Releasing The Lantern

Words and Photography by Victoria Smith
We have recently been welcoming guest bloggers to our site (because of this). Long-time reader Victoria reached out to me to offer this post and I am so glad she did. I’ve similarly had to deal with depression while traveling and it’s an important topic that isn’t talked about near enough. ~ Dalene

 

You would think that when you’d finally arrived in Thailand to begin the trip of a lifetime that you’d be happy, right? You’d think that you’d be jumping for joy, eating all the mango sticky rice in sight (I did make a solid effort), and taking advantage of every $3 Thai massage possible. You’d think that after spending three years long distance, this would be your ultimate opportunity to spend time with your husband, especially as that’s why you’re on this trip in the first place, to reconnect.

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?

I’d assumed that once my external circumstances changed, that depression would just melt away.

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.

Popping into a small café, I grabbed my favourite Thai beverage – iced coffee with a little bit of sugar. At this particular place, your coffee came in a near-vat, a planter pot of sweet, caffeinated goodness. I grabbed a seat looking out towards the water and thought about how I was going to make depression while traveling ‘work’.

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.

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.

We haggled, and by haggled I mean I caved to a street vendor, and bought a handmade paper lantern. Making our way into the grounds of a nearby temple, we joined the crowds of locals and fellow tourists, vying for a position to light and release our lantern. Borrowing a lighter from the group next to us, I thought of my wish.

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.

I wished for the courage to tell my story one day.

author bio

Victoria Smith is a social profit champion, blogger, writer of romantic comedies, budding podcaster, wife, momma to Jack, and an all around busy gal. She somehow makes time to watch copious amounts of the Bachelor (research for a book – she swears). Join her on her mission to help women achieve their dreams at www.girltrieslife.com.
10 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • March 6 2017

    I loved Thailand, it’s a wonderful place. Glad that cockroach came along and got you out and about. Thanks for sharing your journey!
    Jeff Cruz recently posted..2017 Exposure Photography Festival Picks

  • March 6 2017

    This is so important – thank you so much for sharing Victoria. I also suffer from depression, with my recent bout being brought on by the break up of a nine year relationship. That was a year ago now and I have a wonderful new boyfriend but I still feel so much sadness and guilt from my past relationship. It actually got worse when I was traveling through the Caribbean a couple of months ago and for me, being back home in New Zealand for a couple of months and having a bit of stability has helped a lot. What I have found is that although travel can help depression, sometimes it can make it worse
    Katie recently posted..Digital Nomad Life: Month Twenty

    • Thanks, Katie. It’s so important for people to understand that depression isn’t one size fits all. For some people travel can help, for others it can aggravate symptoms. For others structure is important, and others still need fluidity to stabilize their depression. It’s important to recognize that we each have our own journey through mental health and I wish you the best in yours.
      Victoria | Girl Tries Life recently posted..Podcast Episode 8: The Dreaded ‘H’ Word – Habit

  • Cris
    March 6 2017

    Hi Victoria,
    Thanks for sharing your experience, thoughts and solutions. We’ve been on the road for close to two years now and, even though not being on a depression, but sometimes I feel bad when I wake up in the morning and I am not in the mood of enjoying the wonderful surroundings where I find myself.
    That’s why I especially agree with you in the “chose not to feel guilty about it” part. I have learnt to forgive myself when the black clouds are above my head. No matter where you are or the lifestyle you have, we have to accept that not every day the sun shines to everyone.
    Much love from Japan.

  • March 7 2017

    Thanks Victoria, this was an enjoyable read ! I really liked yoga classes Thailand and iced coffe too:)In my opinion people suffering from depression are more open to tell the truth and make stories more exciting and real than “normal” people would do. By “normal” I mean they do not always speak about the things in the background but rather make something sound optimal,perfect and Facebook conform.

    • Thanks, Eszter. Honestly, if I didn’t have the incredible support system that I do, I don’t know that I’d have had the courage to share stories like these. That said, I consider myself very lucky, and if I have the ability and support to speak up, I plan to continue doing so.
      Victoria | Girl Tries Life recently posted..Podcast Episode 8: The Dreaded ‘H’ Word – Habit

  • Thank you for sharing. I sometimes feel a bit of inertia while traveling – I don’t know if it’s depression, laziness or appreciation of nice hotels, but a cockroach would certainly snap me out of it!
    Leigh | Campfires & Concierges recently posted..Visiting Chicago’s Chinatown

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