Whether near or far from home one of the most difficult aspects about living with bipolar disorder has always been learning to manage triggers. Some are easy such as avoiding alcohol and maintaining a healthy sleep schedules. Others, however, sneak up on you. The most triggering experiences I have had while abroad have been those that stem from getting news from home.
One of the most traumatizing experiences I had while living abroad was waking up to discover that a shooting had occurred on my university campus. Though none of my close friends were injured; many witnessed it and one student was killed with three others suffering from gunshot wounds. My friends were all shaken up. I felt guilty that I could not be there for my friends and I felt lost without a community to grieve with in my host country. I did not know who to turn to for support as I had only been in the United Arab Emirates for a month or two. I had a few wonderful professors who offered their condolences, but I did not understand how the counselling center worked on this university campus.
These isolating feelings caused me to hit a slump, and fall into a depressive phase. I got stuck in a cycle of crying spells and exhaustion. It was hard for me to make it to class and I did not participate in any social activities for a couple of weeks. I knew that I had yet to develop a network of support in this country, and for the first time since getting stable; it was fully up to me alone to pull myself out of the rut. I made a conscious effort each day to talk to someone new. I confided to a new friend about the disorder; forcing myself to trust someone before truly knowing them. (She’s now one of my closest friends even though we live thousands of miles apart). I reached out to friends and family back home, exercised, and delved deep into my studies. I sought out the things that I knew I was passionate about; even when I was momentarily living in a world where everything felt bland. I forced myself to pull my appearance together so that I felt confident when walking out of the house. The process of picking myself up was exhausting and at times discouraging. But eventually, it happened. I woke up excited to be in this new place with my new friends. I did not feel the need to rush back home.
I’ve had moments like this on every trip I’ve been on since my year abroad in the UAE. Moments where the magic of the place I’m currently in is ruined by my reaction to something that happened back home. Whether it be learning that a former love has entered a new relationship, receiving disappointing scores on an exam, or hearing about terrible global news. In situations like this, I’ve learned that these triggers cannot be avoided. I cannot close out the world to protect my own moods. Instead, I’ve had to learn to live cohesively with the triggers and weather the storm.
Photo: Sheikh Zaeyd Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE