Throughout my life, I’ve suffered from both anxiety and depression to varying degrees. I’m writing this blog with the hope to share with you some of my experiences, how I’ve learnt to overcome them, and ultimately how much travelling has helped me.
Warning: Lots of text, but I promise it should be worth the read… Or you can skip straight to the hints and tips.
I’ll start by giving a brief background of my experience with mental health. For me, it began as a teenager, probably brought on by the instability in my life. We were regularly moving home, and I was beginning to realise my sexuality. Over the years, I’ve suffered from bouts of anxiety that left me home bound, I’ve been signed off of work for months at a time with severe depression, and everything in between.
I’ve certainly gotten better at coping with my mental state. I’ve learnt that if I’m in a situation that makes my anxiety and depression flare up, I need to either remove myself from this situation or make a change to it. These situations can have a big influence, but it has often been my lack of honesty with myself that has kept me unhappy and caused my anxiety and depression to flare up.
Both in platonic and romantic relationships, I’ve always put the happiness and comfort of others over my own, to the point where I would sacrifice my life for the sake of others. I did not realise until recently how disabling this was. I would feel like I had to change myself constantly, to fit with the image/opinion I believed people had of me (The truth is, I know that nobody had these expectations, but for some reason, I would create them).
I’m not sure if this was due to the number of unhealthy relationships (both platonic and romantic) I’ve been involved in, or if it’s always been something within me. I do know for certain that the passing of my mother in 2010 was a major catalyst in the worsening of these emotions; because of a growing fear of losing more people from my life.
The change came for me when I had recently turned 30, and broken up with my then girlfriend. This, for whatever reason, sparked something in me that needed change. I had to book a round the world trip and experience more of the world.
Fast forward into my travels, I got back together with this ex and we even travelled together for a time. Ultimately, it didn’t work out for us and it we decided to not continue.
Over the course of my trip, I’ve had moments of pure happiness, where I’ve been able to engage with anyone at any level without fear or anxiety. Occasionally though, the anxiety would creep back in. I write this today because this is one of those days; I’ve just completed a tour of China with some amazing people and find myself in the Philippines in a hostel sat by myself because the social anxiety monster is well and truly back.
It comes from a fear of what people may think of me. For the first time ever, I’ve pinpointed that above anything else, it is my sexuality that drives this. How I feel this changes the way people perceive and react to me.
Although things have never been better societally, It feels like bisexuality has had a bad rap for as long as I can remember. Bi erasure is common from both Heterosexual and Homosexual people, the idea that people who are bisexual are just greedy, it’s a phase or it flat out doesn’t exist.
This for me has grown an internal biphobia that strikes fear into my heart every time I try to be myself. I’m sure you can imagine how hard it is to need to be yourself, but doubting yourself, second guessing yourself, and holding yourself back at the same time. It has been soul destroying. It’s been my biggest problem and trigger for the last 15-16 years, and if anything it’s only gotten harder to deal with as the years have gone on.
It drove me to despair to be in a relationship with a girl where I spent 3 years trying to deal with the social aspect of being myself and how it affected her. How could I, in good conscience, expose her to the social stigma of being with a bi guy? The constant questions and statements from friends, family members and anyone we met along the way? “Are you sure he’s not gay?”, “He’s going to leave you for a guy you know” and all the rest.
The first year of our relationship was dogged with people trying to influence her decision to be with me. As you can imagine, this caused a lot of distress on both her and my part. For me, travelling together only made this worse. I was constantly censoring myself from any group of people we met, hiding who I was, and generally feeling pretty shitty about myself.
I have been guilty over the years of bi erasure myself. In the past, I’ve even told people that I ‘become’ monosexual if I’m with one or the other. This is flat out untrue. Being in a relationship doesn’t remove your sexual identity, and being able to identify comfortably as bisexual whilst in a relationship has been my biggest struggle to date.
I’m now left with the internal challenge of figuring out how to integrate my true personality into friendships and relationships from day one. How to open up and not be worried of fear of incrimination. How to be me from the moment I encounter any person. And that’s not to say I’m going to carry around a sign “bisexual here” or scream it in people’s faces but allowing for the natural reveal just through conversation and not running away from the reveal if the chance arises. Which I’ve certainly spent a lot of time doing over the years. It’s not about making a big deal out of things because it’s not a big deal. The world is changing and I’m lagging behind.
Up until this point, I’ve hidden myself based on the idea that society/people in general will have major issues with my sexuality. The truth is, although bi erasure still exists and many groups don’t even know they’re doing it, people are generally more accepting than they’ve ever been.
This extends even further into travelling. Most backpackers and world travellers in general are the most open minded, forward thinking, liberal people you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet. As with anywhere, there’re outliers. But for the most part? We’re a bit of a different breed.
The realisation that people I meet along my travels have no issue with me as a person or my sexuality has been a revelation. I’m basically interacting with almost anyone I come across. Yes, the social anxiety monster reveals itself occasionally. But honestly, I’m beginning to realise it’s just one of those situations where you need to grab the bull by the horns, step out of your comfort zone.
As someone who had always felt locked-in by his anxiety, depression and sexuality, world travel was a huge step out of mine. And I can honestly tell you that it has changed everything for the better.
Hints and Tips
Time for the hints and tips! Some of these were learnt by travelling as a couple but are equally as valid for a solo traveller. Some I picked up purely from my solo exploits or tour travel.
- Put yourself in the way of people. If you struggle with making first contact some of the best places to be are where people frequent the most.
- In an evening if you’re up for drinking, sit or stand by the bar. If you feel uncomfortable striking up a conversation, someone is bound to start one with you.
- Force yourself to sit in the common area! Take your time to work up the courage to talk to someone. Even just one person can have a chain reaction.
- Sign up for all the free activities in the hostel and make sure you attend, you will definitely make friends.
- Do some paid activities too. These are just as effective, though sometimes don’t have the clientele and aren’t as chatty.
- Always take the time to accept how you’re feeling and don’t dismiss the anxiety and depression. Your feelings are valid. But, do recognise that it’s short term, and you will overcome it.
- Don’t rely on alcohol to make you more sociable! Make steps to ensure you can step out of your comfort zone without a crutch.
- When getting to a hostel for the first time, say hi to everyone in your dorm. Try to avoid using privacy curtains 100% of the time; they will give you an excuse to not engage with people.
- Recognise that you won’t get on with everyone, but you will get on with most. Move on from the ones you don’t get along with as soon as possible.
- Push through the homesickness, it will always pass no matter how bad it gets. Don’t make decisions about leaving when feeling homesick! You may regret it for the rest of your life.
- If you feel it’s the right time to reveal your sexuality, try to keep the reveal as natural as possible. Read the group mood. If they’re good people worth knowing, they won’t care.
- It’s always worth considering how you behave around others, check out my blog on hostel etiquette for more information.
What to take home…
Most of all, it’s worth remembering travelling isn’t for everyone. and you may embark on your travels and decide partway through that you’ve made a mistake – and that’s okay. It’s an expensive mistake, but you don’t have to continue if the anxiety and depression gets too much. Quitting is not a sign of weakness. Just make sure you understand the ramifications of leaving and always try your hardest to continue on and push through the discomfort. It can and will be the most rewarding experience of your life.
Travelling has taught me that social engagement with other travellers progresses fast. You get comfortable and break down barriers faster than in any other social setting. This leads to some of the most rewarding and honest relationships you’ll ever have! People will love you, and they will reinforce everything good about you.
This experience continues to be the best thing I’ve ever done for my self-esteem, my confidence, and comfort in my identity.
If you’re experiencing/have experienced any of what I’ve been through, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.