I don’t know where to begin. I’ve barely updated this blog this year. How do you give a huge announcement to whoever’s still reading? One minute, I was in a snowstorm, and the next minute, I’m moving to paradise.
I’ve learned that, as a writer, sometimes it’s best to speak from the heart. Not everything we write has to be manicured and shiny and edited to a T. Sometimes, the best writing comes straight from the soul. So, here we go, from the heart, as cluttered and messy and raw and real as it is.
So . . . what have you been up to this past year?
Back in August 2020, before the Madrid lockdowns, before the second, third, and fourth waves, I went on vacation to San Sebastián. I had been working nonstop all summer, and needed a vacation before my next adventure.
I spent a week hiking in the small mountain near the beach. I went swimming. I took a train to an adorable town near the Spanish-French border. I put on tons of aloe vera from a sunburn that may or may not have given me first-degree burns.
All in all, a great week.
And that was the last time I was able to leave Madrid.
A month later, the city of Madrid was on perimeter lockdown. We could still walk outside, but we couldn’t leave.
Eventually, that lockdown was lifted. I was hoping to visit Cádiz during the holidays, but then that got banned, unless you had close connections there. The good news was I could still travel within the autonomous community of Madrid. I took that as an opportunity to visit cute villages like Patones de Arriba, Manzanares, El Escorial, Aranjez, and Buitrado de Lozoya.
Then, snowstorm Filomena arrived. Never did I imagine when I arrived to Madrid that I would witness a snowstorm that would shut the city down for a week and a half.
A few days later, my neighborhood got put on perimeter lockdown. For the next two months, I was unable to leave a 1-kilometer radius.
When the neighborhood lockdown got lifted, I was still unable to leave Madrid until the state of alarm ended a few weeks ago. I’ve been in Madrid for over a year.
As beautiful as this city is, when it’s all you’re allowed to see, you start to feel trapped. I loved Spain, but I longed for a change. I mostly thought about water and the beach.
The only times I’ve lived near water were when my early childhood neighborhood had a lake, and when I lived a few weeks away from a river in Rosario, Argentina. But I’ve never lived near the ocean.
I had no ties holding me in Madrid. I thought, Well, this means that I can go anywhere.
I have always wanted to visit Cádiz. I also thought Valencia would be nice. But when one of my coordinators told me about the Canary Islands, I thought, Why not? Google showed me nice photos of beaches, mountains, and volcanoes. I put it down as a whim.
A few months later, I got an email that I’m moving to the Canary Islands.
This place will be different than any place I’ve lived in abroad. Part of me is really excited. I’m going to live on an island! I’ll be able to go to the beach whenever I want.
Another part of me is terrified. I’m going to live on an island, which is a 2-hour flight from the peninsula. Was this really a good decision? I was feeling isolated and trapped in Madrid, so now I’m going to an island, an even more isolating place. What was I thinking?
The good news is that the people I’ve talked to love the island, and have called it their home. My roommate joked that this island could be the place I decide to make my permanent home, after years of traveling from one country to the next. We’ll see, but it’s my next home for the next year.
I didn’t share this with anyone for a year
Another reason why I’m leaving is due to a profound loneliness that I’ve experienced over the past year.
I’m an introvert, which means I like being alone. And I need to be alone. I love people, but being around them for an extended period of time drains me. Sorry not sorry.
So, when all my friends left, I thought I’d be fine. I had work to keep me busy. And I figured I’d meet new friends at my next teaching assignment, and at the university I was taking classes at. In South America, all I had to do was show up somewhere, and everyone wanted to be my friend. Everyone wanted to talk to me.
I assumed Spain would be the same.
I was wrong.
We take for granted how easy it is to make friends when we’re in school, or a job, or even traveling and in hostels. People are all over, and you’re encouraged to get close to each other. But no one teaches you in school how to make a friend.
Trying to learn how to be proactive about making friends as an adult feels like learning a new language. And you’re the new kid who’s brand new, while everyone else has been in class for a few weeks now. You’re scrambling to get ahead, to catch up to them, and hope no one notices it at all.
I did try to meet people, though. I attended a few Meetups. Due to the lockdowns I was able to attend about half of them. But I didn’t really vibe with anyone. And if there’s anything I’ve learned in this pandemic, it’s that it’s better to be alone than be around people who aren’t good for you. That being said, the loneliness has been brutal. I never expected that I’d spend Christmas alone.
And in case you’re wondering, “Why didn’t you reach out to anyone in USA or Colombia how you were feeling?” When you’re in a deep state of depression or loneliness, there comes a point where reaching out feels just as frightening as staying depressed and lonely. You’re afraid of people being disappointed in you. You’re afraid of being a burden. You’re afraid of people not believing your pain, or not taking you seriously. You’re afraid people won’t care. You’re afraid they’ll care too much. You’re afraid because you curated this image of an amazing life, and your family, friends, and former coworkers saw how hard you worked to come here, and it would be so disappointing for them to see that you’re struggling. You already feel like you’ve lost all true connections abroad, and you’re even more afraid of losing the ones that helped you get to where you are now. So you hide, and if someone reaches out to you, you take weeks to respond because you’re feeling so low that you don’t have the energy to put up another facade of a happy and amazing life. And you become lonelier. It’s a vicious cycle. So if you know someone who’s going through a hard time, and taking forever to get back to you, please be gentle with them. They’re not trying to be an asshole. They’re just tired of acting like they have it all together, and they’re scared of saying the wrong thing and disappointing you.
Sometimes, depression can be sadness and crying, but other times, it can be having no emotions left to give.
But eventually, they do come back.
Life comes in waves
But as Liz Gilbert says in Eat, Pray, Love, “God never slams a door in your face without opening a box of Girl Scout cookies.” Things got better.
I got new roommates who I’ve gotten close to, whose friendship is what I’ve been wanting all this time.
I’ve been working a lot, and working to make myself better. I’ve taken some more courses, taught a few courses, trained a group of people, and picked up a few new hobbies.
And I decided in January that, if nothing is holding me in Madrid, then I can go anywhere.
At this point, before I met my new roommates, I felt like the loneliness would be eternal. When you’re so deep into these heavy feelings, time feels like it slows down. This heaviness feels like you’re a ship at night, knowing that you will find shore eventually, but all you’ve seen for miles is pitch black darkness.
But in a way, that gave me freedom. I could see other places of Spain. There’s more to Spain than Madrid.
For some reason, I kept thinking of the beach. I love the mountains, but I wanted to be near water. I imagined myself at dawn, walking along the lip of the shore, letting the foamy waves kiss my bare feat. Breathing in the salty air. Feeling the wind play with my hair.
In loneliness, I saw opportunity. I saw a chance for a new beginning.
I originally requested a placement in Cádiz or Valencia. But when I heard there were placements in the Canary Islands, I shrugged and thought, why not? The photos reminded me of Hawaii, where I last visited in 2010, and which was my first long-haul flight.
My flight also almost ran out of gas, and we had to turn around at the LAX to refuel.
But that’s another interesting story for another day.
Anyway. A few months later I find out I’m moving to the Hawaii of Spain.
I’m still in shock. After this past year, which has opened me and turned me inside out, which has made me face my deepest fears and wounds, and which has shown me that when all else fails, to be your own best friend, your own hero … I’m leaving Madrid and heading to the Canary Islands.
I also have mixed feelings. I’m so grateful. I’m grateful that I’ve been given an opportunity to live in the Canary Islands. I’m also afraid the loneliness will follow me to the islands. I’m thankful that I’ll get to live near water. I’m bittersweet about leaving Madrid, the city of my dreams, the city that’s been my home for the past two years and that I worked so hard to come here. The city I’ve built so many memories here.
But when the people you shared those memories with are no longer here, it feels like a ghost town.
Be grateful always, be thankful always
I’m grateful, and sentimental, and am looking forward to the next chapter. I can’t express how much gratitude I am for this year, as hard as it’s been, because I’ve learned so much about myself. No matter how hard things got, I was and still am grateful to be in Madrid, studying and teaching. But I’m also ready to rest and enjoy myself, and to have a new beginning.
Over the next several weeks, I will be packing up my life. My roommates and I have promised to keep in touch and to visit each other. We all have our own new beginnings. I will be looking for a new place to live. I will thank all the people who have helped me this year and who have believed in me. And I will keep the faith, because no season in life is forever, no matter how dark.
Even though I have moments where I wonder when I will feel things like joy and love again, I know deep down that my moments will come. After conquering this year, I will appreciate them even more. And should I ever meet someone who is alone and looking for a friend, I will welcome them, because I know what it’s like to feel all alone in this world.
Thank you Madrid. I love you and am grateful for all the blessings you have given me. Thank you for making my dreams come true, and thank you for giving me new and bigger ones. You will always be the city of my dreams.