Mental health. The forbidden fruit of conversations. It might sound like taboo to some but to others, mental health issues control their whole lives. For me, it’s like the elephant in all rooms I enter. I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’ve learned to always prioritize my mentality. While traveling and being constantly distracted, it gets pushed to the back. Until it weasels it’s way back to the front.
And it always does.
I’ve been studying abroad in Exeter, England, for a month now. I’ve always struggled with the way my body looks, how I feel about myself and just feeling sad for no reason. But over the years I’ve learned to manage these thoughts without medication, and with exercise of the body and mind. I would meditate every morning and night, and hit the gym every day.
I had my routine, back in Florida.
Here, I’ve been forced to make a new routine. I’ve been forced to start over, make new friends, and explore this foreign place I now call home.
Although this is all exciting and I’m beyond grateful for the situation I’m in, it has definitely started to test my mentality. I didn’t workout for the first three weeks I was here. I told myself the walks up hill to every place I went would be enough exercise to keep my body stable for the next few months.
But what about my mind? Would uphill walks feed my mind and give me the mental high a good workout in the gym does? I really hadn’t thought about that.
Although in those three weeks I didn’t gain any weight, I began to feel icky with myself. During this time, I even was in denial about a sinus infection that was making everything I do a little harder. I lived with it, even traveled to London with it. For weeks, I endured it every single day without questioning its cause or seeking a remedy.
Finally, I went to the student clinic. When a nurse there said it wasn’t an infection and to just ride it out, I knew better. I demanded to see a doctor. He agreed with me and wrote a prescription for antibiotics. A week later, I’m better.
But I’m left to wonder: Did my mindset have a hand in my weird funk I was in – and the illness I suffered?
My signs were there. I found myself staying in my room for too long. I was sleeping a lot and not going out and exploring this new place. I somehow convinced myself I’d seen all there was to see. I was slowly becoming a hobbit in England.
To be sure, to some degree everyone here is on the same page. We’re away from home and exploring a new culture. The insane weather and temperature swings don’t help. It can make for a funky mood. I’ve certainly been on this page before. My entire freshman year I did nothing. I went to class, came home and that was it. Because of this antisocial lifestyle, I became very depressed and turned into someone I don’t ever want to see again. There were other factors playing into this, but when I began to recognize those patterns here, I freaked out.
In my mind, I was past this and I couldn’t – I wouldn’t – go back there again.
I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands. My long walks around the hilly town and campus and simply being abroad were not going to be enough to keep my endorphins up.
If I was going to make a life here for the time being, I needed to be in the right mentality to do so.
My first step was to look for a gym. The gym on campus is wildly expensive, so that was off the table (kinda strange, because college gym fees back home typically are included in tuition). I did some research and came across a gym with student discount. That sounded good enough for me. I texted my friend, Maddie, and she was actually planning the same thing.
The next day we toured and joined.
You might think joining a gym is a very small step. But I know from experience that so many things come from simply joining a gym – and this gym in particular. First of all, it’s in a part of town I hadn’t explored. Because I hadn’t yet explored there, the route was all new to me. The incredible scenery, adorable coffee shops, restaurants and more all showed me how little I actually knew about this town.
Joining a gym also makes me more confident in the way I look, which encourages other behavior. I’m spending most of my time now out and exploring, instead of being that hobbit in my flat. I’m eating correctly, instead of snacking all day on things I don’t need to be eating.
I also have more structure. It’s crazy how much having somewhere to be will change the way you look at your days.
It’s only been a week and I can already notice everything changing. I’m excited again. I’m happy to wake up and go about my days. I’m happy to be here.
What’s this all mean to you? Two things…
The first is to know you’re not alone. Take what you see on social media with a grain of salt. People are only going to post what’s amazing about their lives. If you follow me on anything it looks like I’ve been on Cloud 9 this entire month. Though I have been happy, you now know it hasn’t been easy.
Second, take care of yourself first. If you’re unhappy with your situation, it’s easy to be blinded by excuses. If I hadn’t been through this before I probably would’ve wasted a whole semester on this side of the pond. I recognized the signs of denial and antisocial tendencies. I did something about it.
If this post can help at least one person be a little happier, then this reformed hobbit has done her job.