Until last week, I had never been on vacation. I didn’t have the kind of childhood where I was dragged off on family road trips every summer. I couldn’t afford a gap year after high school, or the extra fees of studying abroad. This is the first time in my adult life that I’ve been able to go anywhere, and I was beyond excited to do the thing that everyone says you absolutely have to do when you’re young – I hopped on a plane, and 13 hours later, I was on a whole other continent.
There’s so much talk about “finding yourself” when you travel, especially if you’re a 20-something woman traveling alone. I didn’t expect to do that; I’m pretty well acquainted with me. I did expect it to feel different. I wanted a whole other world, a place that would make me feel like there’s still hope and opportunity and surprise out there.
What I found was that no matter how far away you are from home, depression always comes with you. It was still with me when I got off the plane, still with me when I stared out at the ocean, still there when I wandered through a museum looking at all the beautiful, rare things around me wondering why I wasn’t enjoying any of them.
I didn’t want to admit it, at first. I was tired, hungry, and jet lagged. I napped. I ate. I napped some more. Eventually, by day 3 I had to realize that it wasn’t going away, that no amount of relaxation was going to change the fact that no matter where I was in the world, it was still the same world, and I was still the same me.
I had always hoped that travel would be some sort of magical cure. I would be so captivated with everything that was going on that I could feel the way I wanted to feel. I was mad that this had to ruin my vacation, something I had spent so long planning and getting excited about. Everyone else gets to enjoy going away and experiencing new things, why do I have to be the one who just feels numb?
Two days in, I cried on my scenic countryside train ride, feeling at once privileged and disappointed.I went to the Christmas market and walked past lots of happy, romantic couples, reminding me exactly how single I am, and I rode the ferris wheel alone. I walked through a (supposedly) magical fairy forest and made a wish on a magic wishing tree, but I didn’t feel any magic.
Traveling was nothing like what I expected, but I went and I did things and saw things anyway.
I wasn’t able to do that every day. There were a couple days I spent eating chips and watching Netflix in my hotel room, not leaving except to go on hot chocolate runs. I decided that I wasn’t going to feel guilty about those days. I did all the things that I could have done- and while it wasn’t the intense emotional experience I hoped it would be… I did see things that made me gasp. And I did things that make me smile to think about now. More importantly, I was able to just let my depression be what it was and still be there. I let it exist, but not ruin everything. I found moments that it didn’t cloud, and those were good enough.
So, I don’t know that I have any advice. I guess the only thing I’d say is to be forgiving with yourself. Take breaks. Don’t feel like you have to push every limit or that you’re failing if you’re not having the best experience of your life.
You can’t run away from depression, but, you can still run away with it.