Sunday, 17 June 2018

2018 so far- mental health, living abroad, life update

I like to think that I am honest with you about my mental health and my life but I am not sure if I have been really as honest as I could have been these past 6 months, not only about the bad but also the good. So here is an honest chat about my life in that time, living abroad, mental health, family life, and travel. An all-round honest update. You may want a cuppa for this one because it'll be long.

As you may know, if you follow me on social media that since January I have been living in Bologna, Italy. Before that, I was in Grenoble, in the heart of the French Alpes, if you missed my blog post about my (not so great) time there you can check it out here. I think due to the fact that Grenoble was the complete opposite of what I was expecting from my year abroad, I was adamant to make Italy a better experience, at least to the outside world.

Living abroad is hard. I arrived with only an air b&b to call home for the first 12 nights, I didn't know when I was starting university, my confidence in my ability to speak Italian was nill and so as you can imagine it was a fairly anxiety-provoking situation. Living abroad is hard. But it is even harder when the rest of your life decides to go up in flames. If you know me personally then you will have only seen the good parts on my personal social media because we all have this overwhelming need to show a life that is better than the reality. I'll divide this post into two, the good and the bad. I'll begin with the bad because I believe it is important to end on a good, happy note. Unlike a fairy tale, there isn't always a happy ending but I can have my rose tinted glasses on and I invite you to join me. 

The Bad 

I always describe my life as stormy, there seems to always be a rainshower lurking somewhere near-by. The day I arrived in Bologna, my mum fell ill with a back flare up. When this had happened previously I would always be around to help her, when flare-ups happen she is stuck in bed, immobile and so someone needs to keep the house going. Being in Italy, however, meant I had to accept that there was simply nothing I could do, my brother would have to take over. Within 10 days of being in Italy, still living in the air b&b with only 2 nights left, no permanent flat found and soon to face homelessness, my grandad had a severe stroke. His second within a year but this one left him temporarily paralyzed and unable to speak. I was feeling the stress but able to keep my head above water. I had a few self-harm relapses but nothing serious, I needed to be ok. Perhaps this is where I began to fool myself, I knew anxiety wise I wasn't great but I thought I had everything under control.  My brother, on the other hand, was not doing great at all and began presenting alarming symptoms of mental illness, all of which he confided in me. I am forever grateful he felt able to talk to me in time and that we were able to get him in the direction of professional help. In this time the stresses and worries whilst being alone continued to nip at my mental state. I would have the odd relapse here and there and I began to bleach my hair. Something that originally started as a desire for lilac hair soon turned into a coping mechanism. In the weeks to follow, I would pour 7 boxes of bleach over my head. Every time I felt horrible I would have a go at my hair.  

On the 15th of March, my great grandad passed away. One week he was fine and the next he was gone. We were told a few days before he passed that he would probably die within a few days and it was one of the most mentally agonizing things I've ever been through. Knowing someone you love is dying makes you see the world completely differently. So I flew to France for the funeral and for a week with my family as we needed each other's support. In this time I was hiding my self-harm, something that had slowly been on the increase but still nothing for me to think "oh maybe this is a sign that I'm not doing too great", there was no time to think of me. When it rains it pours and I really believed this was the grand finale if you like to our storm. 

It was for a bit. We grieved, my brother made positive progress, my grandad was recovering, mum was mobile. I even felt stronger. I dyed my hair blue which stopped me from bleaching it every 5 seconds and I even managed not to self-harm for 4 weeks. The storm had died down and now to enjoy a calmer sea. Except we were only given a restbite, another storm was to hit. On the 5th of May, my brother was involved in a serious motorbike accident, left unable to move for weeks. he has only recently begun to walk (its  June 14th). Whilst physically he is healing well, this accident took a knock to his mental health and it also knocked me. It was the final blow. 

I found that I couldn't really cope with anything anymore, any emotion that would arise I would do what I could to avoid it, and most of the time it meant self-harming to numb myself. Usually, I avoid speaking of the present day because it's uncomfortable to hear of struggle in the present tense. I wrote recently about relapse which you can read here. But again it's a hazy post without specifics. So here is the truth, here is where I am at today. Physically I am getting a lot of aches and pains, headaches, stomach aches, joint pains, nausea. Mentally I am anxious, unmotivated, lethargic, down, lacking hope, self-harming most days and at times feeling suicidal. I guess there were signs all along that things were going downhill but I chose not to recognise them. Instead, I let myself sink. The fact that I can write about this shows that I have now recognised that there is an issue from which I need to heal. I plan to see a GP when I return to the UK. But that is where I am right now, in a bit of a rut. 

The Good 

It's not been all bad though, its the ying and the yang, of course, there were good parts. Grenoble was an overall bad experience, disappointing in almost every aspect. Bologna is different. Despite my life falling apart at the seams and my mental health having taken a dive, Bologna has stolen my heart. What a beautiful city. A city that chose me. Had I had a say in where I was spending my time in Italy I wouldn't have picked Bologna, I am not a fan of city life, well I wasn't. I have fallen in love with Bologna, an orange city, much like a beehive, constantly buzzing, especially in these summer months. These last few weeks the city has been filled with concerts, outdoor films, festivals everything that screams summer and it has honestly been amazing. I will miss this city's life, walking the streets at 11pm seeing people walk their dogs, people going for an evening run and feeling completely safe, a feeling I don't get back home.

The one thing I wanted to do whilst in Italy was travel and it is safe to say that the last 6 months have been full of that. I've visited Lake Como, Lake Garda, Florence, Rimini, Cinque Terre, Venice, Milan, and Verona, some of which were with others and some were alone. Before moving here I was too afraid to travel alone and now I am very comfortable doing so, which leads me on to the next positive of this experience; personal growth.

I have grown so much, through the struggle and through the adventure, I am returning to England a different person. One who is far more independent, a little more sure of who I am and in some aspects a little tougher. Yes, there are things I need to work through, but I would like to think my skin is a little thicker now. I've learned about people. to let go a little more, to do what I what and what makes me happy, to not expect so much from people and I've deepened my sense of self.

In my Grenoble post I explained how unfriendly the French were towards Erasmus students, Italy has been the complete opposite. I was welcomed with such open arms, the Italians I have met are some of the friendliest people I've ever met, so outgoing and genuinely lovely, taking in shy little Angela when she first arrived. I will genuinely miss the culture and the people.

And of course the reason me being here, in Italy, is to improve my language skills. I arrived very unsure of my ability to speak Italian but I soon realised that actually, I am not that bad, in fact, I can get by just fine. Before arriving I had to take a language test in which I scored a B1 (-A1 being the worst, C2 being native), most of my classmates scored C1 which made me feel horrible as I knew I was 2 levels lower than them. However, I took the test again a few days ago and got B2, still a level behind but it shows the improvement I've made in my 5 months of living here. For that, I am proud of myself.

At the end of my time in Grenoble, I was basically running to the plane to get home, this time, leaving Bologna will be a sad plane journey home. I have many mixed emotions and I think that is how I know that this has been a worthwhile experience, that despite the bad there was some good. And with my rose tinted glasses, forgetting the bad, I will miss the good parts; the travel, the culture, laughing and dancing with my flatmates, the food, the adventure and feeling like I have been on a holiday for the last year. It gets serious again next year.

What's next? 

So in 11 days, I fly back to the UK for good, and this chapter comes to a close. *sheds a tear* This summer is set to be one of healing, to get myself back in recovery, and focus on me. I want to open up my Etsy store, read lots, go for long dog walks, enjoy my UK friends again and enjoy time with my family. It has been a very hard 6 months, challenging in many aspects, but I've come out the other side, and I look back at it with a slightly sad heart.

Nothing is perfect. My year abroad wasn't a perfect experience, in fact, it was nothing like I was expecting. However, if somebody told me I could go back a year and choose whether or not I would want to do the year abroad exactly as it played out this year, the good and the bad, I would still say yes, despite knowing how hard it is. I have learnt, seen and experienced so much that I couldn't possibly have got those lessons from anywhere else. So I am grateful for the experience. It has started a fire in me and it won't be too long till I am back on a plane traveling again.

Till the next adventure.


  1. I'm so sorry to hear about the things you have been through. I hope you, your mum, your brother and grandad are okay. It must be incredibly hard to keep powering on while you're away. That being said, I'm glad you're making the most of being in Italy for now x

    Rachel |

    1. Thank you Rachel. It has been tough but being on the other side I look back and see how much strength I have. Maybe that was the lesson through all this that I needed to learn.

  2. You are so brave. I know how hard living and studying abroad can be. I also lived abroad in Finland for a year. It was the most life-changing and interesting thing I did but it definitely had a huge impact on my mental health. I'm so sorry for everything you went through but I am so glad you can also see the good in the years living abroad too. I think coming home will give you a chance to heal but remember to take your time. It took me a long time to readjust when I originally moved back so don't be afraid to ask for help.

  3. Thank you for your comment. Its comforting in a way to know that others have also found the year abroad to have an effect on their mental health.

  4. Having followed your blog, tweets & chatting with you, I knew part of your struggles and tried my best to support you in these difficult few months of your life abroad. I really hope things start to improve and so proud of you for your accomplishments, despite all your struggles this past uni-year ; for sticking & trying again and again to recover & heal ; for your very decision to use this upcoming summer months to work on these aspects, so you can be ready for your next stage in life ; and of course shall always be here to continue supporting you through thick & thin, ever present as much as you wish me to be, to help you passing difficult days and to remain there on your better ones too. I admire your resilience and tenacity in coming thus far, Angela!
    Sending big hugs & lots of love my friend

  5. I'm so sorry to hear that you have been through so much. I'm sorry for my absence from blogging meant that I couldn't help or talk to you. I had know idea what you were going through. You are so strong and so inspiring! Keep going! You are so much stronger than you think

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