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Therapy by Exile - Stories from a Reluctant Traveller
Posted by spooks
28th May 2014

For my money, international travel doesnít suit the depressed and anxious. Like me, a lot of people who suffer from depression feel far more comfortable in familiar surroundings, where security and privacy provide solitude and comfort for low mood and unforeseen tumbles into depressive episodes. Iíve always wanted to be an adventurer, someone who can go to exotic countries, immerse themselves in local cultures, and get lost in the rich variety of human civilisation. Iím quite well-travelled Ė Iíve been to India backpacking for 2 months, Cambodia to work for 8 months, and am currently living in Tanzania for a total of 9 months.

Unlike many people who travel so much though, Iím not realising a lifelong dream, nor am I constantly enthralled and excited by this other world. I spend a lot of my time scared and anxious, depressed and lethargic, and wishing I was back home. Why have I kept coming back for more? Because I was so convinced that travelling was what everyone should do, and that I should be the adventurous type. At no point did it occur to me that people who travel travel because they like to, and not because they feel obligated to. Nor did it occur to be that travelling naturally suits some people and not others, and that those who arenít suited to it donít lack some essential part of their character. Maybe, even, those who arenít suited to travelling have strengths which those who do, lack.

Itís taken a long, long time and a lot of travelling for me to realise that.

Attempting to build a career in international politics has meant spending the last 2 years in the Cambodia and now Tanzania. It sounds crazy, I must have learnt so much right?! Well, sort of. I have been working for NGOs in these countries, hoping that this unique experience would impress an employer like the Foreign Office. But deep down, I think Iíve always known that travelling to third world countries just is not for me.

The anonymity of this blog is the only place Iíd ever admit this, such is the pressure I feel to stand out amongst my peers. Every time I travel to one of these countries, a countdown clock begins in my head, counting down until the day I fly back to England. I find living here incredibly stressful. If living in England with anxiety and depression is difficult, with all the comforts and privacy available to me there, then of course coming to a third world country would be hard. It sometimes feels like endurance.

I suppose, if nothing else, itís taught me a valuable lesson: stop pretending to be someone youíre not. Accept your weaknesses, but embrace your strengths, and play to them. If youíre lucky, you may even discover what you want in life, and that it is attainable.

Thatís not to say I hate it here in Tanzania, just that I know Iím not well suited to it. There have been some incredible experiences and I am in the process of forming important relationships; these things are inevitable whenever you travel or make big steps into the unknown, which are inevitable even for someone whoís regularly depressed, like me. Because Iím so much more vulnerable to low mood than normal, Iíve been forced to become more resilient to it, and in doing so, Iíve become more acquainted with myself, my limits, and what I need to be happy.

Iíve been here for 5 months, and Iíve got 4 to go. Iím proud of myself for coming so far. There have been days where I have wanted to go home more than anything else. Such is the wonder of modern technology, I know that if I really wanted, I could be home within the week. And I hate to admit this, but I am historically a quitter, and so itís been really important to me not to leave Tanzania and run home, but to stick it out. For my perseverance, Iíve been rewarded with meaningful and insightful friendships, the chance to experience one of the worldís most beautiful countries, valuable work experience, and a better understanding of myself.

Once I return to England, Iíll never regret my decision to go and live in Tanzania for 9 months, but Iíll never want to go back.

This blog will serve as an insight into my day-to-day experiences in Tanzania, as well as some personal history, stories, and lessons Iíve learnt from 9 years of depression.

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