I’ve been feeling like an ungrateful, evil person. It’s not that I don’t appreciate words of encouragement. I do. But in some situations, they can actually make things worse. I know how ridiculous that sounds so let me explain. When people discover I quit my job to volunteer my way around the world, more often than not, the conversation goes a little something like this:
“Oh my gosh, that’s so cool. I totally wish I could do something that. I am so jealous.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty great. I’m excited. But don’t be jealous! You can do it too!”
(I’ve recently become like that pothead always trying to convince other people to smoke weed with him, only aggressively suggesting countries for people to meet me in, trying to lure them into the life of travel.)
“Oh, no. I couldn’t.”
“Well yada yada yada…you know. It’s just not that easy for me.”
Oh, I hear you. It’s hard. And everyone has their own yada, yada, yada. But it’s funny how no one seems to think about the hard stuff when they hear of someone else doing something “awesome.” They just think about all the awesome parts, not all of the fear, anxiety and preparation that come with it. And I totally get that. It’s like enjoying a beautiful painting, completely oblivious of the many painstaking, annoying hours it took the artist to make that shadow look just right, when no else even notices the shadow. But it’s “just not that easy” for me, either.
“What? Why are you nervous? Don’t be nervous. You’re gonna have an amazing time! What a great experience! You’ll be fine.”
Yes, yes, I know, amazing experience, life-changing. Don’t be nervous? Very easy for you to say, but very hard for me to execute. I appreciate everyone’s encouragement and faith in me, I do. But please don’t tell me I will be fine. It’s sort of like telling an anorexic girl she looks skinny, when all she sees in the mirror is a fat distorted person. DOES.NOT.COMPUTE. Or telling a person suffering from depression to cheer up! Life is beautiful! Or maybe like telling a person not to worry about dying of yellow fever when her heart rate jumps to 116 and a freight train is running through her head, and she’s already read all the “signs to look for” in a severe reaction to the vaccine. Too late, she’s worried (what a nut job).
See, I get the facts. Anorexic girls are skinny, no doubt. But they don’t see that. And life is beautiful, but sometimes it’s hard for people to see that through a thick fog of depression. And I am obviously not dying of yellow fever (yet). But it sure felt like it for a minute there. And I probably WILL be just fine out there in that great big world. But explain that matter-of-factly to the thoughts and feelings tearing around wildly in my mind. They will fight you. Their reality is not yours.
As silly as this sounds, when people tell me not to be nervous and that I will be fine, it sort of feels like they are invalidating my very, very real feelings. I know things will most likely work out okay in the bigger picture, but that is not how I feel right now, and nothing you say will change that. Because right now I am worried about travel insurance and regular insurance and finding a home for my cat and a person for my home, and not having a steady income, and wrapping up eight years of work in a month, and getting yellow fever, and I haven’t even had time to wrap my head around what it’s going to be like when I actually begin this journey. And you know what? Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and sometimes fears become reality. And sometimes you just need someone to say, “Yeah, man. I hear you.” Not shove puppies and rainbows in your ears when everyone is perfectly aware that puppies eventually get old and die and we don’t know for sure that all dogs go to heaven, and things such as the Polar Vortex and Snowpocalypse actually exist. Maybe I want to hear about dying dogs, questionable heavens and crappy weather too. Maybe I need a healthy dose of reality.
What’s interesting is the response I get from people who have been in my shoes. Well not my shoes, there are a gazillion different shoes, but shoes standing on the edge of something big.
My amazing friend Lindsey left the States in 2005 to be an au pair for a family in Switzerland and didn’t come back for four years, long after the au pair job ended. And she only came back because passport issues trapped her in the United States. She had no idea what would happen or where her life would go, but she enjoyed the ride, one day at a time. Some things worked out, some didn’t. When I told her how nervous I was, she said, “Uh yeah, it’s scary as shit.”
Thank you, Lindsey. Now that makes me feel better. It also assures me I am not crazy for feeling so nervous and scared about doing something so awesome. I was starting to feel like everyone else had balls of steel. And I don’t even have balls.
I got an email last night from my friend Sola, whom I was fortunate enough to work with on a project out in Oregon over the past few years. He’s been following my little journey and occasionally sends me emails with clarifying questions and reports on how everyone is doing back in Oregon. I don’t think this was his intention at all, but he really put things in perspective for me:
Nervous?? Pssh! You’ve got this. Yeah, who doesn’t get the occasional flutter in your stomach? This is the next chapter for you and you get to waltz into it fully prepared to savor every moment of it. It’s pretty much what you’ve been prepping for all these years.
Funny, I remember when I first came to the U.S. I was slightly nervous but really didn’t have an ounce of fear in me. I had never been here, I didn’t know a soul, I had zero expectations of what I would see, how I would be perceived and knew little about where I was going; in fact I knew little about everything…….but I knew my life in Nigeria was over and I would never be going back there to live, and so it was – truly *forever* changed by coming here, a new chapter in my life. I wouldn’t trade that feeling of “new life, new friends, new crazy passions and adventures and joys and sorrows and awful heartbreak, etc.” for anything. Yes, you do sacrifice some things by not being close to family for all the small events – I still ache sometimes because I feel I lost my family for 10+ years – but ultimately, this was and still is the best adventure of my life.
Encouragement, sprinkled with a little reassurance, a twist of reality and a healthy dose of perspective (perhaps I am getting too picky with my Kind Word Cocktails?) Forever > 15 months. But who knows? Maybe my 15 months will turn into forever, too.
I am so thankful for everyone’s well wishes, I am. And I apologize if you’ve been on the receiving end of an unusually emotional and weird reaction of mine, especially if you told me you believed in me and I would be fine. You’ll have to forgive me, it’s awful noisy in that room upstairs and sometimes it’s hard to hear the good stuff.