So the move has been made from Jakarta to Bali. It is official. I live near the beach.
Let the fireworks and celebrations begin. Actually, please don’t. I beg you.
Have you ever had a plan to go on a great holiday or move somewhere fabulous? Have you ever thought about it for months, imagining yourself sitting on a beach somewhere in your fabulous new white linen pants? OK maybe not that, but something flowy and lovely. Your hair all messy from the saltwater, and your skin taking on a fabulous sun-kissed glow from the daily dose of beach time. Every drink in your imagination has a little umbrella maybe. Perhaps you have ordered a bunch of books that you will sit down and read while you get there. You put your new stuff in your bag, check your passports, your chargers, your phones, maybe a cute pair of strappy sandals? You have counted down the days for what seemed like forever and at last it is time to go and hit paradise. What a feeling.
Maybe you have a family too. Some kids who you want to take on new adventures to try out new foods, or adventure parks. Maybe take them to some cultural shows or on some water slides, possibly a local market. Maybe you have an image of yourself and your partner sipping that same umbrella-ed cocktail while the kids frolic happily on the beach speaking some newly acquired words of the local language, maybe playing with the local children and you look at each other and smile that you are doing this parenting gig so well.
Then you get there and you realise something terrible has happened; you have taken all of yourself with you. All of your anxieties, all of your niggling little worries about work left undone or routines with your kids, or the size of your butt in the bikini and how you didn’t lose that last 5kgs so you can be seen on the beach. Maybe you now realise that the holiday will be spent with your whole family sharing a single hotel room and there is nowhere to run to when your husband or wife starts snoring.
As for the kids, those little bastards, they don’t want to go to any cultural shows. They only want to eat McDonalds and won’t deign to eat even a grain of bloody nasi goreng cause it’s got green shit in it. Little Tommy has taken up biting his sister possibly brought on from the combination of jet lag and late sunsets and quite frankly you are tired of washing the sand out of his crack. The only things you have used your books for so far is to create a boundary on the bed between the kids so they stop kicking the crap out of each other.
As you rub more aloe vera into your sunburn and you listen to the kids screaming at each other about which channel to watch you curse that picture postcard image you had of this holiday. You curse your brain which loves remembering the past and fantasizing about the future but which has no goddamn ability to predict the future at all. Little bastard.
Maybe you are lucky and don’t have these kinds of worries. Maybe your kids are angels. Maybe you don’t have them and a holiday is actually a time to recharge and relax.
I am starting to realise though that I am not alone in being a nutter who finds it difficult to relax in new situations.
Yes, I followed Elsa’s advice to step into the unknown, but god damn it, Elsa, don’t you know that the unknown is a scary place filled with thousands of new possibilities of annoying things that could possibly happen?
I had a goal that I set 3 months before the move which was to move with a sense of joy rather than burden and stress. After all, the decision to move was mine, it was based on the need to exit my concrete life and have new experiences and this was supposed to be a joyful thing. So the aim was to push away my usual fearful thought processes (ie preparing for the worst in all that I do), and instead prepare for the best. I remember reading somewhere that so many people spend their lives keeping expectations low and keeping themselves protected in order to prepare for the worst, but the problem is, when the worst actually happens, they are not prepared at all. So what we do is live a kind of half life, all the time, just in case something bad happens. Instead we need to just live with joy; release the valve of protection and just go for it.
I held my breath and just hoped for the best.
I discovered the wonders of packing companies who actually pack your stuff up from your place, then drive it across the island, on the ferry, find your address and unpack it all, assembling beds and shelves and leaving a day later with the majority of the work done. Bliss. Joy was there. But hmm, there was a problem. Something happened to me when I landed in paradise; my thinking became shaky, my senses became more heightened than usual and the anxiety thinking made me sink into a hole of fucked-upness. Yes, that is a technical term.
Apparently the trillions of cells that we are made up of have two modes; survival and growth. I was moving to Bali for growth but when I landed, I shifted straight into survival mode. What did this look like? Regret? Despair at the many new noises that had entered my life. A wooden house without any insulation which is like living in a tent – soundwise. Those who know me, know that I have this messed up hypersensitivity to sounds called misophonia which means that certain noises drive me insane; eating sounds, breathing sounds, basically any signs of people being alive, roosters, dogs barking, construction sounds. Each time I hear it, I either want to murder someone, or else run away. According to science, my amygdala gets triggered and the fight or flight mode is turned on. Anyway, in the shift of growth to Bali – there I was – triggered into survival mode. Seeing everything as “less than” Jakarta. All I could see on the beach was plastic. All I could hear everywhere I went was construction sounds. It was eating into my brain.
Anyway, what to do with this headspace? What to do with these children? How to be in a new place, and one with so much beautiful potential and arrive into growth mode?
I discovered a book titled Self Compassion by Kristin Nisbet which gave me a shift in perspective. In her book she described the ways in which we need to have compassion for ourselves. There is so much in us that we do not have any choice over. I certainly didn’t choose to have this stupid hearing thing, and if I could choose, of course I would delete it from my harddrive. She talks about how life isn’t supposed to be easy and perfect and that each person is on their own journey. She explores three ways that we can practice self compassion:
- Self kindness; be aware that life is tricky, it involves suffering. Yes, I am a privileged white person who has just moved to Bali, not a war torn country, but this still has challenges and I need to give myself kindness for the pain that I am going through. This also relates to the fact that I can sometimes be an asshole, sometimes be impatient and argumentative and cruel. Nobody is perfect. Different things upset us all, and it is ok to not be perfect.
- The recognition of the common human experience; when I first arrived and was in my survival mode, all I could see was other people having an amazing time frolicking on the beach having the time of their lives amongst the plastic, blissfully unaware of the constructions sounds that were making me crazy, eating and laughing and being joyful. It made me feel very alone and ridiculous. Through the recognition of the common human experience though, I could recognise that suffering is a general human condition. Everyone struggles through something. None of us can control the world and make it revolve the way we want it to. Life actually was not designed at all to be pain free and it is through pain that we learn and grow. Perhaps I was putting too much pressure on the island paradise – moving to Bali was supposed to mean that everything would be perfect – but why would that be the case? Everyone is going through something. If they aren’t, they are Barbie and Ken, and not even my 5 year old wants to be them.
- Mindfulness; being present to what is happening now. So often we are living on autopilot controlled by our subconscious thinking. Our conscious mind lives in the past or worrying about the future so we leave our subconscious mind to do the work in the present. But when you bring your consciousness to the present then you can really experience what is happening. The sand under your toes, the smell of the ocean, the sight of your children getting their hands dirty for the first time in their lives.
So I tried these things. Every time I was triggered by a sound I gave myself some kindness instead of being ashamed for something I couldn’t control. I walked on the beach and felt the sand under my toes. I looked at other people enjoying themselves with joy rather than envy. I watched all the sights on the beach and gave a non-judgemental commentary of what was actually happening such as “that is two butt cheeks moving up the beach” or “There is a white guy doing pushups on a coconut husk”.
So, don’t forget when you go on holidays or move somewhere new, you have to take yourself with you. Give yourself some compassion for that. Don’t let your brain trick you that life is meant to be perfect as it will fill you with disappointment each moment that your life isn’t like the end of Dirty Dancing.
If you are a person who experiences the feeling of anxiety or worry, or a person who is very sensitive to sounds or new environments, if you get rattled easily or certain things make you want to run away, or you need to find yourself in a dark room alone at least once a day, you are not alone. If you feel that your brain is wired differently than others, take a breath, it just might be. And it might even be a cause for celebration. Do some reading; something like the Divergent Mind (Jenara Nerenburg) or Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking (Susan Cain). Let go of your shame. Your secret thoughts which drive you mad. Find your community. There is nothing better than realising that you are not alone.
It turns out that paradise only exists when you interpret it to be so and it can change at any moment. So even if you don’t get to pack to go to somewhere declared as “paradise”, remember that anywhere you are right now can be interpreted as paradise. If it is free of the sound of chewing, breathing, barking, crowing, angle grinding and hammering, can I please come and stay at your house?
I promise I will be quiet.
As Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home”. Why did I listen to Elsa?