In this guest post Phoebe from The chance of choice writes about a topic a lot of people don’t talk about: traveling and battling with mental health. She’s currently traveling and presenting to international schools across the globe, discussing invisible health problems and chasing your dreams.
This is a very special post. It is the first guest post of my blog, written by a very inspiring woman. I had never thought about publishing a guest post before but I loved Phoebe’s story and I believe you will find it interesting as well. She writes about a topic many people don’t talk about: traveling and battling with mental health.
Three years ago Phoebe from The chance of choice was diagnosed with illnesses doctors told her she would never be able to fully recover from to lead a normal life. Fast forward three years to the surprise of the doctors of University College London she has recovered.
She openly discusses the health battles she was faced with and still faces, but now she is making the most of her life. She is aiming to be the second woman in history to travel to every country in the world while presenting to the younger generation about her journey with her health and her challenge as she goes.
Guest post by Phoebe: I travel the world and battle with mental health: why it’s okay to not be okay
To people looking from the outside I live the ideal life. I decided after a serious battle with health problems and an unrewarding job in the investment management industry to become self employed, running my own website while travelling the world. I have skied in Norway, swam with sharks in Belize and seen wonders of the world in Canada, Cambodia and Mexico.
I aim to travel to every country in the world to be exact, intending to spread my message of invisible health awareness and following your dreams, to as many of the younger generation as possible. I do this by presenting to international schools across the globe, discussing invisible health problems, travelling and chasing your dreams.
Often I find myself in front of an audience of 200 or so young eyes looking at me in awe. They look at me as if I have it absolutely made, that they could only wish of eventually doing something as rewarding and daring as what I have set out to do.
I love it so much, I count my lucky stars every single morning I wake up. I am so grateful that I am healthy enough to travel, that I took the plunge to do so and that I had a good wage so I could save enough while working in investments to get this lifestyle going.
However If you struggle with depression, anxiety, paranoia, OCD, or any other invisible illness for that matter I can relate somewhat.
I previously battled illnesses that to an onlooker, it would appear I was perfectly healthy. I love the life I have chosen and I love travelling but my health problems, my mental health, doesn’t stop because I have chosen the exact path I want my life to be. It’s quite the opposite, while you can mitigate the factors that provoke mental health, I cannot completely stop it as a sufferer.
I am of the opinion that mental health is similar to that old story with cold sores. How once you have one, the virus is in your system forever and if ever you get run down or stressed you get one? Well that’s now my view on my mental health. My mental health comes in waves, there can be weeks, months at a time I don’t think about it and then there will be days or even weeks that sleep never comes, that the idea of leaving my bed, even taking off the covers is way too much to ask.
With mental health people may not be depressed or anxious everyday, but it does not make the mental health they suffer any less or any more validated as a result. Mental health is not being happy or sad, it is a chemical imbalance.
If you are sitting reading this, knowing you may have a mental health problem but with ‘no reason’ have a read of ‘Secret signs of concealed depression’.
Generally when I tell people I have suffered with mental health and still suffer, I get ‘I wouldn’t put you as the type to have depression or anxiety’. Mental health is not a personality type. Certain personality types are more prone to it, similarly to specific immune systems are prone to catching stomach bugs through genetics and other external factors.
It does not mean every other human is immune from stomach bugs and the same runs true with anxiety and depression. ‘Does a sore throat match your personality?’ sounds silly doesn’t it, although there are people who always seem to have sore throats. Well thats how ridiculous ‘You don’t seem the type to get a anxiety’ should sound to everyone.
If you feel you have no reason for mental health problems, you feel guilt for not being happy with the life you have, because so many others have it so much worse. Stop tormenting yourself, it will only be making your mental health so much worse. Look at me: travel life, dream life, mental health sufferer.
Having come to terms with exactly what are my mental health symptoms and what are just emotions has been a four year learning curve.
I can safely say looking back now I suffered mental health throughout my teens. I am very lucky to now be able to clearly identify what is just ‘having a bad day’ and what is a mental health symptom. As a result I have developed coping strategies that I do even in my periods with no mental health problems to make sure I am on top of my health.
I have apps for everything; a yoga app, a meditation app and a mindfulness app, along with drinking Matcha tea-known for helping psychologically as well as being incredibly healthy. It has meant I know how to put one foot in front of the other or to know when to stop myself.
Acknowledging you have a problem is probably the hardest and biggest step, but ignoring your mental health completely is a sure fire way to allow it to snowball.
The medical industry does not know enough about the brain to be able to give you a pill to cure variations of mental health and as a result you must be receptive to every idea that is thrown your way. In my time I had tried: therapy, family counselling, hypnosis, cognitive behavioural therapy, occupational therapy, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, medication, varying diets and exercise, plus many more.
The is no one cure unfortunately. If attempts you are making don’t feel beneficial for you and your mental health, build up a steel-like resilience. Because there will be something out there to make it more manageable.
I can say now, four years on, I feel like I have an armour ready to go to battle at a moments notice with my mental health. Change your perception, accept mental health as an illness and find methods that are best for you. Until you do so, you will continue to suffer.
A final frustrating battle many people with mental health problems struggle with are friends and family.
I made the assumption my closest friends would naturally be the best at helping me with my invisible health problems, including depression and anxiety. Not true. The learning curve over the last four years has been enormous, it has been a medley of shock, disappoint and relief with how my health has shaped the dynamics of my family and friendships.
The perception of mental health is gradually changing, but it’s still a long way from being viewed how it rightly should. Unfortunately you may have friends and family who fall into the category of having not changed their perceptions. To them the world is still black and white.
This is not to say the friends and family who have poor perceptions of mental health are any less a part of your life like they were before. But with this, it only makes you cherish the people who you can rely on to discuss and support your mental health so much more. I have written a coping strategy for managing anxiety that has very been incredibly useful to me.
That’s it, my life, a travel life, a dream life, peppered with mental health. I’m not perfect and sometimes it is just plain hard work, but surprisingly as time has gone on, travel has helped my illnesses rather than exacerbate them like I was so worried it would.
I want to open up about this because sadly so many people out there are still wearing masks to hide how they are truly feeling and that in itself is not okay, because at one time or another, it is absolutely okay to not be okay.
GOOD TO KNOW
- American mental health charity: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/
- Aussie mental health charity: https://www.sane.org/
- English mental health charity: https://www.mind.org.uk/
Phoebe started her long term trip in June this year. So far she has been to USA, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador. Follow her quest to visit every country of the world in her blog thechanceofchoice.com and her social networks: instagram, facebook, twitter, pinterest and you tube.
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Love this so much. <3 "It is absolutely okay to not be okay." Truer words have never been spoken.
Yes they are very true words even though we never think about it.
But we should all realize that it’s ok not to be ok 🙂
Phoebe howlett says
Thanks Amanda! It was actually a friend who said she realised it’s okay to not be okay when talking about her mental health throughout university and I just loved it, because it’s so true!
Young and Undecided says
What a beautifully honest post. I am about to embark on my first long term travel experience and I have my own worries about how that will affect me, but reading this has given me perspective and reassurance. Thank you Phoebe for sharing your story and your experience.
We can never know how long term travel will affect us. For sure there will ups and downs, but overall most people have a great, rewarding experience. And it’s ok not to be always ok 🙂
Phoebe howlett says
Thankyou so much for your comment! It reaffirms that we need to speak about this more! I’m very pleased it’s helped you, travel is such an incredible way to get to grips with your mental health. Good luck with your travels.
Well done Phoebe, you’re an inspiration! Continue your amazing journey 🙂
Yes she is a true inspiration! 🙂
Phoebe howlett says
Thankyou Gina, encouragement like this does mean so much!
Ana Ro says
That is such a beautiful post. I think I will remember the “it’s ok not to be ok” line for myself and repeat it to myself when I need it. Thanks for this!
I will remember it too… sometimes I need to be reminded that it’s ok not to be ok!
Phoebe howlett says
Yes! Since I heard it it has been something I say to myself regularly. And as a result more often then not makes me happier and healthier!
This is so inspirational. I have an invisible illness as well and can relate to the struggles. And I too have found travel to be healing and have made it a huge part of my life. And yes, “it’s ok not to be ok” is just perfect.
Glad to hear that you have managed to make travel a huge part of your life in spite of the invisible illnesses. I do have some too and also find travel to be healing.
Phoebe howlett says
I have had my fair share of invisible illnesses, ME, PoTS and the whole spectrum of mental health piled on top. I’m so please you too find travel a source or recovery! Experiencing life while managing illness feels like such an achievement, so well done.
Love your detailed and emotional writing! I can relate to this slow journey. of change.
I had depression after I moved to the cold, dark and unknown Finland, far away from my family and friends, to be with my current husband. It was a slow process to feel happy there, especially for a while I didn’t even realise what was the problem.
Depression is such a tricky thing. I had depression too and took me years to realize that I had to do something about it. I hope you’re feeling better now.
Phoebe howlett says
Thanks so much.
Yes! That is the biggest hurdle, understanding mental health for the first time. It’s such a inner struggle yet from the outside all seems well with you.
I’m pleased to hear you have recognised it.
Tema muy interesante. Yo que viajo siempre con media mochila llena de fármacos entiendo bien de lo que habla.
[Translation by Laia: very interesting topic. I travel with a backpack half full of meds, I understand well what she’s talking about]
Viajar con problemas de salud no es siempre fácil, pero es posible 🙂 ¡Buen viaje!
[Traveling with health problems is not always easy, but it’s possible :). Have a good trip! ]
Phoebe howlett says
Yes, I have to commit to the high costs of medication while I travel just so it can continue. But it is something that is worth it.