When I found out that Millie of MillieGoes battles the very same mental demons as I do, I thought it would be far more interesting for us to discuss them rather than to simply give her interview questions. So here you have it, world – the honest truth from two chicks traveling the world while battling depression and anxiety.
First off, can you just introduce yourself, and give us a bit of background into both your travels and the mental illnesses that you suffer from?
Sure! I’m Millie from MillieGoes travel blog, and have been travelling as much as I can since I was 19 to far flung destinations abroad. Before then, I’d been suffering on and off with depression and anxiety. For a girl with so much going for me, it was hard for people to understand I guess, and even harder for my parents to deal with. I took huge amounts of time off from school, being too scared to leave the house at times, was on an array of pills to try to ease the nerves, and saw a psychiatrist on a regular basis. From there to where I am now? You wouldn’t be able to tell I was the same person – travelling really did save me I think!
I can tell we are going to have a lot in common; as you know I battle the same things, the lovely depression and anxiety, and though they still spring up at times, I often say travel saved me from them too. Actually that’s why I left in the first place – I was so insanely depressed that leaving was at least hopeful, whereas staying was definitely not a good plan. Were you in a similar place when you left, and were you as freakin’ terrified as I was of leaving while in that mindset?
I was absolutely terrified of going away, but I think deep down I knew I had to do something and make a change. I’d been just ‘surviving’ for years, not really all that happy but trying to pretend I was, and hoping that I’d just fit in one day. I didn’t think I’d love it as much as I did though! Within a couple of weeks of leaving, I was able to stop taking pills altogether. I’d finally found a group of people that I could fit in with, who accepted me and didn’t care that I was ‘damaged goods’ as some people believed I was. The idea of leaving when you’re not in a good place is awful, but I think if I hadn’t gone it would have gotten worse and worse. I would have just accepted that life was going to be grey forever, whereas now it’s a fucking rainbow (sorry to sound super cheesy, but it’s true).
Of course, I still get times where I feel low but that seems to only ever be when I’m home saving for the next trip of if I’m back in a negative environment. As you travel much more full time than me (at the moment, hopefully I’ll be off for good soon), do you find that you still experience the ups and downs?
Yeah, it definitely still has its ups and downs! At first I had almost exactly the same experience as you; I was off my anti-depressants within a couple of weeks of beginning to travel for good (over three years ago now!) I mean I have gotten many ups and downs over the years, and I still battle the anxiety on and off, but I more or less staved off the depression for nearly three years. Then a few months ago it started coming back, which I’m now having to deal with and figure out what needs to be changed. Quite honestly I highly suspect I’ve sort of isolated myself in this little bubble of long term traveler‘s syndrome, so I’m not meeting as many people, not putting myself out there as much, and as a result I’m lonely and, well, depressed.
I also no longer identify anywhere as home, which makes it hard, but then again, if you’re saying being home saving is when you feel the worst, maybe being homeless isn’t so bad – who knows! How long is the longest you’ve been away at a time anyways, just out of curiosity?
I can definitely see what you mean! To not have a base for so long would make you feel unsettled at times, and when you’re travelling for so long on your own you would get fed up of meeting people along the way, only for them to pick up and go back to ‘normal life’. The longest I’ve gone away from green old England is 4 months in one go, unfortunately the budget always gets in the way. It was nice to be home for about a week and then my feet started itching again!
Oh dude, I know what you mean. I visited Edmonton, where I’m from in Canada, once since I left, but a week was good enough before I needed to get out of there! And for me also it was the people I was seeing, not the place. I think that’s honestly the hardest part with my depression – never having my support network near me, and at this point they’re so scattered throughout the world, I could never go any one place to find them all. And that’s terrifying. Then again, I live the life of my dreams, so you know, there’s that! Anyways, what do you think it is about traveling that helped you overcome your depression and anxiety? I think for me it was just a general freedom, but I never could put my finger on exactly what it was that helps so much.
I think on the whole for me it was the fact that I was finally accepted. Sure, at home I had some great friends and family who loved me the way I am, but there was a huge network of people who just didn’t get me. I was different, and different isn’t generally accepted in society these days! The people I met on the road were just the same as me, not quite found their place in the world yet or were simply settled knowing that they live on the go. I’d finally found my place. That made an unbelievable difference to my shattered confidence, and in turn started helping me close the door to the sinking black hole feeling that anxiety brings. I met people who were in the same situations as me, feeling alone and wanting to escape by taking to travel. It finally felt like I’d found where I belong, I’d found my ‘cliché’ that had never been there before.
Another huge part of it for me was getting over a lot of my issues about men. I don’t want to go too into this, but I’d had some serious problems a few years ago with one man in particular, and I hadn’t been able to get over it no matter how much help and support I tried to get. When you’re travelling on a budget, you generally have to share dorm rooms with guys (although girls, they generally do have female only dorms if you need them so don’t stress, I just never booked more than a day or two in advance so they didn’t have space). This meant that I had to get over my fear of being in a room alone with guys. It sounds stupid, that a girl could be scared of just being in a room alone with men; they’re 50% of the population, but I really was. I didn’t trust any of them! I took time – it wasn’t like my other fears where I could simply smash them (scared of heights, dive out of a plane, scared of being out of control, grade 5 white water rafting, etc.) But slowly it got easier and I could finally relax, even laugh about it.
You make such a good point – doing the things that scare you is how to overcome them (and I probably should try and get out there more and deal with meeting all the short term travelers in the hopes of finding just one gem, because you always find them eventually!) What about at the beginning, in terms of sharing rooms with guys, how did you deal with that since you were terrified of the thought initially? I sometimes have a hard time getting out to meet new people because I get so anxious about it, so I’d love to know more about how you dealt with similar (yet very different) fears.
I’d always try to have a friendly face; there is normally someone who will talk to anyone and that would put me at ease! I’d also stay in the biggest dorm possible – the more people staying in the room, the smaller the chance of me being alone with a guy. I’d also join mini day trips with groups; they can sometimes be really bizarre, but it’s a really great way to easily meet others without it feeling so forced. You’ve got a common ground in the fact that you’re doing the same activity so can start a conversation and build it from there instead of just jumping in awkwardly.
With meeting people on the road to travel with, I think it’s the same with dating. The ‘you’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs to find the prince’ saying applies, but without the kissing (unless they’re really special of course!)
I love it, and I think you’re so right! And then when you do find the special people you really connect with, you REALLY connect with them. It definitely makes all the bullshit worthwhile, though I often forget that. So do you ever find your depression and anxiety coming back while you’re on the road, or just at home? And if so, what do you do when it rears its ugly head again, whether the depression or the anxiety? I had a recent heavy battle with depression (which is still going on, but less than it was, as I got on some anti-depressants and they help for the time being) so I’m curious how you deal with it on the road. For me, getting through this recent battle was made possible by the people I was around at the time – my aunt and then a close friend, who knew my battles, empathized with them, and took care of me. Now I’m more on my feet but still pretty wobbly!
Exactly! I have friends around the world who I’m closer to than some I’ve known my whole life. The bond you make is so powerful; I have no idea if it’s because you all know that you’ve got to make friends fast before you move on again, or if it’s because everything is just so perfect at the time you feel you can trust easier. You have the same experience and it brings you together, be that jumping off a bungee platform tied together because you’re both so scared, or enjoying that perfect sunset with a beer; you know that memory will stay with you forever, so the person who you shared it with should be in your life forever too, building that bond.
I don’t like to admit it to friends and family but yeah, I do get the feeling that it’s coming back at times. I’ve also recently been struggling with depression coming back, and it always seems to go hand in hand with anxiety. I’ve found that meditation really helps me. If I do it before bed and in the morning it helps me refocus, but I know it doesn’t work for everyone. Reconnecting with people who I’ve met along the way has been helping as it reminds me of how good life can get, and gives me hope that I’ll find that ‘nirvana’ moment again.
On the road I’ve found it helps to move on if I’m not happy in one place, even if it’s to a different accommodation or something in the same town, mixing up the scenery really helps. I’ve asked for a transfer at work right now to a different city in the UK which I’m hoping will help me this time. It’s not too bad yet, but a couple times in the last month or so I’ve had the niggle that something isn’t right which scares me. I’ve come to realise that being happy isn’t just everything being perfect all the time, it’s much more like stringing together a million moments so that when life throws crap my way, I can remember what I’m really living for. If I repeat that to myself over and over it can bring me back, so to speak.
God we really do have a ton in common. I know the fear you talk about all too well – it’s why I got back on meds because I couldn’t make it go away by myself (though sometimes I am able to, it’s a whole case to case basis kind of thing for me I think). Oftentimes though, I think depression and anxiety have made me the strong person I am, even though I hate them. I wonder if I’d even be me if there was some magical procedure to remove them altogether. What about you – do you think your mental issues have made you stronger, and how?
I’d never be as strong or as positive as I am now if I hadn’t struggled in the past. I can understand my emotions much better, and the emotions of people around me too. I am who I am today in spite of the mental illnesses AND thanks to them. I can laugh at those who don’t accept me as I am and, on the whole, deal with tough situations a million times better than before. It’s the whole ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ saying I guess, but it really is true.
Absolutely agreed! So what advice would you give to others out there like us – who battle depression and anxiety, and are dying to get out there and travel, but terrified their mental illnesses will get in the way?
You can travel. The first day will be tough but you have options – you can travel but still not be too far away from your support! My first trip was to mainland Europe so I could head back if I needed to within a few hours. You can also join a tour, I know that these are all hyped up by many travel bloggers, but certain companies run them so well and they’re built for nervous first time travelers! The key thing to remember is that you can always go home if you need to, if it’s not for you or becomes too much.
Definitely good advice! I’m the crazy person who jumped off the deep end and went to the other side of the world right off the bat, but that’s certainly not for everyone! Any final thoughts?
You know yourself, and deep down you’ll know what’s right for you. Follow your instincts and if it leads you to the other side of the world, you’re on the right track! Happiness doesn’t find you anymore, you have to go out there, shake the world and scream that you want it so badly the universe has no choice but to give it to you – the hardest thing you’ll ever do if you suffer like us!
I love it, perfect place to end off. Thanks so much again for this chat!
Awesome, sounds great! Also if you ever need anyone to chat with just let me know! We can always FaceTime as it helps to talk to someone who understands. I think you and I are in a pretty niche group of people who have seriously suffered in the past and have dedicated our lives to travel!
A huge thank you to Millie for chatting with me about depression and anxiety; I truly believe it’s important for us to be more vocal about our own battles in order to help others with theirs. You can follow Millie’s adventures over at her blog, MillieGoes, or on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
If you’d like to be my next interviewee, contact me for more details!
And be sure to check out more interviews with people who don’t let anything hold them back – click here!