My Life Journey

This Was Me: The Things That Photos Hide

chain of stones in the shape of a heart

In this edition of This Was Me, we’ll look back at times in my 30s when I was unwell, although you wouldn’t know it just from looking at the picture.

author standing in a red dress in front of a Christmas tree

This photo was taken in December 2011, only a week or two after being discharged from a 2-month hospital stay.  I was better in a relative sense, but still quite unwell.  I decided to go to my work Christmas party.  A few milligrams of Ativan allowed me to tolerate a short bit of time at the party.

selfie when depressed

This is in June 2012 attending a ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia.  I had thought that maybe doing a short trip would lift my mood, but that wasn’t the case at all; quite the opposite, really.

I’m at a really low weight here because my appetite had disappeared because of the depression.  I’ve posted this photo before to show that skinnier does not necessarily mean healthier.

Ashley with a tequila sunrise in Mexico

Two hospitalizations later, here I am in either January or February 2013 at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico.  It was a fairly last minute thing to just try to take my mind off of negative hospital experiences.  It was okay, but didn’t really do much to change how I was feeling.

author and young girl in Kazakhstan

This is from a 2014 trip to central Asia (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakstan).  A couple of months before this I’d told my doctor I wanted to try going off of quetiapine (Seroquel) to see if that would stop the weight gain I’d been experiencing.  He thought that was reasonable since my depression was in full remission at that point, and so I tapered off of it. 

Not long after I stopped it altogether, I got hit by the Mack truck that is depressive psychomotor retardation.  When I left on the trip, the slowness had improved a lot, but my energy was still pretty low.  I needed a lot of rest breaks during the trip, and I ended up cutting it short by a week.  Moodwise, though, I wasn’t too bad at this point.

young Kazakh boy carrying author's backpack

These photos are at a popsicle stand in Nowheresville, Kazakhstan, near the Uzbek border.  I spent several hours there waiting for a bus, and several kids decided they wanted to be my friends.  The girl liked looking at my guidebook and writing notes, while one of the boys liked carrying my backpack and taking photos with my camera.

selfie at a cafe in Venice, Itialy

This is in Venice, Italy in the fall of 2018. This is the oldest sidewalk cafe in the city, and they had a fancy classical ensemble playing.

This was an experiment to see if travelling would help with my depression.  In keeping with past experience, it didn’t.  I was indifferent to all the things that I would have loved in the past.  After that, I decided there was no point blowing a bunch of money on doing any more travelling in the hopes of a magic wand to make me feel better, because it just doesn’t work that way.

standing with giraffes in the background on safari in Kenya
On safari in Kenya; those are 2 giraffes in the background
selfie at Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, Peru
author riding a camel in Egypt
Camel riding in Egypt

There were certainly some positive times in my 30s when my illness was in remission, including these trips while feeling well to the Middle East, Peru, and Kenya and Tanzania.  However, compared to the year I spent unwell in my 20s, my illness was present much more of the time in my 30s.

All photos Β© Ashley Peterson 2020, all rights reserved

The rest of the “this was me” mini-series can be found here:

You may also be interested in My Favourite Simple Things & Other Lists.

57 thoughts on “This Was Me: The Things That Photos Hide”

  1. I don’t really travel much when depressed, but having family abroad I do have to visit them every so often, plus I went to see E. in New York a couple of years ago. I suspect I also often seem happier in photos than I actually was. To be honest, there are probably photos of me at events in the UK/at home where I’m pretending to be happy and feeling terrible. I remember my sister’s engagement party where I was so depressed and socially anxious that I spent the first hour or so stuffing my face at the buffet to give me something to do that didn’t involve talking to people and then went and hid in another room for an hour or two until it was all over (feeling slightly sick from all the junk I’d eaten). But I’m sure there are photos of the day where I seem fine. Fortunately for her wedding, my parents made sure there was a room I could escape to during the party.

  2. Travel was always worth the trouble for me. I think you did good to at least try.

  3. You traveled a lot! I enjoyed traveling too but it will not take the struggle away. When I look at some pictures maybe other people can’t see but I know how bad I felt at that particular time. I’m grateful that I’ve done the traveling I could do at the time. I know I would like it again but that for now it isn’t possible.
    What was your favorite destination?

      1. I’ve always loved the sea and I’m totally in love with islands. Except for Tibet, that was so special without seeing the sea but to see Mount Everest. Every destination is different and it depends on how you feel and what you need in the moment. Thank you for sharing your pictures, it’s nice to see the face behind the blog πŸ™‚

  4. I also experienced weight gain on seroquel and was not really compliant on it during that time as that was pre-rock bottom for me — I was not yet in a full trust cycle with my psyche doctor or my therapist. This transparency began in the fall of 2008 when I started clozapine where I had to be 100% transparent with my doc and my therapist. Still is weight gain there as well.

    I really do not have the travel bug and never have had it so have a hard time relating there. But I do have a history with magical thinking. I have had to get real with myself that trying another job in the project management arena is not going to magically stop me from the crippling anxiety that leads me to quit these jobs within a year.

    What comes to mind is the expression where ever you go there you are. I have fallen prey to looking for a magical bullet to cure my anxiety through getting a new job where I will seem normal. . Each time it does not work out. Go figure that I have thought it would.

    As for the travel bug, looks like you have been to some really exciting places over the years.
    Perhaps the travel bug does not take away the depression but maybe it does give you a wealth of really good memories to turn to when times are down. That in and of itself is priceless. Good memories to turn to are almost as good as laughter in my book.

    1. Yes, good memories are very valuable.

      After that experience going off the Seoroquel I was able to fully accept that the weight gain is just a part of being on the meds that workl best for me. Being on multiple meds, it can be hard to figure out how much each one is contributing individually, but that little experiment made it clear that the Seroquel was making a mjaor contribution.

      1. Yeah I think my weight gain on seroquel tops the cake. The weight gain on clozapine I have largely gotten used to. I think it is less that seroquel. Both meds increase likelihood of adult onset diabetes if I am correct. Once more reason to be diligent about meds…. It seems like there are so many meds out there now than when I was first diagnosed in 1985. It would be super if big pharma could address the weight gain and address the Type II diabetes situation with these new drugs. Still hopeful.

  5. Wow! Look at you riding a camel! That’s what I’m talking about!! And I adore the photo of you with the little girl!! How precious!!

    I keep telling you, you’re traveling to the wrong places. You know you want to come to America! It’s calling your name on a still wind!! “Aaaashley. Aaaashley.”

    1. A big part of what what I liked about travelling was going to places that were very different from home. The U.S. isn’t all that different from here.

  6. So good to see you walking down the memory lane n sharing the gypsy in you…hope you come here some day! Hugs

  7. Travel is stressful for me coz I feel guilty leaving people (and animals) who need me behind. I wish I had your courage to see so many amazing places.

  8. I have some very personal questions and of course you don’t have to answer it. πŸ™‚
    Did you travel alone? How much time do you spend alone overall ?This whole story looks really lonely… you didn’t mention any friends etc. What is the story behind?
    I tend to isolate during my low times, this is why I’m asking.

    1. I did some of my trips alone, and some with friends. I deliberately didn’t include pictures of other people because I don’t really like posting pictures of people without their permission.

      When I travelled alone, it was in part because it was hard to coordinate timing with another person. I stayed in youth hostels and often in dorm rooms, so I met a lot of other travellers. I also found that I ended up spending more time to locals when I was travelling alone than when I was travelling with someone else. I liked being able to dictate my own agenda, and actually really liked travelling solo.

  9. Love that you were able to travel so much, I also love that we are in town and found some free internet so I could read one of your posts πŸ˜‰ Hope all is well, I had a dream a guinea pig was running around our tent with Cricket last night. So weird, yet very cute
    Seriously, wonderful post, thank you for sharing with us!

  10. Also, Jase takes Seroquel, holy hell the night time eating that takes place with that man is insane. He can’t do it now that we live in a tent and I don’t want to get eaten by a bear

  11. WOW!!! I had no idea you had travelled so much, and I love this opportunity to see photos of you! The beginning of your journey with depression is interesting, especially since we’re getting your hindsight commentary.

  12. I was so intrigued by this picture of Machu Picchu that I looked it up on wikipedia. The mountains are stunning and I want to walk right into the picture and go down into the ruins.

    And of course… you look extremely handsome in that picture. I will pass out. You’re gorgeous in ALL of these pictures. Quite the sunburn in Mexico dear, ouchies.

    I wonder if you’ll see this since I comment on an old post. I feel rude complimenting you so much on your blog here. But you just look so great. And it’s very nice to see all these places you’ve been as well.

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