‘I’ve been chronically depressed for years. It runs in my family. My mother suffered from it, and so did her mother, my grandmother. It’s a family heirloom that no one wants, but it’s still passed down through the generations. I don’t have children for that reason either. I would love to have children, but I don’t want to burden them with inheriting my condition.
I take medication, and that’s why I usually do reasonably well. But every so often, I lapse into a period of depression. Sometimes there is a trigger, such as a lot of stress at work or the loss of a loved one, but sometimes there is no identifiable cause. The latter happened in the winter of 2017. There it was again, unannounced. This time the depression was deeper than ever. My mood was very dark for months. I also had days when I didn’t want to live anymore. Active steps to commit suicide I never took. It may sound crazy, but on such dark days, I didn’t have the energy for even that.
In February 2018, I admitted myself to a clinic. The psychiatrist did not want to give me additional medication. He put me on a healthy diet, and I was more or less obliged to go for a walk every day, early in the morning, with others from the clinic. Walking with all depressed people. I jokingly called us the happiest walking club in the country. A caretaker had to drag me out of bed for the first few weeks. I hated it. But after a while, I began to enjoy it more and more. Ok, my reluctance decreased is probably a better description. But I felt it was good for me. During a walk, the camino came up. I started to look into it, and that same day I decided to walk the camino. In May that year, I was in Saint Jean Pied De Port to start the French Way [Camino Frances].
I was still depressed, although it had gotten better. But from day one, I knew I had made the right decision to walk the camino. The physical activity, the outdoors, and the daily rhythm did me good. I felt myself getting lighter and lighter.
One day I met an American. Jack was his name. My apologies to any American reading this, but he lived up to all my stereotypical ideas about Americans. I was having lunch under a tree and had heard him coming from a mile away. He talked a lot and loudly with grand gestures. But he was super nice, and he was very open. He was the opposite of me, especially at that time, but we clicked immediately.
It seemed like I was drawn into his orbit by his gravity. What positive energy this man radiated. I spent several days with him, and we talked a lot about everything. My depression was also discussed, and my struggle with it. I wanted, just like everyone else, to be happy and joyful. In a frank mood, I told him I was also a little jealous of him and his happiness. Then he said something that changed my whole outlook on my depression. He then said, “You are governed by your brain. But the main task of your brain is not to make you happy. The main task is to stay alive as long as possible. Being happy is your job” He had heard that statement again from Tony Robins, his favorite guru. He said it in passing because he was continuously quoting Tony Robins, but this stuck.
It wasn’t until a week later when I was walking alone again, that the penny dropped. I had always been very passive in approaching my depression. I dutifully took my medication, but that was it. Of course, I knew it would help me to eat healthier and exercise a lot. But I didn’t have the energy for that. What helped me in the clinic was that they more or less forced me to walk every day. But I lived alone, so I had no one to pull me out of bed in the morning to go for a walk. I then started thinking about how I could organize that. That same day I saw, by coincidence, a pilgrim passing by with a dog. I knew immediately that that would be the solution.
When I was back home, I immediately bought a dog. Diesel is his name. I know, not very original, but I think it is a cool name for a dog. Diesel more or less forces me to go outside, even if it is only for 10 minutes. If not, he poops and pees in my house. It’s an excellent motivation to avoid that. Also, he is always happy and enthusiastic, and that encourages me. I also understand that it does not work for everyone, but it works very well in my case.
Did I miraculously get cured of my depression on the camino? No. But I did realize that, in my case, I could influence it. I have to accept that I have a chronic condition and must keep taking medication for the rest of my life. But I can change my lifestyle with enough rest, healthy food, and walking. A lot of walking. My next camino is not planned yet, but it will definitely happen. And when I go, Diesel will go with me.’
*Lina is not her real name. She wants to tell her story anonymously. We are always looking for new camino stories. If you would like to share your story to inspire others or know someone with a great story, please DM us or send an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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