On a hot day in 2014, in a small wooden boat anchored off the coast of the Philippines, Tara Povey felt happy. She’d just completed her level-one certification for freediving — an extreme sport in which participants see how deep they can swim on a single breath. Despite its ostensibly thrilling nature, Tara found the sport to be incredibly relaxing, like an underwater meditation — and she’d just broken her personal record.
As she sat in the warm sunlight, waiting for the rest of the divers to return to the boat, she reflected on her personal achievement.
“I’ve come so far from where I was four or five months ago,” she thought.
That was followed by a second thought: “Why didn’t I do it sooner?”
Only six months before, Tara had left her apartment in England — where she had a successful career as a pharmacist — to walk to a nearby shop and pick up a loaf of bread. It was less than a two-minute journey, but halfway there, she stopped. She couldn’t go on. She felt an overwhelming exhaustion, a sudden inability to exert any more effort.
Everything was too hard. For months she had been suffering random bouts of uncontrollable sobbing. At the pharmacy she would periodically ask her manager if she could go upstairs to use the bathroom, only to sit on the toilet and bawl before composing herself and returning to work.
Every day she would get home, immediately turn the lights off, and go to bed. Lying there, she’d begin to cry again — not soft sniffles, but loud, tear-filled wails that failed to satisfy the pit she felt inside of her. It wasn’t unhappiness, exactly; she simply felt dark and empty. But she didn’t know why. She had a lucrative career, and family and friends who loved her. Why did she feel like this?
As Tara stood on the tree-lined street en route to the shop, her legs heavy, her will depleted, she noticed a small alcove in front of a nearby café. It seemed to be inviting her in. The thought of lying down there, curling up, and never rising again was enticing — and that terrified her.
She decided in that moment that it didn’t matter why she’d been feeling so depressed; what mattered was that she needed help.
Her manager at the pharmacy, who had noticed that she was having issues, suggested that seeing a doctor and taking antidepressants would help. Tara knew plenty of others who’d had success with medication — she knew it worked for some people. But for her, the thought of continuing to live as a pharmacist while simply taking pills to help her feel better didn’t seem like enough of a change.
She thought, “If I can try to change my own life first, then obviously I’m going to do that.”
And the ultimate form of change that came to mind was travel.
Born in New Zealand and raised halfway around the world in Ireland, Tara seemed predisposed to the travel bug. She remembered traveling with her mother when she was young, recalling that, no matter the destination, it simply felt good to move somewhere, to explore, to meet new people and to embrace new experiences.
Maybe that’s what she needed now. She felt so stuck in her life that maybe she should travel and essentially do the opposite of what she had been for so long — live with no fixed plan, spend money, not worry about the future.
The hardest part would be leaving people behind. She knew some of her friends at the pharmacy had similar struggles, and she felt a little guilty, as if she were abandoning them. Not to mention, her mother was terrified for her. She knew Tara was in a bad place and she wanted to help, but she couldn’t accept that travel was Tara’s way of fixing herself.
But Tara knew that she had to make herself the number one priority. She knew that sometimes in order to survive, you have to be a little selfish — there’s nothing wrong with that. Like a passenger in an airplane that’s lost cabin pressure, you have to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others.
So, just weeks after drowning in hopelessness, after feeling like there was nothing to live for, Tara Povey found herself on a plane to Thailand, armed with only a backpack and her determination to explore the world. And though she returns to Ireland and England regularly to spend time with family and put in the occasional day at the pharmacy, in a sense, she never looked back.
On her first journey, Tara immediately recognized the thrilling joy of new experiences. She began stepping out of her comfort zone, trying things that had once frightened her. After years of avoiding Thai food, she found that she loved it. After a lifetime growing up inland, she braved the swells of the ocean and got her open water-scuba diving certificate. Suddenly, the world seemed full of endless opportunities.
This isn’t to say that everything was fixed like the flip of a switch. There were still times when Tara felt that old empty feeling creeping in but, whenever it happened, she’d think of where her life had been several weeks prior. With the entire world in front of her, she’d picture the alcove she thought of curling up inside of, and she’d say to herself, “Oh, no this is amazing.”
Throughout her travels, she began to think of life as a video game. Some people play with the goal of completion. They rush from success point to success point, finding the quickest path to the end of the game. She took comfort in knowing she was a different type of player, the kind who explored all the characters and locations, who journeyed to the edge of the map to seek out every side mission, not worrying about how long it took to complete the game, but simply wanting to enjoy it.
To this day, though she’s been to 42 countries, runs a successful travel blog that’s been featured in publications such as Lonely Planet and The Huffington Post, and was recently named Ireland’s #1 Travel Instagrammer, Tara still feels down sometimes. Depression, like most mental illnesses, is not something she can fully cure — but she has learned how to deal with it. She knows that change is good for her, so when she feels her depression coming on, she recognizes that it’s most likely because she’s been on her laptop all day, and she makes an effort to get out, get moving, and search for new experiences.
As she sat in the small wooden boat in the Philippines, enjoying the sunlight and waiting for the rest of the divers to return, Tara remembered her 25th birthday, when she’d called her mother and explained how upset she was with her life. On that call, she’d promised her mom and herself that she would not spend her 26th in the same situation.
And now, with her 26th was just days away, she asked herself again, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”
Then she thought: It doesn’t matter.
All that matters is that she did it eventually, that she was there now. And that she was loving every second of it.
Tara is a New Zealand-born, Ireland-raised, award-winning travel blogger and photographer. She is all about pushing her limits, facing her fears, and exploring what life has to offer. Tara is a self-confessed iced coffee addict, chatterbox, and general hurricane of happy chaos. You can follow her journey on her blog, Where is Tara?, and her Instagram.