Mental Health While Abroad

Aiman Khan
May 11, 2017

This past semester, I have experienced several unexpected lows in my mental health — problems that I had thought would remain in the past came back up again, and it affected my daily life in Vienna. At times, it seemed even worse because this was supposed to be a period in my life when I should be out adventuring and making the best memories that I would look back on for years and years to come. Don’t get me wrong, that absolutely did happen. I’ve had experiences this semester that have changed me and that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’ve seen more beauty in the past few months than I had during my entire life before, and I am incredibly grateful for everything I have been able to do. However, interspersed with these beautiful memories I had days and weeks when I felt incredibly lonely, without purpose, and fragile. I have always considered myself a very strong and resilient person, but all of a sudden it felt like I didn’t have the strength to go on anymore. I would occasionally hit periods like this back at home or at school in the US, but I tend to have friends and positivity around me to bring me back up quickly and distract me from what’s going on in my head. The problem is that this “distraction” method only works when I am in my comfort zone. In Europe, without my close friends and family around me and without a jam-packed schedule that keeps me too busy to think very hard, I was confronted with the darkest realities of things that have happened in my life. The recovery period from one of these lapses would take two weeks while abroad whereas it would take about two days when I was home. Then, just as I thought I was over it, my thoughts would lead me astray once again and I felt as if I was starting over. I’ve learned now that although these feelings will never go away completely, I can smooth out the highs and lows, and come closer to achieving a neutral state of acceptance, by acknowledging my own feelings rather than ignoring them. I had a habit of living life in denial of the trauma that I had experienced, which allowed me to live very happily until I had a mental break down every once in a while. Now, I am trying to accept my past as part of me, and be aware of it every day. It means that I am less happy on an average day, but I am also less prone to losing control. With the help of some great friends, my family and my therapist (my first time going to therapy was this semester, and I’m happy I made that decision), I am working through things, at least to a point where I can function again and be social.

My recommendation for you, if you experience your own issues with mental health while abroad, is to let yourself feel all of your emotions. It will not be fun in the moment, but it will eventually give you a better understanding of yourself, your situation and your needs. There comes a point in everyone’s life when self-care becomes necessary, and if that happens to you while you’re away from home, all that means is that you’re going to come out of it more equipped to deal with everything else that life will bring in the future, and perhaps even a greater appreciation for the happier moments in everyday life.

Aiman Khan

<p>Hello! I am currently in my second year at the University of Virginia, studying Economics and Music. I&rsquo;ve decided to take a semester to study music in what is quite possibly the best place in the world to do it &ndash; Vienna, Austria. I have been playing the French horn for ten years, but I can&rsquo;t wait for the new experiences Vienna will bring me, and to document and share all my adventures!</p>

Program:
Destination:
Term:
2017 Spring
Home university:
University of Virginia
Major:
Economics
Music
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