A new memoir by environmental journalist Jeremy Leon Hance, incorporates travel, humor and mental illness.
“I didn’t want to write a book about mental illness that was a downer or defeating, but rather I wanted to tell the story of how people actually live with chronic mental illness day by day, because so many of us do,” author Hance told us. “And sometimes, especially when you’re ten thousand miles from home, chasing endangered species through rainforests, it can be funny. I don’t shy away from some of the dark places our mental health struggles can take us, but try to tell a story of how a person moves forward, even if hesitantly, and does what’s important to them.”
In Baggage: Confessions of a Globe-Trotting Hypochondriac, Hance chronicles his hilarious, heartfelt adventures traveling the globe with severe mental illness.
“The more I traveled for my career as an environmental journalist, the more I catalogued ridiculous stories of how someone like myself, with OCD, anxiety and depression, stumbled their way through remote corners of the world,” Hance told us. “There was some question of which trips fit best, so there were negotiations in my head over Guyana or Botswana. Ultimately, though, I feel like we got the best trips in there for a book like this.”
Despite Jeremy’s challenges with anxiety and OCD, he became an environmental journalist with a national reach. For three years, he wrote a popular blog for The Guardian with over two million views. He is also a columnist for Mongabay, one of the most highly respected environmental news sites in the world.
“When writing a book, I feel like it’s not so much you choosing a topic, as a topic choosing you. This may be even truer when it comes to a memoir about mental illness,” Hance told us. “I never thought when I was younger that I’d want to write about my mental illness struggles. All that felt too shameful, too private. But over time, it just became clear that this was the story I couldn’t let go of. Deciding to make these stories public wasn’t easy, but ultimately, I felt it was a story I needed to tell with hopes that it could help others who struggle with mental illness or those who love them. Or just make you laugh while marveling at our beautiful little planet.”
For someone like Hance, sometimes just making it to the baggage claim is a win for him. In the age of Covid-19, Hance believes readers will be able to relate to the lessons he learned from the trenches about what to pack beyond Purell (mentally and physically) and how to manage your anxiety in this new travel world.
“I didn’t come into it thinking, here’s the message. But I think in the end, several themes arise,” Hance told us. “One of them is living day-to-day with mental illness doesn’t have to be a bleak, shabby affair. Living with mental illness is freaking tough, of course, and for some debilitating. But for many of us, if we know ourselves well enough (and our limits) and learn to manage our illness, we can still live full lives, and maybe achieve things that we didn’t expect could ever happen. But the book is also about the links between the natural world and our own mental health, both personal and collective.”
Hance hopes the book will make readers laugh a little at mental illness.
“When you laugh at something, you take some of its power away. It has less sway,” Hance told us. “If I’ve made you laugh, I’ve done what I set out to do.”
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com