Confessions: Sometimes I Get Sad
I think one of the most important, although often ignored, messages that study-abroader and first time live-abroaders need to hear is that you DO get sad! Whether it is homesickness related to being abroad or the normal mood swings that one is likely to suffer when living anywhere, or even depression, sad feelings DO happen. Life in Spain is NOT always sunshine and roses (I mean, it often is, but not always)! Here are my thoughts on the subject…
First and foremost, it happens to EVERYONE. No one expects you to feel thrilled about each and every moment of your life under normal circumstances; there is absolutely no reason you should feel pressure to live up to different standards simply because you are living in Spain! Do I enjoy my life OVERALL on a more regular basis that I think I personally would in the United States? Yes. But does that mean I never have doubts, anxiety, or moody days (or weeks)? No way, José! I think an important thing we all need to realize is that mental health is something that takes a lot of work no matter where you are—geographically or metaphorically—in your life.
It also needs to be said that traveling abroad ≠ a solution to depression or any other mental health issues you are dealing with. Can a change of environment and perspective do you well? I would argue that it can. However, that is only when you feel strong enough to meet all the challenges that come along with that. Living in another country may seem glamorous from all the social media posts and blogs you can find on the internet, but what you see much less of on those pages are the grey moments that happen between the smiles in front of historical monuments and snaps of savory traditional dishes. And I’m here to tell you that the grey moments ABSOLUTELY exist.
The sadness behind those grey moments comes in all forms and sizes*. If your sad days are more of the milder type, take comfort in the fact that they will pass all on their own. I have days when I feel overwhelmed, days when I feel lonely, and days when I can’t explain why but I just want to cry. All of these days happen when they want to—it can be after an especially stressful week and I completely understand why the emotions have hit me. Other times, it happens after an especially wonderful weekend and I’m completely at a loss as to the cause. The best advice I can give you is to recognize and respond to your emotions. You can choose to ignore them if that’s more your jam, but in my experience doing so simply postpones the outpouring and makes the day when I have to deal with 'all the feels' that much more difficult.
Instead, I recommend grabbing a book, a journal, or sketch pad, some music perhaps, and hitting a beautiful but calm environment. Living in Granada, for me that means Parque Fredrico Garcia Lorca (especially at lunch and siesta time when it’s at its emptiest) or the grounds of the Alhambra. Take time away from your phone, away from all of the people in your life. There’s something beautiful and calming about being surrounded by people while, at the same time, being left to yourself. Usually, when I’m feeling down, I need time to “write it out” and not be in contact with anyone. However, being somewhere that I can see others reminds me that I am not alone. I also love going to the park because you can usually find people who are also meditating, doing yoga, sketching, and otherwise feeding their souls. There’s a connecting energy in the air that you can perceive without needing to say a word. For me, that’s the best way to get through the sad days.
As with anything else, I think the solution is to truly listen to yourself and figure out what YOU need. Sometimes I take a two hour siesta and don’t allow myself to think about the 'productivity' that I will lose because of it. Sometimes I cancel plans and stay home alone to watch the same old chick flick. At times I cry into my boyfriend’s arms or to my mom over Skype. Other times, I go out with a best friend and delve into it all over some beers. Each time I need something different, but what I always need is ME time first and so, above all, I recommend you take 'me time' too. That will often be the solution, but if not, it can be the means of finding the solution, pointing you in the right next direction.
*If you are dealing with medical depression or any other form of anxiety, be sure to seek professional help. There is a degree to which homesickness and sadness are completely normal and manageable on your own or by speaking with others who have been there, but there is also a very serious point at which you need to reach out to someone who has been trained to get you back to a happier place. This can involve overcoming obstacles that the majority of us simply don’t know how to confront alone, so THERE IS NO SHAME IN MEETING WITH A PROFESSIONAL!! If you are uncertain of where your anxiety or mood swings fall on the spectrum, feel free to reach out to us, too, and we’d be happy to recommend a plan of action for you.