It is always important to remember that depression can affect different people in completely different ways. Where one person may want to hide under their duvet for a whole week, another may want to keep their schedule busy as a coping mechanism, in order to try and forget the feeling inside.
For me, it was always the first. At my lowest, I would refuse to leave my bed. Not only because it was one of those wonderful memory foam beds (aren’t they great!?), but because it would feel so much better to be lying under there than imagining facing the world outside. After getting into an abusive relationship in my final school years, I took a gap year to re-sit modules and have a break from everything. The last thing I imagined was that I would go travelling – I could barely imagine leaving my small Welsh hometown.
Growing up with sisters that had travelled to almost all the different continents with hungry, adventurous hearts, I couldn’t help but be filled with the urge to follow them and discover the world around me. It didn’t have to be Japan, or Argentina, or anywhere that had a culture or climate that was completely different to what I was used to. I just wanted to be somewhere new. It was a challenge, and as clichéd as it sounds, I needed something new in my life. The routine of exams, home, piano lessons and bad sleeping patterns had grown boring. I felt that doing something that seemed so unimaginable would help me to see myself in a new light; that was the most important thing to focus on for me. I needed to appreciate myself again.
So I called up my sister, who I knew had loads of experience travelling and who is also my best friend. We ended up booking tickets to Slovenia for two weeks of travelling around the Baltic coast through Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro. I had travelled to many places before – places as diverse as Iraq and Italy – but as intrigued as I was with the countries I was visiting, it was always about what the journey represented.
In those two weeks I became the girl who could, in fact, communicate with people, even when they didn’t speak my language; the girl who could ride a bike around Lake Bled without worrying too much that I looked silly; and the girl who could sit by myself in the hostel when my sister was tired and not feel paranoid that people were watching. The situations had not changed much at all, but the environment had and that was enough for it to make me feel like it was challenge I could tackle. I had someone with me who I could trust to support me and help me to grow by myself, who never made me feel dependent or needy. I grew into an independent, confident girl in only a few days, because travelling helped me come closer to the qualities in myself, like patience and optimism, which exist whether I was sitting in South Wales or Dubrovnik.
As I said, everyone has different ways of coping with depression and obviously travelling is not for everyone. But if, like me, you begin to feel like you cannot understand yourself anymore and have come to a standstill, travelling can remind you of qualities in yourself that even you, yourself, have forgotten. Yes it is a cliché, but in travelling you really do remember, or even discover, that you are more than the girl hiding under the duvet, that you can do something as simple as rowing on a lake and be reminded that your depression does not define you.