On Finding a New Normal
Transitions are weird. In March, it felt like I was just getting to know the Thailand version of myself and three and a half months later, I already feel like someone new, entirely.
Pondering this thought in my suburban Virginia condo (which starkly contrasts the tiny teal abode, if you recall) led me down a curious internet rabbit hole about...molting. No, seriously, you read that correctly. I sat in my sunroom googling the process of molting... because that is the best analogy I have for what happened to me in Thailand.
As a snake matures, it’s skin becomes too tight to accommodate it’s growth. When the snake begins to feel the sensation of being trapped in its body, it will deliberately do something to assert friction against itself, like rubbing its nose against a rock, in the hopes of creating a small tear in it’s skin. Eventually, this tear becomes the doorway through which a shiny, new version of the snake emerges.
Applying to do something I’d never done, in a country I’d never been before, was my deliberate action to create friction in my life at a time when things needed a little shaking up. Slowly but surely, over the next few months, between taking an online TEFL class, spending an absurd amount of money on vaccinations, fighting some fierce jet lag during teacher orientation in Bangkok, summoning the courage to introduce myself to 1,000 Thai children, and showing up to be their teacher every week, my own form of molting was catalyzed. Along the way, the deliberate tear i created became a doorway to profound transformation.
Perhaps in the future, I’ll be able to articulate exactly how my experience in Thailand introduced me to a delightfully unexpected version of myself. But for now, I’ll invoke the wise words of a talented singer-songwriter (and my current #girlcrush), Maggie Rogers, to say...and I walked off an old me.
One of the strangest pieces of this chapter has been transitioning back into the hum of everyday life. Everyday can’t be an adventure, but I am learning to find the beauty in that part too. When we returned home from six months abroad, I found myself feeling a little lost, which I’d venture to guess is pretty common after a life changing experience (LCE) comes to an end.
Within a short month of getting back, I moved into a new condo, joined a new team at work, and adopted a new routine. Throughout this transition, I discovered the best way to manage without feeling completely overwhelmed was to intentionally practice optimism and focus my energy on building the new. A lot of times, I think that when we, as in the collective humankind, reach the end of a good thing, our anxiety hijacks our mental steering wheel. We watch on as the little voice in our head goes full on Meryl Streep, giving an Oscar worthy, dramatic reading, something to the tune of…”but what if this is it? What if it’s never this good again? How could it be? Who will I be if I’m not in this place, doing this thing, in relationship with this person, at this size...etc.?”
But...the only place that trail of thinking leads is an anxiety ridden mental tornado. So, instead of entertaining that story (sorry, Meryl), I’ve been focusing my energy towards creating a new normal.
After 3.5 months of thoughtfully integrating my old life with my new one, I thought it might be helpful to share a few practical tips on how I’ve done it, should you find yourself at the onset of a new season, too:
Be consistent with your morning routine - I have a confession...I am one of those annoyingly perky “morning people”. I actually love mornings. My idea of a perfect morning is waking up in my condo, pouring myself a cup of coffee from the freshly brewed pot awaiting me in the kitchen (thanks, Mr.Coffee!), and pregaming my morning run with a good book.
In my opinion, mornings are powerful. The way that I approach the morning has the power to impact the way I experience the rest of the day. So if I can get the morning right..by feeding my brain inspirational words, being grateful for my cup of coffee, and getting a good sweat in, I gift myself the ability to approach the rest of my day from a more thoughtful, calm, and centered place. Establishing my morning routine has been a key part of staying grounded amidst a sea of change as I transition back into my regular life.
Spend more time with your friends - You might be surprised to learn that I consider myself to be an introvert. I love meeting new people and going to social events, but I also really cherish my alone time. That being said, I have an extraordinary talent for over-analyzing and overthinking about anything and everything. But knowing this about myself is powerful. I know that if I hang solo for too long, I’ll start to get anxious. So it’s necessary for me to surround myself with positive people, like my dear pals, who bring me out of my shell and remind me that life can and should be fun.
Spending time with friends has been a huge breath of fresh air during an uncertain time in my life. Few things feel better than laughing your ass off at a stupid inside joke with a handful of your homies. After not seeing a lot of my friends for 5 long months, reuniting with them has reminded me how much I missed them all and how vital my friendships are to my well-being and positive outlook on life. I returned home from Thailand with a newfound appreciation for my friends. Making time to hang out with the people that I love most has been a key part of readjusting.
Be thankful for the experience - Well, duh...but, hear me out. In my personal experience, it’s easy to look back at the “good ol’ days” and be overcome with nostalgia. All of the sudden you find yourself listening to a playlist from 1995 and daydreaming about how good things were a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (that’s for you, my Star Wars friends). Now don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for reflecting on past experiences and reliving your happy memories. But...the recent end of said good ol’ days is neither that place nor time.
Reframing the way I think about my experience in Thailand from one of longing (e.g. I wish I could go back to Thailand…) to one of gratitude (Wow...I can’t believe how lucky I am that I had such a unique experience) has been tremendously helpful in transitioning into my normal life. Instead of thinking about what I no longer have, I make a point to think about all of the things I gained from the experience - new friends, exposure to new places, time to start a blog, etc.
Start a passion project - One of the best parts of coming home from Thailand has been exploring new hobbies...and being reacquainted with a full sized, fully equipped kitchen! Creating healthier versions of delicious goodies is a passion of mine. I generally eat pretty healthy, but I also have a major sweet tooth.
Baking was essentially impossible in Phu Sang, given the cooking equipment we had (e.g. - a wok and a hot plate). But now that we’re back in the States, I have the freedom to decide what I want to create, head over to the store to buy my bougie ingredients that day (who knew that vegan butter was a thing!?), and create something delicious in a fully stocked, roomy kitchen. Investing time in the things that bring me joy, whether that’s baking a paleo lemon pound cake or writing a travel inspired blog post, has helped me create my new normal in a purposeful way that gives me energy.
Give yourself something to look forward to - My mom always said there are three things that make a good life: to love someone and be loved in return, spend your days doing meaningful work, and always having something to look forward to. For a long time, my “something to look forward to” was Thailand. Now that this journey has come to an end, I’ve made it a point to ensure my calendar is sprinkled with new events - like flying to Chicago for my dear friend’s wedding, going to New York City for a weekend with my mom, seeing John Mayer in concert, or meeting my girlfriends for dinner in the city.
Being excited about things to come reminds me that life doesn’t have to be boring just because I’m no longer globe trotting around Asia. In fact, I’ve intentionally jam packed the next few months with little adventures and reasons to get excited…cause why the hell not?