The pros and cons of travelling for mental health

I decided a few months ago to go ahead and book an overseas vacation. I hoped that it would give me something to look forward to, and that it would help to finally put a dent in the anhedonia that’s been such a challenging symptom of my depression. I decided to go to Italy because it was already high on my list of places I wanted to go, and being a Western European country it seemed like it would be pretty easy logistically.

Now, as the 3-week trip draws to a close, it’s time to review the good and the bad.

Pros:

  • I was having a really hard time just before I left. Knowing I’d soon be able to get away from it all gave me that faintest glimmer of hope to keep on going.
  • Present moment focus: It took about a week to really ease into this, but I was able to keep myself mostly in the now for a pretty good chunk of the time.
  • It was good to have a break (mostly) from all things work-related. I despise my new employer and I really need to consider whether it’s worth the agitation.
  • It was also good to have just a general shift in focus and environment, a way to sort of press reset.
  • My energy wasn’t too bad, and I was out and about each day all morning and for the early part of the afternoon.

Cons:

  • Too much choice is a bad thing. I was quite lost when it came to picking out restaurants to eat at, so my go-to became supermarkets. Still good food, but I didn’t get the real Italian culinary experience.
  • I’m naturally good at organizing. So it really highlighted a deficit when I struggled to figure out how to structure each day. In the end I managed ok, but it was frustrating to have the feeling of looking at my guidebook and my notes and just totally drawing a blank.
  • Negative interpersonal experiences: from perv-y hostel guy to being ignored by staff at a cafe, this trip has definitely not helped to restore my faith in humanity
  • The anhedonia firmly stayed put. Many of the things I saw that would normally be considered amazing and beautiful came with an attitude of bland indifference.
  • My lithium-related lack of coordination was worse than usual, and I managed to wipe out, sprain my ankle, and scrape myself up.
  • I am frequently having the feeling that the ground underneath me is vibrating or rocking. I wonder if it might be due to overstimulation or anxiety (even though I don’t feel anxious emotionally). If it continues when I get home I’ll go see my doctor about it.

So, what’s the final assessment? I think I did as well as could be expected. Even though I hoped travelling would counteract the anhedonia a bit, realistically I knew that external circumstances would be unlikely to accomplish that. Probably the biggest thing was knowing I would have an escape from my world, which helped me get through a really rough September. Now I head home feeling ever so slightly more able to face my world again, and that at least is a good thing.

 

For more travel posts, check out my travel the world page.

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24 thoughts on “The pros and cons of travelling for mental health

  1. me says:

    I think you did awesome! I admire you for even going … so brave and so freaking cool! It’s given me renewed hope I may be able to do the one day 🙂
    So congrats too You! x

  2. Luftmentsch says:

    I’m sorry it wasn’t such a great experience. I was fortunate that when I went to New York in August, I managed to cope without being quite as depressed as I usually am, although mornings were very challenging, as was the last day (also due to other people letting me down). It probably helped that the object of the trip was to see internet friends rather than sight-seeing per se, so I didn’t mind so much that I didn’t go to as many places as I would have wanted had I not been depressed. Plus it was the first time I’ve been abroad by myself, so I guess that was an achievement in itself.

  3. DV says:

    I’ve found it similar, and it really highlights that low level depression doesn’t necessarily involve feeling down ALL the time and being completely incapable of doing things or enjoying things, but more that things which would be “wow” when you’re well are now just “meh” and you have less mental flexibility and reserve to deal with anything unexpected or negative. With sort of secondary negative thoughts like feeling guilty or annoyed with yourself that you’re not enjoying it like you “should” or that you’ve wasted your money.

    I can think of one trip in particular where I went to a week-long collaborative artist’s workshop which I’d been looking forward to for years, and while I did get a lot out of it and was quite productive (I produced 5 artworks over the course of the week) I also felt a bit intimidated and outclassed by the other (mostly professional) artists, was simultaneously lonely and crowded, had mild suicidal ideation and cried myself to sleep on several of the nights, and overall it was not the amazing experience it would probably have been if I had been mentally well at the time.

    Over time I’ve come to realise that beyond a certain level of depression I just take my misery with me so there’s little point in travelling then. Also that CBT behavioural activation techniques do have limitations – pushing yourself a bit can be helpful, but it is also possible to push too hard and end up making things worse and feeling overwhelmed.

  4. Not Your Average Chick says:

    I envy your courage and ability to push through. Regardless of the circumstances, you seemed to make the best of a blah situation. Three weeks is a long time to be away from home. Hopefully, you will have time to get back on your schedule when you get home. I know your guinea pigs are going to be so excited to see you. Now you can relax in familiar surroundings. I know I breathe differently when I am comfortable. If that makes any sense. Lol

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