I really appreciated the warm, supportive responses to yesterday’s post on loneliness and depression. Let’s have something a bit more constructive on this topic, in case some future solo traveller stumbles across this blog while she’s dealing with these issues.
Most of this is really basic, textbook advice, but these are the things I do that really help me. It comes down to recognizing that the depression is there, and making a commitment to take care of myself. I might wallow for a day or so at times, but I know that’s a downward spiral. My ‘inner parent’ has to kick and nurture me in healthy ways to keep my head above water.
I want to add that I’m very lucky that my depression is manageable. If I take good care of myself, I can take the edge off enough to function, or even get through it to the other side and start enjoying my life again. I know it’s not that easy for everyone.
My personal biological clock wants to go to sleep between 1:00 and 2:00am and get up around 9 or 10. So I set an alarm for 8:30 and snooze until 9 most mornings. Without that alarm, I can sense that I would gradually start sleeping until noon or even later, and staying awake all night. There’s nothing to stop my schedule from getting hopelessly out of whack, and becoming nocturnal would make me even more isolated.
I’m lucky that I really like healthy foods, but when I sense the depression coming in, I make even more of an effort to avoid junk and seek out vegetables, salads and soups. I’m prone to dehydration, for some reason, so I drink water with all my meals. Once in a while I treat myself to a big fat binge on comfort foods like mashed potatoes, chips or chocolate, or a soda, but I resist letting those foods come into my daily routine.
Exercise and sunshine
Sometimes it’s hard to want to go out, and with a few groceries tucked away it would be possible not to leave the house. But the point of the journey is to see things. I make a point of going out every day, at least for a walk. If there are windows, I open them. If there’s a rooftop terrace, I use it. I’m a big believer in vitamin D and sunlight. My worst depressions come when the sun disappears for weeks.
I find myself joking a lot about ‘needing’ a drink when I’m feeling down, but in truth I usually avoid alcohol during these times. Alcoholism runs in my family, so although i like to drink, the impulse to manage my emotions with alcohol has always frightened me. Sometimes I slip up on this one, and it’s always a mess. Drunk and depressed is not a happy place to be, trust me.
Easing up my expectations
Working alone is the hardest thing during depression. Staying focused long enough to get anything done is nearly impossible some days. When that’s the case, I pretty much let myself off the hook. I push through whatever is on deadline that day and if nothing else gets done, so be it. I will work on my other projects another time.
Getting a kitchen
I like the city I’m in at the moment very much, but I’ve decided to move on in a few days. Mostly because I don’t have access to a kitchen here, and I can’t find a good deal on an apartment. Shopping gets me out of the house, and I enjoy cooking. I’m comfortable eating alone in restaurants, I don’t feel self-conscious about it, but it does start to feel dreary after a while. Shopping and cooking are much more engaging and creative, and help me structure my days.
Skype, FB, e-mail, chat
I stay connected with people. For me, it’s super helpful.
I write in a journal every morning, and sometimes throughout the day. It’s not quite the same as sharing my thoughts with someone else, but it helps me to stop thinking in circles and get focused.
In yoga, we strive to keep the ‘beginner mind,’ to remain present. It’s difficult sometimes to continuously look around and think “Wow, look where I am!” after a year of being in awesome places. I have to remember to do it. I have to remember to look up from my work and notice that I’m in a riad in Morocco, or to look up while I’m hiking and really see the scenery as if it were my first time hiking in the mountains. But it always helps when I can remember to do it, and it becomes a habit.
Things to look forward to
I always need something to look forward to. Sometimes, when I’m feeling down, I look at pictures of the destination I’m going to next, or places I plan on visiting soon. Or I look at what’s available close to me and plan some hikes and outings for the week. This also keeps some variety in my life, otherwise I tend to work all day and walk to the same restaurants and shops every day. Which is comforting but not very engaging.
I’m approaching menopause (I hope!) and I feel like my emotions are much more impacted by my hormonal cycles than I used to be. I can’t control those hormones, but when I know I’m in those critical days right before a period, it helps to be aware that my emotions might be extra intense, and this, too, shall pass,
I believe that our emotions are physical manifestations of our thoughts. Our thoughts about a situation impact our emotional reality profoundly. For instance, imagine two people stuck in a rush hour traffic jam. One person is thinking “oh, this is horrible, look at this, what is THAT guy doing, I want to go home” and is miserable and angry. But in the car next to him, enduring the same conditions, is a man who is thinking “Yup, here’s the traffic jam, just like pretty much every night. I expected this.” and he is calmly listening to a book on tape, or singing along with the radio, and munching on almonds. You really do get to choose which man to be. It’s difficult to control your negative thoughts, but ultimately, you’re the only one who can. I suggest you start by asking yourself “IF I wanted to look at this situation/hostel/town/day through rose colored glasses, what could I say about it that would be positive?”
I have a Skype therapist I really respect. His work is all cognitive-behavioral therapy, so he helps me identify thought patterns that aren’t serving me (mistaken assumptions, mostly) and work through them. I don’t always have the privacy I need for Skype sessions, or the solid internet connection, but when I can work with him, it’s super helpful.