My Struggles With Mental Health As A Long Term Backpacker

This is simple – life is not easy. Life has never been easy. Days are a struggle. People lie to us. People let us down. Before the Coronavirus pandemic kicked in, I travelled far and wide. I visited 186 countries that I personally recognise. I met thousands of people. I ate thousands of different meals, drank thousands of different beers and slept in thousands of different beds. Nomadic life, it seemed was for me. I smiled in photos. You saw that, right?

Smiling in Bangladesh – Chittagong in 2015

Life as an eternal backpacker come whackpacker was pure bliss surely. Everyday an adventure. One moment, you’d see me in Myanmar, then I’d jet off to Hong Kong, then I’d turn up in Tanzania. It was all wild and wacky and for the most part – yes it was real bliss. Those smiles were real. I loved travelling. I loved being the tourist everyday.

Visiting the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar

However, those who followed my blog and my story from the early days (2007 – 2012) will have seen all the ups and down I experienced in those days. It was a reality show – I was sharing my real stories. I bared my soul to the world. And when I bared my soul and showed how my life really was – you could see the mental health issues. It was clear I had many days of tears, days of stress, days of deep depression.

My Struggles With Mental Health As A Long Term Backpacker

Unfortunately in November 2014, I met someone who single handedly plunged me into depression. That was the toughest thing to contemplate. I was in Romania backpacking at the time – everything seemed normal. Life was as usual – I was touring the sights of Bucharest, I watched a Northern Ireland football match, I toured unique churches in Suceava, I drank blood beer in Dracula’s town, I was on the rip in Bucharest, Brasov amongst others. But this person I met, in a hostel, well they ruined my life – it’s as simple as that.

Bloodsucking in Bran – Dracula’s blood beer.

While that depression period may have started in late 2014, it wasn’t until September 2016 that I had my suicide bid, disappearance, and the peelers were looking for me. I was suicidal, life was really hard. I survived. But depression didn’t leave. I tried everything. Psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists, medication, yoga, isolation, drinking, quitting drinking. I wasted thousands of pounds on all that and ended up with nothing. Family and friends were worried. I was alone, in deep depression and this time was on social media in a negative way. This was a low, it was deep depression and it was not my fault – it was caused by someone else. 🙁

Belfast Live

So how did I pick myself back up? Did I simply call my doctor in the UK, did I find a therapist in Poland (my new home), was I online using the help available from the website BetterHelp ? I was up for trying anything, but I was clutching at straws. I was sliding the wrong way down the mountain, it was an uphill struggle, it was a losing battle. What really saved me?

What saved me? Bats saves from Zico at the 1986 World Cup.

To this day, I still don’t know how I survived. Was it God? Was it thanks to friends and family? I had no answers. But what I did have was a new base. I was now living in Poland. Something had changed in me. I realised that the backpacking nomadic dream had come to an end in 2016. It was time to hang up the long term backpack, find a home and maybe just maybe, settle down.

The Northern Irishman in Poland header project

I was now living back in Europe for the first time since 2009 – a 7 year gap. So what did I do? I let Don’t Stop Living slide away and I started a new project. It was totally fresh. I became “Ulsterczyk”, I became “NIMIP”, I became “Northern Irishman in Poland“, I became “Połnocny Irlandczyk w Polsce”…Poland was home now and I felt at home here, especially in the cold snowy winter. It was a beautiful time.

City snow during my Winter Stay at the Ibis Warszawa Centrum, Poland

I did a volunteer teaching course, I got my Polish NIP (ID number to work), I got back into teaching and I started a brand new blog. This was a breath of fresh air. Times had changed and I was enjoying exploring Poland. The articles on Don’t Stop Living stopped. Well at least, they weren’t as frequent. The weird thing is, that was almost 4 years ago. Yet depression is still in me everyday. I have to live with it. I have to understand it will always be with me. There is no cure.

tourism starogard gdanski

Backpacking in the Rynek in Starogard Gdanski, Poland

However in those 4 years, travel outside Poland also didn’t stop – in fact I have visited some amazing places in that period, including 14 new African countries, yes 14! I have also been back to Asia twice, the Middle East twice and my incredible Pacific Islands tour in 2019. I did all of that through my depression. Oh and I also visited 2 countries in Cyprus, and 2 countries in Malta as well as some totally crazy wacaday nations – Romkerhall and Wallachia!!

Backpacking in Nauru: Top 12 Sights In The Interior, Thon Outback

And then, after a trip to Namibia, Angola, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Lesotho, the virus kicked in. Globally the world was ruined and life would never be the same again. I stayed at home for the best part of 9 weeks, I gave up alcohol, I released my book series, “Backpacking Centurion” and I chilled out. Travel, for now, was over.

My Book Is Out! Backpacking Centurion - A Northern Irishman's Journey Through 100 Countries Volume 1 - Don't Look Back In Bangor

My Book Is Out! Backpacking Centurion – A Northern Irishman’s Journey Through 100 Countries Volume 1 – Don’t Look Back In Bangor

But at least I had my books out. Am I healed? Am I better? No, I still have depression. I will probably always have depression but at least I am alive, I fight it and I know it wasn’t caused by me. The fact that my depression was caused by a serial liar, is probably the guiding star for me – it’s probably what keeps me alive – knowledge that it wasn’t my fault…

“Life goes on” – Tupac Shakur.

Life in the Palanca neighbourhood, Luanda, Angola

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