If you expected to discover a fancy travel gadget, I apologize. This post has been long overdue.
I’ve been absent from writing as of late. I spent most of August and part of September this year depressed. This isn’t anything new for me, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that being in Bali was supposed to be the cure to problems I’d been dealing with for the majority of my life. With tropical breezes, endless coconuts and smiling local faces, could I really still have depression?
I remember when I studied abroad in Sydney in 2014 they gathered all the international students together for an orientation before the term began. The staff of the university gave us a presentation with useful tips about Australia, the university, and adjusting to a new culture. I distinctly remember a chart showing that the initial high of being in a new, exciting place takes a sharp decline once you get settled and adjust to this new lifestyle. It looked something like this:
This graph came to mind a month ago after I found myself repeating behaviors that had been self-destructive in the past. I’ve dealt with clinical depression and an anxiety disorder for almost 10 years, and even with medication and talk therapy it’s still hard for me to differentiate between the “normal” feelings of sadness and another depressive episode. There’s no way for me to instantly know the severity of my feelings, and trying to analyze the sadness always creates a mental game of tug-of-war that can loop for days on end.
The start of August marked 100 days that I’d been living in Bali. When I realized the length of time I’ve been here, I felt this insane pressure to do something ‘meaningful’ for this milestone, but I felt empty, as if I hadn’t accomplished enough within this dumb self-imposed timeframe. I believe that generally, people set very high expectations for themselves, and I am aware that I put more pressure on myself than anyone else. If I leave this unchecked, however, it usually leads to my own downfall and fuels my habit of negative thought patterns.
I shared my depressed feelings with my boyfriend who told me about the orientation for his semester abroad where someone had told him that “traveling doesn’t change who you are.”
That hit hard. I realized I needed stop wishing I could change aspects about myself that I don’t want to address. My body is straight-up hard wired for anxiety and depression. Chances are that if I had those issues in California, Arizona, and even Australia, I’ll encounter them in Bali, too.
Accepting this as fact is really freaking hard. I wish it was a rapid-fire decision that I could make, like ordering lunch or cutting my hair. Alas, the harsh reality that I will continue to battle depression and anxiety (regardless of my geographic location) is a hard pill to swallow.
There’s still a lot of shame associated with ‘having something mentally wrong with me.’ I think that illustrates the large-scale issue of general attitudes toward mental health, but that tangent is for another blog post.
Acceptance takes time, and I’m not there yet. It might take years, but I know I can get close if I put my energy toward focus on what I need to do that day to be happy. Yoga has helped a lot.
I’ve been seeking mental health treatment for close to a decade now, but this piece of writing is the first time I’m publicly admitting that depression and anxiety are part of my life. I have put off writing this for a while because I’ve gotten into an unhealthy habit of being quiet about the things I struggle with. Taking the time to sit down and write about my depression means admitting that I have depression. Nobody wants to be perceived as weak, so pretending it wasn’t an issue I had made me feel stronger. So I thought.
Having the chance to travel home for a brief week in August after feeling so down helped put my emotions into perspective. Living in Bali, right now, I’m so much happier than I was when I lived in L.A. I’m still experiencing depression and anxiety, but I’m trying to be grateful for these opportunities to address my issues head-on rather than staying silent.
I’m learning that traveling is all about acceptance. I accept that life in Bali is in no way similar to life in Los Angeles. I accepted that if I wanted to go anywhere in Bali, I had to learn how to ride a motorbike. I’m still accepting that I’ll constantly be bitten by mosquitos. And day by day, I’m trying to accept that while I may have anxiety and depression, that’s not all that I am. In fact, without these disorders, I wouldn’t be me. I’d be a completely different Caroline, maybe even a Caroline that didn’t have the positive qualities I like about myself.
So while I continue traveling, I have no option but to continue practicing acceptance. I accept that every cab driver in Vietnam will try to rip me off. I’m accepting that being a freelancer takes a lot of hustle and time management. And I’m (slowly) accepting that no matter where I go, I am who I am and that my “shameful” qualities don’t have to stay hidden.
October 10 is World Mental Health Day.
I’ve seen plenty of mental health professionals, but I am NOT one.
If you need help please go to this site.