Traveling With Depression
The water glistened as it never had before at that pond beneath our apartment. He stared at the trees and tripped out on LSD while I peered up at my bedroom window from the park, in a completely different world from his. I knew then what I had to do. I had to kill myself.
I’d been clinically depressed for several months, despite living with my best friend in a gorgeous apartment, my life filled with friends and fun activities. Slowly, I’d stopped seeing people and begun hiding out in my room. I would hear parties in the living room as I slinked under the covers, afraid of seeing my very best friends.
I wasn’t going to do it right then and there, as my biggest fear was my best friend finding me. The lack of motivation and utter emptiness that depression had brought made it difficult to even do the thing I wanted to most. Even so, I was determined to end my life, but one thing nagged at my brain; it tugged and tore and begged me to pursue it. It cried out for one last shot, pleading that I follow my dream before I decided it was to be all over.
I listened, hopping on a flight with meager funds and little plan, and I never looked back. Travel was the one thing I had craved ever since my first backpacking trip – to Peru four years prior; it was what motivated me to save up money and to complete the mundane tasks of my existence. I left knowing full well that I would never return to an ordinary life, ready to hit the road for good, but with no idea how I’d do it. I was still suicidal. I knew that, if I stayed, I would certainly kill myself. If I left, well, maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe.
Within two weeks of leaving, I was miraculously cured. The depression had dissipated, allowing me to fumble my way into figuring out just how one can be a drifter — especially one with zero job prospects, and even less of an idea of what she was doing next.
Travel saved my life… at least, for a time. Within two years I would begin the spiral back down, but this time I wouldn’t have the love and support of a stable home. This time I would be on the road; alone, fearful, devoid of hope, and with no one to stop me should I become suicidal again.
It didn’t begin as a depression. It started with a man. I had been hitchhiking from Canada towards Patagonia, and had made it as far as Southern Mexico when we met. He stole my heart and whisked me away: someone to make me feel whole.
Of course, it couldn’t last forever. After deciding another girl was far superior to me, he was gone from my life forever. I was devastated.
Over the course of the next year and a half I would spin completely out of control, never realizing it was my faulty brain that was the cause, and that I should seek help. But I had to keep moving — fly, run, flee. If only I could go fast enough, I could find the place that made me feel at peace.
As I reached Southeast Asia, it became apparent to the very few new friends I had met on the road as well as those I still spoke to back home; I was no longer enjoying traveling. Where I was once social, I isolated, consuming breakfast solo. At night I didn’t go out to the bars to make new friends, but watched Netflix alone instead (oftentimes naked and with a burrito, because hell if it isn’t hot in Thailand, and, you know; I like burritos).
And so it continued. The next few months were a blur – from Florida to Mexico to Canada, and back to Mexico… I couldn’t grip onto anything or anywhere. I was flying far beyond my own control, aware of the insanity, but not ready to accept help. My brain would swim with thoughts ranging from anxiety to suicide, and the sheer pointlessness and hopelessness. I was lonely every day, yet still unable to befriend a soul. While others sat at home idealizing the “exciting” life I was living, I was barely living it myself. I was the freest person I knew, yet I lived trapped inside my spinning, helpless brain.
I sat in a hostel in Mexico City one day, having just had a close friendship come to a halt, and felt nothing but misery. All hope for my future was gone. Where once I would have dreamed of all the places I could go, the things I could do, the people I would meet, I now saw only darkness. I was mildly suicidal, to the point that I wanted to die, but certainly wasn’t ready to do anything about it. No solution screamed out to me. I was stuck somewhere I couldn’t even afford to stay for long, with no idea how to get better. There was no hope left, nowhere left to run to.
Except for one, single place; the place I detested more than anywhere I’d ever been: my hometown – my personal hell. A return to this hideous (and freezing) concrete jungle after years of independence would be, in my mind, the greatest of all failures, but it was time to resurrect my brain.
So I sucked in all of my pride and called my grandfather for a flight home. I got in to see the psychiatrist within a week of my arrival, as if that would provide some miracle.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The psychiatrist wrote me some prescriptions and sent me on my way. I sat on the bus trying to hold it in with all my might. I tried not to burst into tears, but they were coming, and they were coming fast. I quieted my sobs as the bus carried me to my grandfather’s house, hoping no one would notice. Once home, I ran upstairs to cry. I just sat there, crying and rocking back and forth.
I’d yet to tell any old friends that I was back in Edmonton, as we’d not been close for years, and there was no one who I could call up to come see me while I rocked back and forth sobbing anyways. Why bother so-called normal people with the dragon, my depression, which plagued my brain? My brain tricked me into believing that, though friends across the globe reassured me that they were there for me, no one actually cared. The dragon breathed fire upon all connections I once had, whispering hot lies against my neck and into my ear. The dragon told me that I didn’t matter, and that no one would care if I disappeared. The dragon told me there was no hope for the future, and that I had lived a fulfilling life already… it was all over now.
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That was when I did the thing I had promised myself I would never do; I went to the computer and searched for “easy ways to kill yourself.” Okay, it’s kind of pathetic that I wanted the easy way out, but the utter lack of motivation while so depressed that you’re suicidal makes it difficult to even follow through with the plan you so desperately want to happen. And so I read. And read. And read some more. And you know what I found out? Killing yourself is bloody hard. Even the easy way out wasn’t so easy.
I researched the lethal dose of various pills, none of which I had. I paced around the house, pondering where one might hang a noose. But the only place I could find was the bannister, and I feared I would break it and survive, only to be murdered by my kind yet terrifying grandfather.
I couldn’t even kill myself right.
I began rocking back and forth again, hyperventilating between sobs. I needed a smoke, so I headed downstairs, creeping past my grandfather.
Don’t let him see me. Don’t let him see the tears streaming down my face uncontrollably.
I sobbed and I smoked.
I smoked and I sobbed.
I returned to my room only to cry more, before finally calling my mom. She told me to take one of my anti-anxieties to help me calm down, and to call her back in 20 minutes when it had taken effect. The thing was she’d given me precisely the same advice 24 hours earlier… and I had not stopped crying in that time, other than to sleep. Meanwhile, I was plagued with nightmares and an inability to sleep through the night. When I finally would wake up in the morning, it was accompanied by a sense of dread for the day ahead. How many times will I burst into tears today? Will I ponder suicide again? Would I even call someone to stop me if it came to that? I doubted that I would.
I began to get furious with my psychiatrist. He had given me faulty meds, I was sure of it. He had made my brain worse. By god, he was going to make me kill myself because he’d screwed up and put me on the wrong meds. How could he be such a fool?!
I booked an emergency appointment to see him the next day, which is when he added another mood stabilizer to the cocktail, and explained that the other drug he’d given me had simply not had the time to take effect yet. I had previously been on another drug that made me numb and want to eat the walls (hello, gaining 10 lbs in a month!), so what I thought was a faulty drug messing with my mind was actually a combination of withdrawal from my previous drug, and, well, just how my brain was when un-medicated at the time.
And so it continued for some time. After a couple weeks, the new drug started to take effect, though the difference it made was minute. My sobs were quieted, somewhat, and my hyperventilating occurred less frequently, somewhat. I slowly began making plans with friends; though I would explain to them what condition I was in prior to seeing them, so as not to have to hide how I was truly feeling. It took a great deal of effort to leave the house, and I would frequently cancel last minute. Some days I would still cower under my covers, unable to cope with being alive.
While the crying was quieting down, and the drugs were beginning to take hold, an overwhelming sense of hopelessness remained. It was travel that had saved me before; what could I do now that depression fell upon me while traveling? My escape had failed me, and reintegrating into a “normal” life was not something I could do.
The hopelessness remained for some time, until it was replaced by an inescapable dark cloud of boredom. The trembling of anxiety befell me as I desperately tried to grasp on to something – anything – that I could do. What did normal people do? I hadn’t a bloody clue. Due to my depression and anxiety, I had no focus whatsoever, making it impossible to read or even veg out on Netflix. Imagine that – I was so messed up that I couldn’t even watch television as a method of escapism.
And then one day I woke up without the dread.
It just… happened. I no longer feared the day ahead, though I still had no clue what to do with it. A week or so later, hope began to return into my life. Had the medications finally taken effect? Was it just that the depression had run its course and I saw clearly now that the road was my home – albeit a strange type of home, but mine nonetheless? I will never know what made it happen, but I awoke cheerful.
I started seeing friends and, while the boredom remained, I began functioning again. It wasn’t long before I knew I was ready. While not fully healthy yet, there was only one way to continue my journey to recovery: on the road where I belonged.
And so I booked my flight back to Mexico, this time with the one thing I’d been craving more than anything else while on the road: a partner in crime to travel with for a couple months, as I get back on my feet and rediscover why I love traveling so very much — why it is my life.
One day the depression will certainly return like a cloak over my existence, but I can only hope that those periods will be few and far between. For now, I’m excited about my life, and I know that I am a powerful being who overcame the dragon blowing fire into my brain. I fought, and I won. With the dragon now back on my side, nothing can stop me.