I get asked this question a lot and I feel as though I need to be extremely transparent since not everyone can afford to do what I’m doing when it comes to traveling for an extended amount of time.
To be blunt, I can afford to travel because I’m on disability from the military. Let me explain, back in 2014 I was medically separated from the U.S. Navy for PTSD, depression, and agoraphobia. While my disability paycheck was nothing major I was lucky enough to be married so my lack of funds from my disability check didn’t really effect me. For 2 years I struggled to go back to school online and finally get my bachelors degree in communications. Which, also sort of helped me financially since I used the GI bill to pay for my schooling so I was able to get around $700 a month while I went to school. When my ex husband and I decided to separate due to my PSTD and other issues, I then struggled working a 6am-3pm call center job to help me afford my San Diego apartment. Not only that, when I was finally cleared to bring Indiana my service dog to work with me I was harassed by some of my fellow co-workers for needing him. It began to send me into a downwards spiral where it was almost impossible for me not to cry at work on a daily basis or just call in “sick” or lie about having a VA doctors appointment so I could miss a few hours of work. Eventually I had to quit my job before I was going to get fired from missing too much work because there were days I couldn’t even get out of bed due to my depression or wanting to avoid the harassment at work.
After years of therapy my therapist suggested I apply for 100% unemployability from the VA since it looked like I could not handle a simple job or even take care of myself mentally or physically. I ended up applying with the help of a veteran organization and was granted 100% unemployability from the VA. This means I now get paid $2,915.55 a month since I’m at 100%. Before I was only getting $1,894.71 because I was rated at 90% disability. While $1,894.71 seems like a lot of money, my rent in San Diego was $1,800 and it wasn’t a nice apartment either. This was the reason why I had to get a job so I could afford my bills and afford to do anything.
So yes, I’m on disability and traveling the U.S. While most people think I shouldn’t be traveling since I’m receiving disability or that I must be well enough to travel so I shouldn’t be on disability, I can assure you, it was my therapists suggestion that I travel. Whenever I was having a hard time at work I would drive to the nearest national park for a few days to center myself. The reason for this was because when I was out traveling I would have to force myself outside to do things. While it didn’t help fully with my depression or my PTSD, it did help with my agoraphobia. The thought process behind my long 48 states 45 national park road trip was to help me identify my triggers, hopefully minimize my depression, and force me to interact with others.
While in the first month on the road I had a major mental break down in Chicago, which led me to booking a hotel room for 2 nights to escape the world. With in 2 months of traveling, I’ve had some break throughs with learning to trust strangers to help me out as well as meeting some amazing people I can now call friends. While I’ve gotten better in my faith in humanity, I still struggle with my PTSD, depression, and agoraphobia. I had panic attack in an REI a week ago where I started burning up and almost blacked out from the high anxiety. I am now currently staying at a friends house where my depression has started to take over and I’ve been sleeping in until noon not wanting to get out of bed or accomplish anything. Where the whole reason for me staying at his house for so long was so that I could get caught up on my blog posts, clean out my SUV, and get an oil change. It’s been almost a week and I’ve only truly accomplished getting my oil changed.
Not only am I still experiencing symptoms from my PSTD, depression, and agoraphobia, I’m still talking to a therapist daily thanks to Talkspace. Talkspace is an online therapy app that allows me to message my therapist at any time of the day so I can get things off my chest or talk about my triggers and ways to talk myself down quicker. Honestly if it wasn’t for the Talkspace app and my therapist on there, I don’t think I would have been able to get as far as I have on my trip. I’ve had to make some adjustments on my route and on how many blogs I post but I’m trying to find the best way to be mentally sound.
While others may continue to think I’m “scamming” the government by traveling while receiving a disability check, to those people I say this, not everyone can do the same type of therapy and hope to improve. For me I’m a traveler at heart and my agoraphobia had left me paralyzed, in a sense, from being the person I was. By doing what others consider a “vacation” I consider it exposure therapy. I have learned more about myself and my triggers than I ever would have by staying locked up in my home avoiding life.