At 29 years old I have suffered with varying degrees and 'types' of depression for the last 16 years but I'm still travelling the world.
However, do not think that because I travel, that my depression and anxiety is not severe. In 2010, just six weeks before I was due to take my first three month solo journey around Asia, I lost a relationship and a baby. I packed my grief into a backpack and very literally carried it with me. I cried on beaches, by swimming pools and dorm rooms. But I went. And there is not a single part of me that regrets that.
And when I travelled through sub-Sahara Africa, the quiet nights in tents allowed years of self-doubt and anxieties to creep up on me and I was plagued with severe insomnia believing I was not someone who could be liked or loved because of my depression.
Three months after returning from that trip in 2011, due to issues at work, I had a nervous breakdown and before I knew it, two years had disappeared from my life. Mum would come home from work expecting to find a body instead of a daughter. However, as I began to come through the worst of it, I booked a one way ticket to Sydney and began to sell my belongings. I needed a clean and extreme break.
Sydney, however, tore me to pieces financially, emotionally and physically and just five months after arriving, I was flying home to the UK expecting surgery after months of misdiagnosis only to be told I had an incurable illness of the liver called autoimmune hepatitis. Four months of steroids, blood tests and check-ups later and I was flying back to Australia; Sydney was not going to have the last word. It almost did.
Days after arriving, everything in my world became too overwhelming and I tried to end my life by walking into the surf at Bondi Beach. Thanks to strangers, friends and family, in the days that followed I continued to push myself despite what my mind was telling me. I found a good job, made new friends and moved into an apartment with Bondi Beach at the end of my road. The day after moving in, I began to run and though I could only run less than half a mile that first time, after living in Bondi for the year, in my final month I completed the City2Surf 14km run.
I pushed through and faced my fears because I was determined to live despite my depression and anxiety.
At the very core, that is the first lesson that has served me best throughout my years; feel the fear but do it anyway. It's as simple and yet as complicated as that.
It is not easy. It takes so very long to work up the courage to hear the deafening voices of fear in your head and move forward regardless but it is possible. There have been so many things I have been afraid of over the years but, for the most part, I have pushed through them all and found that the outcome is nearly never as bad as our distorted minds told us it would be.
The second lesson I realised is that depression does not make me ungrateful. I can visit a place and be frustrated because I feel I 'should' like it when my depression won't let me but all of that guilt and other perplexing thoughts do not make me ungrateful. On those days I have to remind myself that my mind is playing tricks on me. I know that I am lucky to travel. Being unable to appreciate my surroundings is my depression talking, not me.
But I could not travel all these thousands of miles alone without my friends and family.
That's lesson number three; find your army. The ones who will listen to you without judgement. The ones who will lift you because they love you and want the best for you. The ones who know how to make you smile even when your depression and anxieties don't want you to.
When you're travelling, it can be lonely for anyone never mind someone experiencing a depressive or anxious episode but knowing that there are people just a message away can make the world of difference. Sometimes just writing to my friends, even knowing they wouldn't be awake for hours, made me feel better.
Despite all my travels I still don't cope well with change or drastically going out of my comfort zone but I've seen the world despite my mental illness wishing I would never leave my bed.
I am winning the war.
You can too.