This is a guest post from Lilly, author of http://itravelforthestars.com it was not written by me.
One of the toughest parts of my study abroad in France was being incredibly angry, depressed and irritable, and not really knowing why. It was supposed to be one of my happiest semesters but it turned out to be one of my most challenging. I’ve had depression since I was a child and I thought that a new experience would be good for me and my mental health, but it was actually quite the opposite. There was a lot that went wrong – people were incredibly rude to me, I got cheated on, and I didn’t get along with my roommate or her friends. Even though it felt as if the world were against me, I couldn’t understand why I was having such a bloody awful time when even with the negativity, it shouldn’t have been that bad.
Then I read one of the things that put everything into perspective: going abroad can actually worsen your depression. I forget which blog I read this on but whether or not it’s true (I’ve also read that travelling can help cure depression), I broke down crying because it was like I was never going to get away from the mental illness that seemed to define me. But it made a lot of sense; being in a culture that I didn’t fully understand would definitely trigger negative thoughts.
Nevertheless, after returning home from studying abroad and working in an office for a few years, I returned to Europe because I missed it so much and there is a whole world out there I’ve been wanting to see. And it got a lot better! Since I’ve been able to go home and think about what really happened when I was in France, I’ve pinpointed certain aspects of my disease that kept me back and have brainstormed ways to combat them.
Here are some tips I have for dealing with your depression, whether it be abroad or at home. Now bear in mind that none of these are going to be easy, they’re going to take time, and still everything won’t be perfect. But if you can break past everything telling you not to try and put in the effort, things can be a lot easier and a lot better.
Continue going out of your comfort zone. Isn’t it weird how with depression, trying something new – even as small as a new vegetable – is so difficult? It’s like I want to, but my brain is coming up with a million reasons notto. If this is something you experience, let me tell you that getting into the routine of leaving your comfort zone will make everything in the future much easier. I forced myself to make friends with strangers and now it’s something I look forward to with every trip. I forced myself to order something I’d never had at a restaurant instead of my go-to dish; now I never order the same thing twice. I’ve gone to some clubs against my will and even though I don’t find clubbing to be the most fun ever, at least I made memories with people my own age. It’s all about getting into a routine.
Some ways to help are by getting a friend to force you to try new things. You can also start a calendar where you have a goal to achieve: try one new thing every week. You can’t check that goal off until you actually do it. I used to have a similar chart where I would mark days I spent alone and days hanging out with friends. My anxiety about having my calendars say “alone – alone – alone” made me put in more effort to hang out with friends, which ultimately became a habit. It’s nice to have part of an illness be used towards something good for once.
When your comfort zone becomes something to challenge, you’ll be more excited towards a lot of different things. When something isn’t working for you, you’ll be able to move on a lot more easily since the unknown will be a lot less daunting.
Focus on the positive. Like I stated in the opening paragraph, I wasn’t respected too well when I was in France, and I had only a few friends to keep me company. However, in the end, the friends I made are some of the best I have today. Even though a lot of people really don’t like Americans, I was able to meet plenty of people who were really excited to meet one for the first time. Not to mention that there are so many people out in the world that chances are, you’ll always have someone new to turn to. Take Bex’s blog – lots of people can relate to you here!
This one sounds so cliché but again, it’s all about getting into a habit. Start a happiness jar or journal, where you can list and write about the things that make you happy. This can be anything from someone you know to something you experienced to something you own. Try something like yoga or meditation, something to get your thoughts away from the bad things that happen to you and onto the good things.
I was channeling so much energy into trying to learn French and be respected by French people that, when it didn’t work out, I was only angry and upset, which ultimately wasted my time and energy. After months of being angry, I channeled my passion for travel from being assimilated (which I can’t do) into being able to experience as much as I could and write about it all (which I can do). This lead to a lot more positivity and helps me live a better life. Write it down or think it out, but make sure your focus is on the positive.
If you feel like there is absolutely nothing positive in your life and you can’t think of a single thing, it may be a good time to talk to someone. It doesn’t feel like it, but depression and anxiety really are warped perspectives. Someone else can help you pinpoint the good things about you, and the bad so you can change them. They can also help you map out how your illness is warping your thoughts.
Plan your breaks ahead. Some days you just don’t want to get out of bed. Even if you’re never going to have the chance to do something again, depression sucks all motivation out of you. I’ve been there a lot of times, and it actually almost cost me getting on a plane to Italy. Whenever I plan vacations, I now always tend to put some buffer days in so I can stay in bed and still have enough time to see what I want to. Is this succumbing to the illness? Yes, but it’s also making sure that your awful days don’t affect and ruin your entire trip. If you’re going to focus on the positive, part of that is also eliminating some negativity from your life. Missing a day of your vacation because of your illness would be a stressor.
And don’t worry – even people who don’t have a mental illness will often put in break days or go on shorter vacations, as well. It doesn’t make you weak or alienate you.
Consider taking medicine. It’s scary to think about drugs that can change you (or maybe not do anything to you) but after years of being afraid to try Prozac, I finally did and it was life-changing. Not only are my thoughts better but I’m a much better person to be around and I’m less afraid of everything, which allows for more fulfilling travel. Everything that I mentioned above comes a lot more easily. If you haven’t even been seeing a therapist, and are granted the resources, please do. I never would’ve typed any of these words a few years ago because I was too ashamed to admit I needed to see a shrink, but an estimated 59 million adults do, and I would be a lost angry person without it.
It’s really rough having depression in general, but sometimes it can be even harder when you’re in a country as a tourist rather than a native. I really hope these tips are able to help you prepare for a trip if you have depression, and let you know that you’re definitely not alone.