It’s become blatantly apparent that the average millennial is either f*cked up, fed up, or both. It’s unfortunate considering the stagnation of mental health initiatives and the stigmatization of the concept itself. You’d think by now we would have progressed as a society by making help more readily available, but this isn’t the case. I mean, that’s not to say that the complexity of some of our issues can be untangled by a man with a plaque of distinction perched on his desk, but for what it’s worth, we need all the help we can get. It’s interesting, because no matter the country or the language, ‘depression’ is one of those words that sits in the back of the throat like the phlegm we shy away from spitting out in public. Still, my observation of humans shows me that we do a much better job at acknowledging signs of emotional distress if it comes from the eyes of a stray, as if the definition only encompasses domestic animals…
I remember walking up the grandiose front steps of Needles Hall— the counselling and psychological services building at my university. It was 2014, the winter semester was almost over, and seeing a therapist was my second-last resort to salvaging whatever bit of sanity I had left. I had booked the appointment two months prior but this was the earliest they could see me.
Stepping into the office commenced what felt like a live take of Girl, Interrupted starring: me. With a dull off-white (yellow?) wallpaper and worn-out furnishings, I got the impression that the small space hadn’t been renovated since the 70s. The receptionist, relentless in her pursuit to reach the next level of Candy Crush, sported black pointed spectacles and handed me a form to fill out. I could hardly focus on answering questions as another student seated across from me in the waiting area was crying in hysterics.
Ten minutes later, I was called in to meet my new therapist, John. I figured I’d babble insanities for an hour and assess John’s ability to provide counsel. Considering I was a deeply and unequivocally screwed up individual with more issues than Marshall Mathers and Vogue put together, I wasn’t exactly hopeful. It was my housemates who had convinced me to book an appointment. We always joked around that our apartment was a psych ward because we were all screwed up in our own way. I didn’t classify my condition at the time as depression– I had already experienced that. This was worse. This was existential paralysis. This was purgatory. Yet somehow, I held onto faith half the size of a mustard seed that I could get out of there; that somewhere buried beneath all the permafrost was a microscopic hint of an invincible summer.
After a series of generic questions and mind-numbing small talk about my studies, John addressed some of the answers I wrote down on my assessment sheet. Don’t worry, I’ll spare you the details of his facial expressions from when he read my answers aloud. Needless to say, I knew then and there that it was time for plan B. Soon enough, it was time to wrap up the session. He asked me when I would be able to come in again and I told him I wouldn’t be able to until the fall– if ever. Taken aback by my answer, I explained to him that I was moving to Europe for the summer and didn’t know if I’d be coming back.
That was the last time I ever stepped foot in that office.
As much as I’d like to say my life turned into sugar, spice, and everything nice once I moved away (because we all know how important environment is when shaping an individual), that would be an incomplete truth. At some point during my travels, I concluded that there was no one on this earth happier than me. Seriously. But unfortunately, like many other travelers, I was naive enough to believe that running away from my problems automatically solved them. Silly me. It was only a matter of time until I began to crack! Luckily, I realized that I wasn’t alone in my struggle and that mental illness was common among other young travelers whose lives were often perceived as picture perfect.
All you had to do was strike up a conversation with just about anyone in a hostel. If you’re looking to increase your luck at learning- either the most relaxed person in the room or the most intoxicated. Chances are, they’ve had their fair share of emotional distress and of course, their own coping mechanism.
While in Indonesia, I encountered a young Scandinavian girl whose method of survival entailed killing the mind. Dilated pupils and all. (It all gets tricky when the very thing that is saving you is also the very thing that is killing you, but that’s a topic for another time). One night as we were walking home from a bar, I told her to tell me her problems because by this stage in the game, I prefer to get to the point. She laughed and told me she was a f*cked up person. I told her I didn’t expect anything less from someone who bought a one-way ticket to a tiny island in the middle of nowhere.
For travelers like her, it was a comforting thought to know they were thousands of miles away from the contributing factors to that decision. What were kids like her escaping? It typically ranged from domestic violence, alcoholic parents, political turmoil, sexist and religious ideologies, to themselves.