They say the truest support we can offer those in need is not to take the burden from them, but to call out their best self so that they may be able to bear it: I was lucky enough to find such support within my first week of arriving in Spain.
Your Year Abroad is a time of new beginnings, opportunity and growth. But when suffering from any mental health disorder or being prone to feelings of anxiety and depression, your Year Abroad becomes that much more frightening and we tend to forget the amazing chance we are being given to start again and recuperate. My doctors and psychologists have always encouraged exercise to improve and maintain a healthy well-being and I have often relied on this routine as an important element of my own mental stability in times of change. Upon my arrival, I was told there was only one gym in town and after my first day of work I went in search of Proa Gimnasio, Garrucha.
It is so unbelievably daunting walking into a gym on a ‘good day’, let alone just days after my whole life had been uprooted with one single plane journey. I am an extremely self-conscious person; domestic abuse does that to you, and I am terrified of what people think of me: but in I went and there was Agustín. Agustín Morales Carmona is one of the main reasons I survived my first year in Garrucha. His welcoming, bright, enthusiastic personality meant I felt comfortable with my surroundings from the outset and he not only encouraged me with my workouts, but he introduced me to every single person who walked through the door. My first friends were made in Proa, as well as my first feelings of belonging.
Whenever I was alone, or feeling desperately distraught, Proa is where I would go. Agustín is so in tune with his clients that he knew exactly when I was in need of something more than ‘3 sets of 12’. Sometimes he would just sit with me, coffee in hand, continuing to include me in every conversation or exchange with the other members of the gym: despite my often sour or tear-stained face. Other times he would drive me home and give me such a talking to that I would get out of the car asking myself the very same question he would always ask me ‘what is there to be so sad about?’ That’s always the most frustrating part of mental illness: no one can ever truly know what you are going through. No one will ever understand how you really feel, nor the thoughts you have. We don’t even know ourselves, and that’s what makes it so hard to deal with. But despite all of this, that simple question ran clearly in my mind. I am young and independent, living in southern Spain and working in a respected job in a wonderful school. I have a beautiful apartment with a view of the sea and surrounding mountains and I have a family who loves me, friends who care, and the freedom to embark on a new adventure at any moment. Sometimes the truth is the hardest thing of all to remember, but it is the truth, and Agustín was always there to remind me of it.
Proa not only gave me a place to go and the encouragement to stay both mentally and physically on track, but provided me with the friends and acquaintances that took the time to greet and involve me in Garrucha’s daily life: sometimes a simple ‘hola, buenas dias’ can make the most profound difference at a point when you feel so utterly alone. Agustín introduced me to the very first friends I had in Garrucha, without whom I could have been a crumbling mess a long time ago and through the different classes and social events held at Proa I have had the opportunity to meet people that I will always remember as being a fundamental part of my journey towards self-acceptance.
Find your support system, wherever that may be, and learn to be open. Tell your story: for people will listen and, in my experience, will go a long way to help you if only for the moment. They often say talking to a stranger is easier and sometimes best – well, embrace your Year Abroad as an opportunity to talk: learn to hear your own voice and realise its worth. Express yourself. Overcome the frustrations of language and let the words flow. I know I have often been incomprehensible in my ranting and cries for help, but the human nature allows us to be perceptive in ways we will forever be in awe of, so just speak: don’t be afraid and you will feel better. Anything is possible when you have the right people to support you.