I feel so different.
After being in Atlanta for a day, I realize that something in me has changed. And there’s no going back. I can’t quite explain it. I suppose I’ve matured, because I’ll never see the world the same again. Being away from familiar faces for two months and having to start all over again with people I’ve never met before really made an impact on me. I’ve never done anything like this before in my life. I have to admit, at first it was really scary. Everybody who knows me knows what a sociable person I am, so coming to a strange country all by myself was daunting. Of course, it doesn’t help that I suffer from mild depression and anxiety. I honestly wasn’t sure if I would make it that first week. I know I had a lot of people worrying about me and praying for me. When my dad left me at the security checkpoint in Atlanta, I thought I was going to have a panic attack right then and there. What was I doing, flying thousands of miles away from my friends and family, the only people I knew? I had known that flying to Germany was going to be difficult, but I really had no way of knowing how difficult; after all, I’d never done something like this before. So when I was flying from Madrid to Berlin, my stomach was so tied up in knots I could barely eat. It finally hit me – I was going to live in a strange country without any of my friends or family for almost two months. I tried to calm myself down with the fact that everybody over in the States was supporting me and they wanted me to have a good time, and that two months really was not that much time and would be over before I knew it, and I should be thankful for the fact that I was finally going to Germany after having studied the German language for 8 years, but I couldn’t make the anxiety disappear. It just kept escalating.
Even when H.A. and R.K. picked me up from the airport, my anxiety didn’t completely disappear. After all, this was my first time meeting them, so I didn’t know them very well at all. As soon as I saw them, however, I recognized them, although I didn’t know what they looked like. But I could tell they were Christians who loved the Lord just by looking at their faces, and that definitely helped to calm me down.
As soon as they left and I was left alone in my new room, however, things started to get bad. I know from past experience that I need to surround myself with people when I am depressed; otherwise it just gets worse. But I didn’t really know anybody here who knew me, so I didn’t really know what to do. I knew I needed to reach out to people, something I have learned throughout the years, but I just didn’t know how. I couldn’t get my phone to work, I didn’t know computers didn’t need convertors so I couldn’t skype anybody because my battery was dead and I couldn’t charge it, and I didn’t know who to turn to here in Germany. So I just prayed and waited.
It has been my experience in the past that sometimes all I can do it wait it out. This doesn’t mean, of course, that I did nothing to help my situation but shut myself up in my room and cry. I had prepared for a total meltdown; I knew this experience wasn’t going to be easy. I always keep some Xanax with me for emergencies like this, although I am very reluctant to take it unless I really have to. So I took some Xanax and tried to take it easy. Anxiety is really a funny thing. You’d think, when you rationally know that there is nothing to be anxious about, especially when you have the Lord Jesus, that your anxiety would just disappear. But it doesn’t work that way. It’s frustrating because it just doesn’t make any sense to me rationally. I just can’t stop being depressed and anxious, no matter what the circumstances. But I have learned ways to cope and lessen the intensity:
1) Surround myself with people who love me. Normally, this isn’t very hard for me to do. I’m a very likeable person, and I know it. Sometimes I feel like I am being a burden when I ask people to help me, but I have learned that thinking that way is ridiculous. These people love me and want the best for me, and I need to let them help me without feeling like I owe them. That’s what friends are for. This was a very important lesson for me to learn, because without it I couldn’t go on. Yes, I can be needy. But I shouldn’t be ashamed of it and I shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.
2) Let people know what’s going on. If they don’t know what’s going on, how can they possibly help me? I will freely tell people that I suffer from depression and anxiety. For example, on the first day of class, I told my professor that I was very anxious and couldn’t eat, and I might be a little out of it for several days. Because I told him this, he was very understanding and even helped me find a psychiatrist in Berlin. Luckily, in today’s day and age anxiety and depression is more understood to be a chemical imbalance rather than a person’s inability to “suck it up”. When I was first diagnosed with depression, I was ashamed of it. I was only in 5th grade. I only told my closest friends, and I never talked about how I felt. Today, I have discovered that being open with people not only helps me to be understood by others, it helps others to understand what so many people have gone through and are going through on a daily basis. Being open with others also gives me the opportunity for some of my friends to come to me and open up their own situation with me. So actually, letting other people help me gives me the opportunity to help others.
3) Don’t think negatively! The more I pity myself and dwell on my depressed feelings, the worse it gets. As much as possible, I try to think positive thoughts. For example, rather than thinking, “I’m so depressed. I’ll never feel happy again,” I try to think, “Even though this is really hard, it has to end sometime. There is light at the end of the tunnel.” Hanging out with friends and doing normal things also helps me to think positively. When I hang out with my friends, I ask them to just act normal and to make sure I don’t isolate myself in a corner, but to include me in their conversations and activities. It’s really hard to think positively when I’m depressed. But not only is it possible, it is absolutely necessary. It just takes practice.
4) Follow a schedule. Routine is an amazing healer. It is the one thing that I can count on to stay the same, even when it seems my world has turned upside down.
As you all know from reading my earliest blog entries, that first week was really tough for me. But, after I had spent some time getting used to being so far away from my friends and family in Atlanta and practicing the above points, miraculously my anxiety completely disappeared. Honestly, I had expected it to partially stay. I didn’t expect to be completely and fully content in Berlin. I thought maybe I would spend my 8 weeks in Berlin with a slight depression and nagging anxiety looming in the back of my mind, but after that first week, it was like I was completely myself again. I was so thankful. A lot of people wonder why I’m so happy all the time. The reason is not because my life is completely amazing, but because I am grateful for the opportunity to be happy. I truly believe that happiness is a choice. Just because someone is not diagnosed with depression doesn’t mean that person is happy. We have to make a conscious decision to be happy. And not only that, but I have found meaning in my life through my relationship with Jesus Christ and with the members of His Body, the church.
The rest of my time in Germany went by like a blur. I had the most amazing time. I loved all the little things about Berlin, from the U-Bahn to the sidewalks tot he thousands of Dunkin’ Doughnuts shops. I loved the experience of living in such an historical city in Europe, a city I had heard so much about in school. I loved getting close to my classmates and making lifelong friendships with them. And I especially loved getting to know the brothers and sisters in the church in Berlin. I loved singing, praying, reading and pray-reading in German. I loved my home meeting. I loved playing with the kids in my home meeting and talking to them in German. There are so many things and people that I miss in Berlin. Even though I was excited to come back home, I was also very sad to leave so many people I had come to love. I think one of my classmates said it best on the last day of class: although he came to the Goethe Institute to improve his German, by the end of the course he realized that the greatest benefit of all was getting to know so many wonderful people.
I don’t know how many people read this blog, but I want to thank you all for your prayers and support. I really couldn’t have done it without all of you. I’m so thankful to have so many loving friends in my life; sometimes I can’t believe how much God has blessed me! I love you all, and I can’t wait to see you all again.