Italy gave me PTSD, guys.
Just kidding. Mostly.
As you know, I’ve been struggling with what can best be described as a total mental breakdown that came out of absolutely nowhere. Or so I thought. Turns out, I’ve had symptoms that Indicated I havent been alright for a while but I didn’t pay much attention to it. Depression (not the usual sadness that people usually associate with it but a loss of interest in things I normally love and lack of motivation, feeling out of it, lack of concentration), debilitating anxiety (irritability, feeling like things are surreal, panic attacks, dark creepy thoughts that are super disturbing, insomnia, and all of that fun stuff). It all hit me full force about a month ago and so for the month of November until now I’ve been doing whatever I can to stabilize myself. I’ve been crying in the bathroom at work, rocking myself to sleep, and clinging desperately to Francesco, like a child who has had a nightmare. It’s been the opposite of a good time. In fact, it takes all of my energy and effort all day, every day to feel okay. Which is annoying because I’ve got shit I want to do. I’ve got goals, damnit.
I’m seeing a therapist twice per week, an acupuncturist, and a psychiatrist. I’m doing meditation, running, taking supplements and taking something to help me sleep. My “official” diagnosis is PTSD because my childhood was like, way stable. If you’ve read my other blog you know that by “way stable,” I mean, “not at all stable and weird as fuck.” Plus, my brother’s sudden death in 2008. When I told my mom about the diagnosis she was like, “Oh, a lot of people have that.” And I was like, “Yeah, those people are combat veterans.”
My therapist said that it’s “amazing,” that I’ve been able to keep myself stable my entire life and that it’s incredible that I’m a functioning adult. Nobody has ever called me functional before so I’m feeling pretty good about all of these compliments.
So, back to Italy. Italy didn’t actually GIVE me the PTSD but the stress, isolation, and overall self-esteem hit from the last few years and my in-laws, seemed to have made it much, much worse. Apparently, prolonged stress does some crazy stuff to your brain and adrenal glands. And moving back home, the reverse culture shock plus trauma, seems to have really driven the crazy home.
Why am I writing about this? Here’s why: Because people never talk about mental health, and they should. “Normal” people have problems, and sometimes life is really hard and your brain can be an asshole and it doesn’t mean you’re broken. We all have bad months or bad years and sometimes we need help to get through it. Im struggling. If you are too, you’re not alone.
About Italy and moving abroad: If you struggle with unresolved trauma, depression, anxiety, (the symptoms of these are much different than what I thought. I thought that anxiety means feeling anxious and depression means feeling sad. Nope. Tons more symptoms and I had no idea) or a number of the disorders somewhere in this sphere, living abroad is still possible but you might want to mitigate the stress as efficiently as you can and make sure you have a strong support system to help you through the many transitions and added stresses.
There are therapists that specialize in expat problems. There are therapists that will talk with you on the phone, Skype, or via text. The moment you begin feeling overwhelmed, stressed, depressed, or not at all like yourself, get help. I didn’t and I regret it now. Getting help when you’re stressed or lonely or feeling down is important because it can A) bring up previous issues and make them worse, B) Cause new ones. I’ve been reading a lot about loneliness and guess what? It actually changes the gray matter in your brain. So literally, feeling alone can alter your brain. It’s fixable, but it’s not fun.
I would say that my situation in Italy was unique because I had a unwelcoming and cray-cray family situation, but I get sooooo many emails from people in the same situation every single day that I know that my situation in Italy was unique but also kind of common. There are a lot of you out there struggling right now.
What I’m NOT saying here is that you shouldn’t live abroad because it’s hard or you shouldn’t live abroad if your childhood sucked. Mine was basically like Stranger Things if Wynona Ryder wore camel-toe pants and married the plant monster. I’m also not saying that living abroad is hard for everyone. Every situation is different and sometimes getting away and moving to another country can be healing. My first two years in Italy were like a wonderland la-la fest and the best time of my life. The subsequent three years were filled with stress, anxiety, and feeling more alone than I ever have in my life. What I’m saying is this: Prepare for the struggle and get help when you need it. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to need it. And honestly, getting help really helps.
And, if you’re experiencing anxiety or depression, don’t wait. Get help from an expert. Also, try these things. They’ve been working for me:
Guided meditation for anxiety (you can find a great audio on iTunes by Bellaruth Knapperstack)
Exercise (running has been a game changer for me) but my doctor says I can only do it a few times per week as to conserve my cortisol.
SLEEP (if you’re experiencing insomnia, find something to knock you out. Be it melatonin or an OTC sleep aid. DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL WITH THEM and also I’m not a doctor so talk with yours before listening to me).
Talk with a therapist asap
See a psychiatrist who can make sure your body is in top shape. Mine ran a million tests and turns out a bunch of my vitamins are low. She said this stresses the body so I’m on so many supplements right now. Like, so many. Like and elderly woman amount.
Acupuncture. My lady is German and adorable and so good I don’t even notice that I’m being turned into a pin cushion.
Lavender essential oils on everything. I put it on my pillows, on my person, in the shower, in my smelly maker (the thing that puffs out water and scents…what’s it called?)
Supplements. Again, I have a holistic psychiatrist so she’s super big on supplements and health before medication. But, if medication is necessary, don’t be scared. It can be life saving.
Support system: Lean on friends or join a group of people you can talk with and be around who are uplifting and positive. Don’t be afraid to tell people how you’re feeling. If someone isn’t supportive, fuck them. Tell them they’re an asshole and move on to someone who will be there for you the way you deserve.
If someone you care about is showing symptoms of anxiety or depression, encourage them to get help and try to support them in the best way you can. Don’t be a judgy fuckstick. Read about it before you get up on a high horse and decide it’s not a real problem.
Have any of you experienced culture shock, reverse culture shock, anxiety or depression when abroad? Or in life? How did you manage or cope? What’s your experience been like? Share your experiencing below and help others who are struggling now.
Tanti Baci to the moon and back.