Once upon a time in a far away land (also known as my college town on the Minnesota prairie), I sat in a psychiatrists office–anxious, nervous, and really, really scared. For the past few months, my life had been turned upside down. Since January, I had been experiencing severe anxiety that often times bordered on depression on a daily basis. It was now late March and there seemed to be no end in sight. My mind was going to dark places that I had never experienced before and I was terrified. My life had never before been clouded with so much darkness and I had no idea how to cope.
Furthermore, I had no idea why this was happening. At this time, I was in the middle of my third year of college and I knew that, in a year and half, I’d be graduating. I was, admittedly, quite nervous about my unknown, post-college future. I had also come out of an extremely unhealthy relationship a few months prior. That said, I couldn’t understand how my previous relationship or my nerves about the future landed me in such a dark place, questioning my very existence daily, hourly, every single minute of every single day.
So, there I found myself in the psychiatrists office. Looking for help. Looking for answers. I had been in counseling at my university all semester and though it was helping, I wanted something more. I had tried anti-anxiety medication and within a day of taking the first pill, I became so severely depressed that my mind and body felt numb to the world. I could barely function and I was terrified. I went off the medication as quickly as I started it; I needed something more and medication wasn’t my answer.
So, I found myself in this psychiatrists office where, after an hour-long appointment of questions and discussion, I walked out with a diagnosis–though I was told I would need more than one appointment to really hash out details of said diagnosis.
I didn’t have general anxiety as I feared. Nor did I have clinical depression, as I had also anxiously considered.
No. My diagnosis? An adjustment disorder.
An adjustment disorder can be characterized by a multitude of symptoms–those of both anxiety and depression–which explained why I had been experiencing both over the last few months.
Essentially, my body had had a delayed shock to processing the end of my relationship. Immediately after the break up, I went through an emotionally high period of my life. I was a “strong independent woman” and I was forging new friendships and finding a new, independent me. It took a few months for my body to fully comprehend how truly horrible the relationship I was in was–how blinded I had been by my own fears while in it and how detrimental the relationship had been to both my mental and physical health. That realization combined with my fears and anxieties for the future caused my body and mind to go into a sort of shock–and my world was turned upside down.
Because life happened and all that jazz, I never made it back for another appointment with the psychiatrist. However, that one appointment planted a seed or two about who I am and how I want to live that have majorly impacted my life since then.
These days, I don’t walk around telling people I have an adjustment disorder. I don’t even really consider that I have one myself. I don’t want to label my life based on one appointment with one psychiatrist.
That said, this appointment led me to contemplate and accept a part of myself that I had always been slightly aware of, but never considered extensively: that is, that change is exceptionally hard for me. It always has been. And it probably always will be.
Adjusting to any new major life event takes so much time for me to process. It doesn’t matter if the major life event is positive or negative–it’s still incredibly hard.
Often times, major life changes result in a period of uncertainty and anxiety for me as I take the time to adjust to and consider the changes happening around me.
In the past couple years, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned how to handle the stress and anxiety that crops up in my life frequently. I have continuously pushed myself in new ways and I live with the belief and understanding that my past decisions and experiences should in no way impact how I want to live in the future. When I find myself getting anxious about the changes I’m living through or, more generally, the unknown future, I now turn to yoga to calm my nerves and my good friends to talk through my–more often than not–irrational fears. I’ve grown and matured and understand myself better.
With this in mind, change isn’t as scary as it used to be…
…but it’s still damn hard.
I have chosen to live the life of an expat because I have always desired to immerse myself in other cultures. Because I don’t want to spend my whole life living in one place. Because there is so much more of the world to see. At this point in my life, I prefer living abroad to simply traveling abroad because there is something truly rewarding and beautiful in taking that jump to not just visit a place, but to call it home, too.
That said, doing this expat thing is no small task for me. Taking the jump to live abroad sounded so easy to me in theory. As a recent college graduate, I had nothing holding me down. No family to take care of. No house or bills or career that we would consider the traditional factors that hold people back from this sort of life. Of course, before I left, I wasn’t considering the actually getting there and settling down factor.
Change is so incredibly hard for me. The process of settling into my town has taken me months. I’ve been here since the beginning of November and it is only now, in January, that I actually feel mentally settled in. I feel ready to meet people and integrate myself into the community.
And even still, while I’m settled in, my world still feels like it’s in limbo. Many TESOL friends, who have been my rock since getting here, are moving on after this semester to adventures elsewhere in the world. The realization that people who I look to for so much support aren’t going to be here, in this country, in just a handful of weeks, is so much for me to process.
The realization that I have chosen a life that at its core is a life of change–it’s hard. It’s hard to accept sometimes. Not because I don’t want it–because I do–but because no matter how badly I want this life of change, I also know that my body thrives on consistency…and that getting from one place to the next is always going to be ten times harder for me. Not because I don’t want to go, but because I physically can’t go, go, go with so much ease. My body won’t allow me. It gets tired so quickly, especially when it is exposed to so much change in such a short amount of time.
The other night I experienced an intense wave of homesickness. I was up all night experiencing anxiety on a level I hadn’t experienced in months. And I had a lot of time for contemplating my place right now in the world.
I’m currently surrounded by so many daring, adventurous, and wonderful people who have awe-inspiring aspirations and who inspire me every day–these people are, of course, my TESOL friends. While I want to see places and do things and go on adventures, I often find myself overwhelmed in their presence by their abilities to plan ahead and go from place to place with so much confidence. Hearing them talk about their plans, their next steps–it stresses me out because I’m so not ready to consider that yet.
What I’ve realized in the past few weeks is that that’s okay. I love being surrounded by so many driven and confident people, but I also know what my limits are. It’s useless to stress myself out over what other people are doing with their lives because, although I love and admire them soo much, I need to be living my life for me. I need to be doing what’s best, what’s healthiest for me.
I’m still processing living in Thailand–I’m certainly not ready to start thinking about my next big adventure.
I need to move at my own pace. For myself. I don’t want to live in Thailand forever. But I’m more than okay living here for now. The next step will figure itself out in time. There’s no use rushing the future when it’s not in my best interest. Change is hard for me. This lifestyle is hard for me. And yet I still want it and I’m still doing it…and I’m just gonna take it slow.
I have these visions of my life as one grand adventure–of going places and seeing things and taking the time to travel with people I love–but when I step back and take a look at what I’m physically and mentally capable of, I know that I can’t do all of that at once. I need time. To process, to envision, to live.
And that’s okay. And so I aim to continue to be inspired by the people around me–while always remembering who I am and what I need and how fast I can go. Really, when I put things into perspective, I don’t want my life to be about how much I see or how much I do. I want it to be about how beautifully and fully I lived. The seeing and doing? I want those to be the extra–hopefully frequent, but we’ll see–adventures along the way.
— — — —
I’ve come along way from that terrified girl in the psychiatrists office of almost two years ago.
But I still have a long way to go. And it’s more than okay for me to go it at my own pace.