“Kristin… You’re going to study abroad in a big city?? But you hate cities!”
This was a common phrase I heard from friends and family in the months leading up to my departure for Dublin. They were right, I hate cities. Everything about them makes me want to squirm.
Something about the mix of dirty public transportation and the masses of people rushing about with no particular direction sends my anxiety through the roof.
Mental illness is a funny thing. I was only diagnosed when I got to college but it has drastically changed the way I live. My doctor explained it as, “my brain is a volume dial and anxiety has turned it up past 11.” With medicine only doing so much, I have been plagued with nagging hyper awareness and sensitivity. It can be a blessing and a curse.
In a city of over half a million people, this lovely little mental illness is quite the curse.
Before I hopped on the plane to Dublin International Airport I knew that my time here would be a challenge and my anxiety would be taken to new heights. With the help of my doctor, a prescription and multiple phone calls home each day, things are somewhat well managed.
Every once and a while I question my decision for a split second, when I’m at a pub with friends and have a panic attack, having to leave without notice or when I have to get off of the bus three stops early because I can’t breathe. It is in those moments that I long for the comfort of my college town or the security of the tiny suburb I grew up in.
Living in a city is something that I have never done before. To be honest, it is probably something I won’t ever do again. Yet, I set my sights on Dublin so long ago because I have always had a love affair with this city, anxiety or not, I had to come here. The enchanting images on the Instagram pages I stalked and the cheesy rom-coms like Leap Year convinced me long ago that I had to call Dublin home, at least for a little while.
Whenever I’m at a low point I always think back to a quote:
“Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.”
But I like my comfort zone…
At least that’s been the internal argument I’ve been having with myself.
In the past two months, I have hopped from city to city, staying in budget hostels, drinking cheap beer and meeting people that have hard to understand accents.
My ever-knowledgeable father recently reminded me, that sometimes it is okay to go back into my comfort zone for a little while. With this piece of advice, I packed my backpack and returned to my comfort zone, the mountains, if only for a few days.
Unfortunately, my first choice of skiing in France was a bit out of my price range so I hopped on a train out to western Ireland.
You know when people say, “Oh, we were totally out in the middle of nowhere.” I doubt they have been to northwest Ireland. After a solid 10-mile trek from the train station to the hostel, I made it back to my comfort zone.
I could breathe again.
I hiked along cliff lines for miles without another person in sight, the only life around me being some sassy sheep. I walked through deserted villages and farm towns. I got to photograph something other than dirty street pigeons and old cobblestone as well.
Spending a week hiking alone on muddy trails with occasionally getting soaked by an afternoon rainstorm might sound like a terrible time to most, but my goodness I felt at home.
A week went by and I made my way back into the city to be a responsible adult (or something like that). Immediately upon my arrival back in Dublin a bus driver rudely closed the door on my hand as I ran to make the bus on time. He then proceeded to drive off, leaving me fuming and with a throbbing hand.
Around that time my dad texted me and said, “breathe” as I returned back to the world outside of my comfort zone.
Maybe you’re reading this and considering studying abroad but are hesitant because of a mental illness. I am here to tell you that it is manageable and worth it! Everyone who has a mental illness has different struggles and stories but I believe wholeheartedly that spending time in another country can be a healthy way to manage anxiety and depression.