I know, I already did a post about getting sick in Spain. Might as well cover the other half of illness. You know, the annoying kind. The kind that doesn’t go away just by waiting it out a week.
I’m talking about mental illnesses, of course, and man, they are the worst kind to have at the best of times. The best in times in question being going abroad. And that was a beautiful segue, wasn’t it?
According to my therapist, I have anxiety and depression — the lovely power couple that’s set to take over the world some day. My case is relatively mild, as I’m able to manage it with over-the-counter HTP vitamins, and everyone’s experience with those mental illnesses is different. However, there’s a few things anyone travelling with anxiety or depression should know.
DO talk to your therapist/doctor before you leave. This is so important that my school actually required me to do it before they’d let me leave the country. Although you might be pretty sure you’ve got it under control, you want to have the opinion of a trusted professional as well. In addition to knowing whether or not you’re stable enough to travel, a doctor or a therapist might know useful tidbits about the country you’re travelling to. For example, whether or not they carry any medication you might need. Which brings me to…
DO your research. I actually did not do this one because I am a bad potato, but also because my case is pretty mild. If you are going to need prescription medication while you are abroad, make sure you know whether or not you’re going to be able to get it from a foreign hospital. Some medications that are common in the US are not legal in other countries, and vice versa.
DO bring all the medicine you will need in your carry-on bag. This is for any type of prescription medication, not just medicine related to mental illness. You might also want to bring a doctor’s note, and make sure you check the official TSA guidelines.
DO take the new time zone into account when it comes to taking any regular medication. You might think you’re taking it on time, but really you’re six hours off. This can be jarring to say the least.
DON’T hide from people. This is a big one for me, because when I’m having a bad day, the last thing I want to do is go socialize with a bunch of strangers. Unfortunately, that’s a big part of the study abroad experience. If you’re not feeling the big group thing, see if a few people want to go hang out at a cafe or something. Or if it’s part of a guided tour, just hang out at the back of the group with the person you’re most comfortable with, and admire the architecture or the landscape or whatever it is that you came out to see.
DON’T let your space become a mess. I’m talking about hotel rooms, the bedroom your host family gives you, your dorm, your apartment, etc. If you’re already feeling down, a mess only makes it worse. And don’t give me that “but I’m just a messy person!” excuse. That’s my excuse, good sir, and I claim it as my own. This morning, I made myself clean off my desk because it was covered in junk, and you know what happened? I got the inspiration to write this post. You’re welcome, internet.
DON’T push yourself extremely far out of your comfort zone. This is one tricky. Veeery tricky. The whole point of going abroad is to get out of your comfort zone, isn’t it? Well, yes, but if you’re like me, you might find it hard to find the line between discomfort and actual fear. Because…a lot of discomfort presents itself as actual fear to me. The thing is, when your brain is sounding the alarm bells, whatever you’re about to do might actually be a bad idea. And if what you’re thinking of doing feels like it’s going to trigger a panic attack…don’t do it. It’s fine to miss out on cliff diving or bar hopping if those activities feel unsafe to you.
However, there is a fine line here, because stuff like talking to strangers in a foreign language can also feel like it might trigger a panic attack. Heck, talking to strangers in English is scary enough by itself. Unfortunately, there’s no denying that this is a very important part of the abroad experience, especially if you’re trying to master the language of the country you’re in. In that case…
DON’T travel alone. It’s so much easier to navigate a strange place when you’re not the only person making a total idiot of yourself. Take a friend with you. Order tapas together. Have the waiters give you condescending looks when you don’t know how to order a drink in Spanish. What would be humiliating by yourself becomes hilarious when you’re with equally clueless friends. It’s a good time.
DON’T hide your mental illness. Speaking of friends, once you’ve made some good ones, don’t be afraid to let them know what you’re dealing with. If they’re good friends, they won’t back away. You might even find out that they understand what you’re going through. (There’s a lot of people out there with anxiety and depression, my friends.) It will also help them be more understanding if you need to back out of a beach trip or a night on the town. Which brings me to the last point…
DO remember to take care of yourself. You’re abroad, so you’re gonna want to push yourself to see everything there is to see. You’re gonna want to get out of your comfort zone, make new friends, and if you’re anything like me, be way more socially active than you were before. All this is good. However, there will be days when you just need time for yourself. That’s fine. It’s more important to take things slowly so you can enjoy the trip in the long run, than to go go go until you burn yourself out.
That’s my list, although it’s by no means exhaustive. Do you have any other tips about travelling with anxiety or depression? (Please tell me. I need help.)
If you liked this post, why not check out a few more? Don’t forget to subscribe for semi-helpful, semi-relatable content that will show up in your inbox…at some point.