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5 Tips for Preparing for a Year Abroad When You Have a Mental Illness

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I am nearly half way through my degree in Russian and International Relations. Next year, I will be living in Russia for 10 months as part of my degree. Luckily, I was able to experience a trial period in July 2017, when I lived in St Petersburg for a month. From this, I learned that having a mental illness has meant having to do extra things, and also brought a large amount of anxiety that affected my mental illness. Here are five tips to help reduce the anxiety during the process of preparing to live abroad for a year:

1. Plan ahead.

I have learned that, when it comes to questions about how to put support in place and fill out the right forms, your teachers and advisors don’t always have the answers if you have additional needs. This is not helpful when you are already anxious about not knowing what to do.  One thing you can do is do your own research. Check your government’s website for guidelines, and look at the website of the consulate or embassy of the country you are going to — the majority of the time, your questions will be answered there. If not, there will be details of who you can contact and how.

2. Make a timeline.

Make sure you are on top of deadlines for visas, vaccinations or any other important things you must do before you go. In times of anxiety, this helps you feel like you have gained some back control. If you do it early enough, it can also turn into a therapeutic project to take your mind away from stress. Put this timeline somewhere that is always visible, so you don’t forget about it and get a nasty surprise later if you see you have forgotten something.

3. Take time to look at medication rules and availability in the country you are going to.

This is very important to get right. The country you go to may require you to have paperwork to take your medication into the country, such as a doctor’s letter verifying that it is for you. It may feel like an added stress you don’t want to deal with, but if your medication is important in keeping you stable and safe, it is more than worth it. Make sure you look into this early, so you have plenty of time to acquire any documentation needed, it may be that you don’t need any documentation at all. It is also wise to see if your medication is sold in that country, so you can plan around that with your doctor if you have to, and so you aren’t worrying the minute you get there.

4. You aren’t alone.

From personal experience, I have found that it can feel like you are doing twice the amount of work. It feels very unfair. Despite this, you would be surprised how many students and friends go through the same additional worries and extra processes; they just may not be vocal about it. If you pick up that someone else is having to get the same documentation or has the same questions, let them know you are too. You don’t have to go into detail about your illness and there is strength in numbers. They may not have the same illness, but going through similar procedures together creates a support base that can be very effective when you feel lost in the entire process.

5. Think about the amazing adventure to come.

Amongst everything you have to do, it’s easy to forget why you’re going in the first place. When you feel like it’s all too much and you don’t want to put yourself through it anymore, remind yourself of all the great memories you are about to make. Create visual reminders; put a picture of a landmark as a background on your phone or computer, or put posters of the places you want to see on your wall. Take time out and watch a movie set in that country or just simply daydream. Reminding yourself of these things brings the positivity back and creates a shining end goal that will make it all worth it.

Don’t let worries and uncertainties dampen your amazing adventure to come. Keep positive reminders near and remember there will always be a solution to any problem you have, both before you go and while you’re there. Try not to focus on what could go wrong, as hard as that may be. Let yourself feel excited.

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Getty Images photo via YakobchukOlena

Originally published: January 8, 2018
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