Two years ago, after weeks of walking over 500 miles across the north of Spain, I wearily stepped foot into Santiago de Compostela, the celebrated finish line of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The Camino provided me with a life-changing journey and I gained unforgettable realizations and confidence from the experience. And for the longest time after I returned home, all I could think about was being back on the Camino; the same Camino I cursed day after day for the physical and emotional struggles it caused. Despite these hardships, the peace and serenity I found throughout the long walk, along with the freedom and liberation from the stresses of my daily life couldn’t be matched in the ‘real world.’ Before I knew it, the elation I felt while on The Way (another term for the Camino), turned into a post-Camino depression.
The depression was alienating and hard to discuss, primarily because no one around me had been on the Camino or even knew what it was. I wish someone had forewarned me that this depression might arise upon returning home. In preparing for the Camino, there are plenty of articles you can read on what to bring, how to create an ideal itinerary, and so on. I even wrote a couple of articles on preparation: Surviving the Camino de Santiago being Gluten and Dairy Free and 15 Things People Forget to Tell You to Pack on The Camino de Santiago (using the same survey I sent out for this article). However, there isn’t much discussion or content written on how to prepare for assimilating back to the real world after you just spent weeks walking hundreds of miles.
I began reaching out to other Peregrinos (pilgrims) I met along the way, who for the most part shared the same sentiments. Reflecting on my own experiences in coping with this post-Camino depression, as well as hearing other Peregrinos’ experiences, I developed the following list to help anyone ready to go on the Camino or provide comfort for those who returned and might feel alone in experiencing what I call the “Post-Camino Blues”:
1.Share your experience with family and friends
We review our photos and talk to others about the experience. - Paul and Claire P
One advantage I had during re-entry is that I spent a semester in the UK during college. I remember friends telling me they wanted to hear all about my experience, but would get a glazed look in their eyes after just a minute or two. It helped to prepare myself by remembering that most people just want to hear you say, "it was great!" When I came back from the Camino, I said it was great, then let them ask more if they really were interested. That saved me quite a lot of disappointment. There are people who really do want to know more and others just don't get the point. – Pilar A.
2.Keep in contact with fellow Peregrinos
I am in contact with a number of people from both of my walks. Since my first walk, I’ve met up with that special group of people a number of times, once in Paris, once in Saarbrucken, twice in Ireland. I imagine these people will always be a part of my life. – Joanne K
It helped to meet other pilgrims even if we didn't walk together because our experiences are so similar.- Pilar A.
3.Go on another Camino (i.e. The Camino Portugues is much shorter!)
I met Ken in Los Arcos - he was walking the CF for the fourth time! I told his story many times, as it became ONE of my favorites "Camino stories." Ken explained the before and after of his first Camino as we shared a cold pint in the village square on a beautiful summer evening. He told how he had gone from depression and boredom to joy and purpose after returning to Scotland having walked from SJPdP to Santiago. His well-stamped "Credencial del Peregrino" was his passport to a fresh start in his retirement years. But, something must have happened over the months to dampen his newly found enthusiasm because, as he told it, "my wife came up to me one day and said, Ken, you need another Camino!" He was now on his fourth CF and I wondered if his wife wanted to kill him? When I met him at day's end in Los Arcos, I had walked six days and nearly 100 miles and heard for the first time from a repeat 'offender.' I was trying to keep focused on one completion of the CF and was hearing of his fourth walk across northern Spain. – Thomas H.
I would return and I plan to go back in September 2018. I still feel I have things to do there. On my first walk, whenever l was unable to do or see something because of time limitations, I’d say to myself, “next time.” One of those things was the Gaudi Palace in Astorga. On that day, my friend and I walked on to Rabanal so had no time to stop.But on my second Camino, the palace was closed for several hours at the time I walked through. And I somehow couldn’t bear to stay in Astorga. So I said again, “next time.” I have many such instances of “next time” to go back for.- Joanne K.
4.Go on another trip or vacation, even a short day-trip!
To be honest I coped with post depression by going on more trips. My trip to Peru and Colombia were both escapes from reality. Longing to temporarily return to a place where life was simple and where I felt free. -Eduardo P.
After the Camino, it gradually came to me what we had really accomplished and that led to a greater confidence that we could tackle other trail and adventure challenges. (It leads to completing the Pacific Crest Trail, trekking in Patagonia, and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.) -Susan A.
5.Join a Local Pilgrim Chapter like American Pilgrims on the Camino
We in the S.F. Bay Area are lucky enough to have an active pilgrim group that has frequent activities (gatherings and hikes). -Susan A.
6.Pack your schedule with fun activities upon return
I generally go through a sad/down time after our Camino and other long-distance trips, but I also usually come home to a packed schedule of activities that hardly allows me little time to spend feeling down. After the early trips it was hardest because those feelings were unexpected, but now I can at least tell myself that this is just a normal state of affairs. -Susan A.
7.Attend a Camino-related conference such as American Pilgrims on the Camino’s National Gathering
The post Camino depression is real. I was lucky that after walking I went to the American Friends of the Camino conference. There, we did a weekend long retreat discussing this. It was a help to talk to others with similar experiences. And even now, there are times I miss the walk, and am planning to do it again, but this time, Canterbury to Rome. -Kim A.
8.Bring the Camino home
So I definitely had the blues. I have it still I think... :) I think coping was for me to realize and tell myself over and over again that I am able to bring some of the Camino-me into my everyday life. I did a lot of meditation and work outside to keep the connection I found within myself. I talked to friends and family about it. And what was best was talking to Camino friends about it, who were going through the same :) -Katrin A.
I've been able to integrate some of what I learned on the Camino into daily life, like the "don't worry and be present" part. -Pilar A.
As for what I learned...breathing is important. Just taking my time not only to walk, but also to take breaks. I have to remember to do that now that I'm home. I have always had the tendency to work through lunch. I don't anymore. -Kim A.
After completely the Camino, I learned something very important. The solution to enjoy life, or pursuing a path, is to remember that you just make small, incremental improvements, just little steps forward, every day, and eventually you get to where you want to be. In addition, once you complete whatever large task you set out to do, you are able to enjoy all of the moments along the way, as opposed to just over exerting yourself just to get to the end, and missing all the good stuff. – Noah C.
9.Take a hike!
It helps to go hiking, trying to replicate that “free” feeling. Nothing can replace the real thing though. -Cody S.
10. Reminisce, reflect, and relax
I think the real way to move forward in your life is to make sure that you're being true to yourself. What do you have to offer the world? What are your gifts? Are you using them? I think another thing that I realized on the Camino is that we all have limitless potential but if you don't actualize your gift you'll spend the rest of your life in silent desperation longing to return to a place where you felt free to think and be yourself. -Eduardo P.
Although you may experience some form of depression afterwards, don’t despair! I believe even this experience is all part of the Camino process and you will feel stronger for taking the journey and finding your way.