NHA Lifestyle Blog

Mass depression and an experience called travel

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“We’ve had enough of stuff because we have grown up in a stable society and having possessions is no longer enough to satisfy our need for status. The truth is, mass production and mass consumption has now ultimately led, to mass depression.”  James Wallman.

The absence of meaning

Enchanting forests, luscious green mountains, a hidden tree-house in the jungle, and two wheels that can take me anywhere. Northern Thailand is an overload of the senses, but it was a long road to make it this far. I am a travel writer.

When my parents were growing up, there were no opportunities like there is today. My father often spoke of walking to school with no shoes, and my mother about not having any holidays abroad when she was my age. In fact, one of my fondest memories is sitting on the living room floor with my mother watching Michael Palin’s travels and she always seemed mesmerized, or in awe of the exotic destinations before her eyes. While I, on the other hand, would spend most of my own adult years exploring the world and, as with a lot of things in my life now, I came to see this travelling as a perfectly normal thing to do.

You see, I had a comfortable upbringing, a decent education, family holidays in Spain and most possessions a teenager could want, but still, I rarely felt satisfied in my teens or even my twenties. My parents had none of these same opportunities and had to work tirelessly to gain status by affording a house, cars, and food on the table. Meanwhile, I was still incapable of even just sticking with the same job for more than a year without losing interest.

Truth is, my parents struggle and my own journey into adulthood couldn’t have been any more different: I already had everything they ever dreamed of, and none of the challenges they had faced seemed to exist in the world as I knew it anymore.

How many times they said “You don’t know how lucky you are, when I was your age….”  but the thing is, I did know, and not only were they right, but the very point they had implied was already making my possessions seem void of any real meaning. It took many years to understand this had happened; that mass consumption, mass production and over indulgence had not improved the quality of my life and when I was 25 this absence of meaning was emphasized further, when both of my parents had gone, and I was suddenly living alone in the cluttered household I had grown up in.

No Hanging around

The trouble with the mind

Many strange things can happen in the mind of an adult and it seems to me that you spend most of childhood laughing at school teachers for talking about the “real world”, only to suddenly wake up one morning and find yourself completely alone in it. At this point, it’s impossible to understand that anybody else feels as lonely, or as sad, or as much of a failure, and when you finally do try to escape, the endless obstacles in life just keep bringing you back to the very same place.

In 2013, I was so disillusioned, unsatisfied and fed up feeling this way, that I ended up selling every last one of my meaningless possessions and replacing them with a simple bicycle on which I would travel across Africa overland. Until that point, I had been drowning my problems at the pub every weekend and masking a sadness which would eventually leave me with extreme anxiety issues, and right on the doorstep of depression.

experience called travel

A digital nomad lifestyle

In many ways it was luck what happened next, yet in others it made perfect sense. Rather than allow for depression to take control, I had finally decided to start doing something about it and by removing all the distractions, needless possessions, and negative influences, I was left with nothing but the simple naked human who fell into this world.

For one year I cycled during the day and set up campfires in the evening. For one year I crossed mountains, deserts, and African savannahs. For one year I pushed past every limitation I had come to know, and would learn to teach my body, through my mind, that it was possible of far more than it realized. I was in search of a way to leave the past behind and in doing so, I had found free meals, kind faces and safe shelter in other peoples homes. For one year I was focusing on the road ahead and the most basic needs in life, rather than all the needless destruction, distractions and sadness of the past.

With only a bicycle, a tent, and enough supplies for a few days, I was able to find happiness through meaningful experiences. It was mentally draining, physically challenging and my parents would have hated it, but this nomadic lifestyle with limited possessions, was my own journey into adulthood, and it was everything that I could ever have dreamed of.

Mass depression

Mass depression, possessions & meaningful experiences

I decided to write this article on my solo travel blog because I know how it feels to come out the other side, and I feel sorry for many young people today or those in similar situations, who others just cannot understand. Recent generations are quite often referred as being selfish or ungrateful, but there is more pressure on young people today, than ever before. The mass build up of possessions, distractions, and influences are not something to be grateful for, but rather they are a genuine threat to a persons well being, of any age, who can so easily wake up one morning and feel all alone in a world which seems void of any real meaning.

My parents’ ideals, hopes and dreams were realized which is entirely admirable, but everything which brought status and meaning to their generation, no longer exists in the world as I know it today. Yes, I have values, yes, I have ambitions, yes, I want to be responsible, but I simply cannot find status anymore in materialism and frightening statistics have already shown, that this increase of mass production, mass consumption and over indulgence over the years, has ultimately led to mass depression.

Now I race through the forests of Northern Thailand on a nomadic trail as locals work the land, and tribes people march across the hilltops. It’s a mysterious sight, enchanting and mesmerizing, and it evokes the same feelings as when I was sitting on the living room floor with my mother. It suddenly makes sense why I could never understand what made me so often unhappy in the years that would follow, and why all of my memories are of people, not things, why the many pictures on my walls were of places, not possessions, and why the status, purpose, and happiness I am now finding, is no longer on a television, but within this meaningful experience called travel.

A Meaningful Experience called trave

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Adventurer & Adventure Travel Blogger from Dublin, Ireland. In late 2013 after the loss of both parents and a realization that his life was descending into chaos, Derek began riding a bicycle solo across Africa while sleeping in a tent. It was here that he discovered a true passion for the outdoors, travel writing and the general unexpected nature of life.

11 Comments

  1. Sam Lockhart-Mure

    February 21, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    A brilliant piece Derek xx

    • Derek Cullen

      February 22, 2016 at 3:36 am

      Thanks very much Sam, hope all is going well with you!

  2. Amanda Williams

    February 22, 2016 at 8:49 am

    A brilliant post which really really resonates with me. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Arzo Travels

    February 22, 2016 at 9:38 am

    I think you are writing about an important topic. At the end of the day we have to do what makes up happy and as long as it doesn’t hurt others it is our right to do what needs to be done. Unfortunately, happiness is not only to have food or warm clothes but means something different for everybody. I am happy you have found your way to be happy!

  4. Lorraine Valentine

    February 22, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    A lovely read Derek xx

    • Derek Cullen

      February 23, 2016 at 2:11 am

      Thanks Lorraine!

  5. Joe

    February 22, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Thanks for sharing this great post Derek. Whilst it may be true that our generation may have access to more ‘things’, the drift toward passive consumerism that this has led to has resulted in us wanting things we don’t really need. So I wholeheartedly agree that, for some of us, travel can be the perfect solution!
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    • Derek Cullen

      February 23, 2016 at 2:11 am

      Hi Joe, thanks for the comment and yes travel is for some, the general point being made is that people should buy experiences, not things 🙂

  6. Wai

    February 29, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Awesome blog. It is refreshing to read some actual travel adventures rather than the usual lists of “must do in Sydney”. True adventurers like yourself are few and far between.

    • Derek Cullen

      March 1, 2016 at 1:07 pm

      Even just reading this lone comment, made writing that post entirely worthwhile. Thank you, it’s a huge compliment coming from another blogger, and something I don’t take lightly!

  7. Oti

    May 17, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    Thank you for sharing your life experiences. Your writing is truly inspiring. Congratulations!

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