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My Mental Health Journey in Brazil – LeedsUniAbroad
- December 4, 2020
- Posted by: Aradhana Pandey
- Category: Education
During my second year of university, I went through a rough period. I ended up on anti-depressants and despite all the joy in my busy life, I felt the lowest I’ve ever felt. This was my fourth year of living in Leeds, and by all accounts it should’ve been my happiest. Captain of a fantastic society, getting decent grades, a supportive friend and family network and a great social life. However, I just wasn’t happy. Knowing that I was only a couple of months away from leaving for my year abroad, my mum questioned whether I should even go, or stay to work out my depression. Not wanting to put my degree on hold, I left for Brazil on the 3rd of July 2019, and it was the best decision of my life.
I was the first of 7 Leeds students to arrive in Brazil, having opted to do an optional intensive course before the real classes started. I remember my first few days; I just walked around close to my Airbnb and didn’t really know what to do or where to go. When I finally moved in to my first apartment, the moment my landlady left me to settle in, I cried. What was I doing all alone on the other side of the world to everyone and everything I knew? I was anxious and alone and could barely ask for a bottle of water in Portuguese despite having studied the language for 2 whole years.
I remember being worried about getting access to anti-depressants, explaining to a doctor in a foreign language that I needed them, but I was pleasantly surprised by how easy that was in an extremely bureaucratic country. I even ended up tackling therapy in Portuguese. Every Monday at 1pm, I would arrive at the university, pay £2 and offload my thoughts and worries onto a poor Brazilian psychology student.
Eventually, I started to feel happier. Some would say it is hard to be depressed when you are literally living in paradise, but there is also a certain pressure to always be doing things and to always be happy. You have the chance of a lifetime – a whole year to live abroad and experience as much as you can and that can be overwhelming. I won’t lie and say that everyday was like being in a film, filled with happiness and adventure and memories to last a lifetime. Life isn’t just a highlights reel. I won’t forget the days spent alone eating chocolate spread out of the jar and binge-watching Netflix. The good and the bad make up the whole experience. And when it was good, it was amazing.
I will never forget the lifelong friendships that were forged. I arrived in Brazil, anxious, shy and alone. I would literally wear gym leggings and a baggy t-shirt in 30ºc heat because my body confidence had shrunk so low that I was afraid to be seen in anything else. But slowly, my confidence and my happiness grew. I started the year in athleisure and socks and trainers on the beach and I ended my year wearing a bikini and flip flops and not caring because every body is a beach body and you don’t have to be a size 0 to wear a bikini. I met people that keep me smiling every day. One girl, Caroline, is literally the Brazilian version of me, I have never met someone with whom I have so much in common and it was so comforting to meet someone with such similar lived experiences. Kayla, a fellow Leeds student, who I knew from classes but wasn’t especially close to, became my lifeline. She pushed me to get up out of bed and experience things – days at museums, hikes, beach days, out to socialise – I can’t imagine what my year would’ve been like without her. I’m a big believer of girls supporting girls and these two, among many others, really pushed me to make the most of my time in Brazil.
My mental health is still fragile sometimes, and a year abroad was never going to fix that, but the change of scenery, the reduced responsibility, and the warmth of Brazil as a country certainly helped to nudge me back on track and pulled me out of the rough period I was struggling through. Brazil is a country of lovely, warm people who just want you to have a good time and relax and I think this reminded me that life is a balance, you can’t operate at full capacity until it breaks you. Self-care and rest are just as important as work and responsibilities.
I’m glad I pushed on and went on my year abroad. The friendships, the time to relax and the chance to live an entirely different life changed me forever. I’ve grown as a person and learnt to love myself a little more, be kinder to myself and to rest when I need to, lessons I don’t think I would’ve learnt without my year abroad. The decision to move abroad during such a fragile time was not one I took lightly, but for me, it was certainly the right choice.