Three Steps to Beat Depression After Moving
When I set out for University at 16 I was naïve about the responsibilities a bachelors demanded.
In fact, I burst through the gates of Trinidad’s oldest tertiary institution with blinding stamina. I was all ‘bright-eyed’ and all ‘bushy-tailed’! I introduced myself with brewing enthusiasm to EVERYONE, and wouldn’t stop talking.
To counter my crazy, God blessed me with a stable support system in the form of amazing and genuine friends. I had four years of unconditional love, fun, late night karaoke, mid-night sobs, Friday expeditions to Port-of-Spain and curry (cuz curry is life - period.)
But when I finally waltzed across that stage to collect my diploma in cap, gown and black stilettos, it wasn't just the end of an academic era. It was also the end of an ever-present, reach-out-and-touch support system.
After returning home, which by now was St. Croix (I moved from Antigua midway through my studies), I felt something that I had not experienced in great capacity before. I felt lonely. Not only was I far from my Antiguan friends but my college friends as well.
And if that weren’t enough, St. Croix was in the middle of an economic down-turn because of the closure of an oil refinery there, one of the largest in the world. The island's atmosphere was gloomy. At night the streets were comparably desolate to what I had known the quietest of roads to be. The differences between Trinidad and St. Croix post financial melt-down were deafening.
And my excitement suddenly slipped into a coma.
To top it all off, I made the mistake of looking for familiar faces in new ones. I didn't want to be vulnerable twice. I felt drained, out of touch, confused, anxious and lost. I cocooned myself from people who I did not know, in a place I wasn’t sure I could trust and proceeded to not just isolate myself from the new, but also the familiar.
I had no excuse...the internet makes it easy to stay connected. Yet, I bottled my emotions. I thought there was no solid reason why my world suddenly became gray and why I couldn't tell someone, ANYONE about it.
Graduation season is fast approaching, and I warn anyone on the cusp of leaving for university, or has one foot out uni gates, to not take lightly the shift you are about to experience.
Some of your best friends are made in college. You are blooded in your late teens to late 20s. Prepare yourself for the mental and emotional blow back of sudden change. When you return home things may not be the same.
Some fare well, others do not. And that's ok. But just in case, here are three pieces of advice based on my experiences:
1.) Do Not Try to Replicate the Bonds You Formed, Instead Foster Unique Ones:
My first error after moving to St. Croix was that I looked for friends identical to the ones I found in high school and college. Don’t get me wrong, I met awesome people, some of whom are some of my dearest friends today. It's just that AT THE TIME, I searched for personalities that reminded me of me of the familiar. And when I couldn't find it, I became sad. The reason? It solidified that I had permanently left my home.
Remember that home is wherever you say it is. Do not make a home out of people. It is your responsibility to make yourself comfortable and happy wherever you are.
Cherish what was and make room for all that will come.
2.) Accept That Things Will Not Be The Same ---and Adjust Accordingly:
Trinidad is the land flowing with curry and soca. Energy pulsates through this island from dawn till dusk. When I moved to St. Croix, a major oil refinery had downsized, thousands lost their jobs and migrated to the mainland.
The island was silent.
It's inhabitants had hope ripped from them by powerful people who did not care. It was difficult not to absorb the discontentment in the air, or to feel the major shift in energy between the islands.
If I could do it again, I would have spent a lot of time in nature, at the beach. The beach is a neutral place found in every Caribbean island and spending time there would have made the move easier.
In whatever space you find yourself after grad, find a neutral place that helps you to transition from what was to what is.
3.) Finally, Do Not Isolate Yourself From Your Loved Ones, Be Vulnerable:
I was depressed. And I felt guilty for it. Confiding in my friends about my depression felt ungrateful especially when some were in situations where they were losing loved ones, etc. So, I withdrew.
West Indians don't naturally foster an environment that facilitates vulnerability. We laugh at it, mock it, spit in its face. So, out of fear and embarrassment I isolated myself, and hibernated for years.
Eventually, I opened up to a few loved ones about the state of my mental health. But it took time.
It takes time.
And even if your loved ones reject the notion of your mental and emotional state, that's ok! The important thing is that you told them. It is now YOUR duty to work to elevate your health.
Always remember that our physical condition is just as important as our mental condition. Our mind requires care, can be broken, can be hurt, is prone to illness and not everyone is aware of the practices which promote mental wellness, especially after major life changes like death, marriage, childbirth, miscarriages, divorce or migration.
The key to supporting your loved one is to engage them with compassion and grace through healthy dialogue. The endgame is to create a safe space and healthy support system.
Whatever your situation after grad, be it poverty, poor job prospects, an abusive home, cancer/death, a different location or even loneliness, remember that you possess all the tools to make it. You are the greatest weapon against your storm. You are a survivor by virtue of you being here today.
Every experience, every failure, every friendship, every conversation, every moment has prepared you to tackle the very things you fear.
And when you DO conquer them, remember to encourage others who stand where you once stood.
I can't wait to hear your story. And neither can the world.