The time of my life…and depression

When I told people I was going to study abroad in Lithuania, the reaction was always the same:

“You are going to have so much fun!”


“That’s a once in a lifetime experience—soak it up!”


“You’re going to learn so much.”


And all of those people were right. This is so much fun. This is an experience I probably won’t ever have again. And I have learned so much.

But what those people don’t know (and what I hadn’t expected), was to be so far from home and all of my problems, and still somehow be more depressed, anxious, and lost than I’ve ever been.

This is part of the story no one wants to hear. The pictures I post on facebook are happy. The jokes I tell in class are (sometimes) funny. But, as I’ve told some of my closest friends, inside I feel hollow and empty, like heavy cotton balls have replaced my heart and my brain.

The problem with depression is we can’t always explain it. I could sit down and tell you every sad thing that’s ever happened to me, but that’s not the depression. The depression is the part that makes me numb—the part that makes me drink alone or stand in a freezing cold smoke hut in the middle of the night, trying to feel something, anything. One day last week I got in my bed and tried to make myself cry, but nothing. Depression is nothing.

Or sometimes I feel the sadness getting closer and I get so scared that I run. Like yesterday, when I got out of bed without brushing my teeth or changing my clothes and just got on a bus. And when I missed my stop, I just kept sitting there until the bus driver said, “Viskas.” That’s all. I said, “Oh ok, viskas.” And then I got off the bus in a part of town I’d never seen before. And I wasn’t even scared. Depression is being lost and not giving a single fuck. Depression is wondering into a grocery store and buying the first thing I see, just so I have something to hold onto.

Every night at a house across the street from my dorm, a German shepherd  barks for hours, over and over again. It’s so pointless. Sometimes I feel the same way, like my whole life is just a bunch of noise playing on repeat. But on the outside, I smile and laugh. I pretend that everything inside is still in order. But actually, inside is chaos, cold like the Lithuanian nights that set that dog to barking and barking and barking.




Here: Study Abroad Update



When I said goodbye to my family at Chicago O’Hare a month ago, I looked back twice. The first time, they were standing there waving at me, proud and scared as I was. The second time, they were gone, their places filled by strangers bumbling from one place to the next. I gripped the straps of my back pack around my shoulders and took a deep breath, and then another, and then another until I was ready. For what exactly I couldn’t say. But I felt ready. Ready to leave, ready to try. Just ready all at once.

But precisely what makes travel so exciting and powerful is the fact that I’m not actually ready—a reality I’ve had to face repeatedly in a myriad of mundane settings since I arrived in Lithuania. Ordering food, buying a bus ticket, trying to pronounce a new acquaintance’s name. No amount of packing, prayer, or day-dreaming makes someone ready for what travel actually is: a stubborn and clumsy rebirth.  This process of awakening and adaptating is ugly and imperfect. Like the time I tipped and then kept tipping the hairdresser until I realized she was still just trying to understand what “Do I tip you now or later?” meant. Or the time I mispronounced “student discount” on the bus. Or the time I stood before a class of adult English-learners and used too many technical grammar terms, my methodological blindspots showing clearly to my cooperating teacher as the class looked at each other, completely confused.

And it’s not just that the rebirthing process is often awkward. Sometimes it’s just disappointingly cyclical. No matter how well I’ve begun to learn the streets or the social cues, I find myself walking in circles. For every landmark and memorial I’ve visited, I always see the same old me reflected back at me in ways that aren’t always comfortable. Here I am, an American. Here I am, human. Wandering, searching, fumbling human. Here I am—running away from home, but always finding it again in myself. Here I am, all on my own but never really alone. Here I am, maybe not ready, but stepping into myself day by day in good faith. Being reborn again and again and again… Here I am in Lithuania. Here I am, going home.