you be. Image by Flickr user Geraint Rowland.
After reading this brilliant article, “How I Manage My Depression While Traveling Abroad,” by xoJane author, Kennedy Ryan, I practically punched the air with excitement over how eloquently Ms. Ryan had mirrored and expressed my own darkest ‘while-traveling’ feelings.
And I practically physically punched the following ignorant troll who commented on the article. (Well, this is the internet, so it’s more accurate to say, ‘entertained extensive fantasies of physically punching.’)
Okay, this will sound bitchy, but what do you have to be depressed about if you are getting to travel abroad?
. . . but really are you complaining about your depression while you travel?? It’s about as interesting as complaining about your cold/flu, yeah it sucks, but like stay in a few days until you get over it.
I have little sympathy. I haven’t been on a real vacation in like 6 years.
Now, to be fair, most other xoJane commenters jumped in with impassioned defenses of Ms. Ryan and the article — with paragraphs upon paragraphs ranging from personal experience to scientific proofs.
But, as a sufferer of an anxiety disorder myself, it bothers me that there exists even one person in 2014 who (a) remains clueless enough to believe that mental illness is equivalent to a stuffy nose, and (b) is confident enough in their belief to broadcast it in a public forum.
Yet, ultimately, what really bugs me isn’t that there is a minority (and I really hope it is just a minority) of the population that remains oblivious to the realities of mental illness. What really cuts through me, down to my very depths, is the damage that comments like these, which echo our existing insecurities and self-criticism, can do to travelers like Ms. Ryan and myself.
Because here’s the thing. We know we’re privileged. We already feel lucky to see what we see, to experience what we experience while traveling.
The problem isn’t that we need a lesson in gratitude — it’s that we are forced to travel with a sinister imaginary friend who’s constantly whispering in our ear, “But what if you’re not having enough fun?”
“What if you spent all this money for nothing?”
“What if your suitcase gets lost in baggage check?”
“That was a historical landmark you just visited — shouldn’t you have felt . . . historical?”
I returned less than a week ago from a fabulous trip to NYC — my first visit there. And believe me, I thought about how lucky I was to be there every minute. But I had plenty of down moments, too.
I felt guilty about not enjoying the ‘landmark’ experiences like the Top of the Rock observation deck (which was ridiculously crowded and overwhelming) and absolutely loving the quirky, non-iconic ones (like seeing Godzilla in the original Japanese at the Film Forum). I worried frequently that I wasn’t enjoying myself enough in proportion to the amount of money that I was spending on the trip. And I felt ashamed to share these feelings with my family and my boyfriend back home, who desperately wished they were there with me.
But I did share them, and my security blanket became my conversations with my loved ones. All the before-bed questions that I dumped on them (“Was it okay to spend $15 on a sandwich?!” and “I thought Grand Central Station was underwhelming: Am I a bad tourist?!”) helped shake me out of my ‘mean reds,’ as New Yorker Holly Golightly would say, and meet the next morning refreshed. As did sharing all the good experiences across the telephone lines.
I’ll never forget walking into Times Square for the very first time — with my mom on the phone with me.
My mom has a number of spinal and nerve problems and for the past eight years, though we know not forever, she’s been completely home-bound. When I was growing up and we had no money to travel, we would fantasize about going on a road trip for my 16th birthday or to Vegas for my 21st. But when Mom’s medical problems got worse, we realized those trips wouldn’t be coming for a long time.
After I graduated university, I started to travel by myself. Ontario, Boston, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Columbus, and now New York City! And I love solo travel, don’t get me wrong, but just as Ms. Ryan’s article articulates, every trip — solo or not — has its ups and downs.
So when we walked into Times Square together, sobbing and blowing our noses in a very un-metropolitan manner, we connected — 800 miles apart — and I remembered something Mom has always tried to teach me: Picture your memories like a filing cabinet. All the experiences that disappointed get shoved in the back in a dusty, rusty corner of the drawer. But the ones that made you remember why you spent $1,300 on a room without a private toilet just to see New York — they’re always right there, just at your fingertips.