I’ve read so many blog posts and stories and social media rants about how travel cured someone of their depression. About how getting outside of a normal routine and having time to reflect gave someone the ability to find happiness again. And that’s great for those of us who believe in travel as a cure-all. But let’s be real, travel won’t cure your depression. And here’s why:
- Depression is an incurable disease for many people.
This is the biggest reason why travel, or food or medication or whatever, won’t cure your depression. Because, quite simple, it’s not something that can just be cured!
Sure, some people get diagnosed with a form of depression due to a traumatic experience or because of circumstances and are able to overcome it with time and treatment, but a lot of people, myself included, have depression for life. Because depression is a hereditary illness. It’s the same as diabetes or epilepsy or herpes in that it will never fully go away. You can manage it with therapy and medication, but it’s not something you can just magic away with positive thoughts and long road trips. And it’s time we acknowledged that!
- Disrupting your routine isn’t always a good thing for those of us with depression.
Some people with depression find solace in the routines of life. Daily exercise, enjoying a cup of tea in the morning, or watching a funny show after work may be the things in your life that keep you stable and remind you why it’s worth getting up every morning. Let’s face it: most human beings don’t like change, and when you add depression to the mix, it doesn’t always end well.
- Travel often gives you time to be still and think about life.
Which, for someone with depression, has the potential to lead you to a negative space. I’m not saying this always happens. Sometimes it is helpful to quiet your brain, look within, and confront whatever negative thoughts are lurking there. But sometimes the quiet forces you to face thoughts that you aren’t mentally prepared to tackle yet. And that exercise can leave you feeling more hopeless or unsure than you were before.
- Your dream vacation can be disappointing.
A lot of time we have grand expectations about a trip. We think if we finally take the time to go to that one place we’ve always dreamed of, we will find peace and happiness that we haven’t found in our day-to-day lives. And sometimes, you do feel that. Like when you’re standing on top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge or swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands or enjoying the perfect cup of coffee while wandering the streets of Montmartre in Paris.
But sometimes you don’t. Like when your stomach is turning on your whale-watching trip in Iceland and you haven’t seen a single whale. Or when your new water bottle breaks on the first leg of your journey and you have to sit through the whole plane ride in cold, wet jeans. Or even when you’ve been dreaming about the tour through the Australian rainforest, but you just can’t get past that annoying couple who won’t stop talking about their cats and asking your guide silly, distracting questions. And when you have these experiences, which are all too common during travel, you feel defeated and guilty. You feel like you spent time and money chasing this thing that you hoped would help cure your constant internal ache, but instead, you ended up in a situation that most people only dream of, and all you want to do is go home and cry. And then you feel guilty about those feelings. And you can’t seem to get in a place where you can enjoy the beauty of the world around you. And the endless cycle of chronic depression continues.
But even though travel won’t cure your depression, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. The key to traveling with depression is knowing yourself. Admit that you have a disease that isn’t going away. Recognize how it affects your mood, energy levels, physical capabilities, and expectations. Adjust your travel to fit those needs. And finally, when things don’t go perfectly as planned—and they definitely won’t—allow yourself time to be disappointed and know that it’s ok to be depressed anywhere in the world. But also know that these experiences can teach you things about the world, about yourself, and about your depression and that knowledge may be better than a cure in the long run.
Share this with someone struggling with depression who needs kindness and support. Share it to educate those who don’t understand mental illness. Or just share it to spread a little real-life inspiration.