Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Someone to show the way

Spent the Easter weekend in Paris. Yes I know.  How awesome is that? I am very lucky indeed.

After spending 3 months with a roommate who is disorganized and had a tormented upbringing just like myself, it was hugely refreshing to spend a few days with a girl who is totally put-together, in control of her life, and totally cheerful, despite the fact that she has also been through quite a few traumatic life events. She's the sort of woman I had aspired to become during childhood. We're actually the same age, but compared to her, I behave like totally immature, disorganized, irresponsible brat who doesn't know her manners. 

I know people usually go to Paris to experience the glamour and beauty of the city. But since my recent  trip destinations have been developing countries, and Sweden is a pretty minimalistic country with every shop selling similar nordic style items/clothing, Paris seemed exorbitantly luxurious to me. The palaces are ridiculously massive; there are intricate details everywhere, including balcony fences and cafe chairs; the trees look like someone trimmed them with a massive ruler; the number of luxury-priced shops for things ranging from chocolate and pastries to Louis Vuitton bags to silverware to baby clothes probably outnumber such kind of stores in all of Scandinavia + Eastern Europe combined. At the same time there were so many homeless people on the streets; I had to watch out for pick pockets and scammers. As a place to visit, the city is totally lovely. But if I want to try to move there it'll be a total nightmare, and I'm not sure if I'm ready to feel lonely in such a lively city, as I know it would be hard to meet people, even for French people from other parts of France.

I have learned a lot over the weekend hanging out with my totally put-together friend.  Although she's from Asia, my friend has quite quickly adopted the French life style and way of thinking. She knows the city like the back of her palm despite being there for only a couple of years. She values good food and good pastries over brand name bags and other expensive luxury items. She doesn't buy expensive clothes, but is always nicely dressed in cute little dresses. She hosts friends over at her place almost weekly despite the tight space in her apartment. 

It's hard for people to understand, on the  surface it looks like I am living on my own now, in a foreign country, managing myself in a cognitively-demanding job that requires a PhD degree. But psychologically I am still in shambles. If anyone uses a harsher tone to speak with me, I either get totally defensive or break into tears, thinking I did something totally wrong or I'm a totally inadequate person. When I dare to voice an opinion, if anyone disagrees with me, I start completely doubting myself, questioning something might be wrong with my reasoning. I get so scared I may be behaving wrong in various situations. For example, on this trip, I kept worrying if I should offer to pay for meals more often, not allow them to pay for me, if I woke up too late, if I showered too slowly, etc. These may or may not have been true, but in my mind I could hear my mother's voice criticizing me about every single point: "Why are you such a bother for your friend?" "You are too slow!" "You should have fought to do the dishes!" "You should have fought to pay!" 

This is from years of hearing these actual criticisms and I don't know if I will ever make peace with these voices.

Also, I realized making compromises with my parents' wishes didn't satisfy either myself or them. It just  made me really unhappy. I wanted to come to Europe to do my studies 10 years ago, but because they didn't want me to be so far away from them, I delayed it until now. Because for many years during my teenage years they constantly expressed their mistrust that I was capable of choosing a suitable life partner on my own, so I just never dated, for fear that the imaginary boy friend would not meet the parents' standards. In reality I could have just ignored my parents as pursued these two aspects of my life on my own, since many European countries offered a stipend for PhD students anyways. I wasn't financially or physically constrained, but psychologically I was under the impression that I was not allowed to stray too far from what my parents wished for me. I didn't even feel like I was in full control of the way I'm supposed to dress, when to get a hair cut, if I'm allowed to switch careers or try something with a high risk of failure, or the possibility of volunteering in a third-world country. I got completely confused in what rights I have as an adult, because it was never made clear to me.  

Seeing this friend fabulously organizing her life according to her wishes despite having financial and citizenship restraints was an eye-opening learning experience for me. She showed me that as a salary earning adult, she can spend 30 euros weekly on pastries if she wants to and not feel guilty about not behaving "adult-like". She can leave her job field and pursue something different if she chooses. She can dress however she likes as long as it's within her budget. This kind of psychological freedom allows her mind to do so much more, like being an amazing host (she practically planned my whole itinerary, takin into account of my interests, with detailed descriptions of how to go where and which places have the best x,y and z). The way she deals with her in-laws is totally impressive (figuring out their likes and needs and always having them in mind when she goes shopping). No wonder her relationship is so successful. One really needs a healthy psyche to be able to accomplish so well in all areas including work, leisure, romance, social situations, and family issues. 

So far, about 50% of my cognitive brain power has been used to obsess about my studies, and the other 50% of the brain has been obsessing over how I've wasted my life doing nothing but studying, thanks to the false impression that my parents have wrongly conveyed to me all these years. I should probably obsess less about my work and about how I've been wronged all these years. Free up some brain CPUs on enjoying life, like more traveling, better food, give myself permission to do nothing, more self-compassion, more self care, and to feel okay about being the way I am right now. I need to stop feeling that I am not good enough. I need to stop with all the fear and blame. Only then I might have a chance to become free of the burden and restraints I've placed on myself all these years. Maybe I'll even become a slightly more likable person. You never know! 


  1. You understand what happened and why, plus you are going in the right direction. Most people don't even know what the hell happened or why they are how they are. Choosing the roads is more important than the speed of travel..Plus it is okay to step of the road into the grass and even get lost in the woods sometimes. Happy spring Y!

    P.S. Have I already recommended The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer? (I tend to tell something to the same person 5 times thinking I've told 5 different people).

    1. I believe you have. I still haven't gotten to it yet (too many scientific papers to read @_@). Thanks for your encouraging words SF! I think happy people usually don't overanalyze things as much as I do, which is the source of my anxiety.

  2. It's funny, I could have written this blog post, we've almost the same thoughts. I sometimes feel like a fraud, because I seem to live this free, independend, adult life, but in reality, I feel like I haven't evolved since my teenage years. And even though I should take people like your friend as an inspiration, I still envy them.... guess childhood damages are hard to lose?
    Anyway, let's hope we both will finally arrive in our adult-lives :)

    1. Hi Anonymous, thanks for letting me know I'm not alone. You actually might stop envying them if you know what they (or at least my friend) have gone through in their lives to be how they are now. I think certain personalities and certain challenges are good combos for strengthening one's character, and other personality/life event combos bog people down. I will write a blog post about it I think :)