Wednesday, December 9, 2015

How Are You?


Over Thanksgiving Brunch a couple of weeks ago, a friend was telling me that she felt you could be more honest in France when asked Ça va ? "You can simply answer: non, ça va pas and it's okay! It's not like in the U.S where you're constantly pretending you're happy," she said. Now, while you can be honest about your current emotional state, I cannot guarantee the person would actually care. 

In the U.S, everyone usually answers "I'm fine!" and that's the end of it. Actually, seen from this side of the pond, the French think Americans are very optimistic (and over excited). In Before Sunset, Céline tells Jesse all the things she missed about her time doing a Master's in New York, the libido of American men for one, but mostly how optimistic everyone was, "even if it's bullshit" she says. I think we have a more fake it till you make it approach. In school, one of my classmates told me this very same thing the other day, "You are just super excited to be here! taking Paris in!" I shouldn't have contributed to the excited-American stereotype but I didn't want to break his heart, so I said yes. 

I have a bit of a Type A personality with a very lethal combination of traits: Crying in public or in front of people you know is strictly prohibited, I usually do pretend everything is ok (I often regret any overly-emotional Facebook posts), admitting defeat is obviously losing, any change in routine sends me on an internal spiral of anxiety, I'm a die-hard perfectionist (which leads to a whole other level of anxieties), all this paired up with a couple medical factors that don't make it easier. Despite this, I'm fun at parties, I promise.


Moving to Paris has not helped my anxiety in any way, it has brought it to an alarming level. The other day I had such an intense panic attack in the middle of the street that I couldn't feel a single limb in my body, I had to sit on the sidewalk with my head in between my legs, tears running down my cheeks. I've had nightmares regularly since moving and I feel like my brain is constantly in overdrive mode, thoughts racing all day. Your entire day is so visually stimulated with sights, sounds, people walking in all directions, that it's difficult to turn it off. On a good day, you will be pushed around by strangers on public transportation and possibly see someone naked (unwillingly). On a bad day, all the plugs in your apartment will stop working and you will trip and fall on the street... twice. 

When you move to a city like Paris, your problems and fears lose all importance to the people back home. My sister often texts me back "yeah but...you're in Paris" whenever I share an issue with her, which of course doesn't help and only makes me feel completely misunderstood. 

Social media paints a totally different picture from what your real life looks like, in my first month in Paris, my Instagram was full of photos of beautiful streets and delicious food and I regularly went running around the Eiffel Tower. These pictures failed to mention that my American bank account was blocked for a week and I was left penniless until it was fixed; on the last couple of days of this ordeal, all I had left were two tomatoes in my fridge, I had no way to access my money and no one to help me, I couldn't pay the deposit for my new apartment and I worried I'd lose it to the other people in line for it. 

Any issues you've been dealing with until now, will become ten times more puzzling. As an immigrant, my identity issues are vast. I moved to the U.S as an older child, with a structured personality and cultural identity, and then my entire life changed and I no longer understood what shaped my surroundings. Over years in Miami, these issues have never resolved and in Paris, they're much worse. I sometimes fail to understand why things work a certain way, whereas they seem completely normal to others. My friend Beatriz warned me of this feeling: "From now on, nothing will make sense. Nothing makes sense here and when you go back home, nothing will make sense there."

Sometimes, you will feel incredibly alone and in a way, you are. Before moving, I wasn't that worried because I knew many people here, I could count my friends in Paris with both hands. I've seen these friends maybe twice, if at all, and I quickly understood that they would be not be there to make the transition easier. Over time, I've met many lovely people and I have certain friends I can call with any issue, big or small. When your family is miles away, your friends become your extended family. Holidays are particularly touchy days for the up-rooted person, these friends will be with you on Thanksgiving and hold your hand through anything.  

One of my favorite films is Breakfast at Tiffany's, every time I get the mean reds (which have nothing to do with menstruation, I'm sorry to inform), a good couple of hours in front of Holly Golightly's quirky charm instantly make me feel better. This film playing in my living room was a clear sign to my family that something was wrong that day. Sometimes, the best remedy is to take a break, step away from your computer, go for a walk, clean, take your mind off of everything, even if you think you can't afford to "waste" that time, any minute spent on yourself, is a minute well spent. I'd hate to paint the completely different picture of a miserable life, nothing is that black and white; some days are just a lot darker than others. 

So, how am I doing these days? 

I'm fine. 


{Photo from Before Sunset}