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What to Know About Backpacking With Bipolar Disorder


Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

Traveling with bipolar disorder can be difficult — not unattainable, but difficult.

Traveling with bipolar disorder can also be frightening. Planning the trip, financing, packing, traveling and arriving can all be hurdles. During the lows of depression, it can be challenging to find purpose and rationalizing why the trip can be beneficial. During manic episodes, it can create chaotic overthinking and potentially making rash decisions.

I have personally planned two different month-long backpacking trips to foreign countries during my manic phase. You’d think I would learn from the first trip, how spur-of-the-moment decisions can be dangerous, but in the end, I was proud of myself for conquering the obstacles that stood in my way. Don’t get me wrong; it can be exhausting and draining at points. It can be challenging to find the silver lining during the ups and downs. I found myself both times being consumed with sadness and sorrow when I knew I should be happy to be experiencing new cultures and exploring new places.

During my first backpacking trip, I caught myself being bedridden by my depression on multiple occasions, unable to break out of the cloud of darkness that loomed over me. I found myself not enjoying the world around me and experiencing all the trip had to offer. I had planned my trip during a manic phase in my life and traveled during my depression. Although there are many aspects I would go back and change, I am grateful for my accomplishments.

I did my first trip solo and my second one with another person. Both times, I had a reoccurring sense of isolation whether I was alone or not. I couldn’t help the emotions I was feeling and often it affected my trip in many ways.

I regret not living life to its fullest in the moment and taking in all it had to offer. However, I am proud of how I, for the most part, reacted to the cards I was dealt. I may have made some mistakes and overreacted to uncontrollable situations. I may have had breakdowns, anxiety attacks and outbursts of rage. Fear may have consumed me when I felt like I had no power over certain circumstances. I also had moments I was feeling down when I knew I shouldn’t. I just had to continue reminding myself of my bravery, resilience and courage.

There were moments I had bursts of inconsolable sobbing, explosions of anger, second-guessing my decisions and lack of motivation during my discontent because depression is debilitating. Depression is suffocating, distracting, impatient, relentless, isolating and haunting. There is this feeling of being hopeless and helpless with no sense of control — a pain no amount of sleep can cure. The emotions I felt were unstoppable and unpredictable.

I was told to “go with the flow” on multiple occasions. Living with bipolar is harder than just going with the flow; it takes self-dedication and perseverance to do just about anything, travel included.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It can be difficult to look on the positive side, even if it is right in front of you. It’s about taking it one day at a time and trying your hardest to make the outcome you are striving for happen. Some days it won’t work out, but you have to take the good and the bad and realize you are only human. Through traveling, I have learned it’s about conquering fears, stepping out of your comfort zone, progressing and learning from lessons you wouldn’t normally encounter.

There were times while manic that my brain was going nonstop, overanalyzing situations and creating elaborate out-of-reach plans and expectations. It’s hard to be calm and collected when your thoughts are running at a thousand miles per hour and you can’t even think straight, whether in a manic or depressed state.

One aspect that scared me was taking my medication. Should I take it with me? Should I not take it? Will it help me conquer the world or hinder me? Will it bring me more trouble than good, going through customs with that much medicine? But overall, it is important to stay up on medication while traveling.

During my first trip, I thought it was best to not bring my medication. My ups and downs were vicious and ranged from one extreme to the other. I was able to learn from that incident and not make that mistake again. During my second trip, I was wise enough to bring my medication with me. It was a difference of night and day. I was so nervous about the hassle it would cause going through security, but it was easy and no hassle at all. I didn’t realize how important bringing my medication was until I had to experience it first-hand. Learning from mistakes and good fortune makes you better and stronger than the person you were the day before.

What I learned going through all of this was that I am worth the fight and I should always continue fighting to better myself in any way possible. In the end, bipolar disorder will not define me. I will continue traveling and learn lessons about myself along the way. I will not let my bipolar disorder stop me from living my life.

Photo by Jérémie Crémer on Unsplash