So, I pulled a Julia Roberts.
Obviously, this was not my intention. It should not ever be anyone’s intention to emulate that movie (based on a book). But, I guess as a POC, my version lacks the white woman nonsense of Roberts’ – thank G-d!
I will do a few posts about the conventional tourist shenanigans I engaged with here in Rome: Trevi Fountain, all the gelato, Vatican city etc. I will write all about those times later. But, this post is more personal (Read: long) and talks about mental illness, especially while traveling and life in general, my life.
If you did not already know, I have depression. My first episode was through puberty (circa 2013). And, last year, I had another acute episode that put me back on medication. Traveling is already difficult, and traveling with medication for mental health is no exception. Living abroad, away from your normal prescription people, makes it even harder to manage without a plan.
Luckily, I have a huge amount of anti-depressants on hand, so I am going to kick seasonal affective disorder’s butt in Sweden. But, I am not writing this post to just talk about preparing for a trip by making sure you have your meds and getting some Vitamin D. This is about chronic depression.
It should go without saying that people who have depression are not always down. In fact, I do not think I am usually down. For some people that manage it through either medication or therapy or both, depression just pops in, comes in waves, and then seemingly leaves for a bit. But, traveling solo and wandering around Rome, I realised that my depression has not actually left me even after taking these meds for almost a year.
When you travel alone, you sometimes forget the sound of your own voice. If you are scared to speak to other people or do not speak the local language, you might not speak for a day or maybe even more. You will find that when you do talk, you will talk a lot to compensate for lost time too.
Loneliness I can handle. I am accustomed to it. I know that sounds sad, but dating in Vancouver is tough and there is this funny thing about gay men’s culture where we are still learning healthy habits and the basics of sexual and romantic human intimacy since we could not generally practice them in our adolescence.
Also while traveling solo, prepare yourself for a lot of inner monologues. And, so upon having many inner monologues and limited wifi to distract me, I learned that I in fact was not alone in a new city with a language with which I am unfamiliar. My good friend mental illness was coming with me like everywhere else I guess. Cool.
Depression manifests differently for everyone. For me, it is sometimes sleepiness, a lot of sleepiness. I already love to nap, so this tendency can be dangerous. Other times, it is just self-doubt. It is thinking that I am worth less than others or that I do not deserve something. I think the worst manifestation that I sometimes face is self-loathing. It is looking in the mirror and being so unhappy with yourself that you have to distract yourself to not think about it. Fun trifecta, eh?
Was/is Rome my grand distraction? No, that would be a horrible waste of money and especially extremely concerning that I would spend that much money just to try to make me not feel bad about myself. I think my revelation came as a result of a combination of events and environments – one of the largest being that the couple I am staying with are happy together and in a stable relationship, which is something that I am not in, not remotely close. Nevertheless, I was enjoying myself when I was out in Rome, but something in the back of my head still lingered.
Being surrounded by so much beauty maybe made me feel weird or out of place or maybe I felt odd just for comparing myself to concrete, but somehow still coming out lesser?
So, how did my epiphany catalyse and come to be? I went to this club, Qube, which was having a Latin night via a gay party program called Muccassassina. I was alone, well, with depression, but unaccompanied physically. I used to be self-conscious if I went to a club by myself, but that anxiety has gone at the ripe old age of 22 also because I have come to learn I am a better dancer than most.
I settled in. I made ‘club friends’ in that I interacted with some really nice people whom I never learned their names, but overall, I enjoyed that I could do what and go where I wanted. I was a free agent in overalls and a crop-top, just like I like it.
While dancing is when it hit me. Despite the legitimate fun I was making there and then, I realised that my depression I do not think is ever going to go away. It just isn’t. Or at least, there is a strong possibility that it won’t. It is something that I should be prepared for. It was waiting for me in the corner, sipping its drink, like it has been for awhile now.
That might be a bleak statement, but let’s be honest. Depression is a friend you wish you did not have, but you have to take responsibility for regardless anyway.
The challenge is accepting that you have something that is not good, but that does not mean that you are not good. In fact, you are great. You are fun and pretty and handsome and wanted and affectionate. I posted on my personal Facebook about this acceptance from the club, and a dear friend of mine commented, “yeeeaahahh babby!! doontt need no one to be happy.” Cute – I have nice friends. But, this statement is not exactly true, at least in the way I see it. I need me. I am someone, which is a fact I had to remind myself oddly. I am someone and like someone, anyone, everybody — there are certain basic things I deserve including being happy with myself.
It took me until Rome to learn I am and make my own happiness. It is probably a lesson I will have to reteach myself in the future too, but I will be glad to do it. Because it’s good to hear.
I will write soon about roaming around Rome and also the Vatican (I feel obligated to send a photo to Tía Balba and also possibly give the finger to a bishop for all the shit the Catholic church has actively done/ been complicit in). More to come about all the food I have been eating, survival Italian, and everything in between.