Hey there! I know I disappeared for a while, and that’s because I sort of mentally imploded after I got back to the States. As such, I’d like to dedicate my first official blog post in over a month to this thing that I discovered once I came back home:
I tend to get tunnel vision, in that I get so caught up in whatever I’m doing that everything (and everyone) else gets pushed aside. This is a really useful trait for getting things done, but the productivity comes at the cost of minor things like free time, friends, and general well-being. This past year was a crazy one. I studied on three different continents to finish my foreign languages degree and while it was completely worth it, it took so much out of me that I all but collapsed into a coma once I finally came home.
I did not give myself time to rest.
Last summer I went to the German Language School in Berlin, then I started the fall semester in the States. During that time I worked part time and helped out in the German department at my university while taking Spanish, German, and Chinese classes. During the winter break I did an intensive Chinese course in Shanghai and came back home four weeks before leaving again to study abroad in Argentina. Argentina went at a slightly slower pace than the other two countries because I was there for an entire semester, but I packed as much traveling and exploring into those four months as I was able to without failing my classes. While I was there, an advisor in New Mexico emailed me saying that if I was interested, there was still time to apply for a scholarship to the German Summer School in Taos Ski Valley , which I had attended two years before (click the link for the full story). I applied and got the scholarship.
I was scheduled to come home on July 4th, and the second half of the summer school started on July 9th, which left me with only four days at home before having to leave again. So, thinking that I was indestructible, I went from living four months in a Spanish speaking country to taking graduate courses in German.
I’m not indestructible. No one is.
Don’t get me wrong; I did it. I gave it my all and I’d like to think that I succeeded, but the combined weight of jet lag, culture shock, REVERSE culture shock, graduate level classes, along with the fact that I had given up all of my school breaks to study in three different countries in the past year and was only getting about 4 hours of sleep a night, nearly broke me. When I finished I barely had the energy to even tell my friends that I was back, let alone see them. I spent about a month afterward holed up in my room either sleeping or watching Netflix.
I don’t know what I would have done if I’d had to work during that time. Become an alcoholic, probably.
So, ladies and gentlemen, if you have traveled recently and are feeling a bit pooped, that’s ok. It comes with the territory. It seems to take me about a week to get over jet lag (China was the worst. In the week after I got back from Shanghai I found myself going to sleep at 11am and waking up at 6pm every day), but the general feeling of fatigue lasts a while longer. I’ve heard some people say that it helps to go without sleep for a day so that the next day you can fall asleep at an appropriate time, but I never had the discipline for that. For me (and I’m probably one of the fortunate ones who didn’t have to come back to work or start school immediately after coming home), any sleep at all helps. I would sleep whenever I could as often as I could and, eventually, my body adjusted on its own.
Exercise also helps. I wouldn’t recommend running a marathon if you’re been on two different continents in the past 48 hours, but it does help to get your body moving a bit. Just get up and do something, and then stop when you feel like it. Surprisingly, light exercise helps with the fatigue (unless you’re in really good shape and exercise all the time, in which case, have fun at the marathon, I guess?).
Another important thing is resting your mind. That’s the one I seem to have the most trouble with. It’s important to take time to yourself and just relax, that way you can actually process all of the experiences you’ve just had. Jumping into the Next Big Thing is productive, but we also need to allow ourselves to enjoy What’s Happening Now, or to recover from What Just Happened. In my experience, beating your brain into submission for one solid year does not come without consequences. It’s ok to sit back and rewatch movies that you’ve seen a hundred times before; if that’s what you need to do to rest, then do it.
Adjusting to living in a different country, whether you’ve just arrived or have just come home, is mentally taxing. It’ll probably take some time before you can operate at your best again, but you’ll recover faster if you give your mind and your body space to adjust.