I titled my last post, "navigating hanoi + traveling solo," which I realize was a misnomer.
I'm not traveling solo. I'm not a female solo traveler.
I moved across the world to a foreign city by myself. Moved. Solo.
This is not a vacation that will end in a week and a half, when I'll be back in the normal swing of day-to-day life that I left behind for some crazy adventure. I'm not staying in a place for a few days at a time, moving onto the next sight or attraction. I'm not country hopping southeast Asia.
I took a job. I will start a new position doing work I've never done before. I will find a home, settle in, make friends, buy a motor bike. (Maybe. Don't ask me that yet.)
Of course, there will eventually be the sightseeing and country hopping, too. In time. Maybe.
But truthfully, I can't think beyond the next hour or two. I can't think too hard about tomorrow or next week or this summer or next year. Because when I do, I panic.
Before coming to Vietnam, I scoured Instagram hashtags for other women doing similar things in Asia. I watched them leave their home countries for foreign places, cruise Halong Bay and see Angkor Wat and drink cocktails on Thai beaches. There would occasionally be photos with smiling Asian children in a sunny classroom and mentions of learning the local language.
I read one woman's account of teaching in Vietnam that was all bad, all negative. I discounted it and moved on, not wanting to take in any negativity. I found all other experiences of women on social media to be totally positive, so happy, so wonderful, so life changing. Besides that one negative blog I read, the rest were totally opposite end of the spectrum. It seemed to be all or nothing.
I got here and felt the realness of it all. Why am I not adjusting like everyone else seemed to be? Why doesn't anyone else talk about this period of transition? Why does this feel so fucking hard? I question myself, if I'm cut out for this.
Maybe I should have just taken a long vacation. Like normal people do when they need a change.
Instead I decided to move to the other side of the world.
I think back to when I finally landed at the airport in Hanoi, battered after so many hours of travel. I think back to when I stepped outside and smelled the air, got into the taxi, experienced Vietnam travel for the first time. I was exhilarated but also so petrified.
I think back to when I got the keys to my hotel room, a hotel that was nothing like hotels in the US, when I stepped inside the room and shut the door behind me, and broke down into tears. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and scared, and not even excited in the least.
I think back to when just stepping outside the hotel felt like a big feat, when being in the streets for 10 minutes felt monumental. I was terrified but also so proud.
I look at today, when I walked 40 minutes to Tay Ho where the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi is, braving insane traffic and a new part of the city and so much time away from the safety of my hotel room. It was exciting but also excruciatingly lonely.
There is so much good, yes. But there is also so much fear. And discomfort. And grieving. And hesitation. And sadness.
I worry that writing this will make me come off as ungrateful, pessimistic, self-pitying, irritating. I chose this. I actively left behind so many good things for this. Actively, actively, actively. This was not a light decision.
And yet, this is a part of the adventure that I hadn't counted on. The isolation. I left the US on Wednesday night and it's now almost a week later. I've been on my own in a hotel room. I haven't started work yet. I literally don't know a single soul. The fear inside of isolation like this is incredibly oppressive. I find myself waking up in the middle of the night desperate to check my phone and talk to people at home. I dread the few hours in the middle of the day when my West coast friends have gone to sleep and my East coast friends have yet to wake up. In those hours, I feel totally alone.
This sounds melodramatic and I know that it is. Being inside of these feelings is rather like being deep in a forest, unable to see out. And yet if I don't write about it, if I don't accept this entire experience of being human, it feels invalidated. This is okay. This is the part of moving abroad that I never read about, that I wish I had known, that I wish other travellers talked about on social media.
This part is really fucking hard.
I do feel incredibly grateful for the connections with people back home. The amount of messages and comments and emails with encouragement and love that I've received make my heart swell.
This morning a dear friend wrote to me: There is a yearning in every woman to be this free and scared and sacred all at once. I want to be brave enough to be in pain and have meltdowns but still walk to a temple in a foreign country.
And I suppose that's it, really. I want to be free and scared and sacred, all at once. I want to feel the exhilaration and the fear, the satisfaction and the sadness, the pride and the anger. All of it. And though feeling all these things is exhausting and terrifying and sad, it's the only way I know. My sensitivity runs deep. Deeeeep.
I know that so many of you will say, "Give it time. You'll be fine once you start your job and have a place to live and meet people!" But that is so hard to hear. Because I cannot even fathom that far ahead. I shut down when I go outside of my immediate present. And so though I know those words are true, I don't want to hear them. All I can do is take care of myself the best I can, right here, right now. I need to do things like cry and remember to eat and keep writing, basic survival things. Not think ahead to next week. I do have trust, and I'm grateful that so many people have trust in me, too. It's just that right now, I can only be right here.
It's a practice in presence, I suppose. Awareness and mindfulness of the utmost degree. Forcing myself to exist only in this moment, maybe the next hour, definitely not the next year. It's the only way I can breathe, being right here. It's the only way I can keep my whole self intact without disassociating. Breathe, and then breathe, and then breathe again.
I write this not for pity. And I write this in the hopes that it doesn't come across as ungrateful, pessimistic, self-pitying, or irritating.
I write this to remember the full experience. To honor myself completely.
And to admit that sometimes it's okay for things to feel really fucking hard.
Breathe, and then breathe, and then breathe again.