Embrace Change

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~~ Ciao ~

This is post number two, as I share my journey moving from South Africa to Rome.
If you didn’t get a chance to read the first post, click here.

As always, glad to have you join me on this journey, enjoy!

~~ Embrace Change ~~
March 2016

Houston, the plane has landed. We are in Italy.

I’ve been here for almost a week now, and it still feels surreal. I’m not sure how I feel really, but I’ve been observing a very interesting transition of emotions since arriving here.

It went from initial wonder and excitement, to a sense of unbelonging, to anxiety and panic, to finding some inner strength, reconnecting with myself, and embracing the change. From here a world of discovery opened up.

Don’t get me wrong, this is awesome.
Rome is an incredible place, glorious on the eye, and bursting with life. However, moving continents can be a shock to the system. It’s very different to visiting a place for a holiday. Uprooting and making a new place home has another layer to it, an emotional adjustment so to speak.

I remember reading up on the five stages of grief, and I guess it’s something similar.

The emotional phases of breaking free of a very familiar world, and entering into a seemingly very different world. I felt a disconnect, as though I didn’t belong anywhere. If home is where the heart is, where was home? I’d uprooted myself and needed to go through these stages now.

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These are the three phases I went through, let me know if you’ve experienced something similar:

Phase 1:
Wonder and Excitement – Inspired by the newness and adventure

Landing in Rome, we couldn’t stop smiling. Everything was new and exciting. It felt like we were in some sort of Amazing Race, where every step was a puzzle. We needed to get money, train tickets, the train, a taxi, find our way to our new home, make a phone call to the landlady, meet the landlady, get to a grocery store, and on it went. Figuring out how-to left, right, and centre. It feels pretty rewarding too, as you figure things out, completing tasks and moving to the next stage.

Embrace-Change-01Above: On the move at the airport; Our new home in Rome (the big door with the white frame); Me squeezing into the tiny elevator – The Italians are very economical with their space. Below: A panoramic pic of the pretty streets from our window.

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We had made it to our new home, which was in a lovely area in Rome, near Villa Borghese. It’s a good idea to do your research beforehand, and make your first home-for-now a good one, in a nice area. We were here for 10 days, and it was a great place to start. Our landlady, Carlota, met us at the building and showed us everything. I liked Carlota from the moment I met her. She must’ve been 30-something, and a little wacky. We expected this, as her Airbnb advert had only showed one photo of her standing side profile in the apartment, with her head cropped off 🙂 We’d picked the place nonetheless, as it was a great location, at a great price, and sounded like it had everything we needed.

When meeting her I remember having two sentences memorised: Buongiorno, mi chiamo Sian (Hello, my name is Sian); and Piacere (Pleasure to meet you). She smiled at me when I said this, and assuming I knew lots more Italian, started rattling off asking me things. I looked at Luca and smiled, and he told her I was still learning, and we all laughed. This happened to me a lot… I’d memorise some Italian to speak to people, at the grocery store or the cafe, and they’d assume I could speak Italian and would carry on the conversation. Of course I didn’t know what they were saying, and we’d have to end the conversation in a very funny and awkward way, just smiling at one another in silence as we realised we couldn’t communicate naturally any further.

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Carlota left and we had the place to ourselves.

We were pretty bushed after our flight and the previous few days, so more than anything we were excited to shower, unpack, and have a homemade coffee. We sat in our new home which we’d have for the next 10 days and just smiled at each other. We’d done it, and it felt like the journey had still just begun.

Phase 2:
Fish out of water – Reality sets in and it feels uncomfortable

After we’d been in Rome a couple days, I started to feel an overwhelming anxiety… I started to wake up feeling unsettled and emotional.

In hindsight, it was a natural progression, I kind of letting go of a familiar life and routine. In South Africa, I had a life I’d created over years. I followed my natural order of things. Getting up, going to work, hanging out with friends and family, going to my favourite yoga studio, getting food from my favourite supermarket, and on my days went.

We are such creatures of habit. We may think that we are adventurous, but 90% of the time we are following a mapped-out route, and comfortable in the familiar. Most of us are in our comfort zones most of the time.

I was starting to feel a bit lost. Almost as though my world back home had defined me. The things in my life had kept me so busy, that I’d almost forgotten who I was without it all.

Here I was, without a laptop or internet (aka social media) to distract me, without any friends or family close by to call. I felt like I was in a different world, and for a little time, the newness became scary. Perhaps it was a blessing from the universe, putting me in this situation, without any easy ways to connect to the familiar or to distract myself, I had to face my big change.

I guess it was a combination of things. A fear of the unknown, thinking can this new place be my home? Missing friends and worrying about making new ones, thinking will I fit in?

It takes a lot of work too. Moving somewhere is completely different to visiting it for a holiday. There is a myriad of extra details and decisions to work out. I guess I was also feeling a bit tired, and didn’t want to figure anything out for a bit. As you navigate this new place there definitely comes a time where you have a slight sense of regret – If I was home now I’d be doing …. And I could visit …. And I would feel comfortable and safe at home.

The phases of emotion rise up and then disappear or overlap with new ones. A bit of a rollercoaster. You wake up feeling overwhelmed and a bit lost, then you go off exploring and have a caffe and you’re full of wonder again.

My morning journaling was my saviour. Morning pages are the best thing in the world. I’d read an incredible book called The Artist’s Way years back, and it added two very important activities to my life: Morning Pages and Artist Dates.

There was a a nutcracker in our apartment, and we’d bought lots of mixed nuts (in their shells) at the supermarket – this was a wonderful discovery as I was so used to buying ready-to-eat nuts. I evolved my morning pages ritual, and had a few fresh nuts with my fresh coffee every morning – Wowza what a great combo!
These morning pages allowed me to get what was swirling around in my head onto the page, and by doing it every day, allowed me to work through my feelings.

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To give myself some sort of ritual in Rome, I started visiting coffee shops in the morning, where I’d have my caffe americano and write my morning pages. This gave me a sense of the familiar, something-to-do so to speak. It also built up my confidence little by little, as I went out alone on these little caffe missions, and practised my Italiano ‘Buongiorno, come sta? Bene, Grazie. Posso Avere un Caffè Americano per favore’ Whoa!

Ordering a Caffè Americano in Italian

Not being at work was also a big factor for me. I’m a bit of a workaholic, and have become so used to spending most of my time sucked into work, running around, as busy as a bee.

The first couple weeks after leaving my 9-5, I felt a sense of stress-free freedom. I was getting so much done, seeing friends and family, sorting out life admin, spending time doing the things I love, like writing, cooking and visiting nurseries – It was wonderful!

However, a few weeks later, an unsettled-anxiety-feeling came around to say hello. I had all this extra time, and was waking up thinking ‘What should I be doing, I should be busy’. It feels weird taking full control of your life, and at first it comes with a sense of guilt. Within the normal conditioning and structures of a 9-5 life, we don’t get much time to just be, and it took some time for me to realise that I could in fact just be busy being me.

I needed to create this new chapter, and could rely on no one but myself to do it. This phase was all about finding my inner strength, and learning to value and trust myself to make the right decisions moving forward. It forces you to reconnect with yourself.

And this is where it began, as I started to let go of the 9-5 mentality, and started thinking more about how I personally liked to spend my time as if I was a child again. Time out to just be, to explore, to reconnect with myself. I felt like I’d lost myself somewhere along the way, and decided to go on a bit of a search. Hello Sian, nice to meet you!

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It takes time and effort to work through these feelings, and to realise that we are allowed time out from the things we feel we should be doing. It’s our life, and we only get one. We need to take control at some point, and create the lives we want to live.

Phase 3:
Embracing Change

After the initial panic fish-out-of-water phase, the dust started to settle. I knew that every now and again I’d get a wave of anxiety, but I was starting to feel more and more of the desire to experience the unknown, rather than fear it.

The key here is to Be Positive, Work Together, and Start Exploring.

— Be Positive —

It’s so important to gather your thoughts and sort out your mindset. We have the power to choose how we feel and react to the world around us. Practice being positive in the face of the good and the bad – It’s such an important skill to exercise, and can transform your life. Instead of mulling over what I’d left behind, and the negatives, I focused on the incredible adventure I was on. I was in a wonderful new place, filled with new people, things, experiences, and opportunities. Letting go of any negativity, and focusing on Rome’s boundless awesomeness.

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— Work Together —

Moving continents with a partner can definitely strain a relationship. You’re going through a lot together, and at some point you’re bound to get on each others nerves. Someone I worked with at Brand Union once said that, more than anything, relationships need kindness to last for the long haul. After this experience, I couldn’t agree more. When you truly acknowledge your partner as being their own person going through their own experience, and you treat them with kindness, it makes a wonderful difference.

You are a team, and teammates look out for each other.

I’d always had this in my head: The three big tests in a relationship are living together, working together, and traveling together: We’d done the first two, now it was time for the final test. Sure, we’d moved from Cape Town to Johannesburg, which was pretty hectic, but this was a whole new level. These sorts of experiences really do make or break you, and you get to decide along the way which direction you want to take your relationship. I feel like, through it all, Luca and I have grown so much stronger. This experience has strengthened our bond, and I wouldn’t want to be here with anyone else.

Then, together, go out in the unknown and seek out new experiences.

Embrace-Change-08Above: Luca and I had been on some adventures together, but this was our biggest to date!

— Start exploring —

Instead of holding on to the life back home and what I’d left behind, I starting exploring more. This reminded me of why I was here, getting me involved in this new place, making me start forming a connection and not feel so lost. It’s so important to get involved.

We were, however, still on an amazing race kind of ride.
Working out our new phone SIM cards contracts at Vodafone (thank heavens for Luca speaking Italian haha). Starting to get familiar with Public Transport – where to buy tickets and the routes. Even things like the Roman times were new, with shops closing in the middle of the day and open until much later than South Africa.

Another discovery was how seriously the Italians take their public holidays. A whole new level to SA. Easter weekend had arrived and we’d popped out to do a quick supermarket run for dinner that evening. What a journey that became, with absolutely nothing open. After hours of searching, an online search advised that Termini Station was one of the only places with supermarkets open on this day, and we bee-lined for it. A big thank you to Termini Station on that day, as I was so hungry by that stage, I was battling to not start eating right off the shelves 🙂

Either way, we were out and about. Going exploring every day. Coffee and breakfast, and out we’d go. We’d have 1 or 2 things on our to-do list, and the rest of the day would be wide open. We’d end up at a viewpoint looking at the Colosseum, or in the Villa Borghese gardens going for a stroll, or discovering lovely new areas like Trieste and Monti, or seeing the Pope outside at the Vatican on a Sunday, driving through the crowds in his white car like a celebrity. A whole new world of discovery was opening up in front of me. I was feeling inspired.

Embrace-Change-06Above: Discovering a new and wonderful tea brand Yogi Tea; Feeling happy visiting a cacti-succulent nursery in Rome; Having fun tasting the difference between Clementines and Mandarins.

Visiting the Pope at the VaticanAbove: Visiting the Pope at the Vatican on Easter Sunday. Starting off with a caffè and a horseshoe croissant at a lovely little coffee shop called La Zanzara.

We really do forget that we are creatures of habit. We find comfort in the familiarity and tend of opt for the everyday road. Start small, and next time you go to work, try another route. Just do it, and you’ll see what I mean. When we do too much of one thing, parts of us switch off and we switch to autopilot – this isn’t such a good thing, as we’re not fully present, and aren’t fully engaged with the world around us.

Change things up a bit: get something totally new for dinner, buy an item of clothing that isn’t your typical colour scheme, do something this Saturday that you love and haven’t done in a long time. See how you feel. I guarantee you, you’ll feel a buzz of energy and inspiration.

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My next post ‘A world of discovery’ will be out this week Sunday.
Until then, Buona Giornata! (Have a lovely day)

6 Comments
  • Julia Lloyd

    Reply

    Your blog is so beautifully written. So simple, so charming and so crammed with detail. And more than anything so thought-provoking. I can’t wait for more. Good on you for being so brave and taking those footsteps into the unknown. And being so honest about it all. I really love it.

    • Sian

      Thanks mom, that’s so lovely of you to say, and means a lot with you being such a brilliant writer! Feeling inspired!

    • Parmelia

      That’s a slick answer to a chnlaengilg question

  • Hetty

    Reply

    Taking the overview, this post hits the spot

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