How A Trip To Morocco Saved My Life

Try to picture me on a typical Saturday. Me, the travel blogger who floods your newsfeed with colourful photos of cities whose names you cannot pronounce. Me, the globetrotter whose passport reads like a Risk manual. Me, the world conqueror.

What do you see? Do you imagine me writing blog posts in a beachfront cafe as I sip on an espresso Martini? Or perhaps you picture me spending my weekends at hole-in-the-wall art galleries, soaking up inspiration for my next trip? Whatever your answer, it is probably perfectly compatible with the persona I present to you through my website and other social media. I’m a happy-go-lucky twentysomething student turning her dreams of travelling the world into reality. Now, don’t worry – I’m not going to reveal myself to be an ageing gentleman with a criminal record. But I am going to tell you a story…

February 14, 2014 – Moscow

The street lamps are slowly coming back to life as people stumble home with furry hats pulled over their ears to keep them from freezing. With every step, they feel the crunch of snow and lure of their warm living rooms. I watch them out of the corner of my eye, green with tiredness and envy. I’m not going home – I’m going to work. 

Whilst living in Russia, I decided to prove to the world I was superwoman. I was a full-time student by day, attending seminars and enlightening my lecturers with insightful comments about Marx’s writings – or at least entertaining them with my attempts. By night I worked for a major TV network, writing news scripts and researching current affairs. My lectures usually ran from noon till 6pm; my work started before midnight and finished by 8 in the morning. I worked for one week and then had a week off – and so on and so forth like an unmerciful pendulum. I slept when I could, which was usually never.
One day, I was walking back from work through a deserted park in the wee morning hours. The Russian cold has a way of chilling you to the marrow, closing its long fingers around your throat and clenching it until words freeze inside. In that moment, something inside me broke. I sat down on the icy ground and shook, unable to utter a single word – unable to even cry.

I don’t remember how long I sat there or how I eventually made it to my room, but what I do remember is that I didn’t leave my bed for the next week. I had seven days off work and my roommate had a different schedule, so my absence from life largely went by unnoticed. When anyone asked what I’d done that day, I lied. I had the flu, I said. I wasn’t feeling well.

That was only half a lie. I was not feeling well by any definition of the word. I lay in bed, stared at the cracks in the ceiling and listened to the noises from the corridor. I lived in a student dormitory, so a soundtrack of feet shuffling and distant screams from the kitchen played on repeat. People poured in with offers of exciting activities – would I like to visit the world-renowned Bolshoi theatre and watch Swan Lake? They were going to visit Lenin on the Red Square, was I in? No, thank you, I answered. I would rather lie on a thin mattress and listen to blood pulsing in my ears. If someone had offered me a free trip to Bali, my answer would have been the same.

I dreaded the one word which hovered over me, forcing my head underneath a pillow. I tried to sleep it off, but whenever I woke up it was there, growing larger and darker. Depression. I hadn’t eaten in two days. My hair was tangled and my skin a sickly shade of violet. Me, the travel blogger who floods your newsfeed with colourful photos of cities whose names you cannot pronounce. Me, the globetrotter whose passport reads like a Risk manual. Me, the world conqueror.

When Friday rolled around the corner, I summoned up all my strength and went back to work. “I am too professional to put myself first,” I thought and maybe even smiled a little, the expression feeling strangely foreign. As I normally would, I joked with my coworkers and messaged my friends: “Oh, I’m great! Sorry I didn’t answer your last message, so busy. You know me haha! Every quip was a building stone of an impenetrable facade and with every brick, my hopes of ever feeling better plummeted. Every fake smile made me more and more certain of it – this was my life now. This was what adulthood felt like and I was just being melodramatic.

March 10, 2014 – Moscow

The inside of my brain was splattered with black, but my face was sparkling with rainbows. I couldn’t hide the dark circles underneath my eyes, but I made up for them with an endless stream of self-deprecating jokes. I was playing superwoman and there was no space for failure or pain in my repertoire. It was the middle of March, the snow was thawing and I was hoping the dark cloud hanging over my head would disappear along with it. Alas, no luck.

When my friend suggested we fly to Marrakech to celebrate her 21st birthday, my first instinct was to deactivate my phone and never answer her messages again. I was hardly able to crawl out of bed and make myself a plate of plain spaghetti – how on earth was I going to pack a bag, get myself to the airport and fly all the way to Morocco? But for some reason, I hastily accepted the invitation. Less than half an hour after hearing the idea for the first time, I received a confirmation email. “Your flight from Moscow to Marrakech is booked for March 18. Thank you for choosing to fly with Royal Air Maroc.” I was pretty sure I’d gone mad.

I would like to say that the minute the plane took off, all my troubles disappeared. I can imagine the sentence smoothly rolling off my tongue: “As soon as the seatbelt sign flashed green, I felt my worries lifting off my shoulders and disappearing from sight along with the world below.” But they did not. I spent my entire flight to Morocco gazing out the window, wondering if I was ever going to feel happy again.

When I landed in Marrakech, I was tired and cranky. All I wanted was my luggage and a warm bed. “Excuse me, are these all the bags?” I asked an attendant after searching for my tiny red suitcase in vain. “Oui, mademoiselle. That’s it.” Suddenly, to the man’s great surprise, I began laughing. The laugh started out shaky and silent, like a helpless animal trying to stand on its skinny legs for the first time, but soon rose up like a giant wave basking everyone around in its warmth. For the first time in what seemed like centuries, I felt like myself again. The suitcase with all my money was lost, I had no idea where I was going and it looked like I was the only person left at the airport. The worst had happened and… it wasn’t that bad! So what if I lost my bag? So what if I could not understand half the words the man was saying to me? Suddenly, I realised I did not care. “Is that really the best you got?” I thought. “Bring it on, life. I’m not scared.”

I flagged down a taxi, handed the driver my only remaining cash and proceeded to get lost in the middle of an unknown city at midnight. As I stood in the middle of Marrakech’s ancient square of Djemaa el-Fnaa, the melody of the snake charmers’ flutes trickled into my heart and broke the evil spell that had been suffocating me. I took a deep breath and the heavy smell of incense made me lightheaded with joy. Life smelled sweet once again and I was ready to savour it.

But how did the trip save your life?” you might still be wondering, shaking your head at the exaggeration. Would I have died had I not gone on that trip? Of course not. But when a veil of sadness is reducing your enjoyment of life to a disinterested shrug, it feels like you are not alive – merely ticking off the days.

I decided to share the story of my depression with you because I want to paint a balanced picture of my travels on this site. There’s nothing wrong with sharing the highlights of my adventures – after all, who wants to come here and listen to my moping? But, unfortunately, a constant barrage of “look how much fun I’m having, my life is a postcard” can make others feel like failures.From Facebook to Twitter, our social media is designed to emphasise the good and omit the bad. We use it to talk about our accomplishments, to assure everyone that we, too, are really good at this whole “life” thing. But there is more to our lives than what we post online. There is vacuum cleaning, crying, ironing and worrying. I want you to see that even those with the brightest smiles have their dark moments.

When I asked you to picture me on a typical Saturday at the beginning of this post, the only images you had to go by were the highly filtered happy photos I choose to put up online. I hope this insight into the uglier aspects of my life reveals just how much more there is to my incredible globetrotting adventures – and just how far from incredible they can be sometimes. On a typical Saturday you might find me exploring the world, but you might just as well find me in my bedroom with the blinds closed. Few people get to see the latter, but the fact it isn’t on Facebook doesn’t make it any less real.

Have you ever battled depression? How do you manage it on your travels? Do you find new adventures help you fight your problems or do you have other ways of dealing with it?