It’s safe to say that after spending almost my entire life in sunny California, there isn’t a day where I don’t crave the sun, the water, and eating ice cream (or gelato) on a hot day. But when I graduated high-school, I made the drastic decision to leave it all behind. No friends, no family, just me and sad Seattle, Washington for my first year of college. Although it was just the one year, it was the most life-changing and definitely a year of self-discovery. After all, Washington is the state with the poorest mental health statistics in the nation. They have the highest rates of mental health crises which ties most into the weather, aka: Seasonal Affective Disorder. Literally SAD. The sadder seasons make you sad. And when I tell people I used to live there, many are confused. If you know me, I’m a very bright, bubbly, highly optimistic person. The epitome of a happy, California personality. So the question I get a lot is “how did you do it?” or rather “how did you survive?”
“Oh, I was really miserable, but I loved it. I’m ready to move back.”
You’re probably confused, right? Yes, that answer makes absolutely no sense. But to me that is how I felt after just one year in Washington surviving all the seasons and all of the cold, dreary weather. So how exactly did I do it? How do I explain feeling miserable in this state but already dreaming of the day that I move back? Well, let me tell you.
For a bit of my own mental health backstory, I have definitely struggled with my own bouts of depression and anxiety, which is totally normal for anyone. Most of my struggles were in middle-school and high-school when stress is high as well as hormones. That coupled with my body brace for scoliosis was a combination for disaster. Self-esteem was non-existent for years and that left me with mental and physical scars and a strained physical perception of myself. Due to all this, I was a very antisocial person and really only had a few friends that I could confide in. But when I couldn’t even talk to them, I took to writing and since then, I have used writing to cope with my mental health. I remain optimistic, but of course, we all have bad days. It just all depends on how you choose to first accept and tackle the things that affect you. So now that you know this, let me take you through what I did to survive the epicenter of the mental health crises.
- Make Your Connections Early
Before you move anywhere, especially when you know no one in the area, my suggestion is to make connections before you officially move. Travel there first just to feel it out, so when you officially move you have people to support you. Since I was moving for school, I had an orientation where I could meet a few people before I officially moved into my place. With those friends I made, I did my best to stay in touch until the move, so when I got there, I already had a small support system. It was nice having just a small group of friends to rely on right off the bat to keep me company on the days where I truly felt disconnected and alone.
- Take the Initiative and Make the First Move
One thing that is important to learn about moving to a new place is that it’s all about survival. And when it comes to survival, you need support. Although I wasn’t social as a teen, I knew that after moving, I’d be all alone. And if I was alone, I knew I wouldn’t survive. So since I didn’t know anyone, I forced myself to reinvent myself essentially. No one knew who I was, so I didn’t have to filter myself. I had nothing really to lose. So I asked people a lot of questions. I would compliment someone’s shirt or their handwriting. I took it upon myself to take the initiative and become a sociable person and just talk to people. I knew that if I didn’t gain a friend, at least I gained more practice in talking to new people.
- Go Exploring. A Lot.
When you move to a new place, you have no exact idea of what’s around unless you do your research in advance or you reach out to people and ask what there is to do. While this won’t be the case for everyone, I was dating someone within two months of me moving to Washington. In a way, I sort of cheated the system since I had one person I could rely on. But obviously, ask anyone you know to just go around somewhere with you. Plan a date to visit a restaurant of landmark everyone tells you to visit or explore a little town that might have cute, obscure shops. The world is vast and there’s much to explore. Every day off I had even if it was raining, I’d call up my boyfriend or a friend and ask to go somewhere. Just keep yourself moving and stimulated so your brain is constantly in action.
- Work, Work, Work
Did the Rihanna song pop into your head? Is it there now? Same. Sorry. But she’s right! One way I was really able to keep a clear and positive mindset in gloomy WA was to always keep my mind busy. Having school as a priority was helpful, but I also joined clubs (aka Her Campus) and had a full time job. Juggling all of these things made it easy for me to forget that for a good portion of my time in WA, I was truly isolated. When friends weren’t around, there were a number of moments where the day was just emotionally horrible. That’s pretty typical for a normal person, but I did notice in WA that it happened more often. But once I got past those days, I’d be right back to working on my computer, going to work, having meetings with my club mates to stay productive. It only helped me in the long run emotionally and with my overall work ethic and productivity.
Despite any bad days that I had in WA, if I think past those moments where I did feel emotionally drained, the citylife, the people, and the environment made it all worth it. It was a city where I had the opportunity to really understand who I was as a person and feel like if I could survive here, I could survive anywhere. And since leaving due to school reasons, I have been to WA for vacation four times in the past three years. I even went for my 21st birthday. So if you have hesitations moving to a new place, especially if it’s anywhere like WA where the seasons could truly take a toll on your mental health, know that you’re not alone. There are resources to help with those feelings and situations where you feel stuck and so many things you can do to combat them. I share my experience and tips in the hopes that you find them useful if you find yourself in a similar situation. So no matter where you are, hopefully these tips can help you find more peace of mind, and I wish you all a safe and healthy Mental Health Month.