Let me be the first to say that even in my lowest of mental states, I (personally) never would have called a hotline number. If it weren’t for my husband and, specifically, my father calling me out on my erratic behavior — I likely would have continued to live my life under a heavy cloud of confusion, depression, and anxiety because I didn’t understand the severity of my mental health. I don’t know what it’s like to get to the very bottom because I am extremely fortunate to have people in my life who spoke up. The importance of reaching out to someone close to you — even if it’s just a feeling — cannot be understated. I realize now that I’ve lived my life as an independent, problem-solving individual and seeking help outright was pretty embarrassing for me.
Please don’t be embarrassed by your mental health.
Last year, in a small, dark apartment in Vienna, I experienced my first “manic episode.” The year hadn’t gone to plan and the future was falling apart at the seams. I hated and loved our “nomadic” life all at the same time, but I was starting to feel an increase in unhappiness and general ambivalence toward our lifestyle. What excited me before — last minute flights, unfamiliar city scenes, strange food — gave me a sense of overwhelming dread and frustration. I felt as if I couldn’t stop my mind from running away from me. I wanted to hop on that plane to Thailand but not a moment before we settled down for a while. I wanted to continue a freelance lifestyle while building a business of my own. I made business plans and connected with potential partners only to derail myself by following a different squirrel (what a coworker refers to as a distraction and I have since taken over as my own, thanks Jennifer!).
Late one night, on the kitchen floor of our small, poorly lit, Viennese AirBnB, I lost control of myself. Tim was asleep upstairs and I had crept down to the living room because my heart felt like it was going to beat straight out of my chest. I could feel my heartbeat in my eyes, at the tips of my fingers — all the way down to my toes. I was radiating heat and I could feel every single agonizing movement of my breath. My body was following my mind to a place I had never been before: a state of mania. I was angry for no reason, anxious about nothing, and sad because I couldn’t figure out why I felt this way yet, somehow, encouraged because one time I took a psych evaluation and they told me this could happen. Before I collapsed to the floor in a fit of hysterical crying, I grabbed my computer and started researching jobs in foreign countries with high wages. My mind, at that moment, decided that my priority was finding something new and exciting to calm my overactivity (conflicting thoughts, much?). That moment quickly passed, so I purchased some essential oils (because an ad said it would help with insomnia), I cried on the floor, I laughed a little bit because I kind of felt high, and then I snapped out of it after a few minutes deciding to calm myself down with tea. I f*cking hate tea.
A few deep breaths put me to sleep and I awoke the next day having slept about 15 hours. After a few days that turned to weeks of silence and unfinished work projects, my dad called me. He was not panicked and he wasn’t angry — he was calm and collected and very straightforward. Something wasn’t right and he wanted to know what it was.
This is the first time that I addressed my mental health issues head-on. I never had a problem admitting I dealt with depression or anxiety, but I often convinced myself I was able to “manage it appropriately.” Essentially, I ignored it for so long, passing it off as boredom or symptoms of a level of ADD. I wasn’t in a dire living situation — I wasn’t homeless or hungry or struggling to get by. To put it simply, I couldn’t justify my own sadness.
My husband — bless his damn heart — encouraged me to reach out to a close friend who works in the psychology field. I was hesitant but willing, as I was scared about what she would say and at this point, I wasn’t really sure what I even felt anymore. It was this exact conversation that gave me the courage to slow down for a second and reevaluate where my mind was. I threw a giant wrench in our travel (life) plans and booked flights across the world to be in a familiar setting and actively seek professional help. I uprooted our lives so quickly it was hard not to feel guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, or like a failure.
My experience with Bipolar Depression is such that it displays itself at inopportune times (because depression is so convenient?!) and tends to challenge me to take it on as if it were a boxing match. Therapy helped me realize that it is a part of me, not all of me, and that opened to my eyes to trying to become “friends” with it.
This is only a tiny PART of my story but with the news of one of my honest-to-god all-time idols passing due to suicide, I can’t think of a better time to reach out and maybe start a trend where we all open up about our own experiences. I struggle every day and I know people that struggle even more than I do. There is absolutely NO shame in speaking up about your mental health. I have a hard time keeping up with medication because of the absurd number of side effects (including weight gain, which is a WHOLE other story, ugh) but therapy is something I will never, ever take for granted. It has helped me leaps and bounds and if you’re wondering if it would help you, my answer is a resounding “yesssssssss.”
In light of recent events, I firmly believe that Anthony Bourdain was a g*ddamn visionary and he will be oh-so missed throughout not only the travel community, but all over the world. “No Reservations” is the reason I chose Thailand as a my first get up and go destination. He was honest and brave and reverent and he didn’t just show up to a place to eat food and leave. He conjured a sense of community and reiterated the importance of being together. I will continue to draw inspiration from him and my heart breaks for the depth of inability to continue in which he found himself.
To everyone I know and everyone I don’t know — please reach out. Reach out to someone you think might need it, even if they don’t. I’m not going to sit here and tell you to call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (actually I am, because it’s valuable information) but if you need to talk about something, or you’re unsure of how you feel, just chat it up with someone you trust. If not to a professional, then to a close friend or family member. Giving yourself the time to connect with someone will do wonders for your mentality.
You can call or chat with anyone anytime of day at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/). I would probably choose the chat feature, because phone calls are so very 2000’s, if I’m being honest here. More than anything, I encourage you to talk. It really helps.