I’ve suffered with depression pretty much my entire life, the severity waxing and waning as the days go by.
Depression can take away so much of your time, creating moments in your life where you can’t seem to do anything productive or even get out of bed. To make matters worse, depression seems to hit at the worst moments, keeping you under the covers with the blinds shut when you should be doing anything else.
So, what happens when depression hits you while you’re on the road?
Before I answer that question, I’d like to point out that everyone handles depression differently. My depression bounces between being high-functioning (aka I can go through life without anyone knowing I’m depressed) and severely crippling (I can’t get out of bed and I don’t want to do anything but sleep and cry). So, with that being said, a few of these tips may not work for you and that’s okay. There is nothing wrong with how anyone handles their depression.
If you do something differently or have suggestions about managing depression that I don’t mention, feel free to drop it down in the comments below or DM me on Instagram.
Sadly, I have never been able to leave my depression at home. It’s an unwanted travel partner, a dark shadow that hovers over my life regardless of where I am.
Over the years, though, I’ve found a few ways to manage it.
Traveling is usually my temporary cure for depression. Whenever I’m feeling really bad, I book a flight or a train ticket or even a metro ride to somewhere new. I always get post-trip depression, though, which is something I’d like to talk about in another post.
When I can’t manage my emotions or when I am on longer, week or month long trips, here’s what I do to treat my depression on the road:
I Hype Myself Up Before I Leave
One of my favorite things to do to improve my mood before I travel is to research the city I’m visiting. Looking at pictures on Instagram, reading blog posts about the best things to do there, and planing my routes on google earth so I can see what my surroundings will look like usually helps.
For short trips especially, garnering a large amount of hype for my trip can keep my depression at bay at least until I get home.
I Don’t Force Myself to Stick to A Strict Itinerary
I love to plan things and when I go to a new country or city, I like to plan out the things I want to do there. However, I never, ever plan a strict itinerary because I find that it not only takes away from the beauty of adventure, but also stresses me out and makes me feel depressed.
What I normally do to prevent this is make a list on the notes in my phone of all the locations I might want to see or activities I want to do or foods I want to eat. I make categories of restaurants and bars I might want to visit and list places nearby my hotel or Airbnb. Then, I play it by ear when I get there. Depending on my mood, I can then decide where I want to go in the morning and plan accordingly.
Doing this really decreases my stress level, which in turn decreases my chances of having a depressive episode on the trip. Additionally, I make sure to leave some room for leisure time in case I’m feeling tired or sad.
I Don’t Let Myself Succumb To Travel Guilt
If I’m feeling depressed when I’m traveling, I beat myself up about it because I can’t rationalize staying in bed when there is a new city outside waiting for me. I call this feeling “Travel Guilt” and define it by the guilt I feel when my mind pleads for me to stay inside even though I know I should be exploring. I didn’t just pay for a hotel/Airbnb and a flight just so I could sulk in bed when I could do that at home for free, did I?
When I lived in Sicily for a month and a half, I got depressed quite a lot. Not because Sicily wasn’t incredible, but because of other, big-life factors that were happening at the time and because, well, I suffer from depression. This mental illness doesn’t understand the concept of a vacation and it honestly doesn’t care where you are. Depression is like an unwanted relative or friend who randomly shows up at your door without bothering to give you a call.
I often have trouble with Travel Guilt, but I just try to rationalize with myself when it happens. In Sicily, for example, I told myself these three things:
1. Eating pizza in my pajamas and watching Netflix in ITALY is, frankly, kind of awesome.
2. I have to do what I have to do to get better, regardless of the consequences
3. There’s always tomorrow
And there is always tomorrow. I always try to plan out one fun thing that I’m going to do the next day so that I can erase the guilt.
I Try Not To Drink Too Much
Hangovers are a bitch and a really bad one can keep you in bed all day. For me, bad hangovers can really trigger my depression which just adds to the overall miserable feeling I get if I have just one too many cocktails the night before.
If you want to let loose or are going on a pub crawl/event, drink water between every drink. I know it sounds kind of lame but it will help your hangover and prevent you from waking up feeling miserable and depressed.
Self Care, Self Care, Self Care!
Sometimes, regardless of how diligently I do the things above, depression still happens. It’s one of the side effects of having these chemical imbalances in my brain. There are times when it just can’t be controlled.
Those are the days when I feel at my most frustrated, when I succumb to travel guilt, when I burrow under the covers and cry.
However, I always say that you have to treat depression the way you’d treat the flu. If you get the flu while you’re traveling, it sucks, but you’re most likely not going to force yourself outside to do things just because you’re in another country or city. Treat depression the same way.
My favorite form of self care is to grab some snacks, take a long, hot, bath, and watch trashy television. If you’re not in a place where your favorite snacks or good wifi are readily available, sleep always helps. There is nothing wrong with rest and relaxation.
I realize that yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it isn’t fair. Health and sanity are far more important than anything else that may have been planned that day.
Don’t Feel Ashamed of your Depression
Regardless of what helps you feel better, the most important thing to remember is this:
Having a mental health issue does not mean you are a failure. Prioritizing your mental health does not make you a bad person.
Don’t be afraid to feel sad and don’t stop yourself from doing what you need to do for YOU.
I know this is a little out of the ordinary from what I normally post. I hope it helps someone who struggles with depression, too.
If we can talk about our mental health openly and at length, we can help erase the stigma behind it.
If you or someone you know are suicidal, please contact the Suicide Hotline by calling 800-273-TALK if you’re in the US or any of these numbers on this list of hotlines around the world.
Suggested Listening For This Post: Holocene by Bon Iver.
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