Palm trees and utter despair

“It was terrifying. It was the first time I moved abroad. I did a lot of drugs, I drank a lot of alcohol, I gained a lot of weight. My first year was awful…” My fellow co-worker shares her experiences on life in Egypt. We’ve both been expats for several years and lived in different countries. She understands what I’m going through.

This morning I had a meltdown in my bathroom, where everything about the last 3 months in Egypt just hit me all at once. It’s been extremely overwhelming, 10 times worse than China or Taiwan have ever been. And then I wondered: what do other people think about my life? Do people see me as an adventurous globetrotter who is on this #wanderlust bullshit life quest? Do people pity me because I can’t seem to find stability? Do people envy me because I ‘do whatever I want?’ …

I lower myself to the floor of my bathroom, now sitting at toilet-level height, and I stare in front of me, lifelessly, aimlessly, hopelessly. A whole bunch of crying commences. I call my mom in tears, I leave sobbing voice notes to friends. I want to go someplace else. I want to escape the escaping. But I have no place to go.

The idea of living abroad is attractive to people. It was/is for me just as much. There’s a sense of ‘the grass is greener on the other side’, visions of dreamy sceneries, a better quality of life, new adventures. But I don’t think people often touch upon the harsh reality of it. I’m not saying it’s not worth it. That the above isn’t part of the deal. But it shouldn’t be sugarcoated.

I recently learned about a term called expat-depression. It’s a real thing. Studies show that expats may have a higher risk of mental health issues (anxiety, depression) as opposed to domestic workers. Expats “experience extraordinarily high stress as well as social and emotional disruption that result from dislocation and moves.” This could be because they’re predisposed to these issues due to personality traits, which are further enhanced by culture shock, living conditions, work ethics, and social life abroad. But even so; living abroad is a lot to take in, especially if the culture and customs are unfamiliar to you. The mental decline is also often paired with substance abuse. And so far, I haven’t met a single expat in Egypt that doesn’t over-indulge. It’s a weird new reality.

And I know. I know this makes me sounds horribly privileged. I didn’t have to do this. I didn’t have to go anywhere. And look at the life I have. Aside from the personal reasons I came to Egypt; what am I even complaining about? These thoughts keep crossing my mind.

Among the palm trees and the sunsets there is always utter despair lurking. This (the duality of it) is something I’ve had to deal with throughout all my time abroad. There are ups and downs. And so long the ups outweigh the downs, it’s something that I will probably continue doing, regardless of the occasional toll it takes on my mental health. After all, and this is the most comforting, privileged quote of all: I could always just go back home.

Turning 30: basically just wrinkles and existential dread

Based On:  Dear Therapist: I’m Turning 50 and Panicking About My Appearance

But what about my face though?!
It’s just a ride

Ahhhhh, turning thirty. The supposed downfall of every young woman. You can still be a frolicking teenager at 29, but by 30 you need to have it all figured out. By 30, you will have found stability, a long-term partner, a flourishing career, you’ll be thinking about motherhood (or you already have one of those crying little humans), and you probably might want to invest in some anti-wrinkle cream. 

I just turned 30 and I have mixed feelings about it. For one, my adult years have been met with existential dread, and growing closer to death produces an enhanced sense of: I HAVE SO MUCH LEFT TO DO – but more on that later. Let’s start with the really bad, and then end with the not so bad.

One little Google search and hundreds of pages that tell you what to do with your life. Why would you even figure it out for yourself? It’s all right there on the internet.

But what about my face though?!

The main thing I want to address is probably the most superficial. One that’s overtly present in our lives, yet also considered taboo: outer appearance. Ever since discovering that I was seen by the outside world as ‘attractive’, I have wholeheartedly embraced my looks. Slowly but surely, and with age (funnily enough), I started to love my body, my face, and although it shouldn’t matter, I love that other people find me attractive. I even have a public fitness-related Instagram, where I show off the front, the back, and close-ups of my face.

I love how I’ve learned to love myself, but at the same time, I admit that I also feed off of positivity by others. I read an article a few years ago that stuck with me (and if I find it again I’ll link it here) about this woman who had been a model all her life. She basically grew up on the perceptions of others, being in the spotlight constantly. She said ageing was hard because, if the focus of your existence is solely based on your looks, how do you still find your own value as a human being after all of that fades away? Looking at the vast landscape of anti-ageing commercials and prominent figures in the entertainment industry, we are truly made to believe that we have to find a way to prevent growing old and/or hold it off as long as possible. 

Ms. model went on to do charity work and being a spokesmodel for women’s rights (as you do). That’s how she reinvented herself and her value as a woman. Now, I’m not a model, but I definitely have similar fears. Don’t get me wrong, I have hobbies, and I’m passionate about lots of things, but I also have anti-wrinkle cream. I do believe I have value as a woman, as a human, but I also inspect my face for fine lines. My looks kind of go hand in hand with my other qualities. Society is (and will be) based on youth, probably forever. Recently I found out I’m already behind on new technology – another very common phenomenon that comes with age. New idols and actors are now in their late teens and early twenties. Yet I don’t feel different. And I wonder if that’s just what it’s going to be from now on: feeling exactly the same, but looking different, and being perceived as ‘old.’ And that scares me.

It’s just a ride

A little positivity: an article in Forbes takes on a different, but equally true perspective:

"I know your twenties get glamorized in the media, but it is a brutal decade. The good news is, your learning curve is not as steep in your 30s, you have more of a sense of self and self confidence, the benefits of the lessons you learned in your twenties, and less patience for toxic people." 

There’s one age-related thing I have grown less and less concerned about over time: stereotypes & expectations. The expectations of what you need to have achieved before you turn 30 or where you need to be seem completely arbitrary to me. A lot has changed over the years, but the majority of us monogamous humanoids will have settled down by their early thirties. My closest friends all have long-term, stable relationships. Most of them are married, are getting married, and some of them already have children. A lot of them have a house, or are in the process of getting one. Which is amazing. I am so, so happy that we privileged people can live the lives that we want. Which is why the above-mentioned life has never been mine. Although I have doubted my sense of self here and there, stability in the traditional sense is just not something I ever longed for. It never appealed to me as something that I needed. That’s not to say it will never happen, but I don’t want to let age determine where I should be or what I should do in life. I don’t believe it actually matters. I’ve been successful in my own way, and I don’t deem my choices as less important.

We’re insignificant specs on the earth. There are consequences to our actions, of course, but I don’t think there exists inherent right or wrong when it comes to finding direction. Life is just life.

Or as Bill Hicks once said: “It’s just a ride.”