Outside of My Comfort Zone

I’ve been feeling a lot lately. Happy, frustrated, lonely, depressed, curious, amused, hopeful. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and stepping out of my comfort zone recently. Traveling will do that; especially when you’re traveling alone. It will force you to do things you never thought you were capable of doing. Like going to a Spa Party in Budapest by yourself or meeting up with a language exchange group you’ve never met before. There’s adrenaline and hope that everything will be alright, but also anxiety and fear: what if no one likes me? What if they think I’m weird? What if they’re weird? And somehow, I am able to move past the “what if” questions and dive in, head first.

My most recent adrenaline and anxiety fueled experience was a language exchange meet-up. When I first showed up it was a bit awkward. But maybe that’s because I’m awkward. What should I say? How should I act? It is in these moments that it is clear how my personality flips from being extroverted to introverted. The extrovert got me to the bar, it got me to sit down and introduce myself. But then the introvert tells me to not talk so much, to observe and listen, and only speak when spoken to. So I’m quiet, I listen to others tell their stories. But then they become curious of the quiet new-comer. As they ask me questions and I give simple answers, their curiosity grows and some become somewhat fascinated. “It’s so rare to find a Native English speaker from the USA in Bielsko,” someone says. I hear this all the time. “You’re from NYC? Why would you ever move here?!” another person questions. I hear this all the time too. I simply smile and explain my reasons for traveling. Social Justice. Knowledge. Growth. UNICEF. The Peace Corps. Once again, people are fascinated. As if the thought of working with a for other humans and their rights is just as foreign as the American living in the small city in Poland. And maybe it is. So more questions. My introvert role of sitting on the sidelines observing now switches back to my extrovert, answering questions about travels, telling stories of poverty and hope, and confessing truths about the conservative country of which we all currently live in. These are the moments I live for. These are the reasons I travel. To connect. To discuss. To meet people living within their reality and for people to meet me living within mine. To talk, to learn, to understand.

At some point my introvert kicks in again. I sit. I observe. I listen. I reflect. How fortunate am I to have been born in a country that speaks English. Because of this truth, I am able to travel the world and take part in groups where English is the common language. I’m surrounded by people speaking my first language as their second language. I am bewildered and humbled. At some point I begin to talk to 2 members in Spanish. The 3 of us, meeting in Poland, speaking a second language (or 3rd for them), and I finally feel a part of the magic and mystery of conversing with strangers in a language you’ve studied and worked so hard to master. My heart was filled with pure happiness.

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately and it’s mostly been about this: people make or break experiences; we need other people. My best travel experiences have been because of other people. Every time I step out of my comfort zone and force myself into social situations, they end up being great and they are memories that stand out among the rest. People need other people. I need other people. And that’s okay.

I moved to Poland by myself, with the idea that I needed to learn how to be happy and satisfied with myself. That I shouldn’t depend on other people for happiness. And part of this is true. But after 6 months of focusing on myself, I’ve realized just how much I miss deep conversations, deep connections, and most importantly feeling and experiencing raw and deep emotions. So here’s to being happy and satisfied not just with myself, but with the relationships I hope to maintain, create, and foster with those I meet outside of my comfort zone.

Finding My Neverland Part 1.

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, so I thought this is a better time than any to write this post: the beginning of my attempt to find my Neverland.

I was 13-years-old, something changed inside me, or maybe it had been there the whole time and something finally flicked the switch: from light to dark. I was 13-years-old and I attempted suicide for the first time. I was 13-years-old and I was admitted to a psychiatric ward. I had spent only 13 years on this Earth but already it had felt like my life was mimicking Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events and my brain couldn’t handle it anymore and decided it didn’t want to exist (now, 11 years later, I realize only worst has yet to come for 13-year-old me). Alas, in my pre-teen mind there was a voice telling me to end it, that the pain wasn’t worth it, and that the world would be better off without me, or rather, I would be better off without the world.

By the time I was 13, the World had experienced the Rwanda Genocide, Columbine, 9/11, the genocide in Darfur, and so many other cruelties that for me to learn about and/or experience the hatred of the outside world alongside the cruelties of my personal world, I just gave up. I gave up on a World that had already witnessed multiple genocides (Armenian, the Holocaust, etc) but yet there continued to be genocides occurring and no one seemed to care. I gave up on my own personal world, where my dad cheated on and left my mom, and my mom didn’t care enough about her own children to even talk to them. Lastly, I gave up on myself. I gave up on the idea that I could make this world a better place, a place a bit more happier, a bit more hopeful. I internalized all of my anger and frustration with my outside and personal worlds, and simply asked the question, “What is the point?”At the age of 13, I had come to the realization that nothing mattered, that I didn’t matter. So I tried to kill myself. To escape the World, to escape my family, to escape my brain, but I failed. Instead of being freed from facing the realities of everything, I was forced to face the realities of the World, of my family, of my brain; head on and face to face.

And that’s when my journey began, to find my Neverland. A place that I could escape to without completely escaping this World. Because the World isn’t compiled with just terrorists, corrupt governments, ignorant people, awful parents, bullies, or assholes who cut you off on the highway. The World is also filled with compassionate leaders, doctors who sacrifice everything, social workers, advocates, activists, policy changers, good parents and ultimately good people; and I wanted to join them.

So at the age of 13, I realized that I involuntarily carried the weight of the World and all of its problems, along with my own, on my scrawny shoulders and I needed somewhere I could run to when my shoulders began to weaken. That place, my friends, is my Neverland.

*If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness and is having suicidal thoughts, please call the 24-hour-national hotline: 1-800-273-8255*

*You may also want to check out www.twloha.com for more resources about suicide prevention and other writings about hope, despair, and the reality of living with a mental illness, as well as finding help in a location near you. This organization gave me hope when I was in high school and continues to bring me hope today.*