The topic of mental health has always been daunting to me, especially when it pertains to my personal life. I have always been open to supporting where I can, but this topic never seemed to be something I wanted to confront for myself. Maybe it was because I was raised in an Asian African household where mental health is often not spoken about, or maybe it was my own fear of facing my own demons. Either way, studying off-campus has opened my mental closet and showed me all that I have been stuffing inside. The pressures of transitioning into a new space often make the messy bits of ourselves surface to the top. And that’s exactly what happened to me.
The first few weeks in New York were full of excitement of all things new, but the honeymoon phase quickly passed. Soon I was left with the everyday grind and work to maintain my resources, and time. Maybe it was my own sugar-coated fantasy of being an independent city girl, but I failed to see how the emotional toll of leaving the familiar would impact me. Of course, it hasn’t been all dark days, but I want to be real about the high points and the struggles of studying off-campus.
If you are thinking of studying off-campus or are already studying off-campus, you might find yourself in a situation as the one described above. If this is the case, I wanted to share a few points that had helped me immensely when things got tough.
1. Keep in contact with close ones
If you’re anything like me, you might have the mentality of ‘new place, new me’ and take any opportunity to start over. Having new beginnings can be healthy, but it can also be harmful when applied haphazardly. In the chaos of moving in and adjusting to a new place, it can be easy to cut “the familiar” out of your life. Maintaining friendships outside of your current place in life is important, and more specifically, with people who know and love you well! They not only bring fresh perspective and wisdom in situations you might face during your time away, but they also help you transition healthily. The relationships that I have maintained with friends at Hope College and family in Tanzania have grounded me in reminding me of who I am, and not compromising myself while experiencing a new life in New York.
2. Keep a routine
Studying off-campus will be a disruption from your normal way of life. This is a fact that I have quickly come to terms with. “Disruption” doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad experience, but can be one that implements new ways of doing things. Having a new routine has helped me cope with finding a new rhythm when everything seems foreign. Although I’m still trying to figure out how to establish these daily rhythms, some things that I have tried to keep consistent are the times I wake up, a good exercise routine, daily devotionals, and meal prepping. I am definitely far from perfect and am learning to have grace with myself, but having these things in place, for me, has created a structure I can live into, and stability when my mind seems to be constantly moving.
3. Have faith
Having faith has been an essential component of my transition. It was clear that control was something I was not capable of, and the coping methods mentioned above could only help me so far through the ever-changing circumstances. People don’t always meet my needs, and keeping routines consistently is difficult to maintain all the time. In short, the things that I was trying to do to fill me up completely were temporary fixes. I am not saying this to discourage you from pursuing relationships and making routines. Rather, making God the ultimate source of reliance by surrendering my current situation to Him; and out of that place, pursuing relationships and routines.
The knowledge that I can trust the One who created me (Psalm 139:13) and the circumstances I am in eases my anxious mind because the control is no longer in my hands, but in God’s. Take care of your mind and take the practical steps to do that, but don’t let those steps be your only hope. Remember who is the ultimate source of all life and all strength, and put your hope in Him.
“For you created my Inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.”Psalms 139:13