Dear you there, (Yes, you.)
Travel can change a lot of things about a person. It can change your denomination, your political affiliation, what you value, who you're attracted to — but can it rewire your brain? Can it defeat emotional disorders, body issues, eating disorders, and the suitcases of demons we humans tend to carry around? Maybe it can.
I've struggled with my own version of an eating disorder in the past — and certainly my own version of depression — but it was before I discovered travel. Had I been dealing with these issues later — or should they rise up again — would travel have been my way out?
Possibly. To hear how, I sat down with Ashley Rogers for the story of how traveling helped her beat anorexia. It's a story that deserves telling — though it certainly offers no hard-and-fast cure to these serious issues, it's a step in the right direction. After all, changing one's environment can work miracles, as my first therapist once told me.
Let it be a well of hope and inspiration to you as it was to me.
1) What were you battling before "the big trip?" Set the scene, if you would.
Pre-trip [to England and Wales] I was diagnosed with borderline anorexia — "borderline" because my weight hadn't yet reached "critical" stage. I eventually got into counseling, and it seemed to be working. I was no longer purging and I felt a sense of accomplishment and forward motion.
However, I was still over-conscious of how much I ate, what I ate, how often, and what times of the day. I also over-exercised and would only be content when the scale was a certain number or lower. I was honestly afraid to go — would I be unbearable as a travel companion? Would I even be able to enjoy myself?
2) What were you planning on doing diet-wise while you were abroad? Did you view it as an opportunity to binge, or were you gonna "be good?"
I planned on continuing my regular regiment and only allow certain breaks. I pondered bringing my running shoes with me — they stayed beside my suitcase until the morning I left. I realized I had a pair of boots I wanted to bring more. I definitely didn't view the trip as an opportunity to binge, but I often thought about when I would cheat and what I would need to do to compensate.
3) Did you have an a-ha moment?
I certainly did. I had two; I refer to both as the "shedding of two layers." The first was realizing just how much we would be walking. I actually let out a sigh of relief — even if I had a few cheat days, I would likely walk a portion of it off. I felt trapped on the plane, having two meals in the span of 12 hours and barely any moving around.
But as soon as we started walking around the city, I somehow knew I would be okay. The first portion of our trip was fast-paced and I reveled in it. We had to sprint through the Underground to board a train, getting on board just as the doors closed. Things like that. Not once did I think, "Ah, there's my cardio for the day!" But instead, I cared much more for what was on the other side. What would our next adventure be?
The second portion of the trip was in Wales. It was a much slower pace — next to the ocean and further removed from the hustle and bustle. I thought the transition might allow room for old habits to prevail, but not so. I made a pact with myself again as we walked by the ocean. Along the same lines, the second portion of the trip was another opportunity to keep moving forward. And so I did. I managed to continue not caring as much about how much I ate, when I ate, what I drank. I felt liberated.
That being said, there is never a complete cure — the voice that holds your insecurities, tainted images of yourself, and your mind...it remains as long as you do. Taking this trip and experiencing what I left behind for so long — my humor, my passions, my curiosities — it all came flooding back.
4) Did you know you had turned a corner? How did you realize something was different? When?
Everything is bittersweet in retrospect. As I focused more on my senses and surroundings, I realized what was more important to me at the time. However, I don't think I truly knew what the trip meant to me until I was home.
5) Does the effect wear off?
Absolutely. As I mentioned before, this is not something that leaves you. I just had to become stronger than my circumstances. They were still times during my liberation that I tried to formulate the layers again, watch my intake, say no to dessert. Luckily, I have amazing friends and travel companions who knew when to give me shit. You're on vacation; eat the damn ice cream!
6) What advice do you have for others?
Recognize what is missing or causing pain — an eating disorder is not singularly rooted. It's merely the branch of a tree. Once you solidify the foundation and "whence it comes," you can start to find yourself again.
Travel, I found, is something that makes me infinitely happy. The only way to truly experience a new place is by walking, and the only way to keep walking is to give your body energy.
7) Can the effect be replicated again, later? Do you think it depends on the people around you? Do you have to go to faraway places? Travel internationally?
It can be replicated. For me, my travel group was just as important as the destination. I completely support solo travel — but in this case, it takes a village. Sometimes, you have to be reminded of your true self, and friends can be the most direct path there.
8) How did you keep up the good progress once home?
I bottled up the liberation and tried to bring myself back to that moment. I'm still a work in progress, but I can say with absolute certainty that this next adventure will be even better than the last. (And planning my next trip helped, too!)
If this resonated with you and you'd like to reach out, don't hesitate. Jacqueline@thestrangeandnew.com will get you to me (and if you don't want to talk to me, I can get you to Ashley!).
But either way, onward and upward.
Cover photo by daniellehelm