Packing is a hassle. We can all bond over that fact. I spent the month between New Years and Spain living out of a carry-on and off the hospitality of my friends. As with anything, there are pros and cons to that kind of lifestyle but I’ve found that it forced me to become judicious.
I have the privileged problem of owning too much stuff that goes unused. Once I realized how little I needed in my suitcase, packing became a lot less stressful. As long as I have my Toms and a few pairs of yoga pants, I’m pretty much good to go. Besides, the most important things to take with us when we travel aren’t things we have to worry about stuffing into our carry-ons, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t at risk of forgetting about them.
I wasn’t 100% serious about studying abroad until I had boarded the plane. Financially and physically, I had been making preparations for months, but mentally, it still hadn’t hit me. When it finally did, the flight attendants had already turned off the cabin lights and the man next to me was fast asleep. As I looked out the window into darkness somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean, my body curled in on itself in a moment of panic.
Why was someone like me taking such a huge leap of faith? I struggle with depression, am prone to long bouts of loneliness, and have anxiety about tasks as simple as eating and asking for directions. Excuse me, but how the hell was I going to survive when my support system was thousands of miles and a small fortune away?
Especially when it comes to mental illness, we have to learn to generate our own hope and our own light. Simply changing where we live doesn’t change us. The same baggage that we struggled with at home will follow us to the far corners of the Earth. I ignored that fact until I got to where I was going and it slapped me in the face again, albeit, in a different language and in a foreign culture.
None of this, by the way, is meant to deter people with similar issues from taking risks and stepping out of their comfort zones. Quite the opposite, for anyone struggling with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or other psychological ailments, sometimes the most liberating thing we can do is reclaim our independence.
The more we face what scares us alone, the more we trust ourselves to face what is to come. Survival is the mode we are in when we are oblivious to our emotions and guided by our fears. Living is what happens when we realize that while we cannot control what happens to us, we can control how we respond. That response is what fuels our light or dims it.
What will keep our hope alive? The answer begins with allowing ourselves to feel our emotions completely. Using myself as an example, I have been drowning in an onslaught of emotional waves since coming to Europe. I am invigorated at the thought of all the people I have yet to meet and places I have yet to experience, and in the next breath; the thought of an ocean between me and the relationships that fulfill me is extremely isolating. This is especially true while I am attempting to navigate a new continent where my connections with people are still young and fragile and the ones I’ve left behind are being tested.
We need to admit when we are down. Then, we need to let ourselves know that it’s okay. Telling anyone when I am struggling holds me accountable for dealing with my emotions versus ignoring them, and it takes away the shame that comes with negative feelings. After that, small changes like tutoring in English, practicing the language, leaning on my belief system, or organizing my thoughts through some form of self expression, gives me a sense of purpose that makes loneliness and anxiety more manageable.
The point of studying abroad is to learn what it’s like to live in a culture different from our own, and guess what!? Living life means making yourself vulnerable to new experiences, taking risks, good or bad. That definition is the same across the globe. Period. Reminding myself of that already convinces me that I am doing what I came here to do: truly living.
The most difficult and the most essential relationship we must foster is with ourselves. No matter how many friendships we form, we cannot feel the benefits of those relationships unless we’ve already built and are maintaining a foundation of our own. This is the reason that we must travel with our own light and our own hope. We can go anywhere and face anything, we can even have enough hope to share our light with others. Not because things suddenly become a cake walk, but because we’ve already made the commitment to persevere through any future trials. Giving up on ourselves is no longer an option.
So with that being said, go out and travel far and wide. Everything we need fits into a carry-on, and everything else was weighing us down anyways. No matter where we are coming from or our destination, we can be sure that we have enough light to see us through the darkness and make the wonders we encounter that much brighter.