The days are flying by somehow, even though I technically work less hours than I did back home. There is always something to do, something to see, and someone to meet for a caña. Before moving here, people would ask if I was ready for the fiestas and the bars in which, on a typical Tuesday night, are not uncommon to see crowded over with friends happily and loudly chatting. I just laughed it off, figuring I wouldn’t be one of those people. In Nashville, I had developed quite the elderly person routine for myself, adhering to my 10:30 bedtime (maybe 11, but that was pushing it). I also liked to have my lunch prepared the night before, my smoothie items in mind and ready to be blended, my fridge always stocked with healthy foods, my meals eaten at the exact same times every day, my car relatively clean and filled with gas, my room always swept and dusted, 8+ hours of sleep per night, 2800 ml of water everyday, etc. You get the picture.
These all sound like normal (albeit slightly neurotic) adult things, but what was different for me is if one of these things was out of order, I had a semi-meltdown. Not a dramatic one, but an inward, closed-off, my life-is-shit meltdown that usually resulted in me lashing out at my loved ones. I felt co-dependent after moving back in with my mom post-college and often felt embarrassed about that (despite recognizing it as stemming from a societal pressure). My car was always breaking down, I don’t have the best money-managing skills, most of my friends had since moved away, and I had developed a terrible social anxiety and phobia of making close friends since a falling out with my former best friend. I didn’t go out much, and when I did, it felt like an existential crisis was looming over my head the entire time. “Why do people have to be drunk to have fun? Why do people only speak engagingly if they’re trying to sell you something? Why do people interrupt each other so much?” When I would meet people, I felt like I couldn’t bring my full weird-ass self to the table. Fear of saying the wrong thing prevented me from saying much at all. I was clinging to my one person that I felt completely comfortable around instead of saying yes to opportunities to meet others. And then my family dynamic shifted, my happy-go-lucky job was turning corporate and competitive, and I didn’t know what the fuck my next step needed to be. As cliché as it sounds, it truly felt like everyone had something figured out that I just couldn’t make sense of. Spring time came, and I entered a full-fledged depressed phase for about a month. All I could see was a paralyzingly deep sadness and loathing. It was a like an uncontrollable filter I couldn’t do anything but ride out. It passed; thank god for therapy. (And in retrospect, in some way it was really good and necessary to take note of my mental health patterns and triggers.)
So I guess at the end of the day, it felt like these typical day-to-day life things were things that I could control to provide me with some sense of happiness.
Since coming here, I have started to understand a few things. I have realized how much my meals are influenced by Mexican food, how certain patterns of mine occur around certain people, and how susceptible I can be to comparing myself to people via social media. How to take a joke and fire back with something. How maybe I just have one of those genetic makeups that is vulnerable to depressive and manic phases and needing to go to therapy intermittently every few years is a type of self-care that I can be proud of doing instead of embarrassed by. During my period of loneliness, I’d started to consider myself an introvert, a loner. (side note – this is hilarious because I am the person who rapidly scrolls through my phone for people to chat with the second after getting off work.) And looking back, it was hard to want to plant roots in a place that I no longer felt suited for. But I think overall, I was only attempting to make excuses for not wanting to put myself out there.
Since being here, most importantly of all, I am realizing just how crucial and vital, even, it is to make friend groups. We humans are social creatures and we actually do literally need each other. it’s not something we can help, as much as we like to pride ourselves on being independent. And on top of that, we all have the exact same right to take up space and initiate a conversation and say what we want to say. So slowly but surely, I am trying to undo years of inhibition and seeing assertiveness as a form of confrontation. Something that came to me much more easily as a kid. I think the key lies within finding people you can shed your skin around and environments that don’t overwhelm you. And putting yourself out there is half the battle.
It’s just funny the way you can adjust and adapt to situations. My diet has changed a bit; I eat eggs everyday for breakfast now, which is strange because I might as well introduce myself as Hello, I Despise Scrambled Eggs. Lately I’ve been going out more and sleeping less, but instead of a feeling of consuming panic for not “having my life in order,” I’ve been able to chalk it up to enjoying the moment. I’m starting to create a routine for myself, and learn how to budget more properly (if anyone has any tips, throw ’em my way because I still use the old envelopes in my sock drawer method….heheh). There’s a Punjabi restaurant around the corner from my piso that I’ve found myself becoming a regular at, and I’m becoming familiar with which cafes I prefer and which bus lines to take to various parts of town. I’m gaining more confidence with giving private tutoring classes and teaching myself how to make basic lesson plans. Good things are happening that I feel are making me a stronger person.
Best of all, I haven’t been homesick, or even felt lonely too often because I’m constantly surrounded by people through my roommates, coworkers, and classmates. I think I’ve just wanted this experience of living abroad for so damn long (my entire life) that there’s just no room for longing to be home. I’ve had my moments of feeling a little lost and frustrated but overall, this is exactly where I want to be. I’ve also had my moments of utter happiness where it feels like love is vibrating through every pore of my body, but I’m learning that the more up I feel, the more necessary it will be to have an equal amount of calm afterwards. I’m understanding that even if I think something may not affect me, my sensitive nature requires a touch more awareness to the kinds of stimulation I consume. And though the person I want to be is someone who willingly takes chances, vigorously tries new things, and pushes through tough situations while letting them roll off my back, I’m beginning to see that even if I need a day or two or four to decompress in my room, it’s not a sign of weakness. That’s just taking care of my needs.
A couple weeks ago, a world music festival called WOMEX came to Santiago. I debated on whether or not the 25 euro ticket for one night was worth it, and I’m so glad I went. That place gave me so much LIFE!!! I caught the last four acts who were from the UK, Sierra Leone, Tunisia/Belgium, and the Congo. I have always loved African music, and when Kundi Band (the group from Sierra Leone) took the stage, my heart just fucking soared. I was transplanted back to the African dance classes I’ve taken for the past 10 years off and on, taught by an old high school teacher of mine and who I consider a mentor of sorts. The spirit, the confidence, the idea of dancing for a purpose greater than vanity rejuvenated me beyond words. I couldn’t stop moving throughout, and I left deeply inspired from this festival. I have been making it a point to dance for myself in my room everyday for a little while, naked when it feels right, whether for 5 minutes or an hour. Comida para el alma.
The primary school I work at held a Halloween/autumn festival, and it was a big success. Halloween is a relatively new tradition in Spain, maybe only about 5 years old. I asked about this, and my coworker told me they used to celebrate something else (I can’t remember the name, gah) but because American marketing is so strong, the children don’t want to learn the old traditions. That made me feel very sad and a bit awkward because part of my job is also to instruct in cultural exchange. This situation reminded me that there’s always a delicate balance to be had between sharing traditions and keeping in mind the negative consequences that globalization can have. Nonetheless, we had a big festival which included a race (my coworker texted me at 11pm the night before, “by the way, you’re number 31 in the race, hope you’re ready to run!!” um, okay, well I definitely WASN’T ready to run and finished maybe 6th to last out of like 25 teachers… but the children were so encouraging and were cheering us on. However, I swear I felt like Shrek trying to finish that race.) We had several Halloween themed activities such as monster can knock down booth, a balloon relay race with ghost faces, a relay with balancing a chestnut on a spoon, an old-fashioned roasted chestnut oven on wheels, and American pop music blaring for the kids to dance to. My contribution was a bobbing for apples station, which I don’t think anyone had ever heard of before. Suffice it to say, it was great fun.
I visited the city of A Coruña with a friend this past weekend, about a half hour away by high speed train. We got sufficiently drunk, I had 50 euros stolen, and we visited the beach. It was a blast regardless of the communication barriers, and I was especially appreciative that they made the effort to speak on my level of basic Spanish with me when they typically only speak Galician with one another. My friend’s friend was a very accommodating host, and their mutual friend even met us at the train station for the sole purpose of saying goodbye. So kind.
So yeah… good stuff. I’m really quite happy to be here. Thanks for reading.
Ciao fo’ now,