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Travel and Mental Health
This has been a shitty week. Sorry for swearing, but there’s no other way to convey my emotions here. It’s rough, and I’m still feeling overwhelmed by all the news. I know I’m not alone either, given the many beautiful reflections on my twitter and instagram feeds.
As you all know, this week Kate Spade died in a suicide in her apartment. I always loved Kate Spade’s bright and colorful fashion line, and I still cherish my first Kate Spade bag. I was crushed and confused by her unexpected death. It made me realize even more that mental illness doesn’t discriminate in terms of class or success. Heartbreaking stuff, to say the least.
And then yesterday, one of my personal heroes, Anthony Bourdain, took his own life in France. I honestly don’t even know what to say about his suicide. I watched “Parts Unknown” during some difficult times this year, because the show always rekindled my love of travel and reminded me a big world existed outside of my own troubles in New Jersey. And now… well…
CNN did a beautiful tribute last night, which I watched. I will continue to watch all Bourdain’s television work, as well as finally read his book Kitchen Confidential. I feel I owe him that much, and will never forget the impact he left on me and his countless other fans.
As I processed everything, I spent some time yesterday debating on whether or not I should write this post. Then I decided mental health is too important a topic and staying quiet is never an option.
Travel Doesn’t Cure Mental Illness.
Argh, this is a difficult point for me to write about, but the truth needs to be spoken loud and clear.
Travel is wonderful medication for self-discovery, eduction, break up recovery, and much more. I’m a much more confident person thanks to my many solo trips. Additionally, travel opens your eyes to new ideas and experiences, and travel definitely transforms you into a more well-rounded person.
However, a pervasive idea exists that travel is a “cure all” for absolutely everything that plagues a person. Honestly, this is an irresponsible and untrue sentiment to spread across the internet.
At the end of the day, travel cannot cure anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder, and other mental illnesses. It can’t.
A lot of people commented that Bourdain had “the dream job,” and while, yes, I agree his job was magical, constant travel isn’t enough to conquer a person’s mental demons. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise.
I don’t mean to sound hopeless. But, in a sense, travel is a lot like money. It’s lovely to have in your life and makes some challenges easier to beat, but at the same time, mental illness doesn’t care about passport stamps much like it doesn’t care about the balance in your bank account.
So Why Do I Blog About Travel and Mental Health?
You might be thinking “why do you blog about travel and mental health at all if travel doesn’t provide a cure? What’s the point?”
My short answer? Because there needs to be more diversity and openness about mental health in travel blogging. Period.
If you read through travel blogs and scroll instagram feeds, sometimes it feels like travel belongs to the “brave and strong and healthy” only and others “need not apply.”
Personally, I know when I first read travel blogs way back in 2011-2012, I felt as if I could never experience the world, because not only did I not want to quit my job, but I was scared to fly and nervous about being alone and wondering what others would think of me and scared of falling ill on the road (I used to have some serious hypochondria in my mid-twenties). I didn’t “fit” the image of a true traveler.
So, even if travel isn’t a cure, it’s undeniably important for those who suffer with anxiety or depression to know that they can still see the world if their hearts desire it. And I don’t think it’s spoken about enough either. My post on suggestions regarding anxiety while traveling is very popular for a reason.
Awareness needs to happen at all levels.
A Stigma Still Exists in the Travel World.
Stigma affects everyone who struggles with his or her mental health. Don’t even try to debate me on this. I’ve already read at least one comment saying Spade and Bourdain were “selfish” for ending their lives. Need I say more?
And yes, that same ignorance and stigma extends to the travel community, which is usually known for its openness.
Real talk. Sometimes I feel as if other travelers silently judge you when you don’t enjoy a trip -without them actually knowing what’s going on inside your head. There’s an idea that if you’re not loving your adventures, then you must be ungrateful or selfish or dramatic. Very untrue and damaging stereotypes.
I also can’t count the number of online posts where people expressed their loneliness in hostels only to receive responses that they weren’t trying hard enough to make new friends. Again, not the proper response.
To reiterate, travel isn’t a cure for mental illness. It isn’t. So we shouldn’t act “shocked and annoyed” when a person experiences those same struggles but in another country. So, instead of judging, show compassion and kindness, and man, do we need more thoughtfulness in our community.
What Can I Do if my Friend Suffers from Mental Illness?
I’m happy you’re reading this post, first and foremost. Your caring heart can not only boost moods, but save lives at the same time. I’m glad you’re open to learning more.
Ultimately, it’s so important to remember that your friend may be experiencing major turmoil even if s/he smiles and wears a brave face. People will go to extraordinary lengths not to worry or scare their loved ones. A lot of people have expressed their utter shock at Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s suicides. This phenomenon of “not knowing” happens every single day in less famous circles and it’s deadly.
Caring counts. Caring counts for far more than you know. Please reach out rather than speculating what’s going on with a friend. Speculation doesn’t solve problems.
You don’t need to be a mental health professional to help a friend who is struggling mentally. While you may think you don’t have qualifications, sometimes “being there” and listening is exactly what a friend needs in that given moment. Be a friend.
Educate yourself on mental illness. Read a lot.
And ask for your friend questions. More likely than not, they will not willingly give up information, so some questioning is needed to provide real help. Be kind, compassionate, and just there.
Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255.
Are you deeply struggling with the news of this week? I promise you are not alone.
For those of you who feel hopeless right now, do not suffer in silence and know we all care about you and want you with us for years to come. The Suicide Prevention Hotline is available at all hours. Call the number to reach someone. If you’d rather text and you’re based in the USA, you can text HOME to 741741 to the Crisis Text Line 24/7.
Not in the USA? Here is a list of suicide hotlines around the world.
Furthermore, if you know someone who is struggling, please reach out to them personally rather than make them call the number on their own. It’s extremely difficult for someone in a dark place to pick up the phone and receive help. Your actions mean a lot more in this situation.
Feel free to comment with anything you’d like. Your thoughts are important, and you – yourself – are very much appreciated.
RIP, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. You touched the lives of many.