Re-entry: my first four months

I turn 33 on Monday, which seems as good an excuse as any to stop and reflect on my first few months living in Australia. I’ve been here four and a half months now; it’s been nine months since I left China. It feels so near and yet so far away, both in time and space, all at once. It’s strange to see my facebook feed full of all the endings happening in the northern hemisphere – graduations, last events, people moving… I’m amazed how quickly my mindset is shifting back to a southern hemisphere school year. I suppose it helps that I’m studying according to a southern hemisphere school year!

Life has felt different, easier, over the past month – which makes more clear how difficult the first few months were. Noticing the contrast helped remind me that eventually I’ll look back on now in the same way – as a phase in the process. I’m not finished transitioning; life will continue to change for quite some time. More than that, life will be BETTER than it is now. I still have hard days, but on the whole they are less frequent, and less overwhelming. I am making progress. Still, I know I am not working at capacity. As frustrating as that is at times, it’s also encouraging – because as I continue to feel more at ease, my capacity will slowly return to normal, and my life here will expand.

I’ve mentioned before that the stress of re-entry has mostly manifested for me as increased social anxiety. And just anxiety in general. I’ve wanted to hide in my room for hours and hours on end, despite knowing my need to get out and mix with people and make connections – an essential part of transitioning into a new place. Over the last month I’ve felt increasingly comfortable with people here at college. I am getting to know people better – to know more than a few facts, but starting to KNOW people. I am finding people I enjoy, feel safe and comfortable with. I am spending time each week – most days, even, it seems – connecting with individuals and small groups, developing connections.

Sharing a piece of China life with new friends during the tea tasting afternoon I hosted.

Sharing a piece of China life with new friends during the tea tasting afternoon I hosted.

I went to Chinatown for yummy food with a great couple.

I sat on my bedroom floor with a friend, drinking flower tea and doing manicures.

I stood in a friend’s kitchen eating ice cream with a spoon right out of the container.

I went to the movies with a group of people, followed by frozen yoghurt.

I have introduced people to a Chinese dating show, and love watching people get into it.

I went out for yummy Indian food with several friends.

 I watched the Eurovision final (the replay!) with a group of friends.

 I have sat with several different friends, listening to their struggles and sharing my own.

Making a big weekend brunch with housemates - another fun thing!

Making a big weekend brunch with housemates – another fun thing!

These are the little building blocks of relationships, and slowly by surely I am stacking blocks together, adding chunks of time spent with particular people, until there is a sense of momentum, and weight. Turning connection into relationship. It’s a process that takes time, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much faster and easier it has been than I had expected. I’m already turning a corner to where I look forward to spending time with people, where it’s an attractive proposition to go out and do something – rather than dreading leaving my room and being stuck without an exit strategy. I no longer have to deliberately choose the long-term-good option. Instead, I enjoy taking the opportunities to invest in new relationships. It makes a big difference.

As lovely as that is, the transition is still ongoing. Many things in my life aren’t where I wish they were. I get tired – emotionally, mentally, whatever – and don’t have the energy/focus to do anything that doesn’t HAVE to be done. Errands get put off, and put off. But I’m finding peace with leaving things undone when that’s what it takes to maintain a sense of balance. Keeping myself sane comes first – tidying my room or buying groceries or posting cards or whatever come further down the list.

One thing I’m proud of is that I’m getting better at asking for help. Sometimes it’s asking a friend to pick something up for me when they go to the shops, or bring me a meal from the dining hall when a room full of people seems overwhelming. I actually asked for an extension on an essay when anxiety was making it hard to concentrate. (The only other time I’ve ever asked for an extension on any piece of schoolwork was during my undergrad when I travelled interstate for my grandmother’s funeral.) The fact that I was willing to recognise that I was struggling, that two extra days would relieve the pressure, and that it was okay to ask for that help, marks a BIG step for me.

I’m still loving the beautiful, clean environment in Australia. Breathing clean air everyday and the continued health benefits of being out of the smog amaze me. It certainly helps with transition when every time I step outside the very air around me is beautiful – it’s an instant lift to my spirits.

Finding those little lifts really helps me, day by day. When I have a bad day, I tell myself it’s okay, it’s part of the process, and find something small to be thankful for. When I have good days I take time to think on how lovely it is that there are good days, and good things happening in my life.

So that’s a snapshot look at how repatriation and transition are working out in my life right now. Each month is easier and more enjoyable than the one before – I can’t ask for much more than that.

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