This guide has been in the making for over 2 years. It was supposed to be a letter to my little sister when she moved away from home for the first time. It was a time of excitement, uncertainty, and new beginnings. I wanted to share with her what I have learned about solitude in almost eight years of living abroad. Many lessons came in form of arguments, pain, and tears; so, I hope this saves you some of that struggle if you are in a similar situation.
- Give yourself a chance to grief. Acknowledge your feelings, and allow yourself to cry, to feel scared, angry, sad, maybe even sorry for yourself. Then choose not to feel that way. As Viktor E. Frankl said, “the last of the human freedoms [is] to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I believe that everything in this life is a choice, happiness is a choice; so choose to be happy, choose not to let sadness ruin this experience for you.
- Keep your room clean. Open curtains and windows, make your bed, fold your clothes, and dust the furniture. You will be surprised how big an effect this has on your mood; you are more likely to be proactive, and actually do something, rather than crawling back into bed after school or work. There is also a sense of accomplishment that comes when you clean, so if you want to tackle your entire home, even better! As once I heard said, physical clutter is mental clutter, we want neither.
- Keep your mind busy. Whether you pick up that book that has been sitting on your shelf since high school, or you find a new hobby. Keep yourself busy. You are less likely to remember or focus on sad/negative things if you are constantly occupying yourself. Idle hands are the devil’s playthings, or so they say.
- It is normal to miss home, but don’t let that stop you from living this experience to the fullest. Learn to be okay with who you are, where you are, and how you are today. You moved to a new phase in your live, EMBRACE it! Believe me when I say: Living in the past will ruin your present. Make a list of things you want to do, places to visit, or experiences to have, and in your free time make it happen. This could be the best time of your life if you let it.
- Work out your feelings. During the past year I have learned that understanding how you feel takes time, but it’s worth the investment. Many times you will feel angry or sad, only to learn that the underlying feelings are fear or loneliness. Learn to interpret your feelings; talk to someone or write it down. I would have never imagined that writing down my feelings and thoughts would have such a therapeutic and relieving effect. Keep a jornal or write letters, even if you never mail them.
- Don’t let your feelings control your actions. Whatever you do, do NOT let yourself give up on something you love because you are having a bad day. We all have bad days, in fact, we all have a few terrible days. When (not if) you have a bad day, do what you can to fix it, find a healthy way to cope with it, and learn from it. What can you do to prevent it? How can you make it better? If there is nothing you can do, that is okay too. Accept it and move on.
- Focus on the why, not the what. Why do I do this? Seeing the end from the beginning is not easy, but it will help you keep things in perspective and in turn it will make your burdens lighter and easier to bear. And even if they are not lighter, you will learn to delay gratification. Very often we have to sacrifice something that we want for something that we want more.
- Know that it is a choice, not a punishment. I have never been one to say mantras in front of the mirror, but if you are, please consider this one: ‘You are there because you chose to, you wanted to. No one forced you to do it, no one is forcing you to stay. The moment you decide to come back, you can come back.’ This usually helps me realize why I made a decision, and helps me remember that I am in control of a situation, not the other way around.
- Remember you are never truly alone. As long as any of us [your family] are alive, you are not alone. Please, please never forget this! Reach out whenever you need to vent, when you have a bad day, or when life gets a bit more than you can handle. I take the F.R.I.E.N.D.S theme song very seriously, so trust me when I say… ‘I’ll be there for you’. More importantly, remember that God is also there for you, just let him in, talk to him, and allow him a chance to talk back.
- Remember that nothing is forever. If after cleaning your room, finding new hobbies, writing therapeutic letters, embracing your new life, and seeing the end from the beginning you still cannot find comfort, please remember this: Nothing, absolutely nothing is forever. Your bad days will end, the uncertainty will end, your internship year will end too. For better or for worse this (whatever this is) will end, so it would not bad advice to say, enjoy it. One day you will no longer need to pull all-nighters, or feel so alone that you’ll numb all emotions in order to stop feeling altogether, or be so tired that you can’t decide whether to eat, shower, or sleep. When this day comes you will cherish those days, you will be grateful you had them, because without them you wouldn’t be where you are today.