A Personal Note to my Readers:
So, 2016 is turning out to be a year of recovery, hope, and re-discovery.
I’ve struggled with mental illness and a fractured identity for the past 15 years – at 12 years old, I realised that I had no clue who I was. An intricate web of co-morbid conditions have followed me my whole life, some diagnosed and some not – generalized anxiety disorder, clinical depression, strong traits of OCD, phobias, panic disorder, self-harm, borderline personality disorder – all symptoms of an inability to take care of myself, and love myself unconditionally. I guess I was never taught how.
Travel has been one of the ways that I’ve forced myself out of the black-and-white thinking that was my world. Travel opened up my eyes, gave me new perspectives on life that made me realise that so many things are not wrong, but simply different. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had my husband as my travel buddy, as he has been able to take care of me when I was unable to care for myself.
As someone who had always dreamed of travelling, but was petrified of the challenges of travelling whilst suffering from mental illness, I can say that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I know that social media overwhelmingly represents the modern travel lifestyle as effortless and suited to those who are mentally well, but that’s not the whole story.
Travel is hardly ever a succession of perfect, Instagram-worthy moments strung together. In fact, it often pushes you to your limits: sleep-deprivation, constant change, close quarters with strangers, and many new and often scary experiences that may require resilience and coping mechanisms you don’t yet have.
The importance of a support system
I have travelled with my parents as a teen, with my brother through Europe on Contiki, and with my husband for about 5 years now ever since we had our first weekend away together in 2011. Having people who know you, and your mental health needs, is incredibly helpful when travelling for long periods of time. You may need to assess your limits before travelling solo, and have a “safety net” in place should you struggle when travelling alone. Having an emergency contact you can call at any time, and savings for getting back home if need be, can be essential support structures.
Planning it all out = Less anxiety
For those of us with mental health issues, spontaneity can be a rare luxury. Much as you’d like to relinquish control and escape your illness, it’s really important to respect your limits and to plan your travels in as much detail as you can. If you take medication, you’ll need to allow enough time to get pills for the entirety of your time away, a signed letter from your doctor confirming that you are on the medication, and emergency numbers in case of a “worst case scenario” (i.e., a relapse).
Mindful travel can be extremely beneficial for your mental health. Labels don’t prevent you from doing what you want to do in life – your illness(es) simply add an extra layer of challenge. It won’t be easy. Things can and will go wrong. But as you learn to deal with the difficulties of travelling whilst managing your mental health, the journey can be incredibly rewarding.
I know I will never be “cured” of my mental health problems, but I am pretty content with living in remission, and moving forward in my recovery. That is more than I ever hoped for, and right now, it’s all that I need.
And never forget – You are not alone <3