I was born in Mumbai and lived there until I was in my early twenties. When I was 23, I moved to Bangalore for a postgraduate course at a well-known college. Once I got into college, I began looking out for a room in PGs around the college; most of them were tiny, and accommodated several people in a small room. They looked stuffy. Luckily, I managed to get a room in the college hostel and I moved in there.
I'm very close to my family and had never been away from home before I moved to Bangalore. In about a week, I started missing my family. I became homesick. I fell ill, and had an upset stomach for a week.
Adjusting to the hostel wasn’t easy; I didn’t find that sense of togetherness that I wanted so badly. As an introvert, I found it really hard to make new friends. My hostel mates had created their own groups, depending on where they came from. There was the group of students from North India, and the group from the South—as someone from Mumbai, I didn’t feel like I belonged to either group...I couldn’t get myself to join either.
And it wasn’t just the culture; I knew I lived with people who were homophobic, from several comments I’d heard them make, and I didn’t want to tell them about my sexual orientation. I am gay and I was terrified that telling them the truth would make it awkward for me, and for them...knowing that we had to share a room or a common washroom. I kept mum about my sexuality and this was new and strange too; I’d never had to do this back home.
Keeping in touch with family wasn’t easy. Our hostel had no mobile network. I had to walk out of the hostel, wearing the college-approved outfit of formal clothes, even after college hours. Gradually, I stopped calling them as often. What I loved was going to college—because that’s when I got to meet my friends (all of whom were day-scholars). I dreaded weekends; I missed my friends and felt very lonely.
Most people from the hostel would go back home during weekends and the hostel would be nearly empty. I couldn't go home as frequently as them as my travel time was longer and the flights to Mumbai were expensive. I spent some of my weekends at a nearby temple, sitting, and sometimes meditating for an hour or two. But how long can one sit in a temple? I spent my weekend nights alone in my hostel room, with the lights on in the hostel corridor because I was scared of being alone.
Food was a major adjustment. In Mumbai I rarely ate out. Here, I had to begin eating at the canteen. I didn’t like the food at all. The canteen was a good 15-minute walk away from my room. After a while, the stress of walking became too much. I began to skip meals. I stayed in bed all day. The campus hostel had internet, but no access to social media. I had to be back in the hostel at 8 pm—even on weekends. There were strict rules about our attire. I remember that I was once yelled at by the warden for wearing a t-shirt with a round neck. These hassles may seem trivial, and yet facing them on a daily basis added to my feeling of being isolated from the world.
College was an additional stress. We had classes from 9 am to 5 pm, which left us with no time to focus on anything else. I was slowly making up my mind to quit college and go back home.
Moving and dealing with my mental illness
While I lived in Mumbai, I had been diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I was on medication for my illness. When I realized that I was moving to Bangalore to study, I was so excited about the new place and new people that I went off medication. This, I can see now, was a wrong move—the sudden withdrawal of medication, along with the pressure of being unable to adjust to the new city and the loneliness and social anxiety that it brought in, really affected my mental health. I had suicidal thoughts.
Looking back, I believe that my discomfort of staying with the other occupants of the hostel also added to my anxiety and the pressure. Since my childhood, I was always comfortable hanging out with girls. Living in a hostel with boys who wanted to hang out, smoke, or drink, I felt very out of place and lonely.
After four months of joining college, I just couldn't take it anymore. I applied for a transfer certificate. The authorities did not even bother to ask me the reason for leaving the course midway...this was really disappointing. I strongly believe that universities should be sensitive to persons with mental health issues and empathize with the anxieties of students from other cities who are trying to adjust to a new environment. If universities have full-fledged psychologists who can help students who’re struggling, so many of us would benefit.
As told to White Swan Foundation. Names have been withheld on request.This story is from Beyond Relocation, a series on migration and how it impacts our emotional and mental health. Read more here:
1. We need to acknowledge the emotional impact of migration: Dr Sabina Rao
2. Organizations must help employees transition: Maullika Sharma
3. Moving was all of these: a challenge, and adventure and an opportunity to learn about myself: Revathi Krishna