How Traveling Pulled Me Out Of My Depression

PROKate Ter Haar
PROKate Ter Haar

For the majority of the spring semester of my junior year, I walked around campus in a blue, clouded haze. I cried a lot, slept a lot and ate a lot. I dreaded going to sleep because it just meant that in only eight or less hours, I’d have to wake up, and waking up meant having to face a long day of responsibilities that I didn’t feel anywhere close to capable of accomplishing. I was only happy when I was with my friends, when I was distracted and unable to think about the future and how unattainable all of my goals felt.

The semester ended just before my lack of motivation completely destroyed my grade point average. I dragged myself back to Long Island and was launched into my next set of seemingly impossible tasks: my summer class, which I’d be taking in Paris, France, was about to begin only two weeks after the end of the spring semester and I had yet to do any of things on my checklist to prepare for my month abroad.

As excited as I was to travel, something I had always dreamed of doing but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to do, I was also nervous—would this ongoing feeling of doom and despair follow me across the Atlantic Ocean and stick by me throughout my travels? My looming depression—which I hadn’t even realized was depression at the time—felt like an extension of myself; it was always there, always around and quickly became best friends with my anxiety.

Having anxiety and depression simultaneously is an interesting phenomenon—your anxiety is constantly making a to-do list with an looming deadline that you feel as though you have to complete lest your heart explode, while your depression forcibly keeps you in bed and whispers in your ear, letting you know that exerting effort is useless because it’s not as though you’ll complete any of anxiety’s tasks successfully anyway. This battle tears through your body and you’re left weak, tired and confused. There is no light at the end of the tunnel when your mind is at war with itself.

As I packed for France, I wondered if I should leave enough room in my suitcase for my mental illnesses, or if they’d fit in my carry-on. I dragged them along with me to JFK International, and they sat on my chest through the four-hour delay and seven hour flight. But something happened when I stepped off the plane onto international soil and walked through customs. Depression didn’t make it through — anxiety slipped by, but depression, big and bulky as it was, was forced to stay on the other side.

Being somewhere new—exploring, learning and experiencing—did something to me. Rather than wondering why I should even bother to do something, I just did it; I realized that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I would regret forever if I allowed depression to squander it.

I did things I’d never thought I’d be capable of doing—including getting on a plane to a foreign country, where I’d live for a month despite not knowing a word of the language. I lived in Paris for a month and in that month, I’d experienced and learned more than I had in my three years of college. I learned how to use a paper map—something as foreign as escargot to my generation—and successfully navigated through Paris’ metro system. I wandered through new cities and saw arguably some of the most famous pieces of art the world has to offer. I sat in the damp grass in front of the Eiffel Tower and watched the sun set behind the monument and I ate roughly 50 Nutella crepes in the 30 days I was there. My roommate and I lay on the grass by the Grand Canal in the Gardens of Versailles and laughed when our American skin burned bright pink. We traveled to Dublin, where we were for only 36 hours, and danced with Scottish men in an Irish Pub to live folk music. We explored Venice for five days and sat with our feet in Adriatic water and we talked about life and all it had to offer.

I came back to America not as a new person, but as a refreshed person. Of course, I was a little unhappy to be back—it’s hard to go from staring down the Champs-Élysées to staring at the static filled living room television playing re-runs of the Golden Girls—but it wasn’t the same unhappiness I had been feeling previous to my trip. It was situational unhappiness and it wasn’t here to stay. I waited all summer for depression to make its way from Charles De Gaulle Airport, but it never arrived back on my doorstep.

Traveling really opened my eyes—I no longer feel like nothing matters because everything matters. There is so much more left in this world for me to experience and explore, and seeing a little bit of it has made me realize that if I let depression consume me, I’ll never get to see the rest of it. TC mark

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