Managing Mental Illness While Abroad

Mental illness comes in different forms, from depression and anxiety to bipolar disorder and body dysmorphic disorder. Our symptoms show up in a variety of ways. For some, it is isolation and for others, it may be self destructive behavior, such as binge drinking to the point they can’t stand. I struggle with both depression and anxiety and have since I was in 7th grade.

The point of the article is to validate that although you may be in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, you can still struggle with your mental illness and it’s okay. Wherever you run or travel to in the world, you’re always there accompanied by your mind — you can’t run from yourself. The article is also meant to be a subtle reminder for you to check in with your self and ensure you are continuing to take care of yourself. Sometimes these things have a hold on us and we don’t even realize we’ve been pulled under again. You will find tips and resources that will aid you in checking in with yourself.

Know your signs for when it is showing up again

I point this out because a couple of days ago, I started feeling really bad. I was sad, which I linked to my lack of a strong community in Oslo. My two biggest signs are when I isolate myself and my room is incredibly messy, messy beyond a few misplaced shirts. The combination of these three things reminded me that I wasn’t okay and that I may be getting depressed again. Depression, like many mental illnesses come in waves – one day you’re fine and the next, you’re questioning everything you’ve ever done and doubting your progress. It does come in waves, but it’s easier to avoid drowning when you have the foresight that it’s happening and the resources to uplift yourself.

What are your signs that you notice each time before your mood swings or your mental illness reemmerges?

What makes it worse and minimize factors

You can’t always avoid your mental illness all together, but you can empower yourself by actively minimizing the factors that make it worse. The best way to do this is to actually figure out what these factors are. You might already know what they are, but if you don’t, it could be helpful to do some research and figure typical factors associated with the mental illness. As time passes, pay attention to your emotions and figure out which factors are unique to you. Keeping a log book of your emotions, behaviors, and your daily activities can show you what might influence you.

For me, lack of sleep, excessive drinking, and negative self talk exacerbate my depression. While not taking care of myself is a symptom, it is also a factor that makes it worse. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you could feel even worse as well. You mental illness, depending on what it is, could be made worse by putting yourself in a situation that would make you stress over a test, like not going to class or procrastinating on a take-home assignment. It could even be a lack of vitamin D (Oslo definitely lacks sun during the spring semester).

Ways to prevent or side step that mental illness

As my struggle is predominately depression, these suggestions may seem to fit that best, but some could also apply to you.

Recognize when you’re starting to feel bad. Before you are in the depths of your depression and you can’t find the surface, catch it and do things that generally make you feel better

  • Reconnecting with my community or feeling a sense of accomplishment by completing tasks make me feel better. If you’re isolating yourself, grab a friend when you do these activities. They’d be more than happy to join you
  • Moment of gratitude –  Take a minute to remind yourself of how great you are and the cool experiences you’re having. This is useful if your depression is linked to depreciating thoughts about yourself
  • Get out of your head and go outside, it’s even better if you invite a friend
  • Get up and take a shower, clean your room, remove the dirty dishes from your room
  • Have a health check – you might have low iron or vitamin D because of the lack of sun. Maybe buy vitamin D tablets
  • Go work out. Try a yoga class or go hike somewhere. You’re surrounded by mountains
  • check in with your community back home. Having that connection with your close, familiar friends or family could be what you need. They may even be the ones to notice that you’re not doing alright
  • See a counselor if this stuff isn’t cutting it. I saw one in Bergen, related to the growth I was doing as a person. It’s an option if you want it.

Resources

Uni of Bergen Counseling office – Request to see the actual psychologist. The first person you speak with is not a psychologist/therapist, but a counselor. Great to talk to, but I don’t think they have the same qualifications as the aforementioned.

Uni of Oslo Counseling Office – I haven’t used these services, but the accessible layout of the website is promising.

If you’ve paid the student fee, which you have, these services are available for you.

 

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Taking the Language Classes at UIB

To be brief, don’t do it. * (Regarding the intensive language course, Norwegian 1 and 2.)

You think it’s going to be a great idea. You’ll be in another country and you figure the full emersion makes it the best time to practice your language skills. While you have casually learned what you know up to this point via Duolingo, you think being in a classroom surrounded by students will help you hold yourself accountable. By default, you’re certain you’ll be encouraged to study more often and memorize all of those vocabulary words. You believe that learning from a professor will somehow transform how you memorize the idiomatic expressions and grammar rules.

What I just described are likely your expectations of what it will be like to take a language course. You know what? You’re probably right if you take Norwegian 01 or 1, both of which are beginning courses. Let me say, I do not think this is the best time to take the intensive language course that I did.

There are several reasons why taking the intensive language course in Norway is a bad idea, why learning a language in beneficial, and alternative methods to learn Norwegian while you are in Norway.

Circumstances

Atmosphere

  • Students come from all over the world with different intentions for attending this particular school. Some students come to focus on studies, while others go on Erasmus just to party. Remember that some universalities in Europe are free so it’s easier to not dedicate themselves to studies. Unless you are clear for yourself why you are in Bergen to begin with, you may find yourself influenced by what others involve themselves in.
  • Traveling while in Norway or throughout Europe takes time. If you weren’t in a class and just casually learning, you could go around

Time Commitment

  • I took the intensive 1 and 2 course, so that means it’s a 30 unit class aka a full schedule aka 8 hours a week. This can be quit challenging if you chose to take an additional-15 unit class like me. Furthermore, many Americans don’t have experience learning a second language since most US schools don’t focus on languages as much as European countries. Therefore, Americans may not know what it takes to learn a language, let alone level 2, intensive Norwegian.
  • I bring up teaching methods because the professors don’t talk about what is needed to master the language well enough to succeed on the exam. I think the professors make some assumptions when hosting these language courses. Norway is an interesting place in that as the country becomes increasingly heterogeneous racially, they encourage people to adopt the language and assimilate. They provide courses so people can learn, but I noticed that the method of teaching is full immersion. From day one, the texts are written in Norwegian. This wasn’t terribly awful for me as I took a course before this, but it is deterring. Small barriers like directions in a language you are just learning can make it challenging to fully understand the information. Unfortunately I left my coursework from home in California, so to best learn the language, I resort to Google translate, my Norwegian-English dictionary from home, and lots of online resources (which I’ll share with you).

Benefits to Language

Although I have just outlined several reasons why I don’t think taking the intensive language course is the best, learning a second (or third, fourth, and fifth language for many Europeans) can be highly beneficial. I have found it to be great for a few reasons:

  • You can better connect with the culture of Norway
  • Build relationships with Norwegians. Many of them appreciate it when you make the effort to learn Norwegian.
  • Increase your skills. Learning a second language makes it easier to learn even more
  • Not taking a formal class gives you more time to take other academic classes more relevant to your interests

Alternatives to a Formal Lecture

You may choose to opt out of the formal language course whether that is due to the fact that there weren’t enough seats available or you relate to what I have said. Regardless of what prevented you from learning the language, there are numerous options to learn the language including:

  • The Bergen Public Library offers a casual space to learn Norwegian through conversation and activities with others
  • Online websites such as Sett i Gang, Pågang, and NTNU Now, all of which are below under Tips.
  • Practice conversations with Norwegian friends. They are just as excited as you are that you are learning the language. Set up a weekly meeting!
  • Tandem Language program offered by UIB where they pair you with a Norwegian student to practice with

Tips to learn a language:

Settigang – Flashcards, grammar, exercises, games

Pågang  – Grammar/Exercises

NTNU Now – Trondheim University grammar practice

*You’re wrong if you take intensive 1 and 2.

** I say all of Europe because did I mention how cheap flights are?!