Prioritizing Mental Health Before a Trip Across the World

April Bannister
December 31, 2019

Over the past few months, I've lost count of how many times I've heard the inevitable question: "So how are you going to handle this when you're studying abroad?"

My first response, always: "That's a great question."

My second: "I have no idea."

"This," of course, is the subject we're all trained to dance around: mental health. Everyone who asks means well, really. They wouldn't be asking in the first place if they didn't want the best for me, and I think this is important to remind myself as much as I can. Truthfully, it is a good question, even if I wish it didn't need to be asked. It is something I have to consider, as much as I might want the opposite to be true.

I will never give my mental illnesses enough power over me to say I am thankful for them, to say any part of me is better because I've struggled so much and for so long. I am a firm believer in the idea that there is no shame in my suffering, but there isn't any glory or beauty, either. However, I've had to accept that mental illness is going to be my lifelong partner, a fastened chain on my ankle everywhere I walk. Some days, it is merely a nuisance. Others, it is a weight heavy enough to stop me in my tracks.

But since I've realized the chain cannot ever be fully broken, I've been able to focus on how I can lessen the burden for myself. I know how to recognize my triggers and when I'm starting to feel unstable, or when I need to ask a friend for their company. I know when to take a step back and remind myself that every breath is an accomplishment. Preparing to go abroad has been one such instance; as exciting and thrilling as the opportunity is, it also comes with an enormous lack of stability, which is crucial for someone like me to try and maintain. As a result, I've been working on how I can be internally stable within the external fluidity of studying abroad.

It's the most honest answer I have: No, I don't have any idea how my mental health could change while I'm in Dublin. Yes, it's possible that this experience will cause quite a bit of difficulty for me. On the other hand, I can acknowledge that my hardship will not disappear no matter how far I travel, and with this knowledge, I can turn my priorities inward. I can do my best to ensure that in any event, I have the resilience to cope, to survive, and to thrive. I've been making lists of everything I'm looking forward to in Dublin, and each bullet point helps push the anxiety another inch away.

I am teaching myself to dance through the pain, even though my partner keeps stepping on my toes.

For now, I sit in my room in St. Paul, watching the snow collect on the trees. They stand strong against the cold.

April Bannister

<p>I am a second-year student from Saint Paul, Minnesota, studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa. I enjoy writing across all genres, especially within the focus of mental health, and I hope that my words can inspire education and awareness on the subject. Outside of school, I can often be found rock climbing, running, and spending time with my dog.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
University of Iowa
Saint Paul, MN
Creative Writing
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