I haven’t posted in a while, mainly due to the fact that this semester has been a difficult one. You may ask how this may be, having been living in the beautiful Australia (Sydney of all places) for the past five months. However, depression and anxiety do not care where you live, no matter how exotic it may be.
I was halfway through my year abroad when, whilst back home in the UK over Christmas, my anxiety spiralled out of control. Panic attacks were an everyday occurrence, I was unable to enter public places without feeling the immediate need to escape. Sometimes I’d try and ride this feeling out, stay in the same place and battle the intense sensations – however, the panic always won. I lost roughly a stone in weight (which if you know how petite I am anyway, is a lot to lose) due to the unexplainable fear I’d developed over eating. It was a tough Christmas, and I was glad when I finally got prescribed medication to help me manage it as I embarked on the second half of my year abroad, to Australia.
However, as I’ve previously said, a change of scenery doesn’t cure everything. It seemed that it was one step forward and two steps back. Yes, I could eat more and was putting on weight. Yes, I was managing my fear of public spaces a lot better than when back in the UK. But on the other hand, my social anxiety was getting increasingly difficult – I had made friends so easily in America, but I just felt I didn’t have the energy to go through it all again over here. I wanted a comfort blanket of friends that already knew and understood me…which, as fellow travellers are probably well aware, is something that can make you feel so alone despite being surrounded by people.
Eventually, I learned to accept that everything wasn’t going to come all at once. Just because I’d put on weight, started taking tablets, and improved some other aspects of anxiety, didn’t mean that I was going to become the most confident person out there. And it certainly didn’t mean that the depression would vanish too. Once I started to accept this, and take my counsellors advice of ‘being kind to myself’ (probably the most valuable thing I can pass on to fellow mental health recoverees), each day became a little easier. And the days that weren’t, well I tried not to look into them too much. After all, I was (and still am) on a journey to recovery and it wasn’t going to happen overnight – in other words, it was OK for me to fuck up sometimes. Luckily, those bad days have become less frequent as the semester has progressed, and I would class myself as a lot ‘better’ than when I arrived here in February.
Travelling and being in a new environment is often not an easy thing to do for someone who doesn’t suffer from depression and/or anxiety. Homesickness can hit hard and you can find yourself craving the comfort of your own bed. However, I admire anyone with a similar illness to my own that is defying themselves (and the awful stigma that surrounds mental illness) and taking the plunge. A year abroad was not something I could really choose to opt out of, and looking back if I was given the option back in January, I definitely would have stayed back in the UK for this semester. However, working through this turbulent few months or so has given me so much strength and admiration for anyone doing this on a day to day basis. It also gives me hope that it does get better – which I know is hard to hear if you are having a dark day, believe me the amount of times my boyfriend has said this to me and I’ve wanted to scream at him is too many to count – but seriously, it does.
Despite all this, I’ve still had an amazing time in this diverse country, having been lucky enough to spend a few weeks travelling down the east coast and seeing some incredible things. No, I’m not coming away with the buzzing social life I had in America, but I am leaving having learned a lot more about myself (however cliché that may be) and with a new found confidence.