“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
Living with depression for years has changed me as a person. As much as I don’t want my personality to be warped by an illness, it undeniably has been. In particular, the months (perhaps even years) that were wasted in my early twenties.
Depression has been described and explained eloquently by so many people greater than me, so I’m not going to try. (Not right now, anyway.) But during that period in my life, I had two moods. It was either “I actively wish I was dead today,” or “I don’t care if I live or die.” Misery or apathy.
Those days were hideous and painful. However, having this as a comparison, and (mostly) escaping a mindset that felt inescapable, means I have an incredible appreciation for any moments when I feel happy.
I have moments of pure, undiluted joy where I smile, laugh, cry. A “thank fuck I didn’t give up, I am so grateful for this life” moment. Most of these have happened while I’ve been exploring a new country. I would guess it is the combination of the beauty of our world and the gratitude that I can not only see and experience it, but I can do so without my vision being obstructed by depression.
When did these moments occur?! I hear absolutely nobody asking. I’m going to list them below.
1. Exploring the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney.
At this point, I hadn’t traveled much, and I didn’t consider myself someone who loved to travel. However, a good friend of mine was spending a year in Australia, and she invited me to stay with her in Sydney. This was a huge step for me, I had never flown on my own, and I had never been on a flight longer than 4 hours. But I did it – I used to be too anxious to go inside a supermarket, but I traveled to the other side of the world on my own.
While in Sydney we did a lot of amazing activities planned by my friend, things I will never forget (thank you!) Visiting the Blue Mountains, climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge, seeing incredible beaches.
But my happiest moment? This happened one day when my friend had to go into work, and I spent time exploring on my own. Initially I was apprehensive about spending the day alone, I packed a book thinking I’d just find a quiet space to read the hours away until my friend finished work. Instead, I wandered around the outside the opera house and around the botanical gardens. I walked, I admired, I stood and quietly appreciated everything I saw. How beautiful is this world? How many opportunities are laying at my feet?
Then the heavens opened, a heavy rainstorm engulfed me and I smiled more than ever. It was if, in that moment, the rain cleared any residual depressive fog in my brain. I found a viewpoint where trees framed the opera house & harbour bridge and I just stood drenched, happy, alive.
2. Atop the Eiffel tower.
I was sent to Paris on my very first business trip. I had never been to Paris, so I planned to use every spare moment of the trip to see the city. My younger brother flew over on his own expense and explored with me.
I’d never really been interested in visiting Paris, I’d heard it was overrated, dirty and full of rude people. I couldn’t agree with these assertions less; I fell head over heels for Paris. I had never been in a country with architecture so extravagant and beautiful, and I’m pretty sure it was in Paris that my desire to explore the world began.
After a full day of exploring, we booked tickets to go to the very top of the Eiffel Tower in the evening. So, up we went, the lifts slowly climbing the seemingly endless structure. We exited on the top floor, greeted by strong and bitter January winds. With numb lips and a red nose, I looked over the city, sparkling in the night, and I could have cried. Do you ever have moments where you feel so incredibly lucky to be alive and inspirited to make the most of it? Where gratitude for your existence, your friends, your family, your world surges through your body and you just stand there smiling inanely? That was me, circa 2016, looking over one of the most beautiful places in the world.
3. Snowmobiling in Iceland
So, I’m not the most adventurous person, for example, it took until I was 22 years old to brave riding roller-coaster (and I hated it.) Despite this, I was illogically determined to be some sort of chubby adventure barbie when I headed to Iceland. Snorkeling in glacial water, horse riding, snowmobiling… I wasn’t even going to moan if I got blisters from my first pair of walking boots. Hardcore.
I did eagerly throw myself into all of the activities, even if it didn’t go particularly smoothly… The time I fell flat into the mud when trying to mount a horse, then had a strong allergic reaction to the horses (I literally couldn’t open my eyes until the anti-histamines kicked in) springs to mind.
So, snorkeling Silfra (a glacial lake featuring a rift between tectonics plates) CHECK.
Horse riding, with a bonus couple of bruises and a newly discovered allergy, CHECK.
Now, for snowmobiling. For this, we were driven for approx 45 mins atop Langjokull glacier, kitted out and given very brief instructions on how to use the snowmobiles. “Use it like a motorcycle, lean into the bends.” Excellent. Vague.
I was on the back of the snowmobile, and my boyfriend at the front driving. And while we were on a straight and narrow I had my moment of intense happiness: “wow am I really doing this? I’m not the girl who doesn’t leave the house anymore?” (Yeah, I still get really proud of myself for surviving that situation. Sorry.) I had pushed myself out of my comfort zone, and it was wonderful.
There we were, flying through the snow on a one horse open sleigh (or a two person open snowmobile.) Me, thinking to myself, wow, maybe I am an adrenaline junkie! Maybe I was built for this shit! I reckon I could easily ski, snowboard, free dive, bungee jump, invent my very own extreme sport!
Alas, at our first attempt at sliding up a glacier, we fell off, and the very heavy snowmobile landed on our legs. It was really alien to be laying in the snow, legs trapped, the only sound our panicked breathing. Eventually the guide lifted the snowmobile off us (only for us to fall off once more) and for the rest of the excursion I was incredibly anxious and desperate for it to end. For me, a couple more bruises for the Iceland collection, and for my boyfriend, a trip to the hospital later in the evening, to find out he’d ruptured his meniscus from his fall.
Adventure barbie I am not.
4. Watching the sunset in Corfu
For the first time, me and Eric booked a holiday that was about relaxing in the sun. We went to Corfu, a Greek island close to Albania, and stayed at a nice resort which had amazing sea views.
We soon found a bar at the hotel which made the very best of the view – directly over a beautiful, calm sea, enveloped by trees. All that stood between you and this, was a wooden bench (which was perfect for holding your daiquiri, while you take your billionth photo of the vista.)
Every night, after dinner, we would sit there and watch the sunset. If you can’t be truly, deeply happy when watching the sunset over a stunning seascape with the love of your life, when can you? Where the light sea breeze tickles your sun kissed skin and the soft twilight slowly blankets and embraces the world around you. Love and happiness radiated through me every single time we watched that sunset.
These are the most magical moments that spring to mind, and I sincerely hope that I have many more of these to come. Like some people chase a high, I chase moments in which I feel truly content.
Are there any moments of your life that have redefined happiness for you?