Some people tend to think that your anxiety or depression etc. will just go away once you are in a new, neat place. A new place to run to in order to get away from yourself. We look at pictures of a couple drinking piña coladas on a beach at some resort and think “I need that. That will solve everything and make me feel so much better.” That the excitement and whirl of it all will make everything go away.
It isn’t always that easy.
Just like your passport, your mental health is always with you. It is with you regardless of destination and sometimes can even be heightened while you are away.
And that’s okay.
For me personally, travel and being away from home for extended periods of time can make it worse. Being out in the world can be lonely, isolating, and scary. Though you can still do what you need to do while you are away to help yourself.
While you are in the hustle and bustle of Shanghai, you may get anxious or agitated- separate yourself from the crowd for a little bit or plan to go to a more rural destination. When sitting on that beach in Jamaica, you will have a lot of time to think and depression may worsen- try thinking about the moment and enjoy where you are by going out, being active and busy. Airports are sometimes even too much to handle and that is at the very top of the trip! There is a lot going on. Stress about catching your flight (or delayed flights or cancelled flights or…), overpriced…everything, and you are forced to walk through the gauntlet of duty-free perfume.
Remember that your health is the most important thing. It is okay if you want to spend whole days inside on your own to cope with what you are going through- you are still wherever you are!
I find that rest days help with that. Take a day or two every once in a while to recoup. If that involves just lounging by the pool, or laying in your bed watching Spanish soap-operas, or drawing the cathedral in the square. Everyone has their own way to cope and heal. Everyone has their way of relaxing. Self-care isn’t just for when you are at home. (Reread that again and again.) Remember that you are the most important part of your life.
If you need to go home to care for yourself, do it.
I paid 500 CAD for a flight home from Barcelona and left a contract early to focus on my mental health and to take care of me. I needed to do it. Even though it felt like defeat and it felt selfish, as soon as I got home and started taking the steps I needed to help my mental health and now I am better, stronger, and have the tools in the toolbox to help me with these challenges as they arise again.
If you need help, ask for it. Call home if you want to. There is nothing wrong with calling your family or friends or parter when you are in need. You are allowed to admit you aren’t having a good time and that you need help. If you don’t have someone to call at home, there are often international helplines and if the situation calls for it: a hospital.
Travelling can be hard. I know it seems picture perfect in travel brochures and in social media but there is a lot of stress involved. Getting the perfect hotel, getting there for check-in, exchange rates, finding food you can eat, etc. and on top of it all dealing with your mental health in an unfamiliar place is the last thing you need.
It is okay not to be okay- even when you are travelling. It is okay to struggle and not feel alright- even when you are in the “perfect place”.
Give yourself what you need. Don’t leave your medication at home if you have it, eat full meals (and not just McDonalds…), sleep enough, and drink lots of water (if you ask the bar, you can get a little umbrella for your water if it makes it more fun!), and remember that you matter more than what you “should” or “should not” feel on your vacation or trip.
I commend you for trying. Good for you for going out to these places knowing it may be hard and I hope that your pesky mental health does not kick it into high-gear when you are away.
Sometimes, you will find that getting away is exactly what you need. Sometimes, it is the exact opposite of what you need. It’s tough not knowing and getting on that plane anyway.
But whatever happens with your mental health while you are away from home- know that you are not alone. There are many other travellers (including myself) that have/had mental health issues.
We got through it, and so can you.
“Every day begins with an act of courage and hope: getting out of bed.” – Mason Cooley