Sometimes, I feel like my life in Belgium is kind of like the movie, “Lost in Translation” (the one with Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray). I mean, apart from the fact that I have a third of her bra size; curly, brown hair that is on some kind of kamikaze race for grey; and I don’t lie on my bed all day in transparent, pink panties because my bedspread is covered with car fur and my husky would make nonstop crying/yodeling/Chewbacca Wolf sounds, the experience is quite similar.
Ok, I also eat a lot less sushi.
Most of the time I spend outside of my house, I have some notion vague notion of what is going on, but I miss a lot. People talk to me. I nod and smile. Sometimes, I respond in French and hope I understood enough of what they were saying that my response makes sense.
Sometimes, I ask people to repeat themselves, explaining that French is not my mother tongue and apologizing profusely. This happens fairly frequently when I visit a doctor. Trying to figure out what is happening at a doctor’s appointment is difficult in my native tongue and nearly impossible in French. In the past several months, I have gone to see three different doctors in an attempt to figure out why the fingers on my right hand have swollen up and gotten itchy lesions while my left hand has remained relatively intact in comparison.
(Side note theory: Perhaps, it is a political conspiracy of some kind? The swelling going up or down in direct relation to how much havoc the United States republican far right wreaks on the world? At this point, I am not ruling out any possibility, however seemingly far fetched).
One of the three doctors I saw suggested that I might have mushrooms (champignons in French) growing on my fingers.
I looked down at my fingers in mild horror, expecting to see teeny, tiny mushrooms pop up from out of nowhere. I shudder just writing about it.
It took me more than a few seconds to realize she meant a kind of fungus and not an actual mushroom growing on my finger. Champignon, mushroom, fungus. Potato, po-taut-oh. I mean, my husband jokes that I am one of the fée, and I know they are often pictured beside amanita mushrooms with little flecks of white across a perfectly round, bright red cap. But still….I am not ready to have mushrooms actively growing on me.
Part of the challenge of learning a new language is figuring out how to express physical and emotional issues. The other part is recognizing what people are saying with enough speed to a) respond in a helpful way and b) respond with appropriate action within a reasonable amount of time.
This week has been one lingual adventure after another. One trip to a kiné (which as far as I can tell is the Belgian version of a physical therapist…again, lost in translation), and I was thrown through the lingual loop several times.
On my way to the bus, I passed a fellow peeing away beside a tree with a very narrow trunk. Just standing there, peeing.
Really? I said in English as I walked by. That is pretty special.
Maybe, I should not have said anything. On the other hand, I super have no idea desire to watch a strange man whip out his genitalia and start peeing in front of me. Seriously, if you absolutely have to pee outside, there are several far more hidden places right in the vicinity, dude.
Because everything seems to make me crazy right now (seriously, I cannot recall any other time in my life when I have been this quick to anger and/or go into full on panic mode), I have started listening to music on my outings to try to help me maintain equilibrium and keep my spirits high. After the urination incident, I got on the bus and listening to my tunes until my stop. I began the walking portion of the trip to the doctor, happily listening to music and singing my troubles away.
At one point as I walked along, a dog came trotting down the sidewalk toward me. I didn’t think anything of it. People walk their dogs off leash everywhere in the city. It was a man yelling at me, Attrapes-le! (catch him) over and over, which threw me off kilter. For one, it took me (again) several seconds to figure out what he was saying and then another several seconds to figure out that he was talking to me. At this point, the dog was well past me, and I just stood there, nonplussed, watching the scene unfold as the fellow got on his bicycle and proceeded to ride after the dog. At least the dog was savvy enough to stick to the sidewalk.
At the doctor, I sat in the waiting room for an extra 20 minutes, waiting for my appointment to begin. Doctors running late seem to be a universal.
When she invited me in, I proceeded to try to explain my history of back issues, starting with my time studying abroad in Africa when I bent over and picked up a much too heavy suitcase and threw out my back for several days and then explaining that the pain seemed to accompany times of increased stress in my life. I didn’t try to explain the hell I have been experiencing from my neverending relationship with Alaska but just mentioned that it often happened when I was moving from one place to another.
She guided me to the table and explained that we were going to think of my back as a boat (bateau). She talked about the different parts of the back, and I think she referred to the muscles as cordes (cordage?) that connected the different parts. From there, I really had no idea what was going on.
At the end of the session, I handed her my prescription and learned that prescriptions are only good for two months from the date they are written by the doctor. Another cultural lesson.
(Side note: Even a trip to the restroom presents a challenge. At the toilettes at the doctor’s office, I easily spent what felt like several minutes just trying to find the mechanism was for flushing the toilet. I mean, seriously. Can you see it in this photo?).
I was pretty proud of myself for not breaking down into tears (I was quite close) and simply phoning the doctor to get a new prescription. I didn’t even have a meltdown when I missed the 94 tram because I was waiting at the crosswalk when it pulled in.
At this point, if you are still reading, I am sure you are thinking that I am an entitled, privileged, whiny woman to be complaining about this charmed life I lead where I can go to see specialist doctors, take transit to get anywhere in Brussels, etc. etc.
You are right. My husband tells me all the time to meditate on death so I can spend less time wallowing in endless frustration and more time being grateful for the gift of life I experience every day.
You need to recognize that you are not in control of the universe, he tells me on a regular basis.
He is totally right, and I know that I need to learn to create the “much needed relaxation” that I referred to in my previous post. Instead of waiting for the fortune to come true, I need to find a way to create a stress-free eye in my own life storm.
Every day is a new opportunity, and this is a good thing because I fail to maintain balance on a fairly regular basis. I live at a place of such heightened nerves that it takes very little to tip the scale to the bad place.
This happens pretty frequently on my daily walks in the forest beside our home. The forest is incredible, with enormous Beech trees and endless trails. The challenge is that I have to share the forest with other people; people on horseback, people with dogs, people on bicycles; etc.
Sometimes, I surprise myself and stay relatively calm when people send their crazy energy my way. Of late, however, this has not been the case.
One day not too long ago, my friend and I were walking our dogs off leash in an off leash zone when two guys on bicycles rode by.
Put your dogs on leash! One of the men yelled at us because our dogs came a little too close to their bicycles.
Without even thinking, I yelled back, Shut up! In English.
Later, my husband suggested that I could have at least yelled at them to shut in French. Next time.
Another time, a woman came charging on horseback from a horse only trail onto the trail that is shared by all. She took my dog and I completely by surprised and proceeded to scream at me when my dog wanted to say hello to her horse.
I stayed pretty calm until she proceeded to begin running the horse away from me, which only served to inspire my dog to go running after them. While she rode the horse at a gallop, she screamed at me to get my dog.
I grew so desperate that I finally started screaming back at her to stop running because my dog would only continue to follow her until she stopped.
I finally got the dog and was so enraged and flustered that I just began screaming expletives at her (in English) while she rode away. Seriously, why ride a horse in a forest where people walk their dogs if you can’t handle being around dogs? Also, why would you think that picking up speed would magically convince a dog to sit and stay?
The experience of walking blissfully on a trail and having a horse appear from out of nowhere happened again this afternoon. This morning, an old-fashioned, covered wagon with a horse leading it surprised us, and Atticus thought it would be fun to run right up to the horse. As it happened, a park ranger drove up right behind the wagon, so it became a perfect storm.
This same park ranger, who has seen me walking Atticus off leash on this very trail myriad times, suddenly decided that this was the time to tell me that this was an on-leash zone.
From the driver’s seat of his pickup truck, he pointed to a smaller trail that ran parallel to the trail we were on. There was a median of about 10 feet of grass, plants, and trees between the two.
Dogs can be off leash on that trail, he explained.
Say what again?
While he was explaining this, Atticus thought it would be a fun game to run circles around the wagon while I made futile attempts to catch him to put him back on leash. As this was happening, I was attempting to explain to the ranger that I had been told (by other rangers and by him in the past) that this was an off-leash zone and that I saw people every day walking their dogs off leash here, as well as in the protected areas.
(Aka, what the f?).
I finally got Atticus back on a leash and proceeded to fume for the rest of the walk. Clearly, my young husky was far too curious about horses for me to keep him off leash in areas where there are horse trails, so from now on I will have to be far more vigilant/try to turn on my third eye to predict when a horse might suddenly appear.
While fuming, I reflected on my psychological state of being, which has been in a state of devolution ever since we began the transition of moving from the United States to Belgium. My anxiety has gotten worse, my back has gone into muscle spasms on several occasions, and so many things that would normally never have bothered me now cause an emotional meltdown.
I saw a somatic therapist (who was amazing) several times before leaving for Belgium. Somatic Therapy, so far as I understand it, focuses on where emotions live in the body and how they feel. One can return to painful or traumatic moments in their lives and work through them to shift the energy residue that exists in the memory of that experience. For example, I experienced a great deal of trauma from an abusive boss in a previous job. With my therapist, we returned to a particularly difficult meeting with this boss.
If you could have anyone with you to help support you, who would it be? I chose my sibling.
If your sibling was sitting there with you, what would they say to your boss?
They would tell him in no uncertain terms that he could not speak to me that way.
What would you say to him?
I would tell him to fuck off! That I am a person and that I trusted him and he treated me like a piece of shit.
My therapist also explained that people who experience regular trauma (as children or adults) either check out from life altogether, turning to drugs, alcohol, or suicide develop a defense mechanism that involves shifting into fight or flight mode/revved up parasympathetic nervous system to protect themselves.
I would say that I have a kind of bipolar engagement with the world. I am self-employed because the thought of working for another boss sends me into a spiral of panic and anxiety. I spend a lot of time at home by myself (hiding from the world?). At the same time, I crave companionship. My favorite daytime events are the yoga classes I teach and getting to spend time with women friends. My favorite evening pastime is sitting with m husband and reading out loud from our current literary selection.
One issue with my body’s learned defense system is that even though the “danger” is no longer present, the response is so strongly engrained that it takes very little for me to go from zero to 100. Hence, my response of screaming at the woman on horseback when a rational response showed no results.
I recognize that I need to practice (with far more dedication) the act of shifting my perspective when I am in the midst of perceived turmoil. So a crazy lady is yelling at me. This does not mean that I need to dial up my own crazy and respond in kind.
Since I still have not figured out a way to convince my body that I am not in constant danger, I am very much looking forward to getting out of Belgium for a brief spell and traveling to a magical island of the southwest coast of Dublin.
Hopefully, there will be fewer random men peeing next to trees in full view and more wind, waves, fairies, and life birds to be seen. Maybe, I will also see if I can find some see-through pink panties and sushi while I’m there.