having a mental health spill during the school year

At the end of Christmas break this year, I found myself looking forward to returning to school. It’s always hard for me to leave my family again after quite some time apart, but the freshness and renewed dedication most people feel surrounding the new year had me excited to get back to studying. As much as I like petting my dogs and hanging out with my sister, there isn’t really anywhere to place New Year’s resolution fervor there. Should I pet my dogs harder? Hang out with my sister more aggressively? I don’t think me, my sister, or my dogs really want that. Applying this sense of motivation makes more sense in my academic life, so I was looking forward to getting back to it.

My first week back was great. I had an engineering group project that required us to be in the lab or doing research from 9AM to 4PM every day that week. The structure felt nice in comparison to the usual lax structure of college life. But things started to go much worse pretty abruptly after that first week back. I was barely attending classes in the following week and eventually not at all. I spent all day alone in my apartment. Most days I wouldn’t be able to sleep until 4 or 5 in the morning and I’d wake up around 5 in the evening, missing all of the daylight hours in Berlin. Several times I went to a bookstore in the center of the city with a reading room that stays open until midnight and would read until closing time. I think I was trying to convince myself that the things I like to do on my own could fill the hole left by spending time with other people.

Going home for Christmas break is one of the toughest parts of the year for me. Christmas is my favorite holiday and coincidentally also my birthday, so I don’t think I could ever spend it away from home without feeling incredibly out of place. But at the same time, such a short reminder of how much I love my friends and family from home can make it so much harder to come back to Berlin every January, leaving many of the people who make my life feel fullest on another continent. This year, on my last night in my hometown, me and all of my closest friends from high school got together to watch a movie and ended up staying up until 3AM talking and laughing. It reminded me how much I love them, but also underlined how I don’t have that same sense of community here in Berlin. Even after having lived here for two and a half years, there are only a few people I consider to be close friends in this city. I try to stay positive and remember the things I love about being here, but there are times when I really understand and resent the word ‘foreign.’

These feelings of homesickness and frustration brewed over about three weeks of almost complete isolation. In all my time living here, I think that is the lowest I’ve ever gotten. Finally I made myself go to one social event. I saw two of my friends, and I remembered the simple truth that it feels good to talk to them. Even though they are not especially close friendships and I still think I have yet to find my particular people here doesn’t make it worthless. That might not sound like a super positive statement, but it’s so much more optimistic than how I felt just a week ago.

After that I started going to classes again this week. I’ve gone out to dinner with a few of my friends. I’ve been sleeping pretty normally again. But there’s no denying that I lost almost an entire month of classes and studying only two months away from our finals season. This is going to be tough to make up for. One of the most important things to keep me from slipping the way I did is regularity. Regularity can be a hard thing to self impose, though. Knowing that I’m the only one making the rules makes them so much easier to ignore. I hope it’s something I can get better at and that I can slowly find friends as good as those from home here, so when bad times do come, I don’t spend weeks arguing them out with only myself in the echo chamber of my empty apartment.

I don’t want to end this by trying to give a ton of advice. Low points in mental health happen, there is no amount of self care or waking up early that can will them out of your future. Even if I were following a perfect, consistent routine and had a full support system here, they would still happen. It would be disingenuous of me to pretend there is some cureall answer, even more so for me to pretend that I know what it is. I guess I just wanted to write this because it’s been a really tough month, and I want to remember it. If you’re going through something similar or have in the past, I hope you know that it does end. Those three weeks felt endless, but they weren’t. I hope your 21st day comes soon.

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