Personal Journey

Healing Journey: How Traveling Helped Me Overcome Depression and Become a Nurse On the Road

Journey to healing is unique to each individual. For me, it has been a long and winding road, but one that has been filled with growth, self-discovery, and the opportunity to help others along the way. When we lose a loved one, pain is inevitable, but moving on takes time.

At one point, I felt so trapped by the routine of everyday life that I wondered why and how could this go on. Healing from depression is not an easy thing. But in this post, I’ll be sharing my healing journey while helping other people I met on the road as a nurse.

Journey to healing

In January 2019, I left my job as an integrative nurse but kept a few clients to help build up my savings until I left the country. Trying to suppress feelings of depression after losing grandma last August 2018.

Last July 2019, I traveled with my boyfriend to reunite after being apart for a year. During that time, he was in Mexico while I stayed in the Philippines. (To be honest, I didn’t know it would eventually lead to our 4-year vagabonding journey together.)

In the past, when I planned vacations and trips, my list included must-see sights and things to try. But this time around—since I’m so emotionally fragile—I don’t know what to expect of myself or how well plan for it. So all that matters is being with him…

So I flew to Bangkok, Thailand, and checked into an eco-friendly hostel called The Yard. Thinking it would be a great place to make friends. Only to find out that I wasn’t ready to connect with people—and made myself feel very vulnerable in the process of trying anyway!

When Thirumal arrived in Bangkok, it took time for me to feel better. There are nights when I cry for no reason.

From Thailand, we traveled to Laos, Myanmar, India (North East to West Bengal), and Bhutan by crossing land borders. We stayed in one country until our visa was about to expire. It was my first time traveling longer. And this time, we take it slowly, enjoying the sceneries, observing local life, and living like a local too. 

From these places, I met wonderful individuals and families. I’ve seen light from them, most especially those families who hosted us in their humble homes. It was like a breath of fresh air. I was slowly put back into pieces and made myself whole again without noticing it.

Journey to healing is through human connection
My journey to healing through human connection

These people didn’t even know what I’ve been going through. But the genuine kindness they showed made me smile as often until I no longer feel the pain. I realized how powerful human connection is. I was slowly healing myself from depression.

Here are some unforgettable encounters with the people I met on my journey to healing!


My unforgettable encounters in Asia:

1. Longwa, Nagaland, India

Deep within the remote region of Nagaland, India, lies the village of Longwa, situated on the border of Myanmar and North East India. This village is known for being the home of the last headhunters in the world, who, after converting to Baptist-based Christianity in the 1960s, ceased the practice of beheading their enemies.

During our visit, we had the opportunity to meet some of the headhunters in person. One of them, Yawang, an 84-year-old man, was not feeling well due to his age. We decided not to disturb him, but to our surprise, he came out of his room wearing traditional clothing and allowed us to take a photo together.

Afterward, I offered to provide Yawang with some medication and check his temperature. However, before I could leave for my homestay, Yawang’s grandson informed me that his mother had been ill for the past 11 days and was unable to eat or leave her bed. Unfortunately, they could not afford to take her to the hospital or buy medication due to financial constraints.

It was a humbling experience to see firsthand the struggles of this village and the kind-heartedness of its people. As we left, I couldn’t help but think of ways to help this community in need.

Journey to healing - meeting last headhunter of Nagaland India
He is one of the oldest Headhunters I met in Longwa named Yawang.

During my stay at a homestay, I met a man named Athap who was the patient’s brother-in-law. He shared with me that he had tried to convince the family to take the patient to the hospital several times, but they had refused. Despite offering to drive them and pay for the hospitalization, the family had deep-rooted fears and distrust towards medical treatment. This incident shed light on the reality of tribal communities and their reluctance towards modern healthcare practices.

Feeling concerned for the patient, I decided to return to their house with some medicines and a thermometer. I spoke to her son who revealed that his mother had been bitten by an insect while working in the forest. The following day, she began to feel unwell and developed rashes on her skin, which persisted for six days.

Upon examination, I noted several alarming symptoms including a persistent high-grade fever, severe body pain, mental confusion, vomiting episodes, chills, eye sensitivity to bright light, and a white-coated tongue. The patient was also bedridden and suffering from migraines. This made me realize the gravity of the situation and the urgent need for proper medical attention, which unfortunately, was not easily accessible to the tribal community.

Journey to healing while helping a tribe  with scrub typhus
One of the Konyak tribe I encountered who was 11 days bedridden due to Scrub Typhus

After examining the patient, I decided to provide some immediate relief measures. I administered Paracetamol to bring down her fever, massaged her with magnesium oil to ease her body pain, and gave her an antacid to alleviate her nausea. Additionally, I performed some acupressure techniques to help her feel more comfortable. I advised her family to give her soup before taking medicine to avoid stomach upset.

To ensure that the patient’s condition was being monitored properly, I instructed her family to keep a close eye on her temperature and give her Paracetamol every six hours as prescribed. Thankfully, the Paracetamol and antacid provided some relief, and the next day, the patient’s condition had improved.

However, since the patient was still in need of medical attention, her family decided to take her to the hospital. I waited for them as they prepared to transfer her into the car. They carried her on a handwoven mat and covered her with a warm blanket, demonstrating their deep care and concern for their loved one.

Before the patient was taken to the hospital, I taught her husband some acupressure techniques to alleviate her vomiting and gave them some of my essential oils to help soothe her. Once they arrived at the hospital, the staff promptly tested and diagnosed her with Scrub Typhus. She received immediate treatment, and after two weeks, she made a full recovery. I was grateful and relieved that she was able to receive the medical attention she needed in time.

What is Scrub Typhus?
Scrub typhus is a bacterial infection caused by the Orientia tsutsugamushi bacterium, which is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected chiggers, the larvae of trombiculid mites. The disease is commonly found in rural areas of Southeast Asia, Australia, and the Western Pacific Islands. Symptoms of scrub typhus include fever, headache, muscle aches, and a characteristic rash. The incubation period of scrub typhus can range from 6 to 21 days, with most cases developing symptoms within 10 days. Early diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics are crucial to prevent complications, such as organ failure and even death.

This experience was deeply meaningful to me as it reinforced the notion that one’s profession can also be a passion. It highlighted the importance of using one’s skills and knowledge to serve underprivileged individuals and educate them about health and wellness practices. I felt fulfilled knowing that I was able to make a positive impact and give back to society in my own small way. It served as a reminder that even the smallest acts of kindness and generosity can go a long way in making a difference in someone’s life.


2. Bhutan

Bhutan is a landlocked country situated between China (Tibet) and India (Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh). It is renowned for being one of the happiest countries in the world in terms of Gross National Happiness and is also the only carbon-negative country globally.

Although visiting Bhutan was a top priority on my bucket list, I had mixed feelings due to my history of Chronic Vein Insufficiency (CEAP C6). This condition makes me unable to feel my legs in cold temperatures, which was a cause for concern.

During my trip from Phoentsholing (293 meters) to Paro (2,200 m / 7,217 ft), I experienced mild altitude sickness. Additionally, while trekking to the Tiger’s Nest in Paro (3,120 m / 10,236 ft), I felt dizzy, nauseated, and had a headache. I managed these symptoms by using acupressure on my face, using essential oils, chewing gum, and resting in the car when possible. At restaurants, I always requested ginger tea and garlic soup, which proved helpful in alleviating my symptoms. Fortunately, my vein issues did not flare up during the trip.

What is altitude sickness?
Altitude sickness is a set of general symptoms that can occur when a person ascends to higher elevations too quickly. When the body doesn't have enough time to adjust to the lower air pressure and reduced oxygen levels that are typical at high altitudes, it can lead to a range of symptoms.

During our trip to Bhutan, our friend Sarah from Belgium, who we had met in India, joined us. However, even before we crossed the Bhutan border, she developed a persistent dry cough that was particularly severe at night and left her feeling drained.

I shared some of the medications I had brought along, including antihistamines and cough remedies like Lagundi capsules, as well as essential oils. Additionally, I suggested that she consume garlic soup, drink ginger tea, and stay hydrated with plenty of water. These remedies seemed to help alleviate her coughing.

However, on the third night in Bhutan, Sarah began experiencing severe migraines that made her sensitive to light and sound. When I went to visit her, she was in tears and had no appetite.

We considered taking her to the hospital, but she was too weak to leave her bed. So, I decided to perform acupressure on her for nearly an hour. Gradually, she began to open her eyes and feel hungry again. I felt relieved seeing her improve.

The following day, Sarah woke up early feeling as though nothing had happened the night before.

I am happy to help her at that time or else we have missed the Druk Wangyel Festival at Dochula Pass.

Journey to healing - Healing from migraine attack before attending Druk Wangyel Festival Bhutan
Myself and Sarah wore Tego (jacket) and Kira (Sari style skirt), a National costume of Bhutan while attending the Druk Wangyel Festival after having a migraine attack

3.  Kolkata, India

We traveled from Darjeeling to Kolkata due to a political issue and our plan to fly to Vietnam from there. Little did we know that our accommodation was just a short walk away from Mother Teresa’s convent. Curiosity piqued, we decided to visit her tomb.

As we walked around the tomb, something stirred within me, so I asked one of the nuns by the main gate if there was any volunteering opportunity available. To my surprise, she replied immediately and asked me to come back the next day at 8 am without any requirements needed.

The following day, I found myself volunteering at the hospice center called Premdan Dying Destitute. Our tasks involved assisting the elderly, changing their bed sheets, taking them outside for sunlight, doing massages, manicures, and pedicures, distributing food for lunch, and doing some general cleaning and laundry.

While doing my rounds, I encountered a bedridden patient who caught my attention. She was a dying elder with numerous bed sores, and she was also suffering from pneumonia. Two volunteers and a staff nurse named Sister Sabita were doing wound dressing on her when I arrived. I noticed that she was struggling to breathe, so I put on her nasal cannula and requested permission from the head coordinator to do some acupressure on her. I applied pressure to her lung point and massaged her extremities lightly to promote better circulation.

The next morning, the patient’s facial appearance transformed from pale to a normal complexion. She was able to open her eyes widely, smile at me, and even move her right arm slightly while whispering “Dhaniawad,” which means “Thank you” in Hindi. It was heartening to witness her slight improvement, and the staff and nuns were surprised as well.

After a few days of leaving Kolkata, I received the news that the patient had passed away. While I couldn’t help but feel saddened by the news, I also knew that her suffering had finally come to an end in a peaceful manner.

4. Da lat,Vietnam

Upon our arrival in Dalat, my then-boyfriend, now husband, was already complaining about his lower back pain, which gradually worsened over the next 2-3 days. Eventually, he was unable to walk and had to remain lying down. We were concerned that a nerve may have been affected or ruptured, and the possibility of hospitalization worried us both.

Desperate for a solution, I searched for an Orthopedic doctor to examine him. Fortunately, our Landlord had a family doctor who was renowned in Dalat as a Spine Specialist. However, since my husband could not move from the bed, I applied pressure to certain areas of his feet, starting from the heel bone and following the contour of the arch of his foot to the side of the great toe. This helped to alleviate some of his pain, and he was eventually able to move both legs and walk again.

We then sought the assistance of our Landlord and went to see the doctor. Thankfully, after an examination, the doctor confirmed that it was just a pulled tendon rather than a spinal issue, and that rest was all that was required. The doctor even waived the consultation fee, for which we were grateful.

Journey to healing - spine consultation in Dalat Vietnam
Thirumal’s Spine consultation in Da lat, Vietnam

Our landlord generously lent us her pulse therapy machine to aid in my husband’s recovery, and we were immensely grateful for the kindness of others in our time of need.

What is a Lumbar Strain?
It is also referred to as a pulled back muscle, is an injury that affects the tendons or muscles in the lower back region. This type of injury can range from a minor stretch to a partial or complete tear in the muscle-tendon combination.

Here are some of the key points that influenced my path towards healing:

Dealing with depression is not as simple as popping pills. It requires time and effort to address every aspect and achieve complete healing. All aspects of one’s being – mental, spiritual, physical, emotional, and social – must be in harmony and balance.

1. Acknowledging the Need for Help

The first step in any journey to healing is acknowledging that you need help. For me, this meant recognizing that I was struggling with anxiety and depression and seeking support to work through these issues. This realization led me to leave my job, and family at home—and pack a bag so I could seek healing elsewhere.

2. Finding the Right Support

Once I acknowledged that I needed help, the next step was finding the right support.

I’ve found healing through my supportive husband, human connection, living with locals in the places we traveled, and experiencing kindness—all things that make me look at life positively again.

3. Practicing Self-Care

Self-care has been a critical part of my journey to healing. This has included things like exercise, meditation, and spending time in nature. It has also meant learning to prioritize my own needs and setting boundaries with others when necessary.

4. Helping Others

As I began to make progress in my own healing journey, I’ve discovered the importance of helping others who were struggling from their physical health. By sharing my experiences and offering support, I’ve been able to not only aid those in need, but also continue my own healing journey. It’s a mutually beneficial cycle of giving and receiving. Whether it’s through volunteering, reaching out to a friend, or simply being a listening ear, there are many ways to make a positive impact on someone else’s life while also benefiting your own mental health. Let’s lift each other up and create a supportive community.

5. Continuing to Learn and Grow

Healing journey is not a destination, but a journey that requires ongoing effort and attention. For me, this has meant continuing to learn and grow, both personally and professionally. It has meant staying open to new experiences and perspective, and being willing to make changes when necessary.

6. Self Discovery

Through my travels, I found myself frequently encountering spicy cuisine from Thailand to Bhutan. With limited options, I learned to develop a taste for it. However, there were times when I craved milder dishes that were not readily available, especially during my travels in India. As a result, I started experimenting with cooking at the Airbnb accommodations where I stayed.

To my surprise, I discovered that preparing colorful and flavorful dishes became a form of self-discovery and healing for me. Each time I created a new dish, it brought about a sense of positivity and satisfaction. It was a rewarding experience that allowed me to explore my culinary interests while also nourishing my body and soul.

Journey to healing through cooking healthy food
Healing through food is one of the factors I started this blog

>>>> RELATED: RAINBOW DIET WORKSHOP IN DALAT <<<<

Growing up in a tropical country, I had never experienced snow, so when I visited mountainous areas with cooler temperatures, I would easily catch a cold. Despite having a history of chronic vein insufficiency and limited warm clothing, I found myself venturing to colder and higher altitude places. As my initial plans did not involve cold weather, most of my clothing was geared for summer.

Despite these challenges, I was able to manage my 32L Deuter backpack and carry the necessary heavy clothes. I was grateful to have been able to explore places as high as 3,753 meters and experience the thrill of touching snow for the first time in Sikkim.

Surprisingly, I did not experience any respiratory issues during my month-long stay in cold places such as Sikkim, Darjeeling, and Bhutan. My boyfriend, now husband, was pleasantly surprised, considering it was my first time visiting such cold regions.

Journey to healing - my winter experience at Changu lake Sikkim India
My First Winter Experience a day before Christmas at Changu Lake, Sikkim, India

7. Human Connections

  1. Performing an act of kindness towards others creates a ripple effect that transcends all barriers of language, politics, and religion. The feeling of doing good is invaluable to me, as it brings a sense of fulfillment that cannot be measured in monetary terms.

  2. The Tribal people I have encountered during my travels have left a lasting impression on me. I find them to be the most authentic and genuine individuals I have ever met. They live in harmony with nature and are not influenced by modern society.

  3. It is wise to steer clear of discussing politics during your travels. People have deeply ingrained beliefs, and your truth may not necessarily align with theirs. It’s best to respect their viewpoints and avoid any potential conflicts.

  4. As a traveler, it’s essential to adopt a universal approach that respects the beliefs, traditions, culture, and religion of the places you visit. Being a guest in someone else’s land means being mindful of their customs and beliefs.

  5. Growing up as a Christian, my travels have taught me to appreciate and accept other religions. During my trip to Bhutan, I visited several temples as part of the itinerary. In Sikkim, India, we were invited to celebrate Christmas with locals. The hotel manager gifted me a book on Buddhism, and I also volunteered at Mother Teresa’s hospice care center. While I may not share the same beliefs as others, I believe in respecting them. If another religion makes someone a better person, then so be it.

  6. Learning a few words in the local language or dialect can go a long way in connecting with the locals. Basic phrases like hello, thank you, and goodbye, as well as names of local ingredients when shopping at markets, can make communication easier and even help with haggling.


    This simple act of greeting can break down barriers and connect you with people, even if they initially seem cold or stare at you. When you approach them with a friendly “hello,” you’ll often see their facial expression soften and become more welcoming. I have personally experienced this many times, and it truly works! They may even start speaking to you in their native language, assuming you understand them. Simply responding with a polite “thank you” can go a long way in fostering positive interactions.

  7. Become a part of a worldwide digital community where individuals come together to discuss and share their common interests, such as travel, language learning, cooking, and health-related topics. By becoming a member of this community, I have had the opportunity to connect with numerous people, many of whom I encountered while traveling.

    One of the things I appreciate about this online community is the abundance of resources available, including travel advice, suggestions for avoiding scams, assistance with trip planning, access to events like the Language Exchange Karaoke in Chiang Mai, and the chance to meet up with fellow travelers or locals in the same area. Here are some of the top Facebook travel groups I recommend, particularly in Asia.
Journey to healing  by meeting the people who made an impact on my healing process
These individuals made an impact on my healing process. I can’t be thankful enough to them.

8. Physical Health

As someone who doesn’t have healthcare insurance, I’ve had to rely on my own resourcefulness to stay healthy while traveling. Instead of keeping O.T.C. (Over-the-counter) medicines for myself, I’ve given them to sick people I’ve met along the way. Luckily, I haven’t fallen ill myself despite traveling from hot to cold places, which my body has adapted to with ease.

Working with Integrative doctors has given me a wealth of knowledge about ancient practices such as Ayurveda, Homeopathy, aromatherapy, and Traditional Chinese medicine. This knowledge has come in handy in helping other travelers or locals I meet on the road who are sick, while also allowing me to stay healthy while traveling!

Here are some of my go-to remedies and practices to take care of my health while on the road:

  1. In my travels, I’ve discovered the importance of using natural remedies to stay healthy and manage common ailments. For instance, in cold places like Bhutan, Sikkim, and Darjeeling, I found that eating citrus fruits like Amla, lemon, and orange helped keep my body strong and adapted to the changing temperatures. Similarly, chili and spicy foods not only warm the body but also contain vitamin C that is great for the lungs.
  2. Fermented foods and pickles are an excellent source of good bacteria, which help keep our gut healthy. Green tea with honey, lemon, and Tulsi or Holy Basil is a great way to boost immunity and support the lungs. Drinking plenty of water and tea is also essential in cold climates.
  3. At high altitudes, I’ve found that essential oils, garlic soup, ginger tea, and acupressure helped me manage altitude sickness. For diarrhea, I eat less, take probiotics or activated charcoal, and drink plenty of water.
  4. Toothaches and sore throats can be treated with oil pulling with virgin coconut oil or gargling with hydrogen peroxide 3%, Echinacea candy, and saltwater. For colds, Lufeel nasal spray, acupressure, and citrus are my go-to remedies.
  5. As someone with a weak liver, I manage my liver symptoms by taking Liv 52 and avoiding oily, sweet, dairy, and meat products. For anxiety and difficulty sleeping, I spray magnesium oil on my neck or pure lavender oil on the back of my ears, under my nose, and neck. Virgin coconut oil cream is effective for itchiness, while Traumeel ointment is useful for bumps and pain.
  6. For leg cramps, magnesium oil works wonders. And to boost my immunity, I take liposomal vitamin C for the first three months of my travels and then switch to Triphala or Chyawanprash when in India. Lastly, for a sleep tonic, I mix Ashwagandha with hot milk, turmeric, and lavender oil.

>>>> RELATED: TIPS ON HOW TO STAY HEALTHY WHILE TRAVELING <<<<

***

Conclusion

Overall, My healing journey has been transformative, and I am now in a much better place. Through travel, human connection, radical acceptance, healing through food, and the unwavering support of my partner, I was able to heal from depression. I started this blog to share my journey and help others who may be going through tough times.

Mental, emotional health, and spirituality are crucial for maintaining balance in our lives. It’s easy to suppress our problems, put on a superficially happy façade, or rely on synthetic medications like antidepressants. But healing is a slow and steady process, and there are no quick-fix solutions.

If you’re struggling with mental health issues, know that recovery is possible. Let yourself feel the pain and work through it at your own pace. Seek out support from those who will listen, hug you, treat you with patience and appreciation, and provide a positive perspective on life. Remember, healing yourself can also help heal others.

***

What exactly are the symptoms of depression?

Depression can manifest in various ways and symptoms may vary from person to person. Common symptoms include feeling sad or empty, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, changes in appetite and weight, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, lack of energy or fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and thoughts of death or suicide.

For a more detailed list of symptoms and information on depression, please visit the National Institute of Mental Health website: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

How do people cope with depression?

People cope with depression in different ways, and what works for one person may not work for another. Some common coping mechanisms include therapy, medication, exercise, mindfulness and meditation, journaling, social support, and self-care practices such as getting enough sleep, eating well, and engaging in enjoyable activities. It’s important to seek help from a mental health professional if you are struggling with depression. Here is a link to the National Institute of Mental Health’s information on depression treatment: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

What is a healing journey?

A healing journey is a personal experience of overcoming challenges and transforming oneself. It’s a process of self-discovery and self-care, where one learns to understand and address their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. It involves taking steps towards healing and growth, such as seeking therapy, practicing mindfulness, connecting with nature, and building supportive relationships. Healing journey is not a one-size-fits-all process and can be unique to each individual. It requires patience, self-compassion, and a willingness to face discomfort and vulnerability. Ultimately, a healing journey can lead to greater self-awareness, resilience, and a more fulfilling life.

How do I start a healing journey?

Starting a healing journey from depression can feel overwhelming, but the first step is acknowledging that you need help. Reach out to someone you trust and consider seeking professional support. Take time to reflect on your feelings, practice self-care, and prioritize your well-being. This can include getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet. Engage in activities that bring you joy and try to surround yourself with positive influences. Remember that healing is a journey and it may take time, but with patience, self-compassion, and support, it is possible to overcome depression and find peace and happiness.

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  1. Under some sircumstances you behaved as a very sweet, thoughtful and optimistic woman. Thank you for meaningful and infomatic sharing!

  2. What a wonderful traveling experience that inspired me very much!
    This article let me know help others is helping ourselves.
    You used your skill to help others, made delicious food to cheer yourself up,put your heart to everything you did and was kind and honest to everyone you met during this long trip.
    You encouraged and warmed me very much,dear Jonah Del!!!
    I became to embrace big tree trunks to absorb the power from the nature after you told me you always do that. hahaha.
    Good luck to you and Thirumal!
    Love you~~

    • I’m so glad I have inspired you. Thank you for your compliment 🙂 It really means to me as I share positivity and gratitude to the individuals I have met. And you are one of them Ying. I missed you! I wish to meet you and Naoto again! And continue embracing the tree to get energy from it. We both are doing it here whenever we do a morning walk in the forest. 😉 Take care my sister!

      Much Love,
      Jonah

  3. Thank you for sharing your very inspiring as well as informative journey. Though quite a long read, I didn’t find myself bored while reading;instead I find myself entertained and amazed. You have shared a piece of your life with us, and I believe that most readers will be inspired and can relate on your life experiences. Continue your amazing journey and continue touching lives. Looking forward on your next destination and wonderful human encounters. Thank you for the positive vibes! Good luck and God bless to you and your love! <3

    • Thank you for the kind words and encouragement, Sha! You also made me feel inspired to share more positivity to everyone. Have a blessed day too!

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Jonah Estanislao-Motati

Hey I’m Jonah, a nurse from the Philippines who has a unique passion for uncovering food origins while traveling. As a food enthusiast and eco-conscious traveler, I go deep into the culinary traditions of each destination, seeking out the stories behind the ingredients and dishes. Join me as I uncovers the rich tapestry of food origins, from local markets to sustainable farms, and share captivating discoveries. Be inspired to embark on a gastronomic adventure that connects you with the cultural heritage and sustainable practices of each place you visit.

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