Globalisation might not be working for me
August 16, 2013 7:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm still feeling very lonely and terribly homesick over a month after my first question. In fact, it's been getting worse, and I think I might have developed some serious issues. Special snowflake details inside. Thank you for reading.

The semester ended two weeks ago and I managed to hand in all of my reports (although I'm not quite satisfied with some of them, I guess I should at least pass all courses) and visited a friend for a week. I felt a little better during that time because I wasn't alone, but then I came back to Tokyo and it hit me worse than ever. I'm crying several times a day, and not just silent tears, but I have physically painful sobbing spells. It's getting increasingly hard to breathe and I have stomach aches and feel nauseous. I don't really have much of an appetite either and can only eat very small portions at a time, if anything at all.

I've really tried to pull through this. My friends are great, and I know that I would miss them if I went back to Germany, but not even their encouragment and promises to be there for me no matter what help me anymore. (And I feel so guilty about that because I should be happy, right? They're such great friends.) I think I've developed separation anxiety because I actually cried after saying good-bye to a friend although I knew I would see her again the next day. For two days (days 2 and 3 of three days in a row meeting the same friend) I felt okay by listening to encouraging music, reading Harry Potter and repeating to myself all the good things I have going for me, but then the darkness caught me again and yesterday, I broke down sobbing onto my boyfriend's shoulder TWICE. I've never cried like that in front of people before, but I couldn't hold it any longer and he, while surprised, was really great about it. I can't help thinking that he is part of my problem, though, because while he is a great boyfriend, he told me that he can't be in one place for too long and that his ideal relationship was that between Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, and I don't think I can do that. I have always wanted to settle down somewhere and have kids or at least a husband to come home to. So while I know that this isn't something I should worry about now, I can't just unhear it and I think that maybe I should end things now before I fall in love anymore than I already have. Then again, I do love him and guys in their twenties often say a lot of things they later change their mind about... (My older brother never wanted children and now he has two who he loves.)

Aside from the boyfriend issues, I also miss my family terribly. I can't skype with them without breaking into tears because I want to be home so desperately. I can't even read my mother's mails anymore without crying. I know I only have three more semesters and that I'll go home for Christmas, but that all seems so long to me now. (Maybe because it's the summer holidays and I'm alone too much. I meet people as often as I can, but of course 24/7 is impossible. I can't believe I'm actually waiting for the holidays to end!)

I can't get rid of that dark, sinking feeling in my stomach, even when I'm with friends. I keep telling myself I just went from a life with an emotional scale of 3-7 to one of 1-10, but lately the 1 moments are too many and even if I have a moment of what should be a 10, I can't enjoy because I'm scared of the 1s coming after that. I'm scared that I will keep feeling like that for the rest of my life, because it's too painful.

I will go to the counselling my university offers next week, but my friends with depression (which I have several symptoms of, it seems) told me not to get my hopes up. I was also thinking of having my hormone levels checked (my period has been off a little as well) and I bought vitamin B supplements yesterday because I did some desperate googling for a solution and some sites said that vegetarians tend to have vitamin B deficiencies which might lead to depression.

I know there's probably nothing you can do for me besides telling me to try counselling which I will, but even if it's just "I've been there and I got better real quick", that would help me so, so much. Thank you.
posted by LoonyLovegood to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Counseling is good, but I also suggest that you see an actual doctor. If you are as depressed as you sound, antidepressants might be something to consider in conjunction with the counseling, at least for the time being - talk to a doctor about it. Yes, they can check hormone levels and/or thyroid levels, but sometimes people just get depressed and it has nothing to do with hormones, thyroid, or vitamins.

Also, IANYD, but as long as you are not a strict vegan and you eat some animal based products, B12 deficiency is unlikely. Milk, yogurt, cheese and eggs are all sources of B12 and soymilk and various cereals are often fortified with it.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:09 PM on August 16, 2013

Going to counselling really helped me when I was going through a rough patch at school - but I was in a place where I knew people and had at least some people who I felt safe and comfortable hanging out with when I was feeling depressed. And for me it helps just to have people being there.

I dunno how fast you make friends, but if you find people you click with, things can get better surprisingly fast. Good luck out there, but be sure to take care of yourself. If stuff isn't improving after going to counselling and trying to get out there to make friends, then it is perfectly fine to reevaluate your situation for sanity's sake. The best university in the world won't do you much good if you are having a terrible time being there. I sincerely hope things work out for you.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:38 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm scared that I will keep feeling like that for the rest of my life, because it's too painful.

It might help to think of it this way: the fear of something doesn't actually make it a fact. That is to say, being scared that you'll feel something painful for the rest of your life doesn't actually mean you'll feel that thing for the rest of your life.

The thing is, feelings come and go -- all feelings, even painful ones, even ones that linger. All sadness, grief, joy, hilarity, etc. goes through a life cycle. Feelings are like waves -- they build, they come in like the tide, they recede. You will feel many feelings for the rest of your life (and homesickness will be one of them), but there's no one feeling that you are doomed to experience in perpetuity.

To look at it from another perspective, let me give you the example of my partner's father, who died this past December at the age of 101. In his teens he met his high school sweetheart, whom he married. In their 20s they became professional dancers, and toured all over North America. In his early 30s he was drafted into the army to fight in World War II. While in Germany, his wife/dance partner left him. He came back to the U.S. and, in his 40s, remarried and started a dance studio. He had two sons in his 40s and 50s. In his 60s, he discovered he had a third son from the war (fathered with a German chorus girl -- yes, for real! -- who he had met after his wife left him) who came over to the states and essentially joined the family. He kept teaching into his 70s. In his 80s and 90s, he amused himself by gardening, puttering around the family cabin in the mountains, and training his dog. For his 100th birthday we threw a party, attended by friends and family from all over the country.

Point is, he had plenty of living left to do after his 20s and 30s -- even after his darkest days of his first wife leaving him while he was away at war. You have plenty of living left to do, too. Try to keep that in mind as you eat well, sleep well, be gentle with yourself, and seek out a counselor and a doctor. What you are feeling is real, but it's not everything you'll ever feel. I wish you the best.
posted by scody at 9:05 PM on August 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you are having panic attacks too. Have you tried making up a list of your favorite activities (reading, music, etc.) and trying to find in country analogues? That would give you a stake in this new culture. Do you read Japanese?
posted by jwells at 9:11 PM on August 16, 2013

Response by poster: I have made a list of things I can do when none of my friends has time, and it includes listening to Japanese music, reading (although I read mostly English) or watching Japanese TV dramas. It doesn't really help much lately...
posted by LoonyLovegood at 9:14 PM on August 16, 2013

The really hard part at this phase in life anywhere is learning to get out more, and from your response it sounds like that might be part of this. I do think counseling is a good idea too, but try forcing yourself to get out on your own (baby steps, of course). Go window shoping. Bring a book and go to a restaurant (bars, as in a sushi bar, work great for this). Because the lights are off at movies you can get away with that too. When in line everyone will just assume you are meeting someone inside. I never had much luck with the museums route, but there is that too. Ask the people around you questions. Also look for talks by book authors.

The idea basically is that getting you out wil distract you till your friends get back, but it also builds self-confidence. Please be mindful of your safety though, just in case.
posted by jwells at 9:56 PM on August 16, 2013

Best answer: It sounds like you have supportive people in your life - your friends, your boyfriend, your family. I don't think that adding more people to your life would necessarily help you. The loneliness may not be related to actual time spent with people, but come from within instead. Yes, you sound depressed and that's definitely an angle to explore. Medication may help, see what your health care professionals think.

But you really remind me of me after I moved to Australia. I had a partner, I had friends that I'd made through him, I was actually better off than you in some ways because at least I didn't have a language barrier to deal with. Well, as much of one anyway. It was a decision I had made for myself, I was living where I wanted to be and I was completely miserable.

Some people can pick up and move to another city/country and immerse themselves and feel fine. Other people can't. I couldn't. It actually took me a couple of years before I felt like I was more or less ok again. I didn't seek treatment because didn't have an understanding of depression at that stage of my life. I wish I had, it might have made things easier.

I guess my point is that if you admit that it is a really big thing to have moved halfway across the world, even if it was a choice you made freely and want, even if there are many good things about your choice, it is also really hard and stressful. If you see a counsellor, I'd suggest talking about that kind of thing.

The other thing I can suggest is that you get used to just being. The feeling of loneliness is so intense, but maybe instead of trying to distract yourself from it, ignore it or pretend it isn't there, maybe try sitting with it. It can be tough to start meditating while you're in the throes of depression, but I think it can also be the best way to actually face up to the things going on inside you that are making you depressed. Just sit quietly and focus on your breathing, accept that you will get distracted with thoughts and emotions but just bring your focus back to your breath. Somehow the simple action of just being can be really helpful. Pema Chodron's books are really good too; When Things Fall Apart is a good place to start.

Hang in there!
posted by Athanassiel at 1:29 AM on August 17, 2013

Best answer: I have been there, and I did get through it, so first of all, a big *hug* from me.

Holidays are definitely very difficult in this situation because of the sudden lack of structure and things to occupy your mind. I was closer to home than you were (UK -> Eastern Europe) and decided to change my original plans and go home for the Christmas break for just that reason. When I arrived back at Uni in the New Year, I was struck by how low and depressed many of the foreign students were that had stayed, because they'd been wandering around for weeks just waiting for the holidays to end. So you're not alone in that.

What ultimately got me through the rough patch was selecting a date in the future at which I would stop and go home if I was still unhappy. It was quite a long way in the future: I did this deal with myself at New Year and said "If I still feel like this in March, I'll go." That gave enough time for one of the big issues (the cold and dark) to resolve itself, and also let me feel like I was giving it a go and not quitting on an emotional impulse. It was a big help to feel like I'd got a rational way of handling it - I wasn't thinking about "giving up", I was thinking about not sinking any more money/time into a project that wasn't making me happy.

I told other people about my deal with myself to make it real, and the relief of having a genuine potential "out" not too far off was huge and much more manageable than just having this enormous slab of time ahead of me.

When March came round, the nights were drawing out, the ice was thawing, and I only had another three months to go, so I decided to stay, and was glad I did.

So I would suggest
1. As others have suggested, do everything you can to get your mental health treated. Well done for the steps you've made already.
2. Find whatever you can to give some structure to your holiday time - even if it's doing something you think you might not enjoy! Any volunteering opportunities near you? Structure, purpose, busy-ness and distraction will all help you through.
3. Set a date, well after classes start again, and allow yourself to contemplate stopping then if you're still unhappy. Do whatever it takes to make it a real possibility - check out flights (but don't buy them yet!), tell friends and family etc. It wouldn't be quitting, it would be a rational decision about what suits you best and it will be a relief to feel like you're in charge of what's happening and not trapped.

Good luck and take care - memail me if you'd like to chat.
posted by penguin pie at 2:09 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Please see a doctor as soon as you can. They are there to help.
posted by dawkins_7 at 5:56 AM on August 17, 2013

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