Mental Illness Means Travel More
Why Moving to Another Country Has Helped Me Heal
I'm afraid of change. Change means discomfort, disorder, lack of control, the unknown. Ah, there it is. What I'm really afraid of: the unknown. This is why my emotional support animal, Winnie the Dog, and I ended up in Swansea, Wales, this summer. I'm not just afraid of the unknown however, I'm afraid of quite a lot of things if I'm being honest, and trust me, I am. I'm afraid of the deep ocean, disappointing loved ones, making anyone unhappy regardless of our relationship, failing a class, my extension cord short circuiting and causing a spark that causes a fire in the walls and then I have to quickly grab my dog and make an escape, and so on. That is exactly why I needed to move out of the country, however temporary or permanent. I haven't decided yet and in the face of fear the opportunity is kind of exciting!
I have been diagnosed, titled, classified, whatever you prefer, with Sexual Assault related PTSD, mild Depression, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Not the first thing I would say on a first date, but it's also not something I am embarrassed to talk about. These things are not me, but they have helped define my strength, courage, sense of self, and more. Don't get me wrong, all of it sucks. Panic attacks and not being able to have sex with your boyfriend without crying sucks. Not to say I have the worst of problems in the world, because I don't. I live a very generous and privileged life for which I am thankful for the best I know how to be. Regardless of that, my point is that I struggle like everyone else.
Anyway, let's me talk about me some more, but in regards to how traveling has given me an opportunity to be patient, understanding, and proud of myself so other people can do it too. Let me start off by recognizing that I have travelled abroad before between the ages of ten and eighteen, so I had previous experience with being plunged into alternate cultures and co-existing with jet lag and culture shock before my move. However, two years with just my dog and my emotional turmoil for the first time is not something I could be 100 percent prepared for no matter how many vacations I've gone on. Staying in a place longer than vacation time is something that takes a while to adjust to, and that's okay!
In the beginning, before I even entered the UK, there were a multitude of times when I wanted to salute my idealistic self and say, "You know what, you go on ahead, I think I'm just going to stay home where I belong." Home is where I belong. But home isn't always a place. The cheesy saying, "Home is where the heart is," is said because it's true. Imagine that! I wanted to stay where I knew I was safe, where I knew the rules, where I was in control. But even in my easiest environment, I hardly ever felt in control. So what was staying in my comfort zone really doing for me?
I can't let fear keep me comfortable like I have in the past. Comfortable means that nothing is new, that I'm in the same place I was before, that I am not taking advantage of the opportunities before me. And to me, thats even scarier than my greatest fears. Living a life I'm not proud of is the greatest dishonor I could do to myself and the people around me, especially to a friend of mine who has recently passed. She taught me that the number one important thing in this life is to feel like you have lived a life to be proud of.
I've always struggled with that, allowing myself to recognize my accomplishments, and traveling abroad was about to be one of the biggest so far. I never think I'm enough, but choosing to do something a little bit wild has shown me just how courageous I can be.
There was moment when I dreamed of going abroad because I could reinvent myself. No one knew me so why not go in being as perfect as I can be? I thought that I could get away from my life and do everything I was trying to but never could at home. But the truth is I can't leave myself in America, I can't leave me behind and go on a me-less retreat to find myself. Wherever I go, I'm there. That's how it is. That's how it should be; obsessive thoughts, bitter sadness, and heaving sobs included. I was disheartened by this fact, determined I was destined for a life of endless cycles of failure. And then I moved, and I had time to exist. I had time not necessarily to fix everything I wanted to fix, but I had time to improve.
As I sit at a desk in country that's not my place of origin, typing this up on my computer with Youtube playing in the background, I've come to realize that there's so much to learn and see that I don't have as much time to wallow in my frantic thought or overthink "what ifs" as I used to. Sometimes I manage to find a moment to freak out; panic that I'm not living my life to the fullest taking time to watch Netflix while in another country, mourn over my relationships back at home like they'll all forget about me, berate myself for not working hard enough. But then I take a step back and look around me. I look at the beautiful differences, the comforting similarities, the details that I find to be magical, the people whom I could get to know in a way I never could back at home. Wales is a beautiful and enchanting country, and I have the opportunity to explore it! I gave myself permission to leave all of my problems aside to put exploration first. I am in another country, therefore I must explore the country, the culture, myself. Thats it. Everything else comes second.
I have done something not many other people have, no one I know at least. Despite my fears, despite my lack of knowledge about where I am, despite not having been there before, I trusted myself to get through the difficult times in order to follow my dream. I have gone through difficult situations before, so why not one this too?
Being away from the life I made in America has allowed me to actually write again, to explore my surroundings and enjoy the details of life for what they are, to spend time with my pup, to sit with myself and simply be in this life as we should be. At home, I feel the pressure of keeping up my energy, my light, for friends and family who know me. I feel the pressure of keeping up the perfect person I thought I was when I was younger. I feel the pressure of all of the failures I have made in America. That has been left behind me here.
I may not be a new person in Wales, but I certainty have a new perspective on the way I breathe in the world, see the world, see myself. I am more forgiving with my faults because I feel less pressure to be perfect. I am more patient with my mistakes because these are the only ones I've made in this milestone. I am more courageous because I did something I didn't think I could do.
I won't lie, it's hard to make a choice like this. To leave everything behind and go to another country. How do I do that when I need my friends to support me? How do I do that when everything I know is here? I had a lot of panic attacks over this. I lost myself to the panic for months. I juggled between following my dreams and keeping myself where I thought I could find peace. But after years of trying, finding peace where I was wasn't working. I needed a change. Regardless of how begrudging I was, I needed a change. So I took the leap.
What helped me launch myself into opportunity was by telling people, anyone, everyone, what I intended to do. Once my parents told grocers at the store, my friends spilled to classmates, I talked to professors, about my journey, suddenly I had to go. Backing out wasn't an option. Going to live in another country was something I had to do, not because I was afraid of disappointing people and looking cowardly (though I did worry about that for a time), but because it was real, and it was my moment to experience, my self-care to experience.
Take the leap. I believe in you, just like I believed in myself. As everyone has been telling me, "this is a journey of a lifetime," and I do not regret it one bit, even in the hardest of times. Traveling abroad, living abroad, has allowed me to explore myself and the world around me without the distractions of comfort. And I'm all the better for it.