Written by Cosima Smith, (University of Virginia) Student Correspondent CET Siena, Fall 2018
It is quite possible that I am partially breaking a promise by writing the following article. See, I promised in my last post that I would write about the street art of a land that is known for its artists, but mental health is tricky and scary and just rough–however, I’ll begin with a new promise to tie the art of Siena into focus as I go. I’ll start with some backstory, but keep reading, I promise this isn’t a sob story or a cry for help. If anything, I’d like to show you that you’re not alone when you’re having a rough day, and that you can still survive and thrive abroad!
So, I live with depression and anxiety, away from medications because everything I’ve tried has reinforced suicidal ideations and it seems I’m never in the United States long enough for a medication to stabilize in my system. This means that I’m fairly accustomed to bouts of desire to stay in bed when there is so much newness to experience in the world around me, and bouts of locking myself away from the world in order to manically clean my room, and bouts of reckless behavior that could potentially damage my own health. When you’re dealing with these feelings, this mental clutter, it can feel like the world around you is falling apart. No, that’s not accurate, it feels more like the world is doing just fine, but you’re consistently being chipped away or hollowed out or taken aback by the second guessing of your accomplishments and triumphs.
This is where the street art comes in. As you’ll see in the pieces I’ve photographed, which all happen to be within 200 meters (~600 feet) of my homestay, the feeling of a hollowed-out being and a strategically empty or faux-smiling face is not unique to me. Much of the artwork in this radius reflects the feelings my own mental diseases make surface in my life. Obviously, I am not the artist, so I won’t try to explain the pieces any more than I have thus far, but take a look for yourself and see if you can find the feelings I’ve described in them. Here’s where the piece gets a bit happier.
So, here I am, having laid out my defunct brain for you to pick apart. But, here I also am, with a pretty damn good GPA, still doing well in all of my classes, making new friends all the time, and just generally making my way through life. It’s easy to feel alone, but I’ve come to a point in my life where it is easier and easier to recognize that there are people I can reach out to–that want to hear from me when I’m having a rough time. In life that means friends and family if you’re lucky; on a study abroad program it means the staff, the director, even your teachers. At least here in Siena, these people care about each student–I would go so far as to say some of them are actually my friends with whom I will be in contact for years to come.
So yeah, these past weeks have been rough. Really rough. Feeling like the old lady with the gas can hobbling from the fire, I’ve been making big decisions for my future, preparing for upcoming midterm exams, working out my love life, having the occasional panic attack, and hearing about the flooding that’s literally disallowing my family to go home (because of fallen trees and high river levels), all while trying to work up the gall to get out of bed in the morning or settle myself enough to enjoy a nice relaxing night out. But, I have also spent this time learning I am not alone. When I started having rough days with my mental health, it seemed as if the artwork was taunting me, trying to copycat mockingly the way I was feeling. Now, however, I see it for what it really is: somebody telling me, in not so many words, that they know what I’m going through.
Now, when I’m having a hard time staying focused, I manage to remind myself to breathe. We forget how important this is, but when the body tenses, so do our lungs. I’ve managed to work yoga into my schedule. I take time to watch an episode of one of my favorite shows with a friend from home or to call my family and remind them how good it is to hear their voices. I call a friend here and tell them I need someone to just be with me for a little bit, or I go out and explore. I have found things here that work for me, and it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. If you have a rough time with your mental health, DON’T let it stop you from experiencing the wonders of the world.
If you’re still hesitant, or you don’t believe my earlier point about being cared for, here’s my personal email: amiso.c.osima[at]gmail.com. I promise, I’d love to hear from you.