When the going gets tough

Sorry for the silence.

I have been living in La Paz, Bolivia for 1,5 years now. Of course there is a lot I could write about this city and the places around it, as well as the places I have travelled to lately and what I did there. I think I just lost the motivation – especially about Mexico, as there are so many other blogs which in my opinion do a similar thing and perhaps (likely) better than I do. Maybe I’ll gather the energy to write about Bolivia anyway, maybe not. We’ll see.

What is more unique and perhaps also more important is to tell my own story of being always balancing between being lost or found somewhere, and what it does to me. Not because I’m the only one living/feeling like this or going through this, but rather because I think my experiences are somewhat common for people who choose to live abroad. Perhaps for those who stay at home too, I wouldn’t know, but human feelings are, after all, not that different. We all fall in love, we all get heartbroken and relating to each other about those emotional, abstract experiences is how we connect (and are connected somehow) on a deeper level.

Hence, this thing has been going on lately, and I thought I should write about here. I have gone through a rough period in Bolivia lately, the past 3 months. Which on a human level is normal – I think we all have those periods where it’s just so hard to “look on the bright side” and stay positive, and every little annoyance affects the mood disproportionately. For me, I think it started with this flatmate that quite literally drove me insane. But it wasn’t only that, it was also that my boyfriend moved to another country and I felt somehow left behind (even if it was a very joint decision that he should go), that my dad and sister came to visit and then left and I felt so, so far from home and my family, things were not going great at work, and we were practicing for this tango show which was very stressful, and on top of that, someone I knew and liked a lot who was part of my life here, died rather prematurely and unexpectedly. Stress accumulates. My way to keep it under control when the going gets tough is usually to go running, but due to the altitude here (3500 masl/11500 ft), oxygen uptake is very low and running is unpleasant. I was trying to keep myself busy with activities to not feel the emptiness of being without my partner and my family, which somehow helped but somehow also never allowed me to rest.

When I was in Mozambique 2 years ago, I went through another rough patch and a psychologist told me I was probably going through a mild depression. And now, I was feeling very similar symptoms. I cried a lot, could not manage to appreciate the good things around me – I could notice them (this new friend is so nice! The sunset today is beautiful!), but it just wasn’t enough to turn things around. This time around, I also lost my appetite. In Mozambique, my perhaps unconventional way of getting myself back together was by closing myself in my room for 3 days and reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (about how humans find meaning to go on even in Nazi concentration camps) and changing my internship from one organisation to another, combined with lots of regular running. And I think getting oneself out of depression is actually an incredibly empowering experience, which taught me a lot about myself and how to deal with me.

Now, I was trying other things. I went to Reiki treatments, and was dancing as a physical activity. I also took a workshop on contemporary dance. But in difference to running, it did not make me exhausted and it certainly was not within my comfort zone. As much as we talk about the benefits of leaving the comfort zone, I actually serves a purpose and should not be underestimated. I needed to be comforted and I couldn’t find it. The Reiki helped a bit but the treatments aren’t super cheap and I felt that they would not actually solve what was bothering me. Maybe I should have been more diligent, I don’t know. I probably should have talked to a psychologist, but it seemed too much of a hassle (bad excuse, I know).

How could this be solved then? I found that there were the things that could be dealt with concretely – my flatmate moved out, we had the tango show and then that was over, and my supervisor actually had an intervention with me at work, where we could discuss what was going on and how to improve the situation. The other things were harder because they cannot be ‘solved’ like that (I’m not gonna quit to go back to Sweden right now). Those are the ones that have to be solved with a change in attitude. Regarding my friend who died, I deeply appreciate the time I got with him and the memories of him I have. I still hear his laughter. I look forward to when I will be reunited with my family and my partner. Lastly, I went on holidays and a change of environment is always a good thing for me. It allowed me to breathe and escape from it all for a little while

I felt that during this period, my glass was full to the brim, and every drop made it overflow. By reducing the stress in dealing with some stressors, I became more resilient to accept the ones I cannot change immediately, the glass became half full and one drop is just a little thing that can be absorbed. But it had to happen in this order. And I don’t know if this will work if I fall into this again, or if this would work for someone else (although reading Frankl is highly recommended). But that’s okay, because I accept life to be like that – you learn on the go. We were never given any manual. I’m not very proud of some of my behaviour during this period, but I have to forgive myself for that. Forgiving is also a process.

Give yourself a break. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia (photo by Ed Alvarado)

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