Today we are going to talk about mental health. Even though we are in the middle of October.. Mental Health Week was this first week of this glorious pumpkin picking, sweater wearing month. I’m late, but what’s new. Let’s talk about it.
Hi my name is Kylie, I have dealt with anxiety and depression on and off for the last 5 years of my adult life. I’m not going to go into the depths of it because A. It’s a long story B. It is still a little bit too raw to get into too much detail and C. I’m just not ready to blast you with that type of melodrama over the internet. But just know that it exists in my world.
And in my world traveling has always been the cure. It is the thing that grounds me and brings me back to my center. Diving deep into a different culture gives me a chance to take a step out of my brain and peer into my soul. It is the most important thing I do.
Now I am not discrediting the pharmaceutical side of mental health.. because trust me Xanax is a god among drugs and really works when you feel like your heart might explode out of your chest. What I do want to bring attention to is the freedom that traveling gives me, when I am feeling the lowest of lows. And I have found that I am not the only one.
**A Little Story**
On my five month hiatus to Southeast Asia (SEA) I found so many other travelers were traveling not only to learn about foreign cultures, but to also learn about themselves and to heal. When most of us think of traveling we think of it as a luxurious event that we do to escape our lives for a week or two and gallivant among beautiful beaches or mountains. But what we do not talk about it is the therapeutic aspect of travel.
When I finally decided it was time for me to backpack SEA I was in a pit. I was in a place that did not feel like me. I had felt like I had been betrayed by so many people I considered close, my family was going through a traumatic time, I hated my job, I hated the way I looked and my heart just felt empty, sad and broken. I was definitely not where I wanted to be, so I packed up my things and I left. I embarked on a journey by myself that was only meant for me. I was running away, in a sense.
To someone observing me from afar I look outwardly happy, confident, friendly, easy-going and to an extent I am. I always was until I hit my twenties then something inside me changed. I have never been able to put my finger on it, but being so far away from home left with the all the parts of myself that I loathed, I was able to work through this darkness.
So picture me three weeks into my trip alone. Left with all the ugly I had conspired over the last few years. Just marinating in it. Awful right. Yea it was. It was actually the most awful and uncomfortable I had felt in months, everything made me cry. I was constantly on edge. It was overwhelming to be in my skin. I remember sitting in my hotel room in Chang Mai and straight up crying, asking myself what was wrong with me.
Up until this point I hadn’t made too many friends (see the above paragraph). I had spent a lot of time alone analyzing who I am and what makes me awful. I was over it. I was over traveling, I was over feeling bad for myself, I was ready to come home. I decided before I booked my ticket home almost 4 months early, that I would at least take a cooking class that I promised myself. And ladies and gentlemen that is where it all changed.
Here is the therapy part I was talking about. I ended up in a class with ten amazing women all traveling for different reasons. All of us were traveling for fun but each of us had a more rooted reason for it. Some of us were escaping our lives, some of us were just beginning a new journey, others were a little lost, some were heart-broken, others had just lost their job, some people were a crutch for the beaten friends to lean on in their journey. It varied, and it varied in every single country that I crossed. All of us had a story.
All of us had a story and so many times the story was heartbreaking and it hurt to listen to. The question of my trip was, “why are you traveling?” The answer I almost always received was “for me, I’m traveling for me.”
After coming across countless people who were essentially doing the same thing that I was, it became clear that traveling is a therapeutic act. It also became clear, that life in the West is not necessarily sustainable for all of us. Eventually some humans will need to regroup and reel it in by becoming more simplistic and by observing themselves and others. Traveling thrusts you into a position sometimes that forces you to put yourself first. This lesson is the most important one I have ever learned. The next most important lesson was re-teaching myself the word no.
Traveling will teach you a lot of things Xanax can’t.
It will teach you that even when you don’t want to get up in the morning, maybe you should anyways because you might meet your next best friend
It will teach you that when everything feels stacked against you and getting from Point A to Point B feels impossible, that if you just work through it chances are you will persevere.
It will teach you to trust yourself, even when you haven’t felt very trustworthy in the past.
It will teach you to love yourself, even the ugly parts that you still hate some days.
It will teach you that you are your own leader, best friend and confidante and that no one can take that away from you.
Traveling will do so much for your soul. A lot of people think that when they come home from a trip that they are a new person. When I came home from SEA I was not a new person, I was myself. I felt so great in my skin, I felt proud that I traveled alone, I felt invincible, I felt normal. The feeling of normality is unlike one I can describe. I know I am not alone in this journey to self re-discovery. To travel is to be lost and to be found as the same time.