“So you’re fluent in Swiss, right? Or is it Swedish?”

Once upon a time– the year 2007 to be exact– I moved to Geneva, Switzerland with my family because of my father’s job.  In 2010 we returned to living in New Jersey, after a three-year stint of living in Europe and attending an international school.

I always joke (except we all know that a part of me is quite serious about this) that I left the country “to go through my awkward phase.”  This obviously wasn’t planned, but it did just so happen to be the case.  I lived in Europe from ages 13-15 (7th-9th grade), and in my case, these were my roughest years in the sense of “awkward”: Socially, physically, emotionally.  I left New Jersey as a child, and returned as a mostly-not-awkward-but-still-a-little-quirky 16-year-old.

I could go on and on about my experiences living over there, both positive and negative, as well as everything in between, but that isn’t what I’m writing this post for.  I want to reflect on a part that most people often don’t think of when I tell them about my move to Europe and back– the discomfort of returning ‘home,’ when everything has changed.  

What exactly do I mean by everything?  I mean my views of the world, my mental state, my appearance, my familial and social relationships.  My tastes, my interests, my perceptions, my language abilities.  My experiences.  A change from childhood to adolescence.  From naive to not all-knowing, but more aware of so many things than before.
Even more so, not only were there all the changes, but there were also the constants.  Discomfort crawled up my spine frequently those first few months back in New Jersey, as I, a 16-year-old, entered the same home I lived in at age 12.  The home was exactly the same, but I was not.  It felt all wrong, as if I no longer fit into a puzzle that I was supposed to be a part of.  What was I doing incorrectly?  Why did I have to change, only to come back?  Entering high school was an even stranger part.  I wasn’t used to being in public school surrounded by 99% white Americans.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being a white American; I am one, after all.  It simply felt unnatural to go from an environment of diversity of ethnicity, race, religion, and language, to a place where fitting in and being the same appeared to be the goal of the student body (not saying it necessarily was that way, but it was how I felt and perceived those things).  I re-joined friends that I had from fifth/sixth grade.  It didn’t feel right to see them in the high school environment, with their subtle changes and their growth from when I had last known them.  More so, I couldn’t stand the way that people expected me to be the same person I was when I left.  I was far from that.  I know that my friends were just doing what they could to help me re-adjust, but I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable at their attempts to bring me back to the past– as if my three years in Switzerland hadn’t happened.  I suddenly felt as though perhaps those years of excitement, adventures, struggles, and challenges hadn’t occurred, but perhaps were dreams, figments of my vivid imagination.  I knew rationally that I had lived there and that those things had happened, but a part of me was scared that I was going to lose it, and let go of all that I had experienced just so that I could ‘fit in’ at my American high school.  At age 16 I had one of several identity crisis’s, wondering where I belonged and if I could belong.

When people did ask me about Switzerland, they often mixed up terms, unsure of what languages were spoken in Switzerland or where the country was located.  “So you speak… what is it, Swiss?” I would carry on to explain that French, German, and Italian are the country’s national languages, but most locals speak English.  I happened to live in the Francophone region, and my international school pushed both French and Spanish simultaneously, causing me to eventually (to my surprise… it had been a rather rocky start) fall in love with language learning.  I couldn’t get mad at these individuals, because Switzerland was so far removed from their daily lives.  I couldn’t expect others to just ‘get it’ and know about my experiences without my explanation.  At the same time, I couldn’t expect people to always want to hear about my past.  I’ve come to learn that it’s hard for a listener to engage if they cannot connect anything from within their own lives to the conversation.  Hence, why most of the time I tried to stay in the present and refer to things I didn’t always care about, just for the sake of fitting in and avoiding putting others to sleep with my rambling.  Now, at age 20, I can finally say that I think I’ve come closer to figuring it out: It’s important to be true to yourself, but it’s also important to put others into consideration too.  It’s challenging to find that balance, but I believe it can be done.IMG_6438

A picture I took while visiting Geneva, Switzerland this summer (shown above).  This is the city we lived just outside of during those three years.

Throughout my sophomore year in high school, that first year of return, I did make many good friends.  It took time, as I reconnected with some old friends, and found some new ones in classes and on the track team.  I found a way to re-shape my puzzle piece slightly, altering it just enough to fit, but not enough to change the purpose of the whole picture.  It was a very difficult year, one where I felt alone much of the time, but I wouldn’t change it for my experiences.  I’m glad that I got to move to Switzerland, and I’m happy that I got to come back.  I wouldn’t know as much as I do about change and adapting to it if it weren’t for that experience.  Change is a topic I will talk about often, as it’s something that both frustrates me and fascinates me.  I love it and I hate it.  It makes me want to run away but it also lures me in.  Like with most things, I have mixed opinions.  Not everything is as black and white as I once thought it was– but rather a mix of grey and many other colors that overlap and intersect in ways that are difficult to imagine.  And that’s just life I suppose.

https://obsessionswordsandeverythinginbetween.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/transition-time/  <— click on this link to read more about my experiences with change and handling transitions!

My house in Chavannes-des-Bogis, Switzerland (below):

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“Wait– don’t you have to look like you’re dying to be anorexic?” (trigger warning to those with EDs)

Wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  So wrong.

A good friend of mine recently told me that Anorexia is “a state of mind” and not entirely physical.  I should know this, as I have experienced this disorder without hardly losing any weight.  I am now in recovery, which means that I am not engaging in anorexic behaviors.  I no longer restrict my meals or cut out “bad foods,” as there are no bad foods.  I most certainly cannot afford to skip meals either.  No human can.  If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where food is available, then you need to eat it to survive.  For a while, I struggled with this.  I couldn’t believe that I could have an eating disorder, as I felt that I wasn’t “skinny enough” to have one.  Whether anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, binge eating disorder, etc, these illnesses can occur to people of all shapes and sizes.  I’m learning to never judge by appearance, as you can’t see from the outside what may be going on inside one’s head.  You can’t see the sticky words that bunch together inside the mind; you can’t see the internal battle about food or self-esteem; you can’t see the fear; you can’t see how lost someone may be.

I was at a point where I was lost; thoughts about food, weight, and exercise consumed my mind at a nearly constant rate.  My behaviors of restricting and purging (through vomiting and exercise) were harming me both physically and mentally, even if it wasn’t necessarily seen by those on the outside.  Some people close to me were confused as to why I went to the hospital for this disorder— after all, I wasn’t an unhealthy weight.  Sure on the thin side, but not “too skinny.”  I was standing and breathing, so I was fine, right?  Wrong.  Some individuals do need to be hospitalized for their physical state, but for me, the biggest part was my mental state.  Eating disorders, after all, are mental disorders.

I’m happy to say that I’m not quite so lost anymore.  I’m also here to crush down some walls in regards to stigma: I had once felt I wasn’t “sick enough” just because of how I looked.  Yet, if someone could have peeled back the skin on my skull, and seen the words and feelings and thoughts and obsessions that existed there, they would have thought differently.  They would have seen just how sick I was.  I want to conclude this post by saying that you don’t have to look like you have an eating disorder to have one.  On the other hand, you don’t necessarily have to have an eating disorder just because you’re thin or overweight.  It’s normal to occasionally eat more or less on certain days, or add in an extra workout.  What’s not normal is when it begins to take over your life and your mental stability.

YAY for being in recovery now.  Woo.  It isn’t easy but it’s a million times better than being immersed in the disorder (also I posted a llama above.  I know this wasn’t the happiest of posts so I thought this fuzzy guy might do his best to make up for it.  Or girl.  I don’t really know which gender, but it’s adorable either way!).
http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/  to learn more, especially if you suspect that you or someone else could be suffering from issues with food or exercise.

Sarcasm: A Foreign Language

Over the past few years, between language classes, living abroad, and educational iPhone apps, I’ve developed a knack for foreign languages.  I can converse decently in Spanish, ask for directions in French, tell you about my pets in German, and express my love of pineapples in Portuguese (“Eu gosto de abacaxis”).  Yet, for whatever reason, there has always been one set of words and phrases that I can’t seem to master– and that’s the art of sarcasm.

Me: I’ve been doing a lot of arts and crafts lately.

Friend:  Oh yeah, are you going to change your major to Art now?

Me: Ooh, I hadn’t thought of that!  I’m pretty sure I’m just going to stick with Communications.

Friend: …

This has always been a struggle for me, as my younger sister and many of my friends are quite sarcastic.  In fact, one of the girls that lived on my floor freshman year of college hardly ever wasn’t sarcastic.  This naturally led to lots of confusion on my part, and me initially thinking that she wasn’t the nicest person.  In reality, she was actually just very well versed in this joking language.

So here’s my Sarcasm Detection Checklist, something that I’ve invented to try to help myself when all else fails:
Step 1.  Listen to the sound of the person’s voice carefully.  This has always been tricky for me, as for some reason (I call it a part of my “math disorder,” a term that I use as an excuse for many of spastic moments) I can’t always detect the inclination in their voice, the giveaway sarcastic tone.

Step 2.  Think about who it is you’re talking to.  With the exception of people you have just met, this generally works.  I’ve come to realize which friends hardly douse in sarcasm versus the ones who live and breathe in it.  If you’re chatting with your almost-always-not-serious friend, then you should be able to put the pieces together.

Step 3.  Take a moment to think about what it is they’re saying.  For example, if my best friend, who knows me very well, is telling me that I’m a good writer and it is a true fact, then I can assume she is being serious.  On the other hand, if this same sarcastic friend says to me, “Kelly, why aren’t you a math teacher?,” then I’ll know she’s implementing sarcasm, as ANYONE who knows me is aware that math and I do not go together.

Step 4.  Reply with the same tone.  Once you’ve figured out (or at least think you have) whether or not your conversation partner was using sarcasm, you can make attempts to reply in the same tone.  For me this is difficult, as when I try to be sarcastic, I end up sounding really serious.  Hence, instead of being funny, I end up looking either like an asshole or a weirdo (eg. “Yeah, I totally watch him in his sleep every night” … even if this was intended as a joke, in my non-sarcastic voice it would probably cause my conversation partner to roll their eyes as they walked away from me).

Unfortunately, there are people like me out there who just simply cannot comprehend nor use sarcasm as easily (or at all) as most humans.  I’ve come to accept this as a part of who I am *cue the song “Secrets” by Mary Lambert*, but I figure it couldn’t hurt for me to try to join in the sarcastic world, or at least better understand it.  In the mean time, I think I’ll stick with Spanish as my foreign language of choice.

Transition Time

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The word “transition” is one that I am all too familiar with.  I’ve experienced periods of transition time after time, as all humans do within their life, and yet for whatever reason, I can never find myself comfortable with it.  I suppose it’s human nature to crave routine and fear the daunting concept of change, but for me, I’ve always felt personally attacked by it.  From as simple as, “How DARE the weather get cold enough that I have to wear a jacket?” to as confusing as, “Why is my mind doing this to ME?  I can’t have mental illness, I can’t,” to as typical as, “I’m excited to go to college but I’m also scared… why do things have to CHANGE so much all at once?”.  These are the questions that have often revolved around my mind, causing me to overanalyze what things used to be and what they would become.  

I’m writing this entry because I’ve had a lot of transitions in my life lately, and more are heading my way.  I’m making efforts to accept change in a way differently than I have in the past: Rather than wince as the changes are thrown at me, I’m now going to stand up straight and confidently, willing to admit that I’m scared but not willing to hide.  I have transitioned from living in Ohio to New Jersey, from New Jersey to Switzerland, from catholic school to public school to international school, from thinking in one language to three, from being reliant on my parents to independent, from being uncoordinated to an athlete, from being well to sick, and sick to well.  I’ve transitioned from thinking I couldn’t ask for help, to realizing that it was what I should’ve done all along.  I spent this past semester in a transition phase, where I went from allowing an eating disorder, OCD, anxiety, and even bouts of depression, to control my thoughts and lifestyle, to giving it up to a hospital staff.  This friday (two days away) marks the end of my inpatient/outpatient experience at an eating disorders unit, and this is something that has caused equal parts excitement and anxiety to crawl up my skin.  I’m excited to transition back to American University this January to begin my sophomore year, but I’m also terrified.  I’m terrified to leave the comforts and sense of security that exist in home and the hospital.  But my gut also tells me that I’m ready, or at least more ready than before (considering you can never truly be 100% ready for anything).  Rather than curling up in a corner and waiting for the baseballs to hit my face, I’m going to wear protective gear and stand up straight with my palms facing out.  I’m not going to send these baseballs away, but rather catch them, and maybe embrace them for a little while.  I may look at the stitching, or see how much dirt has latched onto its skin.  I’ll try to avoid questioning why it may be dirty or how many times it’s been thrown or where it’s gone, but instead just soak up the details.  Details can be mesmerizing, and it’s okay to stare as long as you’re not questioning too much.  Instead, it’s important just to process and hopefully enjoy.

Whatever change you may facing, whether it’s the transition of coming home from university for the holidays and re-acclimating to living with your parents, the transition of pulling out the winter jackets and retiring the fall ones, or accepting that your local grocery store no longer carries your favorite brand of jelly, you can do it.  You can be afraid; that’s quite okay.