Confessions: Dealing with Mental Health Issues while Abroad

Disclaimer: This week we are focusing on dealing with different mental health issues while living abroad. While we are not professionals, we can see how stigmas around “living your best you” while living abroad can hinder our capacity to face our biggest issues and we want you to know that, if this is your situation, you are not alone. We believe that the holiday time can be a extra-difficult time to deal with this kind of issue and encourage your to reach out to someone you care about or a healthcare professional if you are having any serious issues.

At the beginning of the week we spoke about anxiety. And today we are welcoming a guest writer to the blog—a friend of mine who suffered with her mental illness while doing her masters abroad. We hope that by sharing her story we can help others know that they are not alone in their journeys and that asking for help is a strength, not a weakness. So, without further ado, I would like to present Katy:

Life abroad may be beautiful, but it isn’t always what we expect (or what other’s expect for us).

Life abroad may be beautiful, but it isn’t always what we expect (or what other’s expect for us).

Katy’s Story

If you are, or are thinking about, living in another country, there are abundant resources to help you make the transition from living in your home country to living abroad. You can find an infinite amount of information about your destination, ranging from the best areas to live in to the best cellphone carriers for your needs.

However, there is one topic that never seems to make its way onto the list of priorities to look into, or even to think about and that is taking care of your mental health while you’re living abroad. For me, personally, this has been the biggest challenge that I’ve found since moving to Spain two years ago. As someone who struggles (and has struggled her entire life) with mental illnesses, this topic was of utmost importance to me as I transitioned into my new life. If I’m being honest, living on my own here, so far away from my support team and my network of doctors, has taught me more about my mental health than my entire 24 years in the United States.

If you’re anything like me, you have problems doing the important things in life; this includes finding yourself a treatment team abroad. Having problems with depression and anxiety makes taking big steps near impossible sometimes. Combine that with living in a foreign country and sometimes you just freeze up. You put off finding a doctor and a therapist and before you know it, you’ve run out of medication and are now in a crisis. Take it from someone who’s been there, do NOT let it get to that point. Make finding a treatment team your top priority—it’s key to living your best life in your new home. If, like me, you have trouble making phone calls, try looking up the doctors in your area online first. Most of the time you can find helpful reviews, plus a little bit about their specialties, before you have to make the phone call. If tackling the big things seems too much, try breaking it down into steps. You don’t have to sort out your whole treatment team in one day!

Make sure you have a backup plan! (Even it it means going home to where you have more support.)

Make sure you have a backup plan! (Even it it means going home to where you have more support.)

One of the most important tools in your arsenal is your emergency backup plan. It sounds extreme, but this is something that you should discuss with both your treatment teams (both the one back home and the one in your new city). It’s the course of action you take when you are in complete and total crisis. For me, this plan is going home. Although this seems drastic, I found myself battling an eating disorder, PTSD, and bipolar disorder with virtually no support left in Granada. Both of these factors led to a decrease in my academic performance. I decided that my best chance of ever finishing my degree was going back to the United States and seeking treatment there, while surrounded by family and other supports. Your emergency backup plan might be something completely different. Just know that there is NO SHAME in falling back on your emergency plan, and there is no limit on how many times is acceptable to use it. Your first priority has to be your health and wellbeing, both mental and physical.

Finally, one of the most important things I’ve done since arriving in Granada is finding something that I’m passionate about. I started pole dancing the second month I moved to this city, and it has filled my life with so much joy. This is your chance to build your own life—try something you’ve always wanted to, or even something you never even thought of before. Having something fun and uplifting will do wonders for your mental health! I have found since returning to Granada in October, that pole dance has been the driving factor in recovering from my eating disorder. I realized very quickly that restricting my diet and intense exercise cannot coexist in my life. Although I still struggle with recovery every day, finding my passion has been essential to stabilizing my mental health.

Moving abroad while dealing with mental illnesses can be daunting, but with the right combination of planning and flexibility, it can be the most amazing adventure that you have the privilege of living. Truth be told, the scariest part is starting your journey. The rest will come with time.

Sincerely,
Katy


Note: If you would like to hear more about Katy’s story, and how she is working through her mental health issues while abroad, let us know. And always remember that seeking help when you need it is the best way for you to take care of yourself.