A note from present-day Ally:
I originally wrote this post during the summer of 2017, while living in Italy. I never finished the post or shared it publicly. Now, more than 3 years later, I want to use this post as a segue into a new chapter of my blog. I might not be traveling “all over the place” anymore, but my mind tends to still be moving a mile a minute. I’ll still be talking about travel, when it happens, but mostly, this blog will be about dealing with mental illness on top of daily life. It will often be about work, grad school, and my dog. It will be about bad dates, relationships, friendships, and family drama. It will be about all the small things that make life so crazy and so great. As always, I can’t promise I will update often (which should be pretty obvious by now…), but my goal is to continue to use this outlet as a way to express myself.
Last year, via Instagram, I made a promise to love myself again. This is all part of that journey.
(Content warning: depression, anxiety)
Ciao a tutti!
Another couple of months have passed since my last post and it is officially summer here in Angiari, Italy. And even though I am slowly turning into a puddle of sweat as I type this, I am very committed to serving you mediocre blog posts about my life, on a nowhere near regular basis, no matter how hot it is. No need to thank me. I peel my sweaty thighs off of chairs one at a time, just like everyone else.
But it’s not just the humid weather that is making my hands so clammy that I have to wipe them off with a towel every few minutes. I guess I’m really just nervous, because in this post I’ll be addressing something a little more personal than usual, something that I’ve never publicly shared before. At least, not like this, not for the entire world to see. For the past several months, I’ve been wrestling with how to approach a blog post that deals with depression and anxiety. How do I make it personal, but also relatable? How do I avoid somehow offending my family and friends? How do I say what I want to say without appearing whiny or ungrateful?
Until recently, I didn’t know if I actually wanted to post something like this publicly or simply keep it to myself as something to reflect on. I’ve finally convinced myself that I just need to rip off the bandage.
After all, I did promise in my first post that I’d be able to share with you what it is like to travel with depression and anxiety. Yet, until now, I have avoided the topic almost entirely. As someone who aspires to be a psychologist one day, I really should know better than to feel ashamed or embarrassed about any kind of mental illness. I can’t preach “#FightTheStigma” to my peers on social media if I’m afraid to talk about my own experiences. But the truth is, I am ashamed.
I have no issue writing to you all about ADHD because, in many ways, I have “made peace” with the disorder. It took me about 15 years, but I no longer beat myself up over symptoms that I cannot control. I am no longer ashamed to take my medicine. I am who I am because of my ADHD. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to feel the same way about my depression and anxiety.
Before I go any further, I should probably give you a little background information about my disorders. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder when I was sixteen-years-old. If I’m honest, I wasn’t necessarily shocked by this diagnosis. Even as a child, there would be nights that I would cry myself to sleep, simply because I felt like I was disappointing my family. I have found diary entries (if you can even call them that) from when I was very young, in which I would write over and over again that I hated myself and that everyone else hated me too. I wrote about not looking in the mirror when I washed my hands at school because I hated what I saw. I wrote about wanting to run away because I didn’t deserve to keep living at home. This is where things get tricky. It’s hard to explain why on earth I would feel all these emotions at such a young age. I know for a fact that I had a great childhood. I had friends and parents who loved me. I was well taken care of. I was supported.
But that’s the thing about depression, sometimes you just can’t explain it.
As I got older, my desire to run away was replaced by a desire to fall asleep and never wake up. I now know that this is not a “normal” thing for a young girl to be thinking, but at the time, I thought everyone felt the way I did. Who could love their life so much that they wanted to be alive all the time? It wasn’t until my high school noticed something was wrong that I finally was forced to ask for help. I started seeing a therapist and taking medication. For the most part, it all really helped. The medication had a few side effects, of course, but I was finally taking care of myself.
It wasn’t until the weeks leading up to my first year of college that, for some reason, I started to feel embarrassed about it all. Why did I have to take medicine to feel “normal?” Couldn’t I succeed without therapy and pills? The shame and embarrassment that I associated with taking antidepressants and going to a shrink eventually caused me to stop treating my depression and anxiety entirely. I told myself that I could handle college “just like everyone else.” Instead of running away from home, like I wanted so badly to do as a child, I decided to run away from my depression.
Five years later, I am now 23. My depression and anxiety still go untreated. I have my good days and I have my really, really bad days. While I am embarrassed for people to see this side of me, I think it is important that I share what it is like to live with untreated mental illnesses.
For those of you who are already bored with this blog, here is the TLDR: you cannot run away from your depression. You can’t just pack up your bags and leave your anxiety at home. Mental illness doesn’t disappear just because you buy a plane ticket.
For the rest of you, my goal in telling my story is not for you to feel bad for me. A lot of people are affected by mental illness and I am in no way special. I am telling my story because maybe there is someone out there who needs to hear it. Maybe they are afraid of getting help or too embarrassed to seek treatment. Maybe they feel like they need to run away. If that’s the case, I’m here to share one thing: Travel doesn’t cure depression.