I have struggled with social anxiety and depression for most of my life. It has hindered me socially, academically and mentally in so many ways that when I was presented with an opportunity to travel abroad, I immediately said no.
As more and more of my friends and acquaintances from high school began uploading photos and blogs of themselves in distant countries, I began to feel like I was missing out on a huge part of my college experience — especially at NYU, where the pressure to study abroad at a global university is always upon you.
After many conversations with my parents, best friends and therapists, I decided that studying in a different country would be something that I would remember for a lifetime. So I began to browse the study away sites. I have always been a relatively impulsive person, and my high school theater teacher and mentor listed Prague as her favorite place in all of Europe. With that as my only source of reference, I chose to study in Prague.
Fast forward to a few months later — multiple anxiety medications in tow, I was at JFK boarding a seven-hour flight to Europe, and I was utterly terrified. No pamphlet, travel blog or affirmation from my family could have prepared to sit alone on a seven-hour plane ride with nothing but my thoughts: What if my plane crashes? How will I figure out where to go when I land? Does anyone speak English there? Everyone is going to hate me.
As soon as we took off, I tried to watch some “Last Week Tonight” on the plane to calm my nerves, but nothing was working.
I managed to pay for some in-flight WiFi and immediately called my mom using Whatsapp. I was in the air, most likely over the Atlantic Ocean somewhere, and I was calling my mother (technology is fascinating). I called her three times during that flight, the third time in tears. I wanted to so badly to turn the plane around and go home.
Once I landed in the Czech Republic I knew that there was really no getting out of it. I had to suck it up. I immediately began searching for anything violet. Then, I saw the familiar face of my close friend who was also studying in Prague with me and felt a wave of relief so powerful wash over me that seeing her literally brought tears to my eyes.
Prior to coming to Prague, I had no idea who my roommates would be, which is something that I lost sleep over for about a week before flying out.
When we arrived at my dorm, Slezska, I felt the familiar sense of terror that I felt on the plane. I had to introduce myself to new people, have small talk and share a living space with strangers for four months. I thought I would puke.
To me, forced social gatherings are the equivalent of medieval torture. Growing up I struggled to make friends and was often left out of social events, so being forced to participate was like your parents forcing you to put salad on your plate even though you know you’re just going to eat the mac and cheese. You kind of ignore the salad and push it around to make it look like you made an effort when your parents are watching, but really the mac and cheese was all you wanted.
I begrudgingly went to the forced pizza dinner, despite the fact that I was seriously jet lagged, and I did the unthinkable: met my roommates.
That was almost two weeks ago. Today, my suitemates and I are pretty close and have already planned our weekends full of European adventures. I was so nervous that everyone I would be living with would hate me or plan everything without me, but none of that happened. Most of what living with anxiety is like is worrying about things that will never happen or about things that can be easily solved objectively. Here’s to continuing to conquer that.
Email Mariah Melendez at [email protected]