Let’s talk about mental health!
Okay, maybe not the most common way to start a post on a travel blog. I’ve been putting off writing this, cause it’s really damn hard. And I was unsure if it was something I really wanted to share with the whole wide internets. But I decided to, because I think this subject matter is extraordinarily important. I have learned a lot about myself (an obnoxious understatement) from living away from home for four months. But what I want to focus on is what I have learned about the practical necessities of having human relationships.
I suppose that sounds really wordy, but the essence of what I have realized is this: we need people. We need people to interact with, to laugh with, to eat with, to exist in the same room with. We need people, or even just one person, to be honest with about our struggles, people who will provide support, people who will stick with us when we’re having a bad bout of homesickness.
I always thought I was really good at being alone. And this nonchalance about the importance of friendship, combined with being a foreigner in a new country with a new language, slid me quietly into isolation. Now, isolation is not necessarily physical—it’s more like a lack of roots. Roots don’t just hold you to a place, or school, or job; they hold you to people. You can be alone in your room, and still know that you’ve grown roots with people in such a way that you could call them up at any minute just to talk or hang out. The problem with isolation is that you’re alone in your room, and you have no one you’d feel comfortable enough to call. This is where it gets unhealthy. This is where having strongly rooted bonds with other human beings is essential.
I don’t think I invested enough time or effort into forming these necessary roots with people because 1. I thought I didn’t need them and 2. I figured why bother, since I’d be moving away in such a short time. But suddenly I was a few months into living here and I felt disconnected and adrift, because I had never settled down into a stable social group and yet it seemed everyone else around me had. This is a scary feeling. You feel like you can’t reach out, and then it’s possible for all those things percolating in your head to ferment, and then you don’t want to reach out. In the same way that you shouldn’t just ignore a persistent discomfort in your body, you shouldn’t ignore a persistent discomfort in your thoughts—because it will get worse. But it’s quite hard to do, when you feel you have limited places to turn.
One of the most comforting things imaginable when life gets difficult is someone literally or figuratively holding your hand. But finding the people who you are comfortable with holding your hand is also difficult! It takes time and a lot of effort, and that’s why I’m SO glad that, even though I didn’t do all that I could’ve or should’ve in building friendships, I have in fact met two people in Denmark that I hope will be part of my life forever in some way or another. These are the people who I force myself to call when I feel scared or shitty, I force myself to swallow all of my I-can-do-it-on-my-own pride and acknowledge the fact that people need people. I need people.
Again, it is hard to find those that you can trust, whether you’ve moved to a new country by yourself or whether you’ve been in the same place for years. But the effort is necessary, and the effort is worth it.
This is the most important lesson that I’ve learned, vastly more valuable than learning about socialism or cooking or language. I value friendship so much more highly now than I ever have before. This is the knowledge and experience that I will undoubtedly carry with me throughout the rest of my travels and the rest of my life.