Postcard from Abroad – Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier

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Hannah is a down to earth, pedigree Mancunian who is currently away from her French and European Politics degree at Leeds on an Erasmus placement at the Université Paul-Valéry in Montpellier. Hannah probably should say that she takes a keen interest in current affairs but in fact she would usually rather stay in bed with a brew, go shopping for floral dresses, or watch Strictly Come Dancing. She will be using this blog to talk mainly about subjects such as feminism, mental illness, and cats. Hannah would love to one day work for a non-governmental organisation, to try and help the world become a slightly lovelier place.

Bonjour!

It has been almost two months since I arrived in Montpellier and it already feels like home. There is a heavy student population, a quirky independent cinema and men with buns in their hair everywhere you look. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t even left Hyde Park (if Hyde Park was a minimum of 25 degrees in October and there were numerous water features).

After being in France for only a month, I got inspired to make my debut in the blogosphere, and since then I have been pouring my truth tea into the World Wide Web in the hope that other students and young people can relate to some of my experiences with mental illness. I hope to show other students that mental illness does not have to limit your potential. It may be difficult, but we can function like other humans too.

Leeds and I have had a turbulent relationship over the past two years, however, Montpellier and I have a mutual agreement. She is going to help me get better.

To provide some context, I suffer from depression and anxiety caused by Body Dysmorphic Disorder – an illness similar to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. In a nutshell, I am prone to periods of self-loathing which incur certain ritualistic behaviours and this makes me sad so I stay indoors. These periods are when I am in ‘Zombie Mode’ and they happen every so often. I get myself worked up and have panic attacks and then consequently become exhausted. It is quite a vicious cycle and resulted in me being unable to attend the majority of second year. However I can’t praise Leeds University enough for their help and support and for allowing me to retake most of my exams and essays in the summer so that I was able to go on my year abroad.

So here we are in Montpellier, me and my squiffy head, and our aim for the year is to work on me so that I can return to Leeds for my final year and obtain the grades that I deserve. Being ill mentally is just like being physically injured. For example, say you broke your legs. You used to be able to hop, skip and jump, and now you can’t even walk. In the rehabilitation process your first unaided footstep is hugely rewarding as you once thought you wouldn’t be able to walk again. Do you see where I’m going with this? After a long period of time stewing in my own misery and smelly bed sheets, I now shower daily, eat regular meals and attend university… most of the time. Basic means of survival I suppose you could call these things, but for me these are my first unaided steps after months of having broken legs. I feel like if there was anywhere for my rehabilitation process to take place, it’s surely in the south of France.

Montpellier is a beautiful city, and really helps me to face the outdoors after a long time of being an antisocial agoraphobic. La Place de la Comédie is the hub au centre ville and is the main square with an abundance of restaurants, water fountains and an aforementioned quirky independent cinema. It is also an architect’s dream, with the surrounding buildings being home to the quaintest apartments, all of which have imaginative flower arrangements entwined around their baroque balconies. The close proximity of the beach also adds to the struggle that is attending university rather than sunbathing or sipping on an overpriced café noisette espresso in the square.

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My boyfriend and I have been on quite a few adventures thus far (my least favourite being when we took the wrong train and ended up in the Alps but enough on that for now). We are lucky enough to be doing our years abroad in neighbouring countries and are only a few hours apart. Every other week we alternate between where he is staying in Italy and here in Montpellier and we have been able to explore surrounding areas of our respective cities. We have been to Nimes, Turin, Santa Margherita and Portofino, the latter where a scene in The Wolf of Wall Street was filmed. In short, I am a Riviera Princess and I am aware that my regularly selfies in various European cities can be irritating.

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To conclude, I really don’t want my postcards to come across as morbid or for anyone to feel sorry for me. I have very much accepted my illness as part of me and I have been lucky enough to receive lots of different treatment so that I can control and manage my ailments. My objectives are a) to raise awareness of mental illness b) to show that people with a mental illness can do the same things that others do and c) to hopefully help and encourage those who read this and need help themselves to be able to speak openly about their problems.

I also really like France and travelling so there will be plenty more of where that came from.

Bisous,

Hannah Lewis

Images courtesy of Hannah Lewis

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