I have been travelling for just over a week now. The reason I haven’t taken a real holiday in seven years has been because of the state of my mental health. When you struggle with mental health issues, stability and normalcy are fundamental to recovery. The consistency of my environment and having a routing have been vital to the process of my recovery.
This is Who I Am
My Mum has often told me that “you should travel when you are young.” I think that the experience of travelling now is quite different than it will be when I am older. Travelling throughout my lifespan has also been fundamental to shaping who I am today. According to my Mum, travelling is some of the best education that one can receive. Travelling as a child, I believe, has led me to be much more open to new experiences and different cultures. It has also given me the ability to have patience and tolerance for situations which are beyond my control.
It Takes Time to Heal
Several years ago when I was severely depressed I couldn’t imagine making it to the next day, let alone returning to Italy for a sojourn in a foreign culture. I have a special affinity for everything Italian including the language. I thought of doing this trip a year ago, but things didn’t work out. I’m glad they didn’t because a year later, my mental health is more stable than it has been in the last seven years. At once every six weeks approximately, I have less suicidal ideation than I have had in the previous years. Apart from some waking nightmares in the mornings about scary things from my past traumas, this last week of travelling has gone surprisingly well!
We All Have Fears
To be honest, when I was thinking of planning this trip four months ago, I was terrified of the unknown and about what could happen. Those were my anxieties talking. I purposefully delayed booking my flights and solidifying plans to visit my cousin in England because I procured images in my mind of what an episode of a mental breakdown might look like, tears and unwillingness to get out of bed included. I don’t think that severe depression works well with travelling because you really have no capacity to enjoy much at all. Everything is straining. Brushing your teeth and showering are taxing. Being around a lot of people at one time can be overwhelming. Imagine being in that state and trying to make it to the airport. It just wouldn’t work well.
You Get to Make the Decisions
Luckily for me, my depression is no longer severe and my depressive episodes are less frequent. The joy of travelling alone is that you have only yourself to rely on and you don’t really have to answer to anyone. You can sleep 12 hours a night if you want to. You can be in what you might consider one of the most beautiful places in the world and instead of going out to explore the town, you can choose to take a two-hour siesta in the afternoon. You are pretty much free to do whatever you want and do you know what the best part is? You are free to say “no!” Saying “no” can be so liberating.
Finding Your True Self
Travelling can be great practice for decision-making and problem-solving. Doing these things can boost your self-confidence. I can tell you without hesitation that during this trip I feel more like “me” than I have in the last 15 years. Being immersed within the Italian language and culture is “me.” What remains now is that you must find what makes you “you.” Finding your true self is a part of the recovery process in psychotherapy.
Recovery is Hard Work
I have been in psychotherapy as a patient for over ten years now. I can tell you that going to psychotherapy on a regular basis helps to bring significant meaning to my life. It helps me to understand myself and to recognize and to cope with difficult emotions that inevitably come up time and time again. Psychotherapy with the right psychotherapist can help you to become more confident. It can help you to believe in yourself and in the power of your natural abilities. It can boost your self-esteem. And it can help you live your life to the fullest so that you can take trips to Italy, or wherever else you may want to go to in the world.
Living with a mental illness is a practice. It’s a practice every day of your witts, of your emotional strength and capacity, and of your ability to choose to say “yes” to life. Having a mental illness is not a choice. Having a mental illness is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Having a mental illness is to learn humility and of how to stand up for yourself.
You Are Strong
Whether you see your mental illness as a blessing or a curse, or whether your view of your mental illness changes from one day to the next, it is a strength. Let me say this again: having a mental illness is strength in itself. Because you have to be damn strong to live with a chemical imbalance and all of the things that come along with it. I have a profound admiration for those who struggle with their mental health. If at this very moment you still don’t believe in yourself, that’s okay. Because I, and more people than you can fathom, believe in you. Have faith, there will always be someone to hold space for hope for you until you are ready to hold it for yourself.