We’re usually told that it’s naive to try and travel away sadness.
But it wasn’t long after my first overseas trip that I became addicted to the thrill of throwing myself somewhere new. My first trip to New Zealand as a uni student led to backpacking around Europe a couple of years later. Later came Argentina, Chile, Peru and Colombia.
There are many things that made me want to travel, but usually it was some combination of being depressed, lonely, listless or fed-up.
With the world as it currently is, it looks like we won't be able to travel for a while, but for now at least I can reminisce about it.
Being overseas energised me - a person with chronic depression - in a way that nothing else did. Nonetheless, I've had family, friends and even psychologists assure me that travel was just a temporary distraction from myself; my optimism dampened by a sea of platitudes. I’m still not sure what it means, but the adage “wherever you go, there you are” is always a popular choice, as is the Breakfast at Tiffany’s quote “no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself”.
I've had family, friends and even psychologists assure me that travel was just a temporary distraction from myself; my optimism dampened by a sea of platitudes
Now, don’t get me wrong. These are great quotes. But just because Audrey Hepburn says something in Breakfast in Tiffany’s, does that make it canon? Another Breakfast in Tiffany’s quote is “I’m not a cold plate of macaroni”, and what is that? I guess what I’m saying is, I haven’t seen Breakfast in Tiffany’s. Oh - and that folk wisdom has its limits.
Everyone's experience of depression is different, but my overwhelming experience has been one of feeling stuck. Stuck in the same cyclical patterns of thought, stuck in the sameness of a familiar city and feeling helpless about the possibility of change.
Travel offers me a means - if only temporarily - to shake me out of the all-consuming paralysis that depression can bring. With travel comes newness and the promise that things could be different. As Grace Lavery writes in Gay Mag: “When I am gripped by the need for a new start, I am at my most passionate, my most charismatic. I am Vivien Leigh, choking back her tears at the end of Gone With the Wind, heaving my words out of the cavity of my breast: “After all…tomorrow is another day!” My sadness is almost overwhelming, but that sadness is in turn overwhelmed by the forward thrust of time, renewable and inexorable.”
To put it more simply: travel helps me feel less stuck. To be miles away from home - meeting people I’ve never met and seeing things I’ve never seen - is to see that I have options.
To put it more simply: travel helps me feel less stuck. To be miles away from home - meeting people I’ve never met and seeing things I’ve never seen - is to see that I have options. That I’m not fatally destined to spend my days in the way that I’m spending them; that I can feel invigorated by a new language, new people and new ways of being alive. I don’t have to resign myself to the idea that the way things are is how they always will be. While depression puts me on a loop of sameness and rumination, travel helps me see a way out.
I mean, I don’t want to oversell it. Travel will obviously not cure a chronic mental health condition. And it’s definitely not for everyone. But landing in a new country, reckoning with a new language and meeting new people has helped chip away at my long-held belief that things can’t be different. Every encounter - be it with a new language, stranger or even landscape - has helped me realise that change may not be impossible, after all.
Menka Das is a freelance writer.
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