Mental Health Abroad: You are Capable.

Hej everyone!

Wow. It’s been awhile. I could lie and say I’ve been avoiding this blog because I’ve been overwhelmed with work in the past few weeks. That is partly true. Guys, studying abroad entails actually studying. Who knew?! After arriving safely back in Copenhagen after my study tour to Kosovo, I hit the ground running, working diligently on a number of major midterm assignments. I wrote my first series of legal analyses for my Refugee Law and Humanitarian Law classes. I presented. I researched. I drank a lot of Starbucks.

After midterms week, I spent a week traveling around Scandinavia and Europe with a few fellow DIS students for our free travel week. More about that in a later post.

Right now I want to talk about why I haven’t posted in a few weeks. I’ll tell you the truth: I’ve been in a slump. Midterm stress, travel misadventures and disappointments, anxiety, job-hunting for next semester, finances, time-change, the U.S. election… it has all been weighing on my heart and mind, and honestly, I’ve felt a complete lack of inspiration in the past few weeks. I need to be honest with you all. It’s felt very overwhelming, and, at times, I’ve felt just about ready to hop on an express plane back to the U.S.

This is not the first time I’ve felt this way.

Ever since I was about 13-years-old, I’ve experienced periods of extreme anxiety and depression. In the fall of my junior year of college, I fell into a depression so heavy and overwhelming that I found it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the daily task of going to class, participating, talking with friends and getting my work done felt like a heavy, unending burden.

With the help of good friends, the support of my parents, encouragement from my mentors and reliance on God’s grace, the sun came out again in the spring. I started to feel lighter than I had in years, though my anxiety reared its ugly head occasionally. After a long period of such darkness, I felt free and started practicing better self-care. This was mentally where I was at when I applied for my study abroad experience with DIS.

When I received my acceptance letter to the program,  I was thrilled. I began googling and Pinterest-ing and considering my housing options. I was excited to finally accomplish my lifelong dream of studying abroad.

However, as the reality of studying abroad dawned on me, I began to fear. Surely I could not escape the darkness again. I felt it dangling above my head, following me as I walked to class, waiting for the ball to drop, waiting to fall into exhaustion and restlessness again. I began to worry:

What if my depression and anxiety flared while I was studying abroad?

It was hard enough to battle constant exhaustion and, frankly, numbness at home, and I didn’t know how I would react in a new environment with none of my family or friends to rely on.

But I went anyways.

So, hear me all you prospective study abroad students who have also struggled with anxiety or depression or mental illness in its many forms and intensities: You are capable.

You are capable… of what? Of navigating a new place on your own. Of feeling homesick, feeling sad, really feeling those emotions, and then letting them pass. You are capable of looking your host family, your new roommates, your Danish friends in the eye and letting them in on the reason that you need some space or some comfort or some peace and quiet. You are capable of it on your own. Just this weekend I traveled to Brussels with my roommate. This was just your run-of-the-mill weekend trip, but just last Monday I was in tears, feeling the familiar grip of anxiety at the thought of traveling. But I went anyways, and I am so glad.

I don’t want this to be another post about “taking control of your body” or “taking back your life” or “not letting your fears control you.” Trust me, I’ve been there when those words feel empty and frustrating because they feel impossible. I just want this to be a post from a girl with anxiety and depression who is also studying abroad. I’m here. I’m with you. We are all with you.

Now go on out there and get on that airplane. I’m wishing you all the best.

Vi ses!

Abigail

 

Note: I am not an expert on mental illness, and I in no way want to generalize mental illness with this post. I am of the mindset that everyone’s experiences/treatment/lack of treatment/etc. are different and valid. Much love! Be kind to yourself.

 

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