So, for those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook, big news! This week, I moved to Massachusetts to start a PhD in Luso-Afro-Brazilian Studies and Theory at UMass Dartmouth!!
A few months back (but only a couple of posts ago, because unintentional hiatus — more on this to come!), I talked about receiving my first PhD rejection letter and how, despite all of the reasons why going after such a degree might be considered a bad idea, I wanted to do it anyway. So after another couple of months of waiting and two more rejections, I was accepted into this program. Very exciting in and of itself, but I didn’t have funding finalized until like three weeks ago, so everything has been coming together a little more quickly than I anticipated. I genuinely thought this wouldn’t happen.
So now, I’m faced with what is actually a familiar situation: moving to a new place where I don’t know anyone, not even family. For some reason, this has gotten harder as I’ve gotten older, even though I’ve done it several times. I’m not the pure extrovert I was nine years ago when I packed up and flew to Argentina for the first time; I’m not super great at making friends. I don’t know if I’d call myself shy, but something akin to that has gotten stronger in me over the past five or six years. If I’m forced to fall into a Myers-Briggs type, I’d still go with ENFP, but the truth is I’m a pure ambivert, dead in the middle of extroversion and introversion. And more and more as I get older, the introversion comes out when I’m in new places and around new people.
This isn’t a bad thing, and in a way, it is a genuine strength. By taking the time to be quiet and observe your surroundings, you synthesize everything much quicker. Maybe you don’t share all of your life backstory with your brand new friends so that it takes a while for them to get to know you, but you get a better feel for their personalities and maybe get to hear their life backstories first.
I can’t hide the fact that I’m more than a little (but less than a lot) socially awkward, and I’m not sure what to do about that. Hopefully everyone else is just as awkward as me? Maybe. We’ll see. In the past couple of days, when I’ve mustered up my extroversion, I’ve had a good time, and I think that’s at least partially owing to the long amount of quiet time I’ve taken to myself. It’s also partially owing to my new roommate Jaqueline, who is being super kind and helpful.
Fun fact: Jaqueline is Brazilian! I’m personally a fan of Brazilians and Brazilian-Americans, so I find this exciting! I love being around people speaking Portuguese. It’s one of my favorite things, always has been and always will be.
What I find less exciting is how my socially awkward self is falling victim to anxiety surrounding said Portuguese. Let me explain. I speak Portuguese. After a lifetime of being around Portuguese without actually speaking or understanding the language, I went on a personal journey to recapture the language which evaded me. I took a couple of classes and spent a lot of money to be able to spend time with my relatives in Portugal. I used Argentine Spanish as a reference when I got lost because after living in Argentina, I have a very good handle on that language. But as much as I love the pelotudo castellano that is Argentine Spanish, Portuguese is the linguistic love of my coração. So I cobbled it together. My Portuguese is imperfect, it’s second language, it’s messy, it’s sometimes more like Portunhol, but it’s there. It’s real. I speak Portuguese. But here, in New Bedford and surrounded by a cadre of cool Brazilian millenials, I can’t seem to get the words out of my mouth. I can’t seem to respond, and even more frightening, sometimes I feel like I can’t understand. I feel like I’m learning the language all over again, and I know that the culprit behind all of this is my own anxiety.
Anxiety is a bitch, and it’s probably the last major holdout of my plethora of PTSD symptoms, the last thing left that I haven’t quite gotten control of yet. Nightmares? Done. Panic attacks? Check. Crippling anxiety? It rears its head in several ways, often hand in hand with the type of depression where your body and heart just refuse to function for hours (or days, let’s be honest) on end while your mind won’t shut up, which can be quite literally paralyzing. Your mind is going a thousand miles a minute, stressing over every detail of every interaction, convinced you’re going to alienate people if you *fill-in-the-blank*. Especially the new people in the new town in New England.
Anxiety is the exact opposite of ambiversion. Anxiety makes your extroverted moments feel like you’re coming on too strong, you’re obnoxious, you’re a pain in the ass, you’re Hamilton and everyone else is Jefferson or Burr. Anxiety makes your introverted moments feel like you’re an aloof bitch, stuck up and incompetent, a waste of space human being who is only good at hiding when she can’t confront reality. It makes you afraid to enter a room with other people in it and furious that you can’t, so you end up tip-toeing in once you’re certain that everyone is gone only to feel lonesome and frustrated as you eat your Sour Cream and Chive Lay’s. Anxiety makes a perfect balance of traits seem like two polar opposite extremes that have no business coexisting, so therefore no matter what you do, you’re living a lie. And it’s messing with me, taking the words from my mouth and leaving me with a desperate silence and a fear of breaking that silence up.
So what do I do? I guess this is the part where I declare that I won’t let Anxiety win, that Anxiety is an enemy to be defeated–and defeat it I shall. That my nerves are some kind of battleground with my “true self” pitted against this darkened extremism. But I can’t honestly say that I feel this way. After all, Anxiety may be a capital-letter other being that just likes to mess things up, but it is also me. Just like Augustus Waters’ cancer, my anxiety is made of me and part of me and it makes me who I am without being the definition of my whole. So I’m not going to fight it tooth and nail just to prove how mentally healthy I can be. Instead, I think I’m going to accept it, and maybe even try to use it in combination with my ambiversion to get myself genuinely comfortable in this new new new town.