I feel sad and lonely in a city that is not mine.
I should have seen it coming. The stressors were piling up. I missed my son who is at university in another continent. My daughter was sick and my husband was in bed with a bad back. I thought I was managing things well. I even felt a bit cheerful about my ability to juggle the stress when my tolerance for adversity had recently been so low.
But then, one little perceived criticism set off a cascade of feelings that left me in a pool of self-pity and negativity. The comment was small. Something that, ordinarily, I would let bounce off me or that I would run and “vent” about with a girlfriend. But I haven’t yet established the type of friendships here that allow for venting and indulgent self-evaluation. Reaching out to someone far away seemed silly for such a small slight.
As the day went on I felt this little criticism that came from someone else become something I owned and wore like a pair of uncomfortable shoes. Everything I did was wrong. The joke I made was stupid. The fact that I missed a doctor’s appointment was unforgivably rude. I was boring, I was lazy. I talked too much, too little, etc etc.
At the heart of this conflict was a desire for acceptance. Acceptance in my new community, a longing for the feeling of home, a desire to be with people who know me and who validate me when I cannot do this for myself. Where was my tribe? Where were my supports? I have left them scattered throughout the world and I miss them terribly.
When I really pick this apart I realize that this perceived criticism could actually be a form of acceptance. It might have been a way of saying, “You are a part of this community and I will tell you when you do something I don’t like. The honeymoon period is over. You are one of us and can be criticized and talked about just like everyone else.”
For that I am thankful. But before I can fully appreciate the downs of being accepted I need to increase the ups. How do we survive and thrive when the building blocks of a new life come in such an inconsistent way? How do we manage adversity before we have built a support network? How do we manage our need to share before we have established trust?
A few things help me. First, I try to recognize that adjustment to a new life does not always go in the order I want it to. You don’t always have the luxury of making great friends before a challenge gets sent your way. With time, the great friends will come and the challenge will recede. Being patient with the process and with myself is vital.
Another thing I have learned is that if I am feeling a certain way, it is likely that others are too. So I look for the parts of myself I am struggling with in other people. I imagine that strangers are lonely and I send them secret messages that say, “you’ll be ok”. I take a little time to chat with the quirky kid at school who might need extra support. I try to stay connected to the common human experience of people just trying to get along the best they know how.
I also try to talk to myself as I would to a friend. I would never judge or berate a friend for a mistake, especially not a minor one. I would support her and encourage her. I would tell her she has been through a lot of change and that she is doing a good job. What makes me think I don’t deserve the same respect and kindness myself?
What about you? Have you felt the downs before the ups? What helps you get through? I would love to hear from you.