Culture Shock; The Reverse

I’ve been back from my 6-month stint in the Middle East about a month.

I’ve noticed several changes in my body and temperament.

To put it mildly, I came back from Dubai an Emotional Wreck.

I got off the plane and wanted to cry. My initial thought upon entering JFK that morning was “I want to go home”

But I was home. I was coming home after being gone for so long.

The boy who had waited for me brought wine and cheese to my house, all waiting for me when I arrived. I wanted to cry again, for all the wrong reasons.

I have an event that day. I sit with my business partners and run our tech rehearsal. The performers were so good, again I was nearly in tears after our Hamlet spoke.

I went to dinner with these partners and friends I hadn’t seen in 6+ months and wanted to cry in relief at being with them again.

At the event I gave a speech and raised over $400 in donations for #TimesUp and felt so alive in my skin, skilled and connected, I was brimming with pride and love and ready to cry in sheer joy.

My best friend and roommate reunite again. It’s not instantly joyous and we slowly adapt to sharing our lives again. We get there, but it takes time. In that time every bump, every brush off, feels like a burn. I forget how to live here. I feel out of place in my own home, my own city.

This is all within 18 hours of my landing in the USA.

This does not go away.

A boy who is not the boy I am dating messages me. We met in Dubai and are now 8,000 miles apart.

We talk about life and love and our separate futures.

He tells me how he misses me. He describes a woman I do not recognize. But a woman I desperately want to be.

And I realize something. I realize why I am an emotional wreck.

Because in Dubai, amidst the stress, the chaos, overstimulation, and drama, I was happy. I had a purpose and a job I enjoyed. I was eating well and doing yoga daily, I had a supportive network and professional team and was surrounded by friends and some really good people.

Somehow, I had become a happy human being. And had not recognized it.

I had spent years in NYC struggling through my anxiety and depression, finding pools of sunlight in the murky dark of my mind for so long that I had confused contentedness for being happy.

But in New York, I had been merely surviving.

In Dubai, in this job, I had thrived.

And now, my entire physical being was fighting against going back to the familiar murky depths of my broken mind. Against going back to the patterns I’ve kept up for years because they were safe, small pockets of light that allowed me to ignore the dark,

I will not be put back into survival mode.

I will not let these small lights and glimmers of love distract me from the gloom trying to take me back.

I know better. I can be better.

I am better than my complacency and laziness. I am stronger than my darkness.

And I have a freaking awesome support network.

A week later, I end things with the boy in New York.

I admit to myself (and him) my feelings for this boy halfway around the globe in Mumbai.

We start talking about finding each other again.

I roll out my yoga mat and I attach a pen to my physical being at all times.

I start to rebuild my body and sharpen my mind.

I start to pray again.

I’m learning Hindi.

I’m writing every day.

I get a small contract to pay me for my writing and PR assistance. I’m learning how to sell my mind and get paid by the hour.

I surround myself with love. My friends, my roommate, my chosen family, my books, my stories,

And I celebrate them.

I am still far from free. But the happiness and hope I am cultivating and working on every day are real.

And they are still beating back the darkness.

I am still a weepy mess at happy news. because joy and hope in this world are so important. Sometimes the only way I can honor it is by blessing it in salt. ❤️

Musings on Effort & Fear of Failure

I had a strange recollection today. In the middle of the mundane task of doing my nails,  I remembered something from Jr. High School.

I was in a carpool to rehearsal with a group of girls we would call the “In Crowd” (of which I was not a part). Our mothers were all friends so by default we were all forced to tolerate each other regularly. One of them grabbed my hand to look at my nails, I had recently cut and buffed them myself. “Oh my god your nails! Look at the shape! It’s so pretty! Do they grow that way or do you have to cut them?” I was startled by the question. I said I had cut them but immediately felt her disapproval and covered saying I trimmed them along how they grew naturally. She made a noncommittal noise and we went back to riding in silence. I remember being humiliated that my nails didn’t naturally grow perfectly and that I had not lived up to expectations of this high ranking social crowd.

Remembering it now, it sparks different thoughts. Imagine, being shamed because something doesn’t come naturally. Work or any effort in doing my nails was being shamed because my body didn’t naturally fit the shape it was supposed to.

I feel as though this mentality carried over to other parts of my younger life. What hobbies or new things have I given up on because I wasn’t immediately or naturally talented? What else have I convinced myself that I just wasn’t built for?

How many other girls and women have grown up with this thought that work or developed skill isn’t as valuable as being naturally talented or beautiful?

In what world do women have nails that grow in perfect half moons, already shiny, with hair that never knots, muscles that appear in all the right places, and skills that just magically arrive when we hit certain ages?

I know a girl recently out of university who has never cooked before in her life and was confused as to why, when she tried to cook for the first time, she failed spectacularly. Like sauce on the ceiling spectacularly. She was distraught and didn’t understand. She was now an adult woman, she was supposed to be good at this stuff. Why was she, who had never chopped an onion in her life, not able to cook a basic meal the first time she turned on a stove by herself?

I hear similar stories like this all the time. Even from a few men embarrassed that they know nothing about cars, that I had to show them how to light a grill, that they haven’t magically developed “manly” talents.

How did we get to this point? Where did this world come from where we all expect ourselves to magically turn into our best selves, to pop into adulthood with all the necessary skills and appearances?

It starts young. These lessons we see as children never leave us. We feel the pressure to be so innately perfect that we fear trying, we fear failing, we fear never being good enough, so we don’t even try. Or worse, we expect the skills to just arrive without warning and beat ourselves up so thoroughly when they don’t that we spiral into further self-doubt.

We need to stop this cycle. With ourselves and with the future generations. Failing is learning, natural talent or beauty doesn’t trump hard work and effort in our appearance.

Easier said than done certainly, and I know I still beat myself up when I don’t pick up something new as quickly as others. But I still push myself to keep trying instead. So when I tried to learn poi for the first time and whacked myself in the face, I got some ice, sat for a minute, and then tried again. And learned to dodge faster.

It’s a process. It’s always a process.

I gave advice to an intern of mine several years back, I try to remember it for myself as well.

Does it get easier as we get older? No. But I can promise you, it gets more worth it.

xoxo