Releasing The Lantern
You would think that. Unfortunately, depression thinks otherwise.
Depression wasn’t new to me. I’d been managing it officially for two years, and unofficially for god only knows how long without realizing it. I was a year off medication, coping with dark days through counselling, a supportive husband, proper nutrition, and exercise.
To be honest, a niggling part of me assumed that once some of my external circumstances changed – like a long-distance husband and an overwhelming workload – that depression would just melt away. I’d looked forward to our three-month Southeast Asian adventure for longer than I could say, so why was I feeling like my insides were being drawn to the floor like magnets? Why were there days of numbness, when I couldn’t take in the beauty of the Thai prayer flowers or the intricate craftsmanship of the temples in Chiang Mai?
At one point I told my husband that I needed an afternoon to myself, to be alone with the dark thoughts. While I’d intended to spend that afternoon in bed, given that the exhaustion that surrounds depression is a killer, a lone cockroach and his desire to hang out on my pillow was enough motivation to throw on my flip flops and head out into the beating afternoon heat.
I decided the best path for today would be to hug the moat that encircled the Old Town. It’s definitely a contrast, with scooters zipping by at full speed next to the calm water and the crumbling, formerly formidable walls.
For months I’d been planning this trip, ogling over Instagram photos, blogs posts and more. Every blogger I followed seemed to be having one hell of a time, smiling, enthusiastic, joyful. But… is that what was going on behind the scenes?
Maybe, just maybe, some of them had down moments as well. I mean, we’re all human, right? If one in five individuals suffer from a mental health issue, statistically didn’t that mean that a good proportion of my favourite travelers had their own problems going on? But, of course, our problems don’t always make for the best stories, at least not when it comes to travel.
Plugging into the café WiFi (side note – free WiFi is FAR better in Southeast Asia than it is in my hometown!), I took a cursory scroll through Google searching ‘travel with depression’. What I found were a number of posts and articles on how people used travel as a treatment for depression. But, what about when you’re in the midst of it, surrounded by all the places you’ve pinned and dreamed of?
There and then, I decided that I would write about my own experience. I would treat it as a social experiment, and see what would and wouldn’t work for me as a form of treatment or therapy on the road. Medication wasn’t something I wanted to revisit, so I’d try everything and anything.
And I did.
Yoga classes in Thailand and Cambodia, including one where the instructor had us mindfully ‘feel the sensation of our sexual organs’ – yeah, as we exited the class, many of us were slightly thrown off by that one. I decreased my caffeine consumption, while still enjoying one daily dose of delight. I slept more and chose to not feel guilty about it. I kept a journal. I moved my body as much as possible. I swam. I quasi-meditated – I say ‘quasi’, because it was less traditional meditation and more just starting out at the ocean, or from the window of a train, on a frequent basis.
And, you know what? It helped.
We attended Loy Krathong, one of Thailand’s most popular festivals where small boats are made from banana leaves, adorned with flowers, and a candle is added to represent family members that have been lost. They are placed on a body of water, in this case on the moat surrounding the Old Town, and released. For the Westerners, Chiang Mai vendors had also decided to sell lanterns, more commonly associated with the Yi Peng festival that had already taken place a few weeks prior.
I wished for moments of calm to counterbalance the intensity that depression can bring. I wished for ongoing open communication with my husband, so that he could support me in the best way possible, and that I could find ways to support him throughout our journey as well. I wished to be at peace with my depression, to accept it as part of what makes me me, and to not let it define my trip. I wished for the courage to tell my story one day, to help someone else and let them know they weren’t alone.
The lantern filled with air, and as it did, I inhaled a deep breath. A gentle tugging let us know that it was ready to be released. I let go of the tension I didn’t realize that I was holding, pulled my hands away, watching it rise slowly, first above our shoulders, then our heads, then into the sky. The sky was on fire with love and dreams.