Travelling with Chronic Depression


Everyone seemed to promise that travel would be, at least at first, an all-consuming source of stimulation and excitement. Most days would be full of bright new experiences and stimulating social encounters with travellers and locals alike. Sometimes things could be expected to be stressful or lonely, but at the end of the day everything would add up to a great learning experience.

I’ve spent my whole life trying to run from my depression. I fought seeing a psychologist for many years before relenting, and even then resisted trying antidepressants for longer still. I was in denial about my illness, assumed that everyone had it the same or worse, and hated the idea that seeing a therapist would show that I couldn’t handle things on my own. I was even more resistant to antidepressants because I assumed that they were for people with “real” depression and not for people like me who probably just needed to try harder. It took until I had a huge breakdown in 2014 that I finally accepted that I couldn’t handle things on my own anymore.

Most people experience depression at some point in their lives. It is usually situational and goes away after a time. The difference with chronic depression is that it never goes away. I go through cycles where my depression is very, very bad and times when I am just more tired and unmotivated than the average person. I still go to work and university, but when it gets really bad I regularly sleep through lectures and tutorials, and struggle to stay alert and engaged with customers while at work. Medications and therapy lessen the impact on my life, but I haven’t felt free from the grips of depression since my childhood.

Despite living almost eight years of my life with depression that has ranged from mild at best to severe, I falsely believed that long-term travel would be untainted by my illness. Depression in my everyday life manifests itself in pretty typical ways. Excessive sleeping, avoidance of responsibility, inability to concentrate, and an underlying feeling of emptiness and despair feature pretty regularly in my life. For some reason I hoped that the excitement of travel would completely erase these symptoms from my life. Sadly, chronic illness just doesn’t work that way.

Street art of a clown and a rabbit woman

Depression while travelling looks like this.

You’re staying in a gorgeous studio apartment in one of the hippest neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires, and yet you’re so tired and sad that you sleep at least twelve hours a night and take two-hour naps every day.

You’re regularly taking showers at 3am and crying alone as you sit on the shower floor, trying not to make too much noise in case anyone else comes into the shared bathroom.

You forget to take your antidepressants one morning, and by the evening you are so consumed by nausea that all you can do is lie on your back and close your eyes while you wait for the medication to kick in.

You lie with your back to everyone in your hostel room in Montevideo and cry silently so that no one can tell how much you aren’t coping and, God forbid, ask you questions about it.

You don’t want to go out drinking with new friends in Bogotá because you know that alcohol lowers your mental filters. But you don’t want to be left out either so you push through and you lose those mental filters. The ones that block out all the negative thoughts that constantly lurk below the surface. You’re ugly. You’re worthless. No one cares. No one cares.

My depression doesn’t define me but I can’t pretend that it doesn’t have a big impact on my life.

Maybe the only learning experience I can take from this is that my depression will follow me everywhere and I need to adjust the way I travel in order to cope.

In my next post I will talk about practical tips to cope with chronic depression while travelling. Do you live with a chronic illness or disability that impacts on the way that you travel? Let me know in the comments below.

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  1. Reply

    It takes a lot to share your experience with something like this which so many people face but very few chose to talk about. This will surely be helpful for those still in the closet hoping for some guidance. Hope you’re doing well now and wish the very best for your travels.

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • August 6, 2017

      Thank you 🙂

  2. Reply

    I’m sure travel will help you to come out of depression! It’s the beat solution

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • August 6, 2017

      I really wish it were that simple! Thank you for your support.

  3. Reply

    I am sorry to hear about your illness but I need to thank you for writing about your depression and helping people understand what depression is if they maybe don’t understand. I really hope travel will help maybe occupy you and that you meet new awesome people to keep yourself surrounded with positivity!

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • August 6, 2017

      Thank you for your support 🙂

  4. Reply

    It’s a tough topic, many thanks for bringing it up!
    I can only imagine how bad it must feel, you are in a destination everyone dreams of to be and yet can’t really enjoy it and just wanna be left alone and hide under the duvet.
    I really hope things will work out for you x

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • August 6, 2017

      Thanks xx

  5. Reply

    I got so emotional having to read this. I haven’t been in this situation but I can get a vivid imagery of what it felt like. I’m happy you are past this stage because sharing it means you are a Conqueror.

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • August 6, 2017

      Thank you for your support xx

  6. Reply

    This is a very personal blog post, and it takes a lot to be public about something like this. I hope you are able to overcome the challenges in your life and get past them in due time.

  7. Reply

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with depression so openly. Wishing you all the best and hope that you keep traveling and inspiring others.

  8. Reply

    It’s so easy for an outsider to look critically at someone who doesn’t seem to be really getting into their travel experience – but after reading your post, I’ll approach that situation with a different outlook. You mention that when you’re felling bad, you don’t want people to ask you about it – I’d be grateful for a post about what other travellers can do in this situation.

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • August 9, 2017

      I think I mean more that I don’t want complete randoms asking me about it, because it’s none of their business. I am happy to talk with people with who I have already formed some sort of connection, but wouldn’t expect them to support me in any sort of significant way.

  9. Reply

    Thank you for feeling so brave to express your struggles. Depression is a horrible illness to have to experience and really isolates you. You are strong to not let it govern your life, and I wish you all the luck in the world.

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • August 9, 2017

      Thank you xx

  10. Reply

    I must say, you are really brave to open up heart and share out your experience. I too hope many others get inspired by you and talk about this illness as talking actually makes one feel better. Travel surely is going to change your life. Keep travelling and sharing. Cheers!!

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • August 9, 2017

      Thanks 🙂

  11. Reply

    My god, this describes what I experience on a daily basis to a T. It’s hard, almost seemingly impossible at times to do even the smallest of things. I am slowly entering the realm of writing about my struggles with depression & anxiety, and reading your blog has led me to realize more people need to know about these pains.

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • September 27, 2017

      Thank you! I find it not only helpful for other people to write about it, but cathartic to write about my own experiences and consequently understand my own brain better.

  12. Reply

    You are a brave woman. And you are beautiful. Don’t forget that. Depression has a tendency to tell us we are worthless, ugly, unlovable etc. I’ve battled with depression on an off since my late teens. I’m now 32. I know the feeling of despair and emptiness while traveling. It’s hard when you feel you should be having the “time of your life.” I admire you for travelling despite your illness.

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • October 16, 2017

      Thank you, this is incredibly kind. Depression is very cruel but I’m learning to live with it more easily. I hope you find peace and love within yourself.

  13. Reply

    I also struggle with depression and can totally relate to this feeling of being in a situation where things are supposed to feel good but you still don’t. It is always a battle, but so happy to see that you travel in spite of it <3

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • December 4, 2017

      I’m glad that this resonates with you! It’s so frustrating to get caught up in the “shoulds”. I think it’s easier to accept mental illness more when you start to adjust your own expectations and not compare yourself to everyone around you.

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