I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. I really didn’t. But here I am, still in Italy, with only 27 days left of my study abroad experience…..and I’m still alive.
I have bipolar disorder, which makes it kind of hard to do, well, anything. Making plans for lunch is nearly impossible because I never know how I’ll be feeling or acting a day from now, or even ten minutes from now. So imagine planning a trip where I’d be away for three and a half months.
I signed up for the trip when I was probably hypomanic and not worried about anything. I remember filling out all the forms and getting super excited about the possibility of traveling all around Europe for a whole semester. And then I had a depressive episode– and it all settled in. I spent five months in therapy basically just crying about how I couldn’t do it, but I had to. I’d already signed up and everyone knew I was going. If I didn’t do it, I’d feel like a failure.
A few days before I left, my boyfriend left to go back to school. Then it really set in. I didn’t get out of bed for days and my face hurt from crying. I slept in my parents’ bed with them because I couldn’t be alone. It was horrible. And just a few short days after that, I’d have to get on a plane and leave.
Somehow, I did it, and I made it to Florence. I made some friends, started my classes, and began getting used to life in Italy. It wasn’t so bad. In the beginning, I kind of just went along with what everyone else wanted to do. I went out to lots of bars (even though I experience extreme sensory overload) and did lots of drinking (even though I’m on several medications). But I wanted to fit in. And I did.
I ended up seeing a therapist and getting a new psychiatrist, even though I’d originally told myself I could handle three months without any help. But I’m glad I went, because they’ve been really helpful. I learned that I have to take things at my own pace. I can’t drink, I have to get to bed on the early side, and I have to eat healthy in order to feel the best I possibly can. I have to do everything in my power to be okay. Because a lot of it is out of my hands. So, I have to do what I can to stay in control of my mood.
I got by for a while. I went on lots of trips- everywhere from the French Riviera to London to Amsterdam. And I was really enjoying school, especially my screenwriting class. But my mood still wasn’t stable.
My new psychiatrist put me on Lamictal. I really wish it would have worked, but the only thing it did was make me extremely nauseous every time I took it. So I went off. About a week later, I had a breakdown. I was suicidal, and it was worse than usual. I have suicidal thoughts pretty frequently, but I don’t usually make plans to hurt myself.
The only problem was that I felt really uncomfortable reaching out for help, but my boyfriend made me call my mom and text my therapist. My mom had to talk to my roommate on the phone, and my therapist made me make an appointment with my psychiatrist. I almost went to the hospital, but I convinced them all I could handle it on my own. I put all of my razors and pills in the other room, and I talked to my mom until I calmed down.
A few days later, I went back to my psychiatrist, who put me on Lithium. That was really difficult for me, because it sometimes causes people to gain weight, and I have an eating disorder. So for me, weight gain means that my life is over.
But my therapist said I had two options. I could take the Lithium and finish out the semester, or I could not take it, but I’d have to go home. And I knew that I’d feel like such a failure if I did that. It took me so much just to get here and now I’m almost done. I had to stay.
Luckily, there’s been no weight gain so far and it’s been helping a lot to stabilize my mood. My friends here and at home have been really supportive, and I’m finally feeling well enough to go back to my classes and do my schoolwork. I’m also doing more social things than ever. I just took a trip to Siena the other day with some friends, and I genuinely enjoyed it.
Overall, I’m glad I came here. I proved to myself that I’m a lot stronger than I thought. For someone like me, studying abroad is a pretty huge accomplishment. But I also learned how important it is to only take on what I can handle. I don’t drink anymore, other than the occasional cocktail, and I’m always asleep before one.
I give myself enough time to rest, but I also schedule time to hang out with friends when I feel like I’m up for it. I think the most important thing I learned from this trip is how no one should be ashamed to ask for help. I couldn’t have made it through this study abroad experience without the help of my roommate, my mom, my boyfriend, my doctors, or anyone else that’s believed in me and helped me along the way.
It’s been a roller coaster for sure, but I’m glad I got on.