I remember the first time I felt depression. I was around the age thirteen when puberty was just around the corner. I was given an excellent childhood with loving parents, siblings, and grandmothers. I had great friends and activities that I loved, but I couldn’t shake the weight that seemed to envelop my whole body. I felt like someone had tied me down for no reason and I didn’t know how to deal with it.
So I began imagining places. Places that I would go to when I was old enough. I read voraciously because it gave me a chance to see the world and learn more about it without ever having to leave my room. Escaping seemed like the ultimate way to trick the weight to falling off me.
Ten years later, I had been living in Italy for almost two years. I had seen dozens of places, tried new foods, and had achieved everything my thirteen-year old self had wanted. Despite relaxing in the Turkish baths in Budapest, marveling at temples in Tokyo, and looking over Machu Picchu, sadness followed me like Peter Pan’s shadow—almost forcing me not to grow up. I was far, far away from everything that I thought had caused me to be so sad and heavy, without really realizing a much simpler fact:
I was the one weighing myself down. I was the product of my depression.
I see so many bloggers and travel writers touting how travel has changed them and made them better people. Some even claim that travel happened to bring them out of their crippling mental issues. Sometimes I believe the articles I read, but most times I don’t.
Travel helped me shape who I am in a number of ways, but it did not rid me of my depression. In the end, it was the things I had run away from, the people I had run away from, who encouraged me to find some help. Traveling is an addiction—it’s a high that you can ride for a while before you coming crashing back down again.
New experiences can heal, but only if you are willing to heal yourself first. Journeying to different countries is not a solution, nor should it be taken as medicine as a way to cover up some deeper issues. I wish I could say I wasn’t cynical when I read stories about young people who travel and feel rejuvenated by life and how it magically solved all of their problems. The truth is that I know better. If you have a mental disease, it won’t go away, no matter where in the world you are.
Let’s try and see travel not as the solution, but part of many ways to reach that solution. And let’s also see travel as it is, a short escape from life, not a discontinuation of the life you have already lived.