Traveling with Depression
I’ve talked before about dealing with depression. Last week’s trip to Buenos Aires, combined with next week’s trip to France, got me paying attention to the ways depression impacts and is impacted by travel, especially bigger trips like these.
It hit me the most on my first day in Buenos Aires, after I’d been dropped off at the hotel. I was exhausted from the flight. I’d missed my pills the night before during all of the travel chaos. I had nothing scheduled that first day, and I was alone in a new city where I didn’t know the language.
This blend of exhaustion and anxiety is just the type of situation my brain-weasels love, and as I settled into my room, I could feel them digging in. I knew intellectually that once I was out interacting with my publisher and doing the press interviews they’d lined up for me, my brain would snap into Performing Writer mode, and I’d be okay. But for now, all I really felt like doing was locking the door, turning out the lights, and waiting for tomorrow to arrive.
Intellectually, I had a pretty good idea what was going on in my brain. I knew I was tired and jet-lagged and overwhelmed, and I’ve gotten better at recognizing when depression is getting the upper hand. Unfortunately, recognizing the problem doesn’t make it go away. In at least one way, it made things worse, because it fed right into the self-recriminations.
- “Think about all the people who were so envious of you getting to come to Buenos Aires, and now that you’re here, you’re depressed? What’s wrong with you?”
- “Here you are in a brand new country, and all you want to do is hide in your hotel room? Sad.”
- “Maybe you should stop accepting these invitations. Let someone who’d appreciate them go instead of wasting these opportunities on you.”
Knowing it’s the depression talking doesn’t make it stop. Knowing the self-recriminations are a trap doesn’t stop them from pulling you down.
Eventually, I made myself leave the hotel and go for a walk. Just a few blocks to look around and get my bearings. (And yes, to catch a few Magikarp.)
It helped. The brain weasels didn’t vanish, but they quieted down significantly as we wandered and looked around, absorbing the new sights and sounds. I knew I needed food, so I wandered into a McDonald’s.
- “What kind of loser goes to another continent and eats at McDonald’s?”
I needed that dose of familiarity, and after staring at the menu for a few minutes, I went up and asked, “Habla Inglés?”
She had just enough English to tell me she didn’t speak English. Pretty much the equivalent of my Spanish. But I managed to order anyway. She asked a question. I had no clue. But after a few rounds and some hand gestures, I realized she was asking for a size. I pantomimed small, medium, and large, saying them in English without thinking, then asked for a medium.
She got a big grin on her face and repeated “Medium,” adding, “I spoke English!” She was so excited she forgot to charge me. (Yes, I reminded her.) The whole exchange left me smiling.
This is such an odd post to try to write. I had a wonderful time in Buenos Aires. I’m so happy and honored that I got to go. I was also depressed about the trip, especially that first day or two. Both of these things are true.
I’m going to France next week for Les Imaginales. I’m feeling anxious. I suspect the depression will hit me in much the same way, especially that first day when I’m exhausted and have nothing scheduled. I’m mentally berating myself about feeling stressed instead of excited. I know, intellectually, that this will be another wonderful experience.
But brain weasels don’t give a shit.
- “Now you’re depressed about going to France? You are such a disappointment.”
It’s just over five years since I got my diagnosis. Since I started taking antidepressants and talking to a therapist. It’s frustrating to be reminded that, like the diabetes, this isn’t something we’ve been able to “cure.” Instead, it’s something I try to manage. Like the diabetes, some days I do better than others, and some situations make it harder to manage.
To everyone I met and talked to in Buenos Aires: It’s not you; it’s me. You were amazing, and I had a genuinely great time, despite this chemical imbalance in my brain.
And to the brain weasels, I’m sure I’ll see you again next week. Hopefully I’ve learned enough to get you back into your cages. But just in case, maybe I should Google the McDonald’s closest to my hotel in Paris…
May 10, 2017 @ 10:47 am
I give you so much credit for leaving your hotel room! And yay Magikarp for helping. 🙂
May 10, 2017 @ 10:51 am
Thank you so much for writing this. It helps a LOT to see that I’m not alone.
May 10, 2017 @ 10:56 am
I know how this feels. I’ve had three great weekend trips in a row for conventions and other fun things, and at each convention, which I sincerely enjoyed, I had to spend at least half an hour psyching myself up just to leave the room to go do a panel that I knew I would enjoy. F the brain weasels.
May 10, 2017 @ 11:04 am
Living here in Uruguay, the one McDonalds in our little village (out of five in the entire country) opens only 3 months of the year on the Rambla, which is the coastal highway that runs right through town. It’s great for people watching and that high you can only get from McDonald’s fries. (The burgers and chicken? REAL, unlike the gross stuff in the US – seriously, UY beef is the BEST). The staff are usually young college kids eager to practice their English with anyone they can so it leads to lots of smiles.
Jim, depression is a beast, and yes, it has no cure – but it’s not what you have but how you fight it and you, sir, do a bang up job. <3
May 10, 2017 @ 11:06 am
I give you the house flamethrower for the brain weasels!
May 10, 2017 @ 11:37 am
Thank you for sharing this. It’s heartening to know that other people experience the same self-recriminations and symptoms, and have developed similar coping strategies.
And your exchange with that nice cashier put a smile on my face. 🙂
May 10, 2017 @ 12:19 pm
Thank you, Jim. It’s true that you can be glad you did something and yet also feel bad at the same time. Emotions can be difficult to process when they happen all mixed up together.
PS try the Chicken Nuggets in Europe. They are made of actual chicken!
John D. Bell
May 10, 2017 @ 1:10 pm
If I may be forward, a couple of suggestions?
Be sure to have some of every kind of your meds close at hand (carry-on or on your person), so you don’t “get behind the power curve”. Set an alarm on your phone or watch to remind you?
McD’s as comfort food – good. Something from your own kitchen, made by you or your loving family – better!
Bring a favorite book to re-read. That way, if you are too overwhelmed to go out, you have something enjoyable to occupy your mind with, which should help keep it from getting nibbled to pieces by the brain weasels.
I salute you, sir, for your bravery and honesty in sharing this. DEATH TO BRAIN WEASELS!! (Smother them with sweet, sweet rainbow unicorn farts! 😀 )
Jim C. Hines
May 10, 2017 @ 2:29 pm
::Packs Fran’s flamethrower for the France trip::
I hope the airport doesn’t give me any problems over this…
Jim C. Hines
May 10, 2017 @ 2:30 pm
Kendra – Chicken Nuggets made of actual chicken? I don’t know if my American digestive system could handle such a thing!
May 10, 2017 @ 3:34 pm
Like others, I know exactly how you feel. I used to put it down to being an introvert, but I think maybe there’s some depression in there too.
It sounds like you’ve got good coping strategies lined up. It’s ok to take some me time too. A book or movie or whatever. Jet lag, especially to Europe, can be a real bitch, so give yourself some time to deal with that.
I’d offer to translate for you, but a) won’t be there and b) I think you’ll find most people in France speak enough English that you’ll manage.
Have fun. Try a hot chocolate with a croissant some morning. Very different from here and yet so good!
May 10, 2017 @ 5:25 pm
Even when you’re depressed, you can’t help telling charming stories. 🙂 Thank you for sharing and helping people.
Every time you deal with the weasel, there is an army of family and fans at your back, throwing support glitter bombs. And you know, you can’t get rid of glitter.
Also, the French celebrate depression in their arts. They won’t mind if you’re not always perky. Good luck, sneak in naps.
Jim C. Hines
May 10, 2017 @ 7:03 pm
KatG – Re: glitter, any approach championed by Carrie Fisher is worth following!
Melissa (Wendy's old roommate)
May 10, 2017 @ 9:03 pm
Brain weasels may be the best analogy ever for those thoughts that hang around at the edges of your brain, just waiting for the most inconvenient moment to jump in and discourage/disparage you. 21 years since my diagnosis and every day is a struggle.
May 10, 2017 @ 9:56 pm
I don’t know if this will help you, but I’ve found that it really helps me to know which situations tend to worsen my depression (first day in a new country, first few weeks in a new job, son returning to grad school after a nice visit…) When I get to the new place, I just keep reminding myself “this always happens”. It doesn’t stop me being depressed, but it helps me ignore the brain weasels, which helps me come out of it more quickly.
Thank ou so much for sharing your story. It helps knowing we’re not alone.
May 10, 2017 @ 10:11 pm
When I find myself in an environment and realize my brain weasels are more active than my actual brain (and that’s the real trick!), I name the primary brain weasel and then tell her to go **** off whenever she starts in.
Really? You’re wussing out of this hike? Everyone’s going to know you’re a loser.”
**** off, Mangy, you’re not the boss of me.
You are not alone. And I second Kat (but promise, should we ever meet, I will only bring *virtual* glitter bombs to distract the brain weasels).
May 11, 2017 @ 1:19 pm
Look at it this way: it looks like you made that McDonald’s worker’s day, or at least brightened it for a little while. Take that, brain weasels!
Diana Pharaoh Francis
May 11, 2017 @ 3:45 pm
Today’s been one of those days for me. On one level saying–that’s the depression talking and so I don’t have to accept that these feelings are real. Or rather have basis in reality, because they certainly feel real and in that case, there’s not enough difference in my brain to make it matter. Been reaching out to friends so I won’t curl up in a ball on the couch. I have no idea what’s triggering it right now. But it’s that unexpected hit when you feel fine and then it’s there and you didn’t get a chance to brace yourself. Though I don’t know how that’s even possible. I’m babbling. But I’m glad things evened out and I hope France is lovely. With lots of cheese, wine, and bread.
Pat Sayre McCoy
May 12, 2017 @ 1:43 pm
Thank you so much for your courage and honesty in writing this. It makes a difference for all those who deal with their depression and those who love them and watch them struggle. You are a brave man. Enjoy Paris.
May 13, 2017 @ 7:48 pm
It’s not nice that you felt this way, but it’s nice to hear I’m not the only one. I sit here with my Word doc open, and a partially written article or story and tell myself the depression and anxiety is making me doubt myself and I should just plow through it. It doesn’t happen, and then I feel worse. YOU got on that plane and went to another country!! That is awesome. In France there will be pastries and cheese– such wonderful cheese. Indulge:) *throws one of those glitter bombs*
May 17, 2017 @ 4:16 pm
I had to laugh when you said you went to McDonalds and then berated yourself for it. I did exactly the same thing when I was traveling alone for a work conference once. Sometimes it helps immensely to have that little bit of familiarity – even if the brain weasels give you shit about it.