Ours was an abusive torment that lasted three years. Then, on a Wednesday, my psychiatrist broke the news to me. “I think we can stop your treatment” She said, expecting me to be excited. But I felt lightheaded instead. What was I supposed to do now that Depression and I were broken up? Depression kept me company when no one would reply to my messages. Depression regularly checked up on my physical health and insisted that I had too much body fat and thus, was not worthy of any consideration, be it social or professional. Depression made sure that I’d overwork myself in order to be successful. Depression never had anything nice to say. It was sadistic but at least, it was there. It was mine. I felt empty and numb, like a rusting wreck. I had freed myself from daily doses of Lexipro, but in turn, found out that I was now, locked outside, in a desert; the outback of unfulfillment, where life tasted bland and the passing of days, uneventful.
I had been told by a number of friends, some relatives and my former boss that a change of environment would do wonders for me. I remained skeptical. The days leading to my two-hour train journey to London, anxiety began to take nightshifts. What if this semester abroad reveals itself to be grossly underwhelming? What if clinical depression finds me again and manages to enslave me once more? What if that private student hall scammed me and I’d have to live on the street for three months?
Is there a Life after (clinical) Depression?
As a lawyer would answer any and every question: it depends. First, once you’ve had depression, there’s no going back; you have to confront the aftermath in one way or another. Nonetheless, two lessons can be drawn from my experience so far in London, as to evidence that the answer might be positive. First, no one was more surprised than me when I managed to get here without losing any of my belongings. Second, but perhaps the most stressing point of this rant, moving to another country forced me to get out of my head.
Depression compels to a selfish way of living, where nothing matters more than yourself, the sadness that rules over your thoughts and the pain that haunts your entire body. I found myself being social, meeting people and practicing the art of small talk—something that I’ve been inherently bad at for the twenty-one previous years of my life. Minor inconveniences of everyday life such as having to return an item ordered by mistake or switching modules three weeks before classes start didn’t trigger any mental breakdowns, as they had done in the past. I stopped being obsessed by details and frustrate over them if they happened to be imperfect in the slightest way.
It would be my guess that venturing into a new environment counteracts obsessive thoughts because it enables your survival instincts. Though, as an introverted person, there are days when I’m less chatty and actively try to avoid interactions with others.
But, one could—and should—ask, what about those “other” days?
The Challenge ahead
After the excitement wears off, routine settles in. All of a sudden, waking up every day doesn’t seem as exciting as it was during the first two weeks. That’s when studying abroad can start to feel lonely, regardless of the friends I’ve made, the societies I’ve joined, nor the plans that I have for the upcoming weekend.
As I live off campus, most of my routine involves me being all by myself; that includes doing research for my essays, finishing my readings for tutorials, doing laundry, or even getting groceries. Although loneliness and being alone are two different concepts, they are interdependent. Learning how to enjoy being alone is key to overcome loneliness. Over the years, I’ve realized that my sense of loneliness died down, not when I surrounded myself with a big crowd, but rather when I came to terms with the unavoidable truth that there are only so many things in life that we are meant to do, or go through, with others.
For the time being, one issue that I’m dealing with is stress. As I only have essays to hand in and no mid-terms, my grade entirely relies on these final written assignments. While eager to jump head first into my research, I am anxious when contemplating the amount of work that’s ahead of me. My mind seems to be racing sometimes, with so many thoughts flashing and vanishing all at the same time. The good news is that everyone ends up finding their own remedy. In my case, weight training revealed itself to be an efficient way to alleviate stress. Having joined the Barbell club, I have to train at least three times a week. In addition to developing strength, powerlifting helps me focus and stops me from overthinking. The weekly coaching session is also a great way to socialize if you need a little push.
To confess, I enjoyed dwelling in my own suffering—I was an addict, even. Moving to London helped me breaking out of some of my bad habits. The real challenge ahead for me is to resist a depression relapse.