I think I'm already in culture shock, and we won't get to India for a week. We went to the embassy this morning to apply for our visas, and I was seriously panicking. It reminded me of what our business professor said about high-context and low-context cultures: in the U.S. (a low-context culture) we try to design systems so that they can be figured out by newcomers with little context, e.g. by having signs pointing you to the desk where you get tourist visa forms, whereas in India (a high-context culture) information is communicated more subtly. Which is to say, everyone but us seemed to know exactly where they should be, and I was completely panicking about doing things wrong.
It doesn't help that I slept really badly last night. It was my first NyQuil-less night in a week, so getting to sleep was hard. Then there were strange noises outside our apartment all night (I later learned it was the wind knocking the construction across the street) and I kept panicking that terrorists would break into our apartment and I would forget that I'd taken the emergency flashlight out of the emergency bag in our closet. I'm honestly not sure if I was awake or asleep at that point. When I finally got to sleep, I kept having these dreams about being trapped in a frat house and trying to tunnel my way out. What's the heck is that about?
The embassy trip turned out fine -- everyone was very helpful and we should have our visas by this afternoon -- but I'm still feeling very anxious. I think the anxiety goes right back to what I was talking about in my last post: the desire to maintain the illusion of control in our lives. In my life. I fundamentally don't trust that things will turn out alright unless I worry about them. I don't trust the world to be a reasonably ordered place, and I don't trust myself to navigate it competently. (Boy, if my clinical supervisor from last year is reading this, this ought to sound familiar!) The illusion I try to maintain is that if I plan for every possible exigency, if I rehearse every possible conversation before it happens, if I prepare a response for everything that might happen to me, then it's just possible I might be OK.
And if I'm not in total control, then what? I've led a reasonably orderly and happy life; it's not like I have lots of experience with the world falling apart because I didn't plan everything correctly. In fact, looking back on previous experiences with international travel, it's been the unplanned moments that have been the most enjoyable: exploring Warsaw with my friends because the tour guide didn't show up, going to a random political protest in Sofia, too many serendipitous moments to recall or tell them all. How did I come up with this idea that the world is going to end if I don't have a plan?
I remind myself of my little rescue dog, who at the first sound of thunder has a panic attack and hides under the bed, rigid and wide-eyed with fear, for hours
. For the first year after I found him, I thought that eventually he would figure out that, in fact
, nothing bad ever happens to him when it thunders, and that this would alleviate the panic. Eventually it hit me that, in fact
, something bad DOES happen to him every time it thunders, namely, a panic attack.
As I was walking the last block to work this morning it struck me how infrequently I (like Merlin) stop to notice that nothing bad is happening to me. I get so wrapped up in my worries about the future, I forget to notice that, in fact
, it is a beautiful breezy day; birds are chirping; I have a husband I love and who loves me; I'm living in an exciting place and get to travel to other exciting places when I choose; despite the sniffles my body is healthy and happy; I'm going to eat three meals today... Instead I worry about things that probably won't happen next week. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" -- but when today isn't evil at all, I guess I feel I need to start working on tomorrow's evils instead.foobart
says it's a good thing I love travel enough that I do it even when I'm scared, and I think he's right. I have a lot of fears in my life, and I don't want my life to be limited by them. I'm getting better at trying out new things even when I'm scared (like roller coasters last summer), but there's nothing like international travel to propel me into situations that scare me silly. Thank God I love travelling enough to allow myself, for once, to be so propelled.