Five years ago, I was diagnosed with both depression and anxiety. Everyone experiences these mental health issues differently; someone once described their depression to me like a dark cloud stalking them. My depression is a black hole constantly sucking me into its abyss of nothingness unless I make a constant effort to fight it. Sometimes I’m not strong enough and I fall in, sometimes I can climb out by myself, sometimes I need help, it’s exhausting, but I am surviving.
Most of my life I have been surviving and searching for something more, so when a mental breakdown left me with some free time, I decided to book myself a flight to Europe and a trip with Contiki. But travelling alone is not an easy feat when you struggle with anxiety, and when I arrived at my hotel in Amsterdam after 24 hours of travelling, after quite a few mishaps and a lot of help from strangers, it felt like there was a string pulled so tight around my lungs and heart that I could barely breathe. Soaking wet and with a broken bag I broke down crying, cursing myself for ever thinking I could pull off something as crazy as travelling alone.
Yet the next day I joined the Contiki group and although this in itself was a scary thing, we soon bonded over a sunset cruise, a considerable amount of alcohol and a red-light district show which left us cringing in our seats. And by the second night, as we all sang along to Bohemian Rhapsody in the small town of St. Boar, Germany, it felt like I had known these people for a lifetime. From skinny dipping in the Rhine River to Gondola rides in Venice, and a night club in Paris, we did it all, and not once did I feel the pull of the black hole or the tightening of the string. For the very first time, I was free.
I am not saying that travelling cured my depression or anxiety, but for those ten days they were both gone and when I returned they were still ever-present, but their weight on my life was a bit lighter and life itself was a bit clearer than before my trip. I came back with a better understanding of who I am and who I want to be. Travelling taught me that life is not about surviving it, it’s about living it. And even though I am still searching for my place in this world, my focus has shifted from fighting to survive to fighting to live and that is the most significant change I have ever made.