I’ve learned so much about so many things in the short time I’ve been abroad. Most of all, I’ve learned a lot about myself.
Take, for instance, mental health. I’m in love with my writing program and with Ireland as well, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been any rough patches.
Though writing assignments and traveling throughout Dublin keep me pretty busy, I’ve still had plenty of time to just think.
Here are some of the things I’ve realized about my mental health in that time.
1. Jet lag WILL majorly fuck you up
MAJORLY. Chicago to Dublin was my first overseas flight, so I’d never experienced jet lag before and totally underestimated how bad it would be. I also encountered the saying “west is best, east is a beast” for the first time and, after struggling to deal with crossing six time zones, I have to say I definitely agree.
Between not being able to sleep during the flight (because I can’t fall asleep sitting up) and the time change, I was incredibly exhausted the first few days in Dublin. And because I was overtired, I was more depressed than usual… so I took Depression Naps™ in the middle of the day if there wasn’t anything scheduled. This in turn messed up my internal clock* even more, since I had no idea when I was supposed to eat, sleep, wake up, et cetera.
*Don’t even get me started on how the sun rises earlier and sets later here than it does back home. I still haven’t gotten used to that.
2. Having a routine is important
I should have known this, because keeping a fairly strict schedule is the only way I got through all last year of college. But my brain figured that it was, I don’t know, practically like a vacation or something, so I wouldn’t need a schedule.
And besides, when I’m already out of sorts due to depression and exhaustion and a constant state of being overwhelmed because HELL YEAH FUCK YEAH I’M IN DUBLIN, it’s very hard to stick to that schedule.
I’ve been working to change this for the past two weeks or so, however. Making to-do lists, putting myself to bed at a reasonable hour, and more: It’s all important if I want to enjoy my time here. (Not to mention that it makes me a much more enjoyable person to be around…)
Some days it works better than others and I’m really productive. Others, I crawl back into bed as soon as I get home from class even though I told myself that wouldn’t happen again. It really depends. Overall I am on an upward trajectory, though, and really want to end this trip on a high note.
3. Mental illness won’t go away on special days
Mental illness doesn’t care how big or important the occasion is; it’ll be there no matter what. This sounds cheesy, but I think it is absolutely essential to remember that what really matters is how you react to it.
There are days when I wake up and feel like the world is crashing down around me, but I make myself go out and do things because I had something big planned already. Even if doing the thing doesn’t make me feel better, at least I’ll feel different in some sort of way.
My OCD was particularly hellish on the evening of Derek Landy’s book signing, sometimes to the point where I wanted to just go home. But I didn’t, because Derek Landy. Because I had waited for so long already and was almost to the table where he sat. I wished that I could have one perfect night where my thoughts didn’t chase themselves in circles, but that clearly wasn’t happening.
Sometimes, I’ve learned, the best way to handle bad mental health – especially when it occurs on special days – is to force yourself to see the event through. Exhausted, worried, sad, obsessive, or something else entirely, I make myself stay where I am and keep doing what I’m doing.
Easier said than done most of the time, though.
Does anyone else have experience studying abroad while dealing with one or more mental illnesses? If so, I’d love to hear from you and we can commiserate!