I had just moved back home after living abroad for the past three years in Europe, on a tiny little island in the middle of the Mediterranean, in which I used as a home-base for travelling. I’d go on a trip a month, a novelty that never wore off coming from Canada (where we could fly for 8 hours and still be within our own country). I took advantage of cheap airfare and my seemingly unlimited vacation – compared to the customary 2 weeks I was used to.
So I took full advantage and travelled frequently. I’d average 40 flights a year, all while living amongst an endless summer in Malta. Sounds ideal right? I mean how could living in the Med not be?
It wasn’t easy though. The challenges that arise with living in a foreign country within an unfamiliar culture were tenfold that of the benefits. Ultimately, there was a reason that we eventually left and came back home to Canada. So then why did I need to keep reminding myself of these reasons?
When someone asked me ‘Why did you move back?’ I had no response other than ‘I don’t remember….’
I now realize the reason I had to come back was that I was not in a positive mental space, and I had to get back to my roots. Travelling was my temporary escape from my own feelings. Landing in a new country and exploring its cities gave me a certain high, and as soon as that feeling wore off, I’d just go and do it all over again. Moving back home I suddenly had nowhere to hide, and I had to face how I felt myself, which was more painful than I ever could have imagined. I soon slipped into a depression, blaming my bleak surroundings (“fuck this Canadian winter”), and felt hopeless.
For those that have never experienced depression, it’s probably a difficult concept to grasp. The best explanation I’ve ever come across is by fitness author John Romaniello, who wrote:
“Depression isn’t just about feeling sad; that is only the smallest part of it. It’s about feeling trapped by overwhelming unhappiness, completely surrounded by an impenetrable fog of misery, and a general acceptance of the idea that it will never go away.”
You can read the rest of his in-depth explanation of both the feeling and his own struggle with depression here.
In my experience, you know you’re depressed when you:
- Cry almost every night because you are so lost you don’t know what else you can do.
- Can’t wait for the day to be over but you dread going to bed because you know you have to wake up and do it all over again.
- Can hardly muster the motivation to get out of bed, let alone workout, etc.
- Don’t want to live anymore.
The thing is, I hid it well. None of my friends knew, not even my family. The only person that was exposed to my sad shell of self was my boyfriend. I knew I needed help but felt hopeless. The unfamiliarity and isolation of living in a foreign country accentuated my sadness and eventually took its toll until we made the decision to move back. Finally, I would be surrounded by a strong support system and could get the proper help I needed.
But instead, I retracted within myself even more.
Those first few months (hell, even the first year!) back were bad. I was in a worse emotional state than I had ever been, and instead threw all my energy and focus into work, which was atleast giving me some sense of fulfillment. I doubt during this period I was much fun to be around. I knew I had to do something about it, and now realize that the only person that could help me was me.
I finally racked up the courage to go see a professional. I made an appointment and when I came in and was asked, “so what brings you in today?” I froze and made up some other ailment as an excuse to not talk about why I was really there.
That was my first (failed) attempt, but at least I was closer. Baby steps right?
I shoved the experience to the back of my mind and went back to ignoring my inner cry for help. What I really needed was someone to nudge me in the right direction. So when my boyfriend came home one day and told me he found a doctor that specialized in mental health, and even talked to her about me, it was the push in the direction I needed. I went to go see her the next day, and because I had that pre-emptive introduction, I didn’t need to answer the daunting question about why I was there. Nevertheless, as soon as we started talking about it, I completely broke down. I was embarrassed to be sobbing in front of a complete stranger, but it was further proof just how bad things were.
Luckily for me, she was a perfect fit. Together, we slowly worked through tools to help me cope and got me on a low-dose of medication that gave me the motivation I needed to be able to implement the tools. (If you’re in Toronto and want a doc reco, email me).
During this time, I also started by confiding in a friend, who lives overseas. Somehow the physical distance between us made me feel safer in telling him how I was feeling, since I didn’t have to do it face-to-face. He sent me a book called “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale, and told me it got him through some darker times at one point in his life. At first, I wasn’t into it at all – written in the 50’s it was super religious, which I was not, and I had a hard time digesting anything the author said. I would read one page a night and it would literally put me to sleep I found it so boring! In conjunction with this I started listening to a podcast called ‘Help Me Be Me‘, as well as exploring other various tactics like mediation apps, yoga, etc., all the while continuing to see my doctor as needed. Eventually, my perception of the book I originally loathed changed. I started reading it through a different lens, switching the ideas from something that seemed elusive to me to something I did believe in. Instead of hearing it as religious, I mentally shifted it to faith. Instead of God, I saw the Universe. Instead of physical prayer, I viewed it as mental affirmations, and so on. By reading it through this different perspective, the author’s real message appeared to me, which was:
I am the sole person responsible for my own happiness.
No one else can make me truly happy, as that must come from within. Which may sound pretty wishy-washy to someone else going through a similar dark time, so here is something more tangible, albeit harsh:
You may not be able to control a situation, but you can control how you react to it.
For example, my two-hour long commute that I used to dread with every once of my being, I now see as an opportunity to have a dedicated window of uninterrupted work. I no longer mind it, and sometimes, I even look forward to it! Another example: my body that I mentally picked apart negatively my entire life, I now actually see as being pretty damn cool and able. Everything, really. I just have a much more positive approach to all facets of my life. In turn, I think that has attracted more positivity and opportunity to me that I did not have (or did not notice) before.
I’ve been in a really good place for some time now, and while I can’t predict the future, I believe I have the coping mechanisms to get through darker times. In fact, I am going through one of the toughest periods of my personal life right now, and I am staying mentally strong.
So my point to all of this is that you are not alone, and there is hope. Tell someone. Tell me, I’ll listen (seriously, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org). Make that appointment. One step is all you need to do right now, and then the next step is only one step away.
You can do, I believe in you. It will get better, I promise you.
The world needs you.
If you are not going through anything similar yourself, I hope my own story with post-travel depression gives you some insight into what someone you love may be going through. Offer to help them, as they are probably too afraid to ask for it themselves.