"Wow, you're moving to Italy?! You're so brave!"
I can't tell you how many times I heard this in the year leading up to my move. I'd just brush off the comment and plow forward with my planning and logistics.
It wasn't until I was here a few months did I realize how effing brave I actually was.
When Small Things Require Extraordinary Bravery
I am not a watery, fearful girl. I am independent and self-sufficient. One of the many side effects and benefits of divorce!
So it knocked me on my ass when I realized how absolutely petrified I was to drive a manual car in Italy.
I mean, we're talking about a woman who went through 22 hours of labor, half with no drugs. A woman who picked up the pieces of her life when her marriage shattered. A woman who can put together an IKEA desk in under an hour.
Why did I let something as simple as DRIVING undo me?
Here's a secret nobody tells you before you move abroad: your brain will play tricks on you. Simple tasks become gargantuan and will send you into a wine-induced spiral.
Know this, and stock up on wine in advance!
Creating New Neural Pathways
I'm no scientist, but I do have the internet, and so I know that when you do the same things over and over, neurons carve a deep road in your brain. When you veer off the beaten path, say driving a manual transmission in a foreign country, those neurons freak out. They like their normal routine. WTF are you doing, asking them to find new roads?
And so, Dr. Su says that all those seemingly insignificant activities you did just fine with in your old life now become larger than life, and a hell of a lot more stressful.
Your brain is fighting you every step of the way. You're throwing a new language, new culture, new foods, and new way of driving at it and expecting it to keep up.
So yea, sister, you 'n me are brave. So damn brave, to undertake this completely new way of living.
It Gets Better, Expat
I'm happy to report that driving my manual car no longer causes a meltdown, and she hardly ever stalls out on me anymore. I've gotten used to driving and so many other things here, and my neurons have calmed down a bit.
I wanted to share this story to tell you that even if--and you will--you completely freak out about seemingly small tasks when you're a new expat, it's completely normal.
And it will get better.
One day you'll look around and realize you no longer suffer the anxiety you once did. That things are, dare we say, almost easy?
Don't underestimate the amount of transformation you'll undergo as an expat. Be gentle with yourself and give it time. You'll come out better on the other side.