Mental Health and Study Abroad

At the University of Oklahoma there is a goal set by President Boren that fifty percent of students will study abroad. Although this goal has not been met, there are a large number of students who study abroad through the University. During my two study abroad journeys I was suffering both from anxiety and depression. A lot of people talk about the joy of study abroad and also the difficulties, but mental health seems pretty uncharted. Sure, we were given resources for if we were having trouble adjusting, but what about those of us suffering from long-term mental health disorders?

The problems I faced were a lot smaller during my first study abroad venture in Italy. There, I was given everything I needed to succeed: American friends, tours of the city by faculty and staff, many people looking out for my well being. I never once had an issue with my mental health. I never once called home crying.

Fast-forward a semester and I am in London for my second study abroad adventure. This one was different. Before going to London, I had been prescribed a new medication meant to supplement my anxiety meds. It really had no effect on me during the first few weeks. However, the program itself was enough to do me harm. The Summer School Program at the London School of Economics is one of the only study abroad programs where credits can be transferred back to Ivy League universities. That being said, the classes were intense with three weeks spent learning from top scholars of the school. I was prepared for another study abroad experience like the one I had in Arezzo: close friends and many Americans having fun and learning about culture.

I want to preface by saying that the LSE program was phenomenal. I learned so much and met new friends from around the world. I was able to learn how to survive on my own in a foreign country and large city. However, I was not ready for the toll the experience would take on my mental health.

The second week started with a trip to Paris where, as I described in an earlier post, my new medication caused a mental breakdown which included drinking, crying, vomiting, and being sexually assaulted. It was then that I realized I needed help. The next morning I texted a Canadian mental health hotline describing what had happened. I thought I needed to be in a mental institution. The study abroad experience did not help quell my ever increasing depression. I would walk down the street suffocating under the overwhelming feeling that I was not okay. I thought about jumping in front of cars and throwing myself off bridges. Even if pictures on social media proved otherwise, I didn’t feel normal.

With this came crushing guilt. I was at one of the best universities in the world in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. My parents had paid almost all of the $10,000 it took for me to have the experience. How could I be unhappy here? How could I be so ungrateful?

So I continued to stuff down the feelings. I was isolated and afraid, but I didn’t let it show. As the weeks went on, I lost friends who completed their classes and headed back to their respective countries. In the final weeks, I laid in bed for days on end, only getting up to use the restroom. I didn’t eat and slept for 12 hours at a time, sometimes more. I was taking my medication regularly, but nothing helped. This did not ruin my experience, but it opened my eyes to this issue that people do not really talk about.

There are so many students in this world that spend time abroad. This means that there are probably many students suffering from mental health problems that take those problems with them around the world. Depression does not stop when we begin our adventures. It will always be with us. This article is written not to criticize institutions for their lack of help for students with mental health issues. That is not reality. Most universities provide many resources for students like me. Alternatively, I am writing this to draw attention to the fact that studying abroad is not always glamorous. Despite what many people may post and share, there is difficulty, especially for those who have a mental health disorder. We may feel uncomfortable talking about it. We may only share the good stuff. We may feel guilt for time wasted abroad because of our disorder. But, other people can be there to help if they know the signs. Below are links to websites for people seeking help and for those who may not know the signs of depression:

Symptoms

Hotline

Thanks y’all for reading!

 

xoxo

Ivey

Depression is not an accessory

There is an Eiffel Tower keychain that sits on my bedside, a trinket from my most recent trip to Paris. It should be a reminder of fun, of sunshine, of flowers, of laughing with my best friend and eating escargot for the first time. It should remind me of my first time in Paris when I experienced the beauty of the city from the top of the Arc. It should bring back the smell of delicious baguettes and cheese from the Saturday market and the feel of the breeze off of the river.

Instead it bears a more grim memory.

I suffer from depression and anxiety, probably due to genetics as it runs through generations of my family. It is the most difficult barrier that I have to a normal life. Yet, despite the many struggles that I and many others in this world face due to depression, I have been floored by the recent glorification of mental health disorders through main stream media in shows like 13 Reasons Why and To The Bone. There is largely debate on whether these shows are doing the right thing by bringing attention to issues that are largely taboo in our society. Some writers have insisted that, by allowing younger people to watch these shows, they feel more comfortable talking about these issues with their parents or peers. This may be true for some. As a teenager, I read 13 Reasons Why and really loved it. It was truly a sad story about a girl named Hannah who told the backstory of her suicide by sending tapes to different people in her life who contributed to her suicide. However, as an adult I see it much differently. I understand the selfishness of the main character as she blames others for her suicide. I see how the plot focuses on an almost-revenge. Hannah died, but she is able to put the burden on others by blaming them for her own decision. The reality is that depression is much more complicated. It is a disease that seems to be simplified in these television shows. Depression is not a pretty girl that makes tapes and then kills herself. Depression is a journey with ugly consequences that will never be shown in popular media. It continues to be whittled down to its most basic form, suicide and tears – an accessory to draw in an audience.

Depression is not an accessory.

It is not something that can be experienced through watching a television show. It is not something that makes a show revolutionary. Depression is not always suicide. Depression is not merely sadness.

Depression is a disease. It eats away at your brain until you can’t fight back any longer. Depression is a cage – as much as you want to break free, there is no way out. Depression is vomiting in front of tourists under the Eiffel Tower because your new medication does not mix with wine. It is sobbing while screaming that you want to die as your best friend holds you back from running. It is laying in bed for days at a time with no shower, the smell of three-day-old bad breath and the feeling of tangled hair at the nape of your neck. It is losing friends because you cannot bear to speak or to see the light of day. Depression is drinking beyond memory and cutting beyond pain. Depression is failure. It is the numbness from buckets of medication. Depression is being in the most beautiful city on earth surrounded by millions yet feeling alone. It has good days and it has bad days. It is everything and nothing at the same time. It affects 350 million people on the planet yet it still comes with a stigma that is hard to break.

By allowing television shows to represent one person’s version of mental health disorder, we continue to perpetuate the idea that all depressed people are the same. All of us commit suicide. All of us are moody and constantly tragic. But the reality is so much more. Depression is not an accessory. Yes, it affects everyday life, but there are millions of people currently functioning day to day with the disease. There are so many of us that have had times where we almost took our own lives and yet there are some of us who have never tried. There are some of us who will never have to be on medication and there are some of us who take what seems like hundreds of pills each day. There are some of us that suffer and are not diagnosed and there are some of us who have known since we were young. There are great days where we can function on normal amounts of sleep and can laugh with our best friends. We can climb mountains. We can go to work and take care of our children and go on a date. Then there are times when the physical symptoms make putting a cup of coffee to our lips unbearable.

Television wants to make it seem like depression is the same for everyone. It wants death to seem like the only option.

I am here to defend those of us who do not fit that mold. I am here to say that depression is not the same for everyone. It goes so much deeper than a 14 episode show can allow a viewer to understand.

Depression is not an accessory. It is not always suicide. It is not always pretty. It is not always ugly. Depression is normality for some of us. And that should be defended.

Skinny Love

All women have been there. You see an image flash across your television screen. It makes you think – I want to be skinny. You see a billboard pushing the latest fad diet – I would look good if only I was thinner.

As a woman I am constantly told that thin is in and that I shouldn’t indulge in any good food because food = fat.

So this summer I decided that I would forgo all other birthday gifts and settle for something I actually needed – an expensive diet to make me thinner.

My freshman year of college, late night snacking and pizza made me (what I thought back then was) fat.

I was so tired of looking in the mirror everyday and hating what I saw. I was tired of not fitting into my clothes. I was tired of being the biggest of my friends. I was tired of feeling jealous looking at other girls. I was tired of trying to diet and failing. I was just tired.

So I started a strict diet that involved no exercise and was under 1,000 calories a day.

It. Was. Fabulous.

I was all about this diet. I told all my friends, measured all my vegetables, and didn’t cheat but once.

The pounds began to fall off.

The first week I lost two pounds – more than I could manage to lose after a year of “diet” and exercise.

I felt great. Sure, the hunger gnawed at my stomach every night making it hard to sleep, but it was worth the weight loss.

Each day became a routine:

Wake up.

Weigh myself.

Measure out breakfast and eat.

Think about food.

Measure out lunch and eat.

Think about food.

Measure out snack and eat.

Think about food.

Measure out dinner and eat.

Struggle to sleep because of how much I was thinking about food.

What started out as a goal to lose weight became an obsession. I would get angry over unmeasured food or restaurants that didn’t have nutrition facts. Even vacation was a nightmare because the only thing I thought about the whole time was when and where I was going to eat.

But still, the pounds continued to fall off and the praise began.

Everyone said I looked happy and healthy and thin. I enjoyed the praise I was getting. I enjoyed fitting into my clothes from freshman year of high school.

The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the hunger.

Three months into the diet, I moved back to college. At this point I was only 115 pounds – underweight for my height. My smallest clothes were too big and I hadn’t had a period for a whole month because my body fat was too low. Friends and family urged me to stop, but all I could think about was the numbers falling on the scale.

At my lowest weight - that's a protein shake in the cup.

At my lowest weight – that’s a protein shake in the cup.

I was aware that I was unhealthy. I was aware that I was unhappy. But I looked good and that was all I cared about.

Then, one day, I stopped.

I don’t really know when I decided to stop dieting. I just did.

I saw how happy my friends were. They weren’t obsessed with food. They weren’t super skinny. And they were content with life. After months of frustration and anger, I just wanted to find that happiness again.

So I slowly began to eat like a normal human being. I let go of my body dysmorphia and ate what my body told me to eat.

The first time I ate sugar in three months

The first time I ate sugar in three months

 

I’ll admit, I am forever changed from dieting. I still struggle with binging and calorie counting and I weigh more than I did to begin with.

But no matter the struggle I went through, I am so thankful for what dieting did for me.

Yes, it made me lose weight, but more importantly it made me realize that I am the same person, no matter how much I weigh.

I thought that, when I reached my goal body, I would be happier. I wasn’t.

 I still loved myself skinny the same as I did average size.

I realized that being thin didn’t make me a better person, it just made me look a little different. At the end of the day I was still Ivey. I needed to be happy on the inside.

So now I don’t diet and I don’t count my calories and I don’t exercise. That may make me lazy or unhealthy, but it’s the truth.

Instead I’m living my life. I go get ice cream with friends when we need to destress from school. I drive people to Sonic when we need to talk about life. I go on food-truck adventures with my sisters. I bond. I smile. I laugh and I laugh and I laugh.

And I don’t worry about my waistline or the scale, because Ivey Dyson is too busy working on the woman she is on the inside.

Headshot

Low Carb Cauliflower Pizza

Attention everyone that has ever existed ever! I have FINALLY perfected my cauliflower pizza crust recipe and let me just tell you that it tastes as amazing as it looks. As I have been following the Ideal Protein diet, I have been trying to create fun recipes that still follow protocol. I have worked on cauliflower pizza crust for awhile and recently created the best recipe using ideas from multiple people on instagram. Read on if you’re interested in indulging without all the carbs.

Healthy Pizza

 

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 packet Ideal Protein Potato Puree
  • 2 cups frozen cauliflower
  • 3 egg whites
  • Seasoning

Directions for Crust:

-Pre-heat the oven to 350

-Cook frozen cauliflower in the microwave for 10 minutes or until warm

-Pulse in food processor until cauliflower has a rice texture (my food processor is broken so chopping until this texture is reached works as well)

-Using a cheesecloth or coffee filter, squeeze moisture out of cauliflower until dry

-Now add IP Potato Puree, egg whites, and spices (I used garlic powder)

-Using a spoon, create a crust-like shape (starting from the outer rim inward) on well greased parchment paper

-Bake for 25-30 minutes

-Remove crust and set oven to broil

After the crust is made be as creative as desired with toppings.

I topped my pizza off with Walden Farms Italian Sun Dried Tomato dressing, an organic spring mix, white mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, chicken, more garlic powder, thyme, and rosemary. Then I popped it in the oven for about five minutes on broil.

The pizza serves one person and is extremely filling. It is a great low carb option for pizza lovers on a diet. If anyone in the Enid area is interested in the Ideal Protein diet, like Ideal Health and Weight Loss Clinic on Facebook. They have been great to work with, especially for someone like me who isn’t overweight but is just looking to lose a few pounds. Their transformations are amazing.

Thyroid Problems

Thyroid (according to Google)
noun
1. a large ductless gland in the neck that secretes hormones regulating growth and development through the rate of metabolism.
2. a large cartilage of the larynx, a projection of which forms the Adam’s apple in humans.
I first found out about my thyroid problems two days before I left for college. It took many blood tests, a serious talk with my doctor, and an ultrasound to finally diagnose my issues.  But let me rewind to the beginning.
I didn’t randomly stumble Into thyroid problems. They actually run in my family. My mother has hypothyroidism ( a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain important hormones – Mayo Clinic) which basically slows down your metabolism and causes weight gain. My grandma has hyperthyroidism  (is a condition in which your thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine – Mayo Clinic) which can cause weight loss and anxiety. Because I knew about their problems, when I started having issues, I knew just what was wrong. So here is a list of signs I had, that you should also watch out for.

Weight Gain/ Slow Metabolism

As a teenager, I have always had a slow metabolism. While my friends could always eat junk food and still look like supermodels, everything I eat sticks to me like glue. The only time I was able to ever lose weight was working out twice a day and giving up all grains, dairy and red meat. I have always felt like a teenager with the metabolism of a 40 year old. Throughout high school I gained 30 pounds even though I always stayed active and watched what I ate without avail. My senior year I had the final straw. I gained 15 pounds in a matter of months. I knew it wasn’t normal because I was working out harder than ever and had not changed my eating habits. But that wasn’t the only change.

Hair Loss/ Change

The summer before my senior year I worked outside all day everyday as a swim instructor (this was before I realized the importance of sunscreen). So my hair came into contact with burning sun and chlorine constantly. I also played Amber in our local theatre’s production of Hairspray. So not only was  I baking my hair and swimming in chemicals, I also straightened, curled, and teased my hair for three weeks straight. It was hair hell. And, at the end of it all, my hair was never the same. I used to have beautiful, shiny, ringlet curls. After that summer, my hair was wavy and dull and frizzy with dead ends and no life. Come a year later, my hair still had not changed. My hairstylist had never seen anything like it. I told her what that summer had done to my hair, and she explained to me that my hair should not still be affected. My solution was to chop it all off. So I did. BUT IT CHANGED NOTHING. My hair still fell out in giant clumps (which clogged the drain over and over again). When I finally decided to research thyroid issues, I saw that one of the symptoms was hair loss or change. HALLELUJAH! But now that I’m taking medication, nothing has changed. I’m still wondering when the medication will kick in.

 

UPDATE: Went to get my hair cut and colored and she said that she sees curls at my roots and that her other hyper/hypothyroid clients took four-six months for their hair to go back to normal.

 

Hormone Issues 

Talk about hormonally challenged? Let’s just say that my hormones have been off the wall since this thyroid thing started. I have developed bumps all over my chest (I promise they’re not pimples). They itch and will not go away no matter how hard I try. I have been sweating like I just ran a marathon. No matter what deodorant I use, by the end of the day, I’ve sweat through it.

 

UPDATE: I lost two clothing sizes!!! The medicine is really kicking in and I am beyond excited.

 

The road to fix my thyroid issues is far from over, but I am so thankful that I took the initiative to talk to my doctor and that I caught the issue early, before my symptoms got even worse. If you think that you may be experiencing the same problem, check out WebMD. A lot of women experience thyroid problems and worse (cancer). Like I always say, better safe than sorry.