I have major depression and anxiety.
There. I said it. Not so scary huh?
I was diagnosed with these in 2010 when I was eighteen (though it has been a struggle as long as I can remember) and I have carried them with me ever since. Now, you’re probably wondering why I am telling you this right? Well, firstly, I think there needs to be more of an open dialogue about mental health so that we can move forward in removing the stigma that surrounds it. Secondly, I want to share my experience of moving to a foreign country while simultaneously living with these conditions. I want to tell you that, while it’s hard, it’s not impossible, and in the end, it’s damn well worth doing.
I got the scholarship.
I distinctly remember the very moment I found out that I had been accepted in to a scholarship program in Indonesia. I was in the back seat of my friends car while we drove her housemate to the airport.
“Shit. I got it.”
I had been obsessively checking my emails for the prior two weeks waiting for this very one to arrive.
It’s hard to describe the feelings I had in that moment as I’m sure I felt every single one of them in a matter of seconds. Overwhelming joy, pride, gratefulness, fear, dread, panic. I had been in such denial that there was a chance that I would actually be accepted in to the program that I was in genuine shock. Of course I was absolutely ecstatic but I was also terrified at the thought of leaving my friends, family and comfort zones. My friends were my shining light in this moment, surprising me with flowers and demanding we have a celebratory dinner. Their pride in me gave me courage to accept this huge endeavour. I knew that taking part in the program was a once in a life time opportunity that I could not give up due to my anxiety. No way was I letting my black dogs win this tug of war. It was time to pull up my metaphorical big girl pants and get organised.
The following six weeks involved packing, organising and multiple panic attacks. Committed to doing the program, I knew there was no turning back, this was a time to prove to myself that I was, and I am, capable of greater things. At the airport I maintained a level of numbness so that I could handle the goodbyes, denial is a friend to me in such scenarios. I had no idea what I was in for when I arrived in Indonesia but I knew that in just a few short months I would be back home with the people most important to me, so now was the time to embrace the unknown, the unexpected and the uncomfortable.
Hello Indonesia, hello new friends, hello anxiety
When I arrived at the airport in Jakarta I could not find the person who was there to meet me. Cue panic. After what seemed like eternity and many phonecalls to a local friend, the travel agent and my mother, I was safe and sound, on my way to the hotel. Hurdle number one succesfully overcome.
The program included 60 participants from 47 different countries so not only was I dealing with the culture shock from being in crazy, hot, crowded Indonesia, but I was also learning about so many other places in the world , and admittedly I hadn’t heard of half of them.. who knew that so many countries names ended in ‘stan’.
I was to share a room with a lovely girl from Cambodia for the entire first week. She was shy and quiet and from such a different culture that I wasn’t sure just how Australian I should be. Sharing a room with a stranger when you’re exhausted is hard work at the best of times, but trying to navigate this situation when you hate small talk and the very thought of these interactions sets off your anxiety is a whole other ball game. Alas, I survived, and it turns out I now have a beautiful, softly spoken, incredibly innocent, Cambodian friend.
That entire first week was so full of new experiences, friends, smells, sounds and activities that I, thankfully, did not have the time nor energy to be totally overcome by anxiety. The most difficult part of this initial week was finding time to myself as I find it crucial in maintaining a level of calm and sanity. Long, hot showers were my meditation, providing a rare moment of silence after long days with new people and cultures, most
of whom don’t understand my accent or how partial I am to a good dad joke.
When the first week in Jakarta ended the group of sixty was split in to five groups of twelve, all heading to different cities across the Indonesian archipeligo. Much to my dismay some of the people I had become incredibly close to were not joining my group of Jogjakarta. Instead I was again thrown into the unknown with the looming anxiety of choosing who I would live with for the following three months. In our group were ten girls and two boys and holy shit girls are so painful when it comes to decisions. We had to decide which five people would live in the share house and which seven would live in the dormitory. Que passive aggressive drama mainly caused by a coupleof the girls in the group. Ew. When this sort of drama goes down I usually take the ‘I-don’t-give-a-flying-fuck-please-just-make-a-goddamn-decision-so-I-can-sleep’ path and this time was no different. After an awkward group meeting in the airport departure lounge it was finally sorted. Thank god for the two boys volunteering (reluctantly, we didn’t really give them much of a choice) to share the only room that wasn’t single. When we finally arrived to our new homes it was late at night and we were exhausted. A meet and greet with the owner of the boarding houses and we were finally permitted to go to bed. Holy shit I could have slept for a whole year I was so drained.
TO BE CONTINUED…