Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A re-pat back in Italy: when frustration starts kicking in

I am sure it must have happened to you too.
You are back in your own home country and after a first period that felt very much like being on a holiday, where you consider yourself still like a visitor and not a local, now it starts sinking in that this is it, you are not going anywhere, you are staying. You also are a local, a reluctant one maybe. You are part of the picture you have been observing from the outside, like the painter who suddenly realizes he is part of the painting he has been drawing all along. What looked fascinating and peculiar, it is now turning into something bothering and irritating.
It has been quite some time since I returned from my experience abroad but I haven't grown accustomed to life back at home. As a matter of fact, there are things that drive me nuts about being back at home, things I didn't miss abroad even when I was miserable. Being in Italy has its advantages -otherwise I wouldn't have come back :) - but it also has its flaws and these are the top four which make me drool like a dog with rabies:
1) Undisciplined drivers: they don't stop on the zebra crossing, which sign is interpreted more like a suggestion to speed up in order to avoid awaiting pedestrians rather than as an actual stop sign. So I find myself shouting and giving fingers to everyone who doesn't let me cross the road safely (probably something very Italian!). No wonder tourists are shocked to see Italians driving!
2) Queue jumpers: there is always the smart ass who thinks he can skip the line. Is it so difficult to respect the order of arrival?!? It happened once at the movie theater, shortly after coming back from the USA, where I didn't miss the chance to tell off the guy who skipped the line. 
3) State employees: you go into an office, three or four people are gathered around for their coffee break. You ask for something but they tell you it is someone else's job and the person is not there. Time is the most precious thing we have and I hate people who make me waste time with stupid excuses to hide their incompetence and inefficiency. 
4) Uncertainty and chaos about rules, which is an epidemic disease that affects the whole country and everyone seems subjugated by it. It is like playing a board game and the rules of the game keep on changing while the game is on. Let me give you some examples of what I have been going through. Taxes is one: an easy topic to target but not for the reason you might think ;). In Italy there is a chronic confusion about what to pay and how much, especially if you have your own business and even more so now with all these prime ministers changing at the speed of light. I am more than happy to pay my share and see my money wisely used by and for the community where I am living. It is my DUTY and responsibility but I have the RIGHT to know how much is expected from me. It is impossible to plan one's life from a financial perspective without knowing AHEAD how much is due to the State. 
Another aspect concerns notorious open competitions whose only purpose is to squeeze money out from people who don't have any. The demeaning aspect is when you pass the open competition but you don't make it to the first 3 positions let's say (the logic of arbitrary numbers is something obscure to the masses but clear to ones who established this regulatory principle); and you have to start all over again. So you are back to square one, to get a qualification through a course which is expensive and will take you exactly where you already were by passing the open competition fair and square. In fact, these courses organized by universities are real money machines with no basic organization. In this specific case, attendees got to know their schedule only after paying a heavy enrollment fee and guess what?! The first class was scheduled 48 h later! I forgot, attendance is mandatory but for some classes there is no calendar yet! As if people don't have a life to live and things to plan. 
 The list can be longer but these issues only show how insufferable I, as a re-pat, have become towards my own culture. I refuse to oblige and go along with these...how shall we call them??...cultural peculiarities; well, whatever label we might use, I feel I don't fit in this picture. If I could tolerate certain behaviors before going abroad, even though I never approved of them, now I find myself fighting them. With the only result to show my bad temper and having accomplished nothing. I painfully become aware that I am an outsider in my own country and I am struggling to come out of the picture I had been observing from the outside. That's when I am meditating a second chance abroad.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Find and practice your own therapy to help you out of boredom, loneliness and depression

Dear spouses on dependent visas,
you are going through your first or second winter in the USA; even though we are in March, this long and cold season is not over yet. You feel the length, coldness and solitude of this season more than anyone else.
Time passes very slowly when you have to stay home all day either because there is nowhere to go or simply because of the weather. In this desolate surrounding it is way too easy to become apathetic and slip into depression. The TV set becomes your best and only friend and you waste your days away. What can you do to get out of that miserable state? I wish I had a quick and painless solution but I can only share with you some things I tried and helped me somehow.

Organize your day:
you don't have to run on a military schedule but it is nice to have different things to do during the day and dedicate each activity no more than a couple of hours. I realize now how important it was for me to be linear with my schedule. I coped relatively well the first two years when I was doing several things. However, the moment we relocated somewhere else and I lost all my reference points I closed up and stay home all day. It was the beginning of the end. So, don't make the mistake to park yourself on the sofa and watch TV. You must fill in your days.

Do activities you enjoy doing or that are good for you:
In the morning I loved going to the gym or pool, I would alternate between group classes and doing laps. The sport club was within walking distance from where I lived and I made it a habit to go there almost every day. It was extremely beneficial to do physical exercises because I felt relaxed in my mind. Besides I was able to network with people who introduced me to other activities and groups I joined in. I spent also a great deal of time in the kitchen baking and cooking. I had the time for my hobby and I took the chance to experiment new and elaborated recipes. I regret saying that now, since I am back home, I don't do anything of that sort, which after all is really a shame.
Also doing house chores had its advantage...it forced me to get up and do some movements around the house. I have always preferred to be tired because of physical work rather than mental fatigue, therefore any chance I had to move around I welcomed it despite some initial resistance.
Then I spent time reading and watching movies. I'll have to admit I watched more TV than I meant but sometimes I needed to hear noises in the background. However, as I said before, we lived in an area that had its shares of weather related issues, so when we were out of power, I kept busy working on my jigsaw puzzles. And I have quite a collection now!

Music therapy:
Music is important to me from the moment I get up. I need to hear cheerful tunes, music and songs to set me off the right foot. I realized the moment the radio would play some slow cheek to cheek music I would feel awfully down. All that moaning, weeping and crying makes me run to the window and howl too!! Not a nice thing to hear!! I needed something that would give me energy, recharge me, open my mind and soul and above all make me think positive.
Of course it is a matter of personal taste, but for me what worked well was contemporary music played on the radio, some U2, disco music of the 70s and 80s, jazz and also some classic music. Avoid slow, romantic music! You will end up in a spiral of gloom and depression. Also every song with memories attached leads you to treacherous grounds so avoid it. You have got the picture now for your new compilation: Village People in, the Platters out!!

Movie therapy:
Romantic movies will only worsen your condition, you already cried enough watching Ghost when you were fine, now that you are lonely probably you don't need that level of empathy.
A good laugh is better than any medicine, release the muscles of your face and laugh, the louder the better. All the comedies you can think of are definitely in, the rest is sooo out!
Here are some comedies I loved watching: Meet the Parents (the first two are by far my favorite), Anger Management, Along came Polly, and the list can go on. I found out that I needed light hearted, brainless movies that kept me entertained and nothing else. I don't even mind watching old comedies like an oldie by Disney's The Parent Trap but I watched it so many times, I know it by heart. Sit-coms are also in, just avoid those programs where death and misery are the main subject.

People therapy:
socialize and meet people. Going out with them gives you a chance to learn more about the place where you live and spend time together with someone who is in your own shoes. That's empathy! Even your family and friends back home can't understand what you are going through. You need real people around you to share the good and the bad moments.
Most spouses spend a good deal of time on Skype with their own folks. This is all nice and wonderful however it won't make you feel any better, possibly even more homesick and people on the other side can't do too much for you. What I am trying to say is to avoid spending hours on Skype and relate more to the people who are around you. Sharing my experience with other women in the same situation helped me to put everything into perspective. I was not alone after all.

What else?
If you feel like sharing what has helped you just let me know! I am only a click away.
The list as you can see is very subjective but if it can help you, I am very happy.