I’VE STRUGGELD WITH MENTAL ILLNESS like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression since before I even knew what they were. While I’ve tried counseling, support groups and meditation, travel has proved itself to be an unexpected and potent form of therapy. Here are some reasons why:
1. It made me realize that I’m capable of doing scary things.
Traveling was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. It pushed the limits of my mental illnesses — and in doing so, it showed me that I was capable of more than I thought.
Whenever I have a negative thought, or when my anxiety tries to tell me I can’t do anything, I try to remember how powerful and capable I was when traveling. I try to tell myself things like:
“If I survived flying alone, I can definitely make it to my lectures today.”
The challenges I overcome while traveling are often the most helpful reminder of my inherent strength.
2. It gave me distance from the problems I faced at home.
Of course, traveling didn’t give me distance from my mental illness because your mental health literally follows you everywhere. But most of the things that aggravated my mental state — such as university, friends, family and financial issues — were things I didn’t directly have to deal with while I was traveling. This break was good for me. It gave me a chance to relax, breathe and gain some perspective on how to handle the challenges I was facing.
3. It showed me that I’m not as trapped as I feel.
In my experience, one of the worst things about depression is that it traps me. It makes me feel like there is no escape, no hope, and no chance of things improving. Traveling at least reminded me that a world exists beyond the painful one I knew. It reminded me that things could change, that I could recreate my life, and I could slowly move on from my traumas. This made me feel less trapped.
4. It taught me how to ask for help.
Leaning on support systems is a great way to manage mental illnesses. But asking for help can be really difficult — especially if you have an anxiety disorder.
While traveling, I was pushed into plenty of situations where I had to ask for help. I had to ask strangers for directions and translations, I had to ask hotel staff for information, and I had to ask my travel companions for support.
Being forced into this situation taught me that most people are willing and happy to help you when you ask. My anxiety about leaning on others was, after all, unnecessary.
5. It reminded me of the beauty around me.
Things like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder can make it incredibly difficult to appreciate beauty and experience joy. But encountering so many overwhelming, unfamiliar, breath-taking scenes while traveling filled me with a sense of joy that I before was never sure I could experience.
When I saw sunset over Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, or watched the sky stretch out for miles over the South African Karoo, I was reminded of one comforting truth: the world, no matter how ugly it can be, is full of beauty that I have yet to discover.
Though that moment wasn’t the end-all cure for the issues I faced, it was a hopeful start.