Here's a confession I never expected to be making on a school-sanctioned blog: I have depression. I've shared my life with the Monster for over eight years now and I will live with it for the rest of my life. Some days it's barely there, like an extra suitcase I can keep tucked away under my bed until I have to go home, and some days it's a tsunami, 500 feet tall, washing away all the progress I've ever made like a cruel reminder that it will always be bigger than me.
I first met the Monster when I was in middle school. It followed me all through high school like a childhood friend I desperately wished I could outgrow, and then it slipped slyly into one of my many U-Haul boxes and stowed away with me to college. I had deluded myself, somehow, into believing that it wouldn't be able to cross oceans and force its way into my life all the way in Amsterdam, but it's finally come back to remind me it never left.
I keep this blog to catalog my own adventures and memories, but also to provide insight and advice to other students who are hoping to spend time abroad. Study abroad is a hell of an adventure but it can also be a difficult transition and unfortunately, mental health is too often lost in the shuffle, so I've compiled a short list of things to remember if/when the Monster makes an appearance.
Allow yourself to be sad. I have a bad habit of getting upset about small things and then getting angry at myself for being unreasonably upset about such small things, and this is the advice my best friend gives me. I've noticed this strange pressure to be happy all the time because study abroad is supposed to be one long, grand adventure but it's okay to be angry or disappointed or burnt out sometimes. It's okay to stay in and watch Netflix in bed by yourself for a night or two, if that's what's going to make you feel better. Processing negative emotions is the first step to overcoming them and no good comes out of denying yourself the right to feel what you feel.
Forgive. Forgive others and forgive yourself. People are going to hurt you. Travel plans are going to fall through and nights aren't going to go as planned and it's okay to be angry, but holding on to that anger will only hurt you. Understand that sometimes, it's no one's fault. Forgive people because everyone is doing their best. And then forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for being depressed, for getting upset, for having expectations that always leave you disappointed. You, too, are doing your best.
You are allowed to cut ties. Say it with me: you don't need to please everyone. Now say it again: YOU DO NOT NEED TO PLEASE EVERYONE. This is a lesson I've always had a particularly hard time putting into practice. People are going to let you down. They're going to neglect or mistreat you. Sometimes, they just won't like you to begin with. If there are people in your life who don't value you, it's okay to let them go. This can be difficult abroad since a semester is only a few months and it seems somehow more difficult to make new friends, but it's better to be alone than in bad company.
Let people help. On a related note, during my first few weeks in Amsterdam, I felt guilty every time I hung out with other Americans. It felt like everyone was making friends from far away, interesting places and I had moved 4,000 miles away just to hang out with people from home. It took me weeks to confront that guilt but I was a thousand times happier once I did. While I did make many international friends, I also met some wonderful, kind, fun Americans who helped me through my homesickness and became some of my best friends. There are always going to be people who want to support you, so let them.
I can't stress enough that SELF
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<p>Hallo! My name is Aniqa Raihan and I am a junior at the George Washington University majoring in international affairs. I'm hoping to take my international education beyond the classroom by spending a semester in the beautiful city of Amsterdam. Join me as I meet new people, explore new places, and hopefully, find my home away from home.</p>