This week, on World Mental Health Day, I did what I always do. I read through news articles, I talked to my friends and family, I looked at horribly basic inspirational quotes on various social networks. It’s always inspiring to see people talking more, doing more around this issue. It always makes me feel better when I think about the issues I’ve overcome myself.
Except this year it didn’t, because I felt like shit.
Dealing with any kind of mental health problem is difficult. Similar to physical invisible illnesses, you can’t see it. Dealing with it on your own is incredibly tough. Dealing with it on your own while travelling or living abroad seems like an insurmountable pile of wank. I want to share my own recent (and current) experiences because I think it’s important to know that it’s not all tapas and Instagram-worthy pictures of cool doors in my life at the moment.
When I came back to London this Summer for a few weeks, a friend commented on how amazing my life looked. “You’re really living the dream, aren’t you?” he said. “I mean, your Instagram is poppin’, you’re loving life, I wish I could do something like that!” It’s funny how different things look on the surface. For a large portion of my time in Spain, I was loving life. But things changed unexpectedly and I stopped even liking it very much.
In previous posts in other lives I’ve talked about my anxiety and OCD issues. Usually fairly well contained, they occasionally erupt, turning me into a slightly weird sad creature who hides in the corner and is frightened of everything. They’re typically related to health concerns, usually in the gynaecological region. During my university days (I’m renaming them The Experimental Period) I was terrified of STDs to the point that my brain created physical symptoms in my body which turned out to be nothing. For over two years I had an obsession with whether I needed the toilet more than the average person. At school I was scared of throwing up, so I felt sick all the time. None of these issues ever stopped me from living my life, they were just extremely annoying.
When I first moved to Spain, I thought I’d gotten rid of these issues completely. I was euphoric some days because everything was NORMAL FOR ONCE. Then, midway through my time in Barcelona, I got sick. Super sick, the kind which required multiple different kinds of medicine. Due to excessive alcohol consumption, terrible diet and behaving like Keith Richards, I didn’t recover properly for weeks. By then, of course, the damage was done. I was obsessed with physical symptoms which I was actually creating in my mind and I went on another spiral. I’d tried CBT in the past, with some success. I’d tried anti-depressants in the past, which took away part of my brain, so I stopped them. This time, I resolved to beat my issues without medical intervention.
I thought the issues would leave me when I returned to Spain after a brief trip home. What I hadn’t prepared myself for, however, was all the other problems I’d have to deal with, on top of trying to beat a very difficult illness on my own. Living in a city where very few people speak your language is tough. Adjusting to a new, alien culture is tough. Trying to learn that language while you’re simultaneously working in a job that requires you to speak English is tough. Starting a new job in a new industry is tough. Missing your friends is tough. Trying to make new ones and establish new hobbies, activities, in a new language, is tough. Being away from the person you love and then unexpectedly losing them is tough (don’t worry, he’s not dead). I added depression to my list of problems and wondered how or when I would ever feel normal again.
Even though I’m making friends, I’m getting a decent grasp of Spanish and I’m enjoying my work, I’ve never felt more alone in my life. There are days where I have no idea what I’m doing, days where I feel so bad I don’t want to leave my room. There are also days where everything is brilliant. Recently, a few days ago, there was a day that was so unexpectedly bad that it caused me actual physical pain which still hasn’t left me. I know this is not forever but when you’re balls deep in it, you wonder if things will ever change.
Things do and will change. This is for anyone who’s ever felt terrible and doesn’t really know why. This is especially for anyone who’s struggled while travelling or living abroad. Anyone who’s ever felt guilt or shame because they’re not having the time of their lives, all the time, in their adopted country. Everything seems ten times worse because it’s not familiar, it’s not home. But it will get better. It does get better. Don’t give up – get help if you need to, talk to people if it helps. Take care of yourself. Fight. Living abroad will help you grow and change in so many ways, but first you have to work through the rough patch.
I’m combatting my current slump with exercise, talking to anyone and everyone and throwing myself into a couple of music projects. This is therapy for me too.
It rained in Salamanca today, after not having rained for months. I thought I would never see rain again, then this happened. I think this is the universe’s very corny way of reminding me that things change.
I’m here if you want to talk.