Depression, Work & The Freedom of Travelling

Sunset in California

Travelling was something I’d never really thought about doing before. I’d had plenty of holidays and have seen more than my fair share of countries all over the world; the generic ‘I’m off to Thailand for a gap year’ thing just didn’t really appeal to me. But after a particularly tough couple of years suffering from depression, I kind of realised life’s too short.

It’s cliche, but it’s true. There is a terrible stigma surrounding mental health and I’ve learnt through my own journey of the underwhelming lack of understanding and support out there. Depression isn’t just about ‘feeling a bit sad’ as it’s all too often described; I managed to completely lose my mind. I didn’t know what month it was, I didn’t know what my own name was, I physically couldn’t get out of bed for weeks, I was throwing up every single morning, any task that required more effort than showering was impossible and I’ve no shame in admitting that I thought about suicide more times a day than I care to remember.

Stephen Fry was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, and openly talks about mental health stigmatisation

This went on every single day for months and months and months. My doctors, therapists and parents had no idea what to do, so it was easier to just give up. It was never about attention grabbing; we all like to think we’re mentally tough enough to avoid depression, but the sad fact is that the statistics show we all either have a mental health issue or know someone that does, regardless of sex, race, religion, sexuality and ‘mental toughness’. The statistics also show that suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK, so suicide is a huge problem that men especially are scared of talking about in case they look weak and less masculine. I learnt that depression isn’t just a mental problem; I had in excess of 50 very real, very scary physical symptoms over the last two years (Yes, 50!). Thankfully, after a lot of hard work on my part, and thanks to others, I’m well on my way to a full recovery, but this was the main reason I booked a one-way ticket to Bali and didn’t think twice.

The second reason was that I was getting up at the crack of dawn every morning to commute into London to go into a recruitment job (eventually I was forced to quit due to my mental health) that I hated to help me fund things I didn’t really enjoy doing to just keep repeating it week on week. It was utterly soul destroying, but we’re generally conditioned by our parents and the education system to believe that we have to get a good degree to get that ‘9-5’ job (which is more like 8-7 now) to earn money to get a mortgage, pay our bills and all that other adult stuff. It that means getting a job that you don’t enjoy, well that’s just life right?

Stresses of modern-day work
 But life isn’t really like that anymore; or at least it doesn’t have to be. Going travelling was a chance for me to get my mental state back in one piece after it almost killed me, but it was also  chance to try and do something worthwhile at the same time away from the stresses of mortgages, bills and keeping everyone happy with my career choices. I’m now making money online freelance writing for all kinds of different clients for websites, magazines and books; meaning I can continuously fund my travels doing something I love. I’m not saying freelancing is for everyone, but there’s a hell of a lot more to life than getting the 6:50 am South West Trains service every morning to join the rat race with the other business people who probably also hate their jobs. Or at least don’t enjoy them enough for it to be worth it.
Riding elephants in Koh Phangang

I’ve only been travelling for a few weeks but it has already massively put things into perspective. The culture in Asia is wildly different to anything back in England and it’s fascinating hearing about the local’s lives. The average salary out here is minimal, and everything is ridiculously cheap. The locals know that to us what they are selling is cheap, but no one seems to mind. I was speaking to a local who sells cakes on the beach making next to nothing to support his family, but couldn’t stop talking about how much he loved life. I don’t think I ever heard the same things from people back in London who were already on ten times his yearly salary in their first job out of University.

Even if I wasn’t freelancing out here, it’s just nice to travel. Although it is easy to see it as a ‘boozy gap year’ every time someone says they’re going travelling, there’s a lot more to it than that if it’s done properly. It’s a relief to get away from the craziness of London and leave all the stresses behind. A month’s rent for that broom cupboard ‘apartment’ you’re paying for in London would probably get you a decent sized castle out here. I’m completely free to go wherever I want when I want, and the joy of freelancing means I can also work when I want, without some hard-ass manager breathing down my neck every day about sales targets and KPI’s. I know I’m over-generalising and I’m sure plenty of people love their jobs and have great bosses, but hardly any of my friends are doing something that they’re passionate about. They’ve just got the first job they could find, which has in the majority of cases been in recruitment. We’re only young once (I love cliches) and I know that one day I’m going to have to get serious with my life, but it’s nice to have been able to get away for a bit, and think about what I really want to do.

Trekking up Koh Nang Yuan

 I’ve never really ‘come out the closet’ about the struggles with my mental health, so I guess this is kind of that, but travelling has made me realise that I’m really not that bothered anymore. I was too scared people would think I had a few too many screws loose and needed to be locked up somewhere, but travelling has this amazing ability to strip away all the daily stresses and anxieties that are ever-so present in modern society. Everyone at some point in their lives should make the time to travel, for whatever their own personal reasons may be, even if it is just to have a boozy gap year. For me, it’s a chance to ‘fix’ myself and figure out what’s next, as I really hadn’t planned for my mental setbacks over the last couple of years. But although I hadn’t planned for it, I’m weirdly grateful; it’s given me the opportunity to do something I’d never thought about doing before and seeing what else the world has to offer; which is apparently much more than the small and busy bubble of London that I’ve lived in my whole life.


This is a story from my close friend of 5+ years George Bell, who came out to me about his mental illness and his suicidal thoughts in the summer of 2015. I can’t believe that I almost lost a close friend, so I’m incredibly proud of his journey of recovery and honoured to share his story on The Artistic Collaborative.

If you wish to speak to George about your own experiences of depression, email him here, read his blog Living Mentally Well and follow him on twitter (@GeorgeBell01); he urges all of you with similar experiences to get in touch. Lastly, if like George, you want to share your story get in touch!

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Visiting an active volcano, Mount Batur, in Bali
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