How to find comfort in your most uncomfortable state is unfathomable, especially when you are right there in the glory of discomfort. These past six months I have, with all my strength, tried to reach a comfortable state of being with various moments where giving up was an easier option than not. It will be dishonest of me to say that I did not have moments where I wanted to pack my stuff and go back to Barcelona, the city I lived in for the past six years. It will be an even bigger lie if I said I was enjoying the things I was doing. I found no interest or motivation in my daily interactions or activities. However, there were small snippets of light, where I was able to socialize and motivate myself to do things, like go on a hike or yoga. I knew that exercise would give me the endorphins necessary for replenishing my mind, which would in turn, turn the feeling of darkness into lightness.
Reverse or repatriation culture shock does not discriminate. CNN, in their humanitarian travel section, has posted the difficulties and issues individuals have when they move back to their country of origin after living a certain period of time abroad. When I studied International Education, my thesis treated topics on acculturation stress and depression amongst students who studied abroad. Now, the cases I looked at dealt with students who left for a semester or a year. In my case, I had made Barcelona home for six years. Six whole years, I had spent building a life, a relationship, a career, and a network of great friends. I had learned to navigate the hidden alleys that led to beautiful medieval aged buildings and churches. I had learned a new language and was navigating the linguistic details of Spanish for the purpose of my emotional and daily interactions, while balancing out the intricacies of academic English, which was the language I used at work. When I set foot on that plane back to Los Angeles, CA there were moments of extreme excitement to come back to a place where things were how I knew them well. I had not realized how large of a cognitive shift had really occurred within me. With all the discomfort I felt during these past six months, I had to make every effort to accept this reality shift. These were some things I did to help me through this:
1. Picked up an active practice of yoga. I got myself on my mat 4-5 times a week at a local studio in Silverlake called One Down Dog. The level of comfort that I found in sometimes difficult poses and classes that challenged my mind and body, was beyond what I can explain in words. The studio really has found a perfect concoction of instructors who are able to offer amazing restorative for instance by Brianna Welke to bad ass sweat yoga by The Girl with Purple Hair. These are only two of many awesome souls of many who make this studio so unique. When I was in the process of coming out more than ten years ago, my yoga practice really grounded me and gave me the courage to live a truer and more honest life. So, I thought, why not try that again. It is of course working so far. I am happy to start my yoga teacher training right there with teachers I trust, in a space where my discomfort easily becomes comfort.
2. I pretended that things were business as usual. I found a job, leased a car, made appointments, found an apartment, etc. Now, there were moments where I wanted to say “fuck it” and just spend my days in my parent’s apartment aimlessly and carelessly. However, I knew that to move forward, bringing back normalcy was important, because I have worked quite hard to reach some of my achievements. Logic and emotion were definitely at play here and I am happy that I was able to let reasoning prevail.
3. I sought help. I found comfort in having deep conversations with friends. But most importantly, I put my pride, ego and cultural taboos aside and sought professional help through a cognitive behavioral therapist.
4. I gave it time. Once again, it would be a lie to say that in September of 2014, three months in, I was really “giving it the time” I needed. In hindsight though, it really is time we need to let things heal. In this case, the loss that I was feeling just needed true acceptance and time (and a lot of self work).
5. I forced myself to spend time with family and friends. Deep down inside I knew how much I did not want to be social (considering how social I am); but the paradox here was that I actually did want the social interactions. So these conflicting messages were quite annoying and confusing.
6. Did nothing and it just came to me. Now, I can be extremely naive and claim that the last day on my recent trip to Rio, see previous post, I found freedom. Now, I do not discount that momentary mind shift that occurred, but it was a result of a lot of work previously put in. However, I promise that the moment WILL come where you will feel like all those months or years of anxiety were not worth it.
It is easier to say in retrospect that everything will be all right. However, if you are the person going through repatriation depression and anxiety you need to remember that everything will be all right. If you are a friend or a family member of someone who just repatriated, remember NOT to tell that person everything will be all right. They already know that. All you can do is be there for them, listen to them and let them annoy you about that time they were in XYZ city and they did LMNOP activity.
It is interesting that this article was originally inspired by my yoga practice this week, which I did in Seattle over the MLK long weekend. My writing clearly took a different direction and I will get to a more detailed post about my foodie trip to Seattle soon. However, I had the pleasure of going to Urban Spa Yoga, while in Seattle.
Even though it was 3 blocks away from where I was staying at Hotel 5 in Belltown and easy to get to, it was a heated yoga studio. I had promised myself to never enter a heated yoga classroom after my Bikram experience. However, this studio and the teachers proved me wrong. Apparently, 105 degrees Fahrenheit is tolerable compared to the monotonous 26-asana yoga in a 115F room. So what I did this week was intentionally put myself in more uncomfortable situations. I bought some passes to a studio at Pilates Plus Los Angeles. I find myself most uncomfortable when I do pilates. In fact, time and again I’ve said how much I hate doing it. It will be my long-term intention to seek these types of opportunities where I can challenge my mind and body. It is this way I will evolve and grow physically, mentally and emotionally. Traveling and living abroad also lends itself to plenty of discomfort. In fact, what I have realized about my personality is that I do not thrive on comfort, but discomfort is what tends to give me the adrenaline rush I need.