There is liberation in the mental taxation of long-term travel.

It’s like “real life” is put on hold to indulge in a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Allowances are given — explore more, go out more, engage in more indulgent behaviors like drinking or staying up until the sun rises.

It’s a strange dichotomy: You’re having the time of your life and feel raw and open to new experiences and people, but you’re drained.

Yet you just can’t stop. Stopping would imply that you’re missing out on something, and how can you take a break from paradise? Wouldn’t that be taking it for granted?

So you carry on, fueling your body on local cuisine and beer and nights chatting up foreigners who will change your worldview and touch your heart.

Is that why travel is so captivating?

It’s dangerous not only because we are exposed to new places of which the customs are unknown, but also because we are new in those moments. The people we are, or were, cease to exist for a moment — and if we’re lucky, the undercurrent of our true being can surface.

In this sense, can mental illness inspire wanderlust? Does the desire to be new, to run from a struggling brain, push individuals towards travel? 

I’ve often felt a connection to a darker self.

This alter ego sometimes feels like my better half.

I can’t explain who she is or why she is someone who seeks adventure and a little bit of instability. I’ve felt her when I travel, when I drink too much, when I’m swimming in the ocean at 5 AM. I also think of her as the mentally ill part of my brain, the side that appears when depression takes ahold of me. I’m tapped into her when I’m down, and I enjoy the feelings of sadness and beauty when I’m with her.

Image by Pixabay user GLady.

When I acknowledge this, I ask myself: Who is the real me? The person who is obviously responsible and lives a successful life? Or the one who engages in seemingly self-destructive behaviors but feels more alive while doing so?

I’ve used travel as a way to escape a boredom that I have felt in my everyday life. I’ve used it to run away from lovers, to re-create myself, and to feel new again. But, mostly, I use travel to get to the dark place and be there for awhile.

To be honest, it’s the leaving I relish the most.

There is ultimate control in deconstructing a life and having to rebuild it again. There is promise in chaos that anything is possible, even happiness.

In her essay on travel escapism, Heidi Priebe claims that the “….urge to wander….hits the strongest when we’re the most powerless.”

When I feel I’ve lost my agency or am disempowered, I always want to roam.

Because of these truths, I often wonder if recovering from my mental illness would diminish my desire to travel.

What other parts of myself would I lose?

Is mental health even like that? Do you ever truly get better? If you do, will you lose parts of yourself when you heal from depression or anxiety?

And when it’s all said and done, will I like what I have become — the recovered me?

The trickiest part of all is not knowing if it’s these musings that keep me sick. Does the fear of losing parts of myself on a path to wellness keep me from getting well? Does the act of seeing myself in such black-and-white terms signal that I’m simplifying myself too much?

These questions are unanswerable, at least in the present.

I find myself here, attempting to explain the desire to run after ending a four-year relationship.

I’m quite proud to say that I am sticking around, finding solace in my community, building other relationships, and even searching for permanent work.

But the thought of buying a ticket has crossed my mind. A new life is only a plane ride away. What could be more enticing than that?

Cover image by Pixabay user epicantus.