Tomorrow I begin my journey back to Portugal. I’ve wavered so much on how much I want to go back. I’m feeling fairly neutral right now which is actually great. I could go, or I could not and that says a lot about the success of this visit. When I arrived, everyone, including myself, held their breath a little and held onto the hope that I would be okay. We all had said positive things and anticipated a good result but there was underlying anxiety everywhere. I felt strong enough to come for the most part. If not strong, I was at least stubborn in a positive direction. I was anxious about seeing so many people again and wondered how they would receive me and my new outlook and attitude. I was, of course, nervous about what people would say about my body. I had prepared for as many hurdles as I could think of but I knew all along that the most challenging difficulties would be in those situations that I hadn’t or couldn’t have predicted. It almost felt like a public speaking event where I had my speech ready to go and felt confident with that but I had to moderate a question and answer period after. I had a bit of the jitters as I approached the stage, my presentation went well and the rest I just had to take as it came. Was I going to be ripped into for what I had presented? Was I going to be faced with questions that I didn’t know the answer to even though I was familiar with my material? How prepared can one be for that? I had to constantly reassure myself that this wasn’t some researched topic, it was me! I know me, finally, better than anyone else. I am me through and through and nothing externally was going to shake that if I could help it. I put my shoulders back and swept my hair out of my face as I faced my old world not because I knew that’s how a confident person presents and I wanted my body language to fool people but because that’s really how confident I felt.
Throughout my visit I found myself questioning myself a lot. Before I left and for many many years, I’ve been very good at telling people what they wanted to hear. I used to be such a smooth liar that sometimes I didn’t even recognize what was coming out of my mouth in response to people. I used to believe in “faking it til you make it” and by doing that, I tried so hard to hide what was real – the effort it took not only to stay alive but to act like I was okay. This time, when I heard myself responding spontaneously to people in a positive and assured fashion I sometimes had to smile a little and be very curious about my response. Was it real? Or was I doing “it” again and pretending that I was okay? I can actually say that it was always real. It always felt authentic. That doesn’t mean that all my responses were positive but when they were, they were real.
It hasn’t been easy to be back and to be testing out this life without my walls up. I’ve had a few difficult lessons interpersonally and on my own. I’ve become aware of other people’s insecurities and how they affect me. I’ve had to make some difficult decisions about whom and what I want in my life, as familiar and comfortable as they/it might be and as much as I really wanted things to be a certain way – I had to be objective and really ask myself what’s best for Julia.
I have been made very aware of how imperative interactions are for me at this stage in the process. I crave good conversations, discussions, and to be challenged on different levels. I’m learning how to seek those interactions out.
I am also noticing my need for balance which is not easy to attain! I have a lot of physical energy that I need to expend and I feel good while putting my body to use. However, I have a lot of mental energy and my brain needs exercise too. In my first few weeks home, I pushed myself physically to soak up every waking moment I had but after a little while, I found my vocabulary slipping and my conversations becoming limited to my daily activities and that didn’t fit for me. I realized I had to entertain my mind a bit more so I started doing random word and vocabulary games and reading-comprehension tests. Those helped entertain me and refocus the more academic side of my mind but then there was emotional energy. I found myself really looking for deeper interactions. I am a passionate person, when I’m geared up about something I need to talk about it and get excited and feel my experience with people. I’m tired of keeping my reins on, I am dynamic and animated, and that’s a new part of me for a lot of people and sometimes it seems to require a bit of adjustment. I also crave input not because I need someone to tell me what to do but because, in many aspects of life that I’m currently considering, I want to make sure that I’m not missing an opportunity or direction that might work for me and deserves my consideration. I want to say, “This is what I’m thinking, what do you think” (about many things, not just me) and listen to other people’s responses. Some people are hesitant to share their opinions for fear that they might say something wrong or they feel that their input is not valid. Other people are so forceful that their opinion is fact to them and anything that is different is absurd and/or wrong. Some people really don’t have an opinion on some things. In all these circumstances, I am exercising my every growing patience but continue to make an effort to engage with a variety of people in this way.
I set out to type, “Not every day is wonderful…” but that’s a lie. Not every moment of everyday feels good, true. But as a whole, yes, every day is wonderful. There are moments where I notice familiar thoughts racing through my head and it I still need to make a very conscious effort to choose what I will give strength or even air-time to. There are also some familiar patterns that pop up that are almost automatic. They are often behaviours that are not what you might initially suspect or that appear overtly as specifically eating disordered, although those random urges do still rear their ugly head and pose momentary challenges for me. An example of a behaviour that I might experience now is during a time of low mood or energy, I might find myself mindlessly walking towards a room with a mirror with the intent of studying my body. This is something very familiar: feel badly? à Make it about my body. I have caught myself more than once on my way to a mirror and have been able to think to myself: I know that I am going to be hypercritical of what I see and that I may or may not be accurate in my perception of my physical self in this moment and that after I do inspect myself in the mirror, I am likely going to feel even more miserable and potentially bring my environment down with my mood. What purpose does this serve? And in that moment, I need to turn myself around and actively distract myself. That doesn’t necessarily make the feelings that prompted this potential body examination go away but it helps prevent it from becoming needlessly worse.
There are many days, also, where I need to make a conscious effort to make life “worth it”. Sometimes real life is boring, stressful, difficult, and painful and every day is an opportunity to see those unpleasant experiences for what they are. Objectively as big or small as they really are and choose how much of an impact they are going to have on me. I am open to feeling whatever my limbic system hits me with. I’m not trying to shut down or avoid painful experiences by minimizing them. If I lean towards sadness, I allow myself to feel sad but I have to look beyond that momentary feeling and keep my eyes on the “up” that will inevitably come next. I will feel happy again despite the very real feeling of gloom or anger or grumpiness or doubt. That’s just how feelings are. Other times I might feel like what my life currently holds isn’t enough and if this is it, why not go back to being sick? In those moments I have to pack myself up and do something that I wasn’t able to do when I was sick or try something new that might add to my life to make me feel like I have more purpose and more to look forward to. I have to create not only the present, but the future moments that I want to have. This is a wonderful balance that I am succeeding at: the real experience of being human (not super-human and not sub-human) and living a life with peaks and valleys and allowing myself both ends of the spectrum and everything in between.
It’s quite simple: each experience is no more and no less than it is. There are no feelings that do not pass – good or bad -and none don’t come again. And there is no hurdle that I can’t overcome, learn from, and overcome with more grace the next time.
So, with that all out there, I pack my things and leave behind snow-capped mountains and evergreens for sunny beaches and palm trees. This time, it is so temporary and I feel very blessed to have had such a successful trip and warm welcome back home. And to have the opportunity to go back to my people in Portugal to talk about this experience with them and learn a bit more that will propel me further forward and ready me for my next venture back to my home. I take such peace with me in my heart that everything really is going to be okay. It’s not as noisy as confidence might be (and was when I first arrived). It’s just a quiet knowledge; like a gentle, comforting hand on my shoulder; that I will make it and I’m going to live and that the worst of this is over forever.