Metamorphosis

Summer is drawing to a close, and the coming season inspires reflection.

I’ve found myself in a metamorphosis. Shedding a skin which, in the past crazy months, began to dry and shrivel tight around me. A skin grown for another life, wearing thin. Now shreds have begun to peel away, revealing flesh burning brightly through the tears. I am so conscious of my own potential, consumed by the rush I feel standing at the brink of transformation.

But for many months, I was caught beneath the surface; fighting for just a little more time, a little room to think. Fighting inevitable change.

I moved to Berlin exactly a year ago, leaving a job, family, boyfriend, social circle, an entire life behind in Washington DC. I moved out of necessity to pursue an affordable education in a country that is supposed to be my “home” (you can read more about my TCK identity crisis in my first blogpost here) finding that when I arrived, I felt more foreign than I had anywhere before.

Living neither here, nor there, I idled. I survived every day in Berlin waiting to visit my old life, then spent my time in DC dreading leaving again. My coping mechanism (or lack thereof) was distracting myself as to avoid confrontation with the real issues at hand; refusing to reach out for help as I waited for the unhappiness to pass like an overcast sky. Instead it poured, and my lingering misery warped to became immobilizing…

What do you want?

The question ran through my head on an endless loop this year, like a riddle to be solved. Nothing had ever seemed more urgent, or more elusive. Did I want love, or for my parents to be proud of me? Did I really want a degree, did I want to live in Germany? What did I want of my career, of my future?

I overanalyzed at a microscopic level, blowing everything out of proportion. My angst erupted. I avoided my educational responsibilities, got fired from my first contract assignment, abandoned my great self-discovery blog project, relapsed into bad habits. I pushed away my family, failed to nurture friendships, neglected my well being and began to withdraw in my relationship.

Then a few weeks ago, I was gifted perhaps the most meaningful present I have ever received. A beautiful handmade drawing desk, equipped with paper, pens, paint and plants; a space to make my own. But more than it’s material value, the gift was reaffirmation that, even if I didn’t right then, someone believed in me and my potential.

I purged my fears and frustration and disappointment onto rolls of craft paper taped to the wall, and scribbled my heart out on dozens of sheets; inspired by every line and shape and color.

I made an important realization in those days of healing; covered in paint, positively exhausted and slightly cross-eyed sitting back looking at my work. Without passion in yourself, there isn’t much of a journey to be had.

It had been years since I had last experienced that tide of passion. Time is suspended, and doubts stand down, and your very being is committed to the next brush stroke, word choice, shot, cut, mile, whatever it may be; and you command total control of the outcome. Those moments are completely your own, and they are golden, not gilded.

Everything outside of you can, and will, change regardless of your effort. But it is solely your responsibility to commit to yourself, to create and lead the life you want to live.

See, I had been looking at the riddle all wrong. No matter how much you want anything, there is nothing you can change in the equation except yourself. You can’t want someone to be someone they aren’t, or want someone to love you just how you want to be loved. You can’t want success, only want to work harder to achieve your goals. You can’t want happiness, you have to want to let go of the things that make you unhappy.

Sitting here today, I am not where I thought I would be. I am certainly not where I thought I wanted to be. But I’ve done quite a bit of reflecting and can say with confidence that, more importantly, I am where I need to be.

I didn’t need a perfect relationship, or pleased parents, or a degree, or for everyone to like me or what I do. I had worried insistently about everything, dedicating my energy to problems and people I had no influence of, and ended up weary and completely out of touch with myself.

This is an important reminder to nurture yourself. To admit bad days, ask for help when you need it and promise to do what makes you happy, for you. It means making hard decisions; knowing when to stand up and go after what sets your soul on fire, even if it means disappointing others. I’m finding the value of sacrifice can be overrated, and am just putting to practice the advice to invest in yourself before you go pouring yourself into others.

It’s time for me to heal, time for me to devote the energy I’ve wasted trying to control what I couldn’t into myself. I am taking responsibility for my happiness and my future. Everything else will fall into place.

I’m committing more focus to my art with many projects planned for this fall, and I look forward to sharing more of my work in the coming weeks.

I haven’t got it all figured out, but I’m on my way.

And I am happy.

 

Photography: Dave Mentzer

I am not so native

I moved to Berlin from Washington D.C. at the end of last year, well over a decade since I had last lived in Germany. And although I had a local passport, spoke the language, knew the city and looked the part- I had never felt more foreign in my life.

I grew up in six countries, across four continents, speaking three languages, surrounded by peers of over a hundred different nationalities. I am what has been defined as a Third Culture Kid, the ‘third culture’ referring to the experience of such an itinerant child, where he/she is influenced simultaneously by their parents’ cultures and that of a foreign host society; raised as a sort of cross-cultural hybrid. Such an upbringing unarguably cultivates valuable skills and perspectives which I have always prized, but I realized recently that it also comes with burdens far more complex than having to make new friends every few years.

When I decided to go back to school and complete my studies in my home country, I had not anticipated the identity crisis I would face upon my return. I had always identified as German when I was living abroad. But returning to Germany the cultural disconnect between this society and myself, threw me completely.

It was as if the well-travelled, cultured, European young woman that I had projected, and perceived myself as, was put in front of a mirror for the first time, and I had absolutely no idea who she was.

Caught in a limbo of belonging everywhere and nowhere all at once, I’ve struggled to piece back together the sense of self that I had before my repatriation. Identity relates closely to a sense of belonging, and even though I was probably never more German than I am now, my faith in that facet of my identity was never challenged until I came ‘home’. I realized that I am as German, as I am Lithuanian, as I am American; which is hardly at all, for all of the above.

But I have strong relationships with all of the cultures I have been immersed in, even if I don’t have complete ownership in any of them. My identity is not tied to any one location, but is instead the collective experiences and connections I have gathered in each. Like my Lithuanian grandmother cooking traditional dishes, that still taste of childhood, in our kitchen in Tanzania. The Sri Lankan influence lives on in my constant effort to be as unconditionally positive as their people are, even in times of immense hardship. Canada taught me that I don’t care much for maple syrup or winter sports, but our time there will always be associated with a period of great growth for my family and myself. And it’s in Washington D.C. that I found home in the arms of someone who makes me feel that I belong more than any address could.

I am not so native anywhere in the world- and although it is an intimidating realization- I’m embracing it. Life is about creating yourself, and every day that I put toward my passions I’m getting to know myself for who I want to be.

Not So Native is a manifestation of this identity through my art, itinerant lifestyle and my love for travel and fashion. There is so much drive behind the launch of this site- so stay tuned for a lot more content coming to this space very, very soon!

And to all the TCKs that landed here! What are your experiences with repatriation? Does this sound familiar to anyone? I’d love to know!