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  • Ayu Ulya

My Journey Through PTSD And The Powerful Lessons Traveling Taught Me

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, isn't something fun to talk about, but it is an important experience to share. As an Acehnese who grew up in such a chaotic situation—from armed conflict to the tsunami disaster—anxiety-related conditions have become my daily struggle.

Traveling on the busy Jakarta bus wasn't easy for me
Traveling on the busy Jakarta bus wasn't easy for me

Too much pain and darkness were behind me. Hatred, resentment, and blame were inside my subconscious mind. Year after year, I kept carrying the pain. Those series of traumatic experiences were unfair, unforgettable, and even unforgivable. Moreover, traveling seems to have made them worse, especially when I chose the wrong destination.

In 2016, I visited Jakarta for the first time. Coming to Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, at least once in a lifetime might be everyone's dream, including mine. Jakarta is the largest city in Southeast Asia, which sits on the northwest coast of the island of Java. Hence, having the opportunity to go there seemed like a blessing at first.

For someone who faces PTSD like me, sometimes anxiety goes along with panic attacks whenever triggered. Being too long in crowded or polluted places can be part of the cause. I never once thought living in a “sleepless city” such as Jakarta could worsen my trauma.

Me and my friend in front of the Monas Monument
Me and my friend in front of the Monas Monument

My arrival to this metropolitan area at that time was to fulfill an invitation to my friend's graduation celebration. I was so eager to go around some of the top universities there. I also visited Monas Monument to capture some memorable moments.

However, after about 48 hours of staying in this beautiful skyscraper’s city, I immediately turned ill. I never realized how far war and disaster had traumatized me until I had to face the crowded, busy, and noisy place that has reminded me of those traumatic events. I felt disconnected, especially from myself. Despite its modernity, Jakarta wasn't to be my "crush on" city.

Dr. Gabor Maté, a Hungarian-Canadian physician, described how modern society has been contributing to disconnecting humans from themselves. He stated,” We are social creatures. Our brains are wired together, but now we live in a society that disconnects people. The more civilized we become, the further away from our nature.” And I couldn’t agree more with those statements.

‘Nature heals’. That term sounded like a fairytale until I experienced it for myself. Visiting an area with a beautiful natural atmosphere relieved the triggering effect of my trauma.

Understanding my situation, my friends decided not to bring me to the hospital. Instead, we decided to travel to the peak area of Bogor. This city is close enough to Jakarta and easy to get to.

Puncak Bogor is famous for its calm and beautiful natural surroundings. Puncak Bogor was fulfilling my longing for clean air and natural scenery. After half a day staying in the green hill area, my health condition had improved drastically.

During my few days living in Bogor, I did some enjoyable healing activities, such as gardening, rabbit feeding, and processing organic fertilizer. I was so glad to spend my time at Puncak Bogor. I felt reconnected to the natural surroundings, the community, and myself.

Realizing how nature has contributed to my healing, I have started to travel into several other natural places, such as caves, rivers, ocean coasts, and forests. I now understand that big and crowded cities don’t belong to me. I am a real fan of nature.

As mother nature nurtures my healing process, my anxiety and panic have lessened considerably. Traveling into natural surroundings has given me the space and the time to sit with and listen to myself. As Frederick Lenz once said, “Nature soothes us. Nature heals us, and something more, the woods are a place of power.”

The natural setting of Puncak Gaboor was a much needed respit from my anxiety
The natural setting of Puncak Gaboor was a much needed respit from my anxiety

Facing our trauma is never an easy task. I know. It’s hard! There are even times when we use the excuse of traveling just to run away from our real problems. Therefore, it is important to decide not only where to travel but also the goal of the travel. In my case, throughout purposeful traveling, I found the way toward my healing. Hence, if I can heal through purposeful traveling, so can you!


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