How to Travel With Depression and Borderline Personality Disorder

Depression is my least favorite travel companion. She’s the kind you never really invited to come along with you, but she heard about your plans and took it upon herself to come. She never wants to go out exploring and she hates the idea of making friends with strangers. She wants to lie in bed all day and complain about how unfriendly everyone is and that no one likes her. She is desperate to get drunk but then spends the whole night crying about how ugly and unwanted she is. Depression likes to sleep for 12 hours a night and then take a two-hour nap every day. She doesn’t care if you had plans; she would rather just hide away from the world. She’s overwhelmingly clingy and doesn’t like to let you out of her sight.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is an out-of-control travel companion — the kind you wouldn’t mind on a boozy bender in a European city, but would never dream of taking on a long-term trip. She is impulsive to a T and is constantly on the lookout for alcohol and drugs, no matter how much you tell her you’re clean and mostly sober now. She seems to conveniently forget that the comedown from drugs makes her hyper-suicidal, and is adamant she needs to have the best time possible and not waste her youth. BPD is hyper-paranoid and obsessive about the fact that everyone back home, especially her boyfriend, must have forgotten about and stopped caring about her by now. She’s incredibly emotional and overall exhausting to be around for extended periods of time.

So what can you do when depression and BPD decide to invite themselves along on your travels? You can’t just ask them to leave. Mental illness is a constant for me and so I’ve had to learn to adapt. I’m not prepared to let anything hold me back from exploring the world, I’ve just had to adjust the way I travel.

1. Build support networks on the road.

It can be really difficult to be away from your therapist, loved ones and close friends when you are living with chronic mental illness. Depression likes to tell me to isolate myself, but this only makes things worse for me and doesn’t allow me to see the things I want to see. I’ve found that using sites like CouchSurfing can be really beneficial, as it allows you to stay in a family-style environment and constantly be supported and included in activities. I had a really positive CouchSurfing experience with a couple in Argentina and found my depression was definitely less prominent in the time I was staying with them. Another option is taking study tours overseas, as I have done in both Vietnam and Argentina. Although this is not an option for everyone, it gives you a steady community of people to interact with and form relationships with over a period of a few weeks. I’ve found combining a study tour with independent travel gives a really nice balance.

2. Be strict with substances to consume and avoid.

BPD makes me extremely volatile and self-destructive, and therefore drugs and binge drinking are a big no-no for me. It can be really difficult to socialize in the substance-heavy environment of hostels, but I have picked up a few tricks to make it easier. I tend to have one or two drinks in a night and sometimes I pretend to drink and put my drink back down. I have felt peer pressure to drink in some social situations, but I find I can usually trick people into thinking I am drinking more than what I am. In terms of substances to consume, I have to be strict about taking my antidepressants at the same time every day. If I forget to take them for a few hours, I begin to experience intense nausea that knocks me flat on my back. It can be difficult to establish a routine while traveling, but it is so important for medications.

3. Take rest days and travel slowly.

The nature of depression, in particular, is that you spend whole days doing nothing. Depression sits so heavy in my body and makes me feel exhausted, so I often need to have rest days or only do one activity in a day. If I was jumping between places every couple of days, this would both make me more exhausted and also mean I miss out on so many things I would like to do. My general rule is to dedicate at least five days in one place, if not longer.

4. Have contingency plans.

Living with BPD means my behavior is sometimes erratic and out of control. Sometimes I feel I am genuinely a danger to myself, and there are steps I need to take to make myself safe if I lose complete control. My psychologist asked me to write down details of emergency departments in cities in case I needed to take myself there on suicide watch. I also cut the length of my trip from six months to 10 weeks because I was at a pretty unstable point in my life. It’s really important to know what you are going to do if things go south quickly.

It’s not possible to travel in the exactly the same way as people without mental illness do, without compromising your own sanity. However, that doesn’t mean travel is unattainable or unenjoyable. Solo travel has hugely improved my self-confidence and assertiveness in the face of adversity. Having to deal with my mental illness more on my own has made me feel more in control of it and not as suffocated by my depression and BPD. It may still be many years before I can consider myself in remission from my mental illnesses, but I intend to travel as much as possible as I can in my life and not let it hold me back.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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