Several months ago, in my post entitled “Rhinoceros,” I wrote about my mental health and the challenges I was facing with it during my first couple weeks abroad.
Now, here we are, at the end of the semester, and I’m still standing. As most people with mental health problems can describe, there are good days and there are bad days. The most important part, in my opinion, is finding ways to appreciate the good days and get through the bad days.
In my first piece, I wrote about how I believed mental health shouldn’t stop anybody from studying abroad, and my survival now at the end of the semester is a testament to the truth of that. But with that being said, it wasn’t easy during those bad days, and I want to share some of what I found to be helpful.
My first suggestion would be to take a lot of pictures. In my experience, it was hard for me some weekends to really feel like I was taking advantage of Europe. At those moments, I found looking back on pictures to be helpful. It’s hard to feel like you haven’t done anything when you’re looking at evidence of amazing things you’ve seen and done. But traveling everything weekend is tiresome, and in my opinion not worth it, so weekends at home are necessary even if it sometime feels like a waste. But that kind of leads me to my next piece of advice.
Get to know your new hometown. Find a favorite café or a preferred park to sit out and read or take advantage of museums and hiking trails in the surrounding area. Every town in Europe is pretty in its own way. Even the towns that aren’t “pretty” are fascinating solely because of their difference from towns in the US. Once I began to appreciate Aix for what it was, I found it to be a beautiful, vibrant city. Maybe not a tourist destination per se, but a wonderful city to live in and get the French life feeling.
But I get it. Sometimes, on those bad days, getting out of the house can be a challenge. As for me, I found a very unexpected source of inspiration for those days: Pokémon Go.
Maybe I’m outing myself as a huge nerd with that, but anybody who knows me could have told you that anyway. Yet for me, Pokémon Go was such a simple reason to leave the house. Plus, the way the game is set up to locate Poké Stops at monuments and important locations became a wonderfully easy way to explore Aix. It drew my attention to what I otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. It’s not for everybody, but for me, it was a lot.
But when it is time for adventures across Europe to be had, I would recommend doing what you want to do, even if it means traveling by yourself. While it’s great to have somebody with you, I found vacations by myself to have several benefits. You can do what you want to do, see what you want to see, go at your pace. It’s impossible to do everything in Europe, so I preferred to prioritize things I wanted to do rather than going to a less-desired city just for the sake of going with somebody. Again, that might just be me, but I enjoyed my solo adventures and it gave me plenty of pictures to look back on.
Overall, mental health is weird and different for everybody. What works for somebody won’t work for everybody. But there’s always a solution to be had.
The important part is to remember that mental health travels. Anxiety in Wisconsin doesn’t just disappear on the plane ride. Depression doesn’t disappear across time zones. If you go abroad with expectations that a flip will be switched and everything will be okay, you’re in for a rude awakening.
But as I’ve said before, that shouldn’t stop anybody from living a dream. Even on my bad days, I wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything.