How I Overcame My Depression Through the Commitment to Solo Travel
They say, travel far enough and you will find yourself. I say, commit to the journey and you will free yourself. I drove from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and found that it’s not about the distance you go, the miles you put in or the places you see. It’s about the decisions you make, the time you invest and the commitments you keep along the way that reveal you to yourself, evolve you and transform the world that you live in into something new and greater than it was before.
This, is a bit of a personal story. All the nitty gritty details aside, it really began when I became aware that I was feeling a foreigner to myself. It wasn’t obvious at first because it had happened so subtly over time, but I was waking up daily and going through the motions to literally just try to survive. I wasn’t selecting what those were, why I had choose them or how I was impacting the world I live in. I was just doing what had to be done to get to the next day so I could do it all over again. I felt dishonest to myself, to those I encountered and to the universe.
Depression isn’t something talked about or often admitted among successful, social, active, or happy people. But this elephant in the room had one day crept up, taken over and made me a product of survival. Carrying on day to day with a half honest smile that said I was happy. I wasn’t not happy but I definitely wasn’t fulfilled. This depression that I faced was the worst kind. It wasn’t the crippling kind that strips you from society. It was the kind that enables you to stay stagnate through fear and indecision.
In some ways I felt invisible. In others, like a robot, droning through the days being controlled by reactions rather than actions. This invisible, robotic repetition was kindling the need to get out. Out of the comfort zone of daily living, out of the city where I knew everything and everyone. Out of my head, my heart, and in general, just get outside.
It pushed me to load up the back of my Jeep and drive 9,000 miles coast to coast to face my fears.
There were so many fears that had taken over the driver’s seat in my life and had dictated my lack of actions for as long as I can remember. The leader of the pack were fears tied to being alone, mostly with myself. This aloneness without the distractions to work, to bills, relationships, expectations and other responsibilities would leave me to drown in solitude. To be accountable for everything and to be forced to face the thing that terrifies me most, commitment. I wasn’t certain that I was ready for this, but I knew I couldn’t continue drowning in the routine of survival.
I publicly announced plans to set out on a cross country road trip, telling everyone what I was doing. People said I was brave, some questioned why, others doubted. As the time to leave came closer, my fears strengthened, the more anxious I became. Opportunities that could keep me exactly where I was were presented and I questioned if I should leave, if I was making the wrong decisions and if I could handle facing these fears. I wasn’t sure if I could. But I knew if I didn’t then I would grow rooted in fear, attached to the lack of commitment. I knew I had to follow through with my decision to take this trip, all alone, that I could not turn back.
The depth of the reality did not come to me once I packed up my apartment to sublease while I set off on a four month sabbatical. Or even as I said see you later to my friends. It didn’t hit me as I was somewhere deep in a bottle of wine with a friend’s mom, emotions that I had been suppressing pouring out with no disregard.
This only shifted my journey as I had admitted to myself that this trip was about running away. I needed to escape. I needed space to fall apart and face the things that I had been able to suffocate with being busy, life and friends so many years leading up to this. I needed space to breathe.
I couch surfed with an archeologist in Auburn, Alabama. We hiked through the Alabama woods, saw waterfalls, went urban exploring and discovered that we had lots to discuss about perspectives, relationships and theologies.
As we parted ways, he gifted me his favorite book, with a personal note and a quote to wish me well on my way. It says,
“vinceda est omnis fotunu ferendo [all fortune may be overcome by endurance or suffering]”
This was, written directly to me, for my journey ahead. I didn’t know then, but perhaps he did.
I crossed states on isolated county roads. Made stops along the way, putting on a game face for the people I encountered along the way, but was anxious to make it to my parent’s house I grew up in. I projected feelings and revealed fears to my family, forced smiles and conversation to pass the time. Somewhere between the encounter with the architect in Alabama and my home town I realized that deep down all I wanted was what I feared most, to be alone.
I spent the next few weeks crying. Purging. Digging until I was left alone, with the rawness of myself and scared shitless because I had nothing to cover it up. No job, no friends, no distractions. Nothing to keep me busy. I was sad about failures in relationships that had passed, about the lack of relationship with my mom, confused about my life’s purpose. Too far from my friends, too close to my family. I felt homeless. Not because I didn’t have a roof to lay my head under, but because I didn’t have anywhere that I felt like was home.
I was alone mentally, emotionally.
An aloneness that left me exposed to admit to myself that I was clueless in my pursuits to prove that I could do it on my own. Admitting this left me uneasy. Anxious that something bad would happen leaving behind the I told you so’s from those who questioned my decision. Disappointments from the few who were looking to me with stars in their eyes, the ones that thought I was brave. It wasn’t bravery, but fear that was steering the wheel.
Afraid or not, I had no other choice but to go forward. There I was again, left with my biggest fear, commitment.
I faked that I was confident in my ability to be on this road trip alone, to be outside, alone. The next day I made my dad go to the sporting goods store to buy camping essentials and saw the distress in his face, but pretended it was all okay. I read articles on bears, the desert, snakes and spiders. We sat in a Mexican food restaurant and he gave me a hundred dollar bill out of his secret stash. I laughed it off telling him I would be okay and teared up because I needed him to tell me what I hadn’t found the answers to yet, but he couldn’t. No one could.
So, I packed my bags declaring my last days at my my parent’s home. My younger brother stopped by to say goodbye, questioning me,
What are you doing? Why are you doing this? What are you trying to prove?
I didn’t know. But I did know that I had to follow through with my commitment to be alone, outdoors to see what answers I could find. At this point, I had no other choice.
I drove. And drove. And drove.
My driving was long, endless. I drove with a destination in mind. With a timeline to meet. Minutes and days passed and I drove without a destination, a plan or someone waiting for me to arrive. I got lost on purpose, took sketchy roads through small towns and the longest routes.
Everyday, I woke up with two options: turn back or keep going.
Everyday, I kept going.
I looked at paper maps, booked a hotel or couch surfed when I needed, slept in my tent or in the back of the jeep when I didn’t. I became completely aware of everything and everyone because I had no choice but to be.
I got good at talking to strangers. Made for the moment friendships, some that were deeper than ones built on months and years of interactions. I slept when I was tired, ate when I was hungry, listened to music that moved my soul and stared at the starry night’s sky every night until my heavy eyelids shut. I watched the sun rise and set and expanded my comfort zone daily. I started to say yes more and question my no less. I feared the dark less and thought less about the what if’s of the unknown.
The only thing that became relevant somewhere along the way was how much more could I take in.
I spent time in new places with an eclectic range of people. A slightly cultish couple that owned a bed and breakfast in a little mountain town. Park rangers, coffee shop baristas and conspiracy theorist living off the grid. Rafting guides, gas station owners, rock climbers and hikers. Bikers, engineers and mountain men. Each one with their own stories, each one with something to give me that I wasn’t expecting to receive.
I emerged into their daily life, sharing differences in perspectives. Our pain, fears, insecurities and dreams for ourselves and the world. I laughed a lot and allowed myself to be who I was in that moment, to just be me. Not the version of me that I thought someone needed or expected to see.
Through these moments, I realized the things I believed, the impact I made on these people in the moments we shared and what I learned about how I impacted the world were the only things that really mattered. These people and these experiences transitioned my depression and my fears into peace. I had reconnected with myself. I was in control, I was happy.
Within travel, you find some happiness as you get to escape, to live a life and be a person you choose to be temporarily. The challenge comes when it’s time to go back to your daily, being able to take the person you discovered on your journey home with you and continue living your everyday life with the same happiness that this escape brought to you.
I stayed a week in Southern Utah, the most emerged into the outdoors that I had been ever. I hiked five straight days through National Parks. I camped next to a creek.
It was here that I left my biggest fear.
That I discovered that this fear all along was not about commitment in general. But about commitment to myself, my decisions, my happiness and to the patience that is needed to endure the process of change.
This realization lead me back to where I left my heart a few years past, the west coast.
Here, I reconnected with great girlfriends and old social habits and felt for the first time in a really long time, like myself. The days of my road trip came to an end and I knew this would be my last days of freedom from everyday norms. Tears filled my eyelids, portraying a multitude of emotions. I had accomplished more than I set out to do. More than I had known that I would be able to. More than I knew I needed.
Life would never be the same.
A year has passed and the routines of day to day survival have resurfaced to take precedent over passions most days. The thing that gets me through the days that are long, the moments that are tough and the responsibilities that are unideal is the fact that I conquered my biggest fear.
Through this, I learned how much impact the willingness to get out of your comfort zone can have. It took me a while to find myself, to find my voice and my inspiration for the impact I want to make on the world. Mainly because I sought to listen to other’s needs. The need to define the what, the how much and the what if.
These questions have shadowed my only purpose, the why, the actions that follow this answer and the lives changed because of these commitments made.
After driving thousands of miles, hiking, camping, climbing and emerging into living a way I had never before, I was left to look deeper. Looking deeper lead to searching. Searching lead to the discovery of myself and the dismissal of my depression by becoming aware of the things outside of me. The more things I did, the less they became things or just time passed but experiences created. I have learned to feel through memories, even when current times don’t allow for me to make new ones.
I don’t think that you need to pack your car and drive across the country to prove that you can commit. That you have to travel or do something adventurous to set yourself free. Or that you need to completely change your day to day to find yourself.
What I do believe is that it’s a moral responsibility to own up to the life you are living. Not just existing, but experiencing, thriving, transforming daily for yourself and those you love. To create a better way, a better place and a higher standard within a community. That you have the option to create a better you and make the world a better place through this.
It’s easy to be comfortable. To be content and complacent. But easy is not where magic is made. It’s not where lives are transformed, where people are inspired or where creation is born. For me, complacency was driven by fear.
I have grown an irreplaceable relationship with the outdoors because this is where I learned to commit. This is where I am reminded that the work is worth the reward.
I discovered my why in the driver’s seat of my Jeep, collecting miles, creating memories and overcoming things that had at some point seemed unreachable.
A friend asked me, “What has changed about you that wasn’t a part of you?” I’d say, knowing that persistence strengthens patience. Patience leads to changes. Changes within you, with in the environment you’re surrounded by and within the world.
Want the world to change? It starts with the commitment to being uncomfortable, to facing your fears. It starts with changing you.