My first big solo trip to just so happened to be quite a long one, 1 year to be exact. It was supposed to be one of the biggest and most exciting decisions of my life… right? so why did I constantly regret and question my decision, why did I feel like I threw away everything that I worked so hard to get? the answer was one I knew all too well.
I am living with depression.
and traveling wasn’t going to change that.
Traveling with depression can be hard enough as it is but the constant battle to get out of bed in the morning can be a hundred times harder when you are traveling in a foreign country, alone.
Months before I flew out, I managed to fight off the depression by reassuring myself that I made the right choice, right up until the minute I sat on my new bed, in my new home surrounded by strangers, thousands of kilometers from everything I knew. The depression came flooding back like a tsunami and me, being the person that I am, let it overwhelm me for way longer than I should have.
After weeks doing nothing but going to work and going right back to bed, I decided I needed to take some control back and I came up with a list of what I thought would help me get through this year in one piece. It looked a little like this:
- Make new friends
- Try something new
- Call home
- Write letters
- Take life slowly
- Plan a trip
Make New Friends
This was easier said than done for sure and this list sat on my dresser for another whole week before I decided to start. The key for me was to start slowly and focus on one item at a time. So I started with my first and probably most challenging task, make new friends. I wasn’t able to make new friends easily at home, so how in the hell was I going to do this in a new country?
After some internet research, I found a facebook group for au pairs and I joined it. I also signed myself up for the Meetup app as well as Couch surfing. The Facebook group was the winner for me and I reached out to some girls to meet for coffee. After many failed “au pair dates” I finally met a girl I really enjoyed being around. She was outdoorsy and athletic and fun, so we decided to meet up as often as we could and after a while became great friends. I also met some other girls that I had a lot in common with and soon we became a small group of awesome au pairs (or ex au pairs). After meeting these girls I found myself going out more and more and expanding my circle, soon I was able to chat with people in bars and cafes and found another group of amazing people, outside my au pair circle.
For the first time in a long time, I felt like I could make something epic out of my year away.
Try Something New
After establishing a great group of friends the second task felt less like a task and more like a philosophy of sorts that I could incorporate into my daily life, both abroad and at home. Through my friends, I was able to give their interests a go (as the Irish would say) and I was able to discover or rediscover some activities that I really loved. I tried hiking, paddle boarding, squash, salsa dancing, wild camping and my most favorite of all – pole dancing!
I experienced authentic Irish music, long-haul trips with friends, getting lost and finding my way back again and sooner rather than later it didn’t feel like a solo trip anymore, it felt like I was home.
Calling home more often was a big one for me, considering home was one of my sources of pain that I desperately needed to escape. I bit the bullet and made the calls to family and friends. I checked in with them and let them know how I was doing and actively tried to stay involved in their lives. I was surprised at the positive response and support that I got. This gave me more reassurance that I was doing the right thing. Over the course of the year, I missed marriage, births, divorce, love, and loss and despite all that I feel like I did a good job of staying in touch with the people that I loved most.
Writing letters is a lost art, yet it is something I had done my whole life, since my first trip to summer camp. The older members of my family don’t have (or don’t want) access to the internet so I was well seasoned in proper letter writing. Before I left I made sure to get everyone’s address in my little address book. I had put off letter writing because I figured I hadn’t done anything noteworthy to write home about but after getting in touch with family over the phone I realized they just wanted a snapshot of my daily life, not necessarily to hear all about my amazing travels.
I ran into town and bought 20 postcards and international stamps and created a new habit. I routinely sent letters and postcards home to family and friends and it quickly became something I looked forward to doing. This was one of the big ones that helped me stay positive and keep the depression at bay. It was always nice to get a physical reminder from family and friends that they were thinking of me too.
Take Life Slowly
I have a tendency to work, think and pretty much live in total overdrive. My mind more often than not is running at a mile a minute and I forget to slow down and enjoy the little things. I put this on my list more so to be a reminder than an actual task. Every day I looked at the list and thought of something current that I was thankful for.
More often than not the children I was caring for came up and I would try and take the day slow with them. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t working in a classroom anymore and now I was able to slow down and enjoy each crayon drawing or daisy chain. My job became less of a job and felt more like a family that I loved and cared about very much. I was very thankful to have them be a source of learning and joy for me.
Plan A Trip
Planning more trips was always in the back of my mind but when most of it was preoccupied my emotion I lost sight of what I wanted to do in the first place, see more of the world! 99% of the time I have my trips planned out months in advance, so I took a week to catch up and reorganize a bit. I asked for the exact dates of all my holiday days and long weekends, created a budget and started booking flights. I rediscovered another source of happiness that I had forgotten about, and doing this gave me a sense of focus and something to look forward to so it would be harder for my depression to pull me down.
After a few months of constant work, I had managed to pull myself out of the darkness and I truly started to love Ireland and with some best friends and strangers who soon became family, it quickly became a place that I consider home.
This isn’t to say this list is a cure-all for depression because it’s not.
It’s just a list of things that really helped me get through this rough patch in my life. I have always managed my depression on my own (without medication) and although sometimes it can pull me very far down I am eventually able to get a hold of it and bring myself back up. I realize this is not a strategy that works for everyone but I really hope that I can help someone else who’s also in my shoes.
If you are struggling with depression and need someone to talk to I am genuinely always here, shoot me an email or a DM and we can chat. No one should go through it alone.