I've always wanted to help people.
When I graduated college, I figured that I should get some experience with the "in person" side of psychology. See, when I was studying, I was mostly involved in data, research, and statistics - the "behind-the-scenes" of creating studies to learn about human behavior. Psychology is a huge field, and I thought I could benefit from experiencing various subcategories within that realm.
Enter my first full-time job as a residential counselor at a psychiatric residential treatment facility (PRTF, if you want to know the jargon).
Translation? Keep teens and pre-teens safe and entertained so that they can follow an agenda designed to get them out of institutions and back into "the real world".
They were already receiving an education and therapy within the walls of this facility - all we had to do was make sure they didn't hurt themselves or anyone else during or in between these activities.
I was barely older than some of these kids, and I was expected to be in charge of them 😅 Well, if you've ever met me, I'm not exactly cut out for bossing people around (which, ironically, I would be very successful at at my next job). I wasn't maternal enough to be a tough Mama-bear figure, like one of my coworkers who was very successful at connecting with the kids without falling for their mischievous ways. Nor was I an example of a strong man with a healthy view on masculinity to be a role model to the boys.
Yet, somehow, one day (during training, mind you), I found myself alone on a unit of boys who were always one step away from an inappropriate comment (on a good day) or beating someone up (on a bad day). I kept my cool, assumed I'd just have to fake it till I make it, and miraculously they respected me.
That didn't change the fact that I was on guard for a solid half year.
It's incredibly stressful to be on guard all the time. It's mentally and physically exhausting to be ready for a verbal or physical attack at any given moment. While my nerves were running high, I quickly learned quite a lot.
Other than the lasting bed bug anxiety that still wakes me up in the middle of the night, I'm grateful to have worked in a psychiatric facility. I was lucky to work with an amazing team of people who always rushed to your side when you needed it. Nothing brings a team together like the potential for danger. We had each other's backs. Ultimately, I wasn't happy with how I wasn't able to really help or make any difference.
So I started my yoga training. But I'm getting ahead of myself - I didn't teach for another year after that. We're still missing a few stories and many, many lessons 😉
The romantic one.
Or so it would seem.
When I was little, there was a Borders* around the corner from my neighborhood. I loved spending time there - the fonts of titles and the smell of ink on paper was intoxicating. My little self wanted to work there.
What could be better than being around books all day? Somehow I thought this inherently meant that I could read everything. (Spoiler alert: I had absolutely no time to read anything as I was a full-time student.)
By the time I had enough time on my hands to get a job (I was a busy kid, ok?), Borders had closed down. So I went to the next closest, biggest, baddest book retailer (there were no independent bookshops in my town), and proudly started working as... a cashier.
During the holiday season.
If you've ever worked in retail, God bless your heart. I cried in public twice. I can't even remember the details, but it was a classic case of customers verbally taking out their unresolved emotions on to someone who is just trying to do their job.
Anyway, I promised you the lessons I learned from being a bookseller. Because, yes, after the holiday season they kept me on and trained me to be on the floor. Booyah.
I met some really cool people there (customers too!), and it is pretty awesome to be around books all day. Eventually I decided I was more into the books than the people I was supposed to be selling them to, so it was bye-bye for me.
Would I do it again? Probably if I could find a little bookshop. Quaint and cute and a little more romantic - the kind with lots of nooks and crannies where the shelves are overflowing and the people are passionate about the fonts of the titles. Let me know if you find one.
*For those of you not from the U.S. or born within the last decade, Borders was a HUGE books and music retailer that went kaput in 2009.
A few years ago, I traded prayer for meditation. It was what I needed at the time, and I felt good not asking for stuff all the time. (Of course, prayer isn't just asking for things, it's much more than that. And telling the Universe/God/the web of energy around us what it was that I needed became an incredibly powerful experience.)
I created a prayer, a mantra, an intention in early May 2019. "Dear God, I just wanted to let you know that I'm ready. Whatever path I'm supposed to take right now, I'm here for it. I'm not afraid. Give it to me."
It's important to know that I've been to Warsaw several times. As a kid, I was uncomfortable in Poland (we'll get to that later), but I had discovered the awesome aspects of it as an adult in the fall of 2016.
I had also met someone on that trip - someone who I connected with instantly. I was theoretically unavailable at the time (it's complicated), but boy did we have chemistry. So we became and remained as friends when I went back to Chicago.
This boy... We would Skype for hours at a time, every day. And yet, still friends. The other romantic situation ended - still friends. I started a new job in Florida - still friends. Our communication became less and less frequent, but it remained. After having known each other for just 5 days, we stayed in contact for the 2.5 years apart. Those 2.5 years were both the best and the most challenging years of my life (again, that's a story for another time). So, when we planned to meet again in person, I wasn't sure that our connection would be as strong.
We wanted to plan the details, so we Skyped for the first time in over 2 years. Suddenly, I was myself from two years earlier, before all the really intense stuff came down. We just stared at each other, smiling. I felt soupy - warm and cozy and delicious.
It could've meant nothing. It could've meant everything.
I packed my backpack and headed to Warsaw.
Still interested? Let’s get a bit more juicy.
The winter of 2019 was a karmic, symbolic experience punishment. For the past two years, I had, theoretically, skipped a real winter. (FYI Florida gets colder than you think, but it was still above freezing the entire time. Malaysia was just wet.) Keep in mind, I am not the Elsa type. I am a Vata (it’s an Ayurvedic term, look it up). I do not like the cold. I do not like being cold. I do not thrive in cold, dark environments. I want it far, far away from me.
Every time another snowstorm hit, or the temperature dropped below -20 degrees F, I truly believed the weather was penalizing me for having skipped my fair share of bad weather. I considered it a personal punishment, and at one point I even felt guilty—GUILTY—for having caused one of the most awfulest, heart-crushingest winters of my life.
Isolated by icy white blankets, miserable by the lack of the sun and its rejuvenating energy, I couldn’t keep my head above a deep sea of negative thoughts. Nothing mattered anymore. I went through the motions of work and meals, and not much else. I was overwhelmed by my past. I couldn’t see into the future.
The present moment was the existential equivalent of resting bitch face—unpleasant to look at without knowing why.
What I did know is that I had 5 months left to figure out my next move. I also knew that staying in Chicago was not good for me. I considered Colorado and Arizona (seriously), Hawaii and Costa Rica (less seriously). I was even getting desperate enough to go back to my old job in Florida--thank God for my best friend, who reminded me that job wasn’t good for my mental health either.
(Side note: I’ve learned that quitting a job is just like a break up. Don’t go back. Especially if you think they’ve changed. Just don’t.)
April 2019, and still no God-given answer on a location. I wavered between states of wishing I would die and forcing myself to try harder to be happy. I didn’t want to be an emotional burden to my family and friends. I didn’t want to be so self-centered anymore, because coping with a constant feeling of impending doom kind of takes up all of the time you would otherwise give to others.
Several months back, my parents had planned a trip to Poland, and I was invited. But here’s where it gets interesting. I decided not to come back with them. I had traveled alone before, but this time I was reaching out into the corners of seven different cities. I was casting out a line, waiting for a place that would sing to me, soothe me in my misery. Dramatic? Yes. True? Also, yes. The closer I got to My Grand Europe Trip of 2019, the more I depended on it to give me answers, and restart my perspective on life.
And sometimes, my dear friends, you get exactly what you ask for.
Three weeks ago, I moved to Europe.
In case this is an “eh” moment for you, let me explain why it’s such a huge deal for me.
I spent the majority of my first 20 years of life in the same suburb of Chicago. Don’t get me wrong, I am forever grateful for having a safe and relatively “normal” childhood, but I itched to get away, to explore, to experience life in different places and with different people. So, I studied in Florence and London for a semester in college. I moved to Florida for a year, then Malaysia for 7 months, following a job that gave me room and board (and a lot of anxiety).
Though I had never (yet) moved to another country on my terms, I loved it anyway. And then the shit hit the fan.
August 2018. I returned to Chicago following the death of my grandfather, preceding the birth of my nephew. I broke off an unhealthy relationship, moved back in with my parents, was unemployed once again. At first, it was a time of rest, recovery, and introspection. I was ecstatic to be able to hug my parents, laugh with my sister, and entertain the only baby in our family. I grew closer to my grandmother, healed a broken relationship with my other grandmother, and—against all preconceptions—discovered new friends. I gave myself a minimum of 6 months, and a maximum of 1 year, to figure out the next big step. And then, I fell into a deep depression.
It came in small doses at first. After a day or two of feeling an equal mixture of sadness and apathy, I would pick myself up and force myself to be happy. With a combo of a psychology degree and an interest in spirituality and self-improvement, I knew what the steps were to stave off depressive episodes. Nobody, including myself, could have guessed that I was about to have a full-blown meltdown that lasted a solid two months.
But I know your attention span is at it's limit, so that's all for today.