I am not, by nature, an adventurous person.
When I studied abroad in London, however, I wanted to be different and live more adventurously than I had ever before. Because of my anxiety and depression, staying in bed all day is sometimes unavoidable for me, but in another country with a clock ticking on my remaining time to explore, staying home was a huge waste of time and money — a waste I just couldn’t accept.
So I made a pact with myself. No matter how miserable I felt, how suffocating my mental illness got or how much I struggled to get out of bed, I would make myself do something new every day. It didn’t have to be a big thing, and to most people, it wouldn’t seem like much, but for me, this challenge was the best decision I ever made.
On the bad days, the one new thing was simply taking a new road from class back to my flat, where I could safely stay for the rest of the day. On the extremely stressful and overwhelming days, it was finding a new coffee shop, library or study space to work at. But, on the regular days, it was exploring a new part of the city, a new museum, a new park … somewhere I’d never been.
If I was going to be depressed and anxious anyway, I felt I might as well suffer out in the world, and while, yes, there were some days when I couldn’t make it happen, most days, the exploration made everything a little better — or at least more interesting.
It wasn’t easy. When I rode the Tube for the first time, I had no clue where I was going, and my mounting anxiety nearly spiraled into a panic attack. As I got more comfortable, however, that anxiety began to subside to more manageable levels.
Slowly, I fell in love with the city — an affection I hadn’t expected to feel. Despite how big and daunting it was, I became more comfortable with London as I explored more, learning to use and trust the public transit system, recognizing buildings and bus stops and rivers — knowing where I was going.
I knew the spots in the city where I could sit alone and relax: in Holland Park, on my favorite bench among the trees, or in the hallways of the Tate Modern art museum, where I could look out at the River Thames — spots that made me feel safe, that I never would have discovered had I not challenged myself to leave the house.
When we first arrived in London, our tour guide told us that people who end up in the Thames have just nine minutes to live, on average, because the river flows so fast. I called the beautiful spot the “nine-minute guarantee” and fantasized about swimming with the seals that were supposedly north of London in the very same river. There was something comforting about that.
Even when things were certainly not OK, something small still went right because I wasn’t in my bed. I was creating a functional space in the midst of London, having as decent a time as I could amid the depression and anxiety.
This was not a cure — and I still felt all the feelings I’d have otherwise felt — but at least I felt those feelings somewhere cool. Now, I can look back fondly on those lighter moments and tell people about something more than my flat and my bed.
Today, all I have left of London are memories and nostalgia.
I recently moved back to my parent’s house — a place I never planned to revisit for more than a few days at a time — for the foreseeable future, and the independence that once made me free and pushed me out into the world by necessity feels like it’s gone.
I’ll be honest. Since I’ve been back, I’ve spent a lot of time in my childhood bed where elementary school, middle school and high school me slept — or mostly didn’t sleep — feeling the same things she did. And with this, on top of not knowing what’s coming next, lacking control in most aspects of my life and the fact that there is literally a global pandemic, everything feels pretty impossible outside my bed.
So, although it’s not London, I think it’s time to treat this like a new place and opportunity, get out of bed and be depressed somewhere else while trying something new, so this time in my life isn’t a waste too.
My hometown is no European capital city — it’s small and suburban, and there’s not much to do (and no public transit to get you there). With the pandemic, this place feels even smaller.
But who knows? Maybe tomorrow I’ll try cooking something other than pasta for the first time or go on a new hike or paint something new. Or maybe, I’ll just take a new road home.