Monthly Archives: March 2011
I had a really great trip – work was not too stressful, I had a great chance to bond with some coworkers, and I got a much needed refill on girl-talk with my closest friends – but I’m so so so glad to be home. It was exhausting in every sense of the word.
I have mentioned here before how I am a pretty classic introvert; I need a lot of time to myself and social interactions exhaust me. Add to that the fact that I have a touch of social anxiety, so I tend to ruminate over social exchanges too much, worrying about giving the wrong impression. If I did or said something stupid, I can’t get over it; it plays in my mind over and over again.
This means that in social situations I exist in a seriously heightened state of vigilance over everything I say and do. I fear that being myself is just too boring, so I become a slightly manic, high-pitched, and over-expressive version. I speak faster than I would like to because I’m not sure what I’m saying is important enough to fill the air. I may look pretty calm on the outside but internally the machinery is working so damn hard that gears are flying off and smoke is spewing everywhere. I frequently end up with a massive headache that only extra-strength meds will calm.
It’s all completely exhausting.
The problem is I seem to have gotten it in my head that doing something stupid will make people like me less, when in reality it would probably make them like me more. I’ve heard the phrase “it’s nice to know you’re human!” more than once. It doesn’t really sink in though.
But in that magic way that only time and experience have, I’ve started to develop more confidence in myself. As in my true self – the one that feels most comfortable in small groups and tends to stay quiet otherwise. The one that always has a pretty academic take on things and just can’t help that, but will burst into a random dance or the most ridiculous joke in the right company. I’m starting to learn that my point of view is valid too.
This trip was the perfect storm of social interactions: seven consecutive days, lots of people with hardly any time in between, and some sleep deprivation thrown in. I squeezed in a bit of writing as an escape, however, even that doesn’t fully count as recharging for me. The thought of you out there reading my words is enough to trigger a little of my social anxiety and ratchet my brain into a heightened state.
(Note: Don’t worry though – that’s actually part of why I wanted to blog. I wanted to get more confident in letting my words fill this little page. It’s ok if someone doesn’t like what I say, or think everything that comes out of my mouth is sheer brilliance. Sometimes I will say something stupid and sometimes I will be boring as hell. We’re all guilty of it at times – because we’re human. I need this reminder A LOT.)
Knowing I wouldn’t have time to recharge, I made a highly conscious effort to not let my brain get into that manic state. I forced myself to speak in my normal voice at my normal speed. What I am saying matters enough for me to take the time to say it properly. People will listen. If they do not, it’s not because of me.
The social interactions were still tiring, but not nearly as much as usual. My brain still ratcheted up but not all the way to the point where the smoke starts hissing, and I felt so much better for it. I felt so much more in control. When I didn’t spend all my mental effort on myself, I had more time to process the conversation and really listen. I think I had more real conversations than I’ve had in a really long time.
Still, I took Monday off work so I could have a day to talk to absolutely no one. And it was glorious.
(Apologies in advance for the length of this post – but in order to truly do justice to the story it had to be told in full).
Usually my travel fumblings are just harmless entertainment to those around me, resulting only in a bit of sweat and frustration. However, on one trip they really screwed me; I ended up in the airport in Austin, Texas starving and with absolutely no money.
But first the back story (since it serves as my long-winded excuse): I was travelling to a conference in Mexico City. It was September of
2008 2007 (losing track of time) and not a particularly good time in my life. A few months earlier my mom, after living in Canada for 16 years, made the difficult decision to move back to Finland. Her one-way flight left the same day as mine to Mexico.
In summary, I was a bit of a mess.
I arrived in Mexico City without trouble, but after standing at the luggage carousel for about an hour and seeing everyone else on my flight pick up their bags and leave, I finally had to concede that something was wrong. And it was – my bag was still in Austin where my flight had connected.
I could feel myself starting to fall apart at the luggage counter, the tears pushing their way out. The airport seemed insane, they were scribbling my info onto a little scrap of paper – how would they ever get me my bag? The employee seemed confident enough and sent me off with a number to call if my bag didn’t arrive the next day. I left the airport feeling completely helpless.
Right outside, a man – presumable an airport employee – hailed me a cab and then held out his hand for a tip. I hastily dug into my pocket and handed over a couple of unfamiliar coins without really seeing what they were through my tear-blurred eyes. Apparently they were not adequate – he yelled at me as the cab drove off. The tears escaped and started to roll down my cheeks.
I checked into my hotel and then set out to scavenge some basics. I managed to find contact solution, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a cheese sandwich for dinner – literally a one-inch thick piece of cheese inside some bread. Vegetarianism is not a familiar concept in Mexico City.
My bag didn’t arrive the next day so I was forced to wander the streets again in search of supplies; the conference was starting that afternoon and I was wearing the grubbiest of pants and shoes that would not be helpful in advancing my career.
I found an H&M and bought some pants – they were wide-legged so would mostly cover my hideous shoes. I washed out my now disgustingly stinky socks and put them on the air conditioning unit to dry in some attempt to be presentable. It would have to do.
I couldn’t keep this up much longer though – my student budget could not afford to buy a new wardrobe.
Luckily I was reunited with my bag the next day. I did a pathetic little dance of joy and then hugged it for a long time. I’ve never been happier to see socks and underwear in my life.
Mexico City is an attack on the senses for anyone, let alone an emotionally distraught Canadian used to order and lots of space. This single city contains practically the entire population of Canada. I honestly tried to make the best of it but I still barely slept, ate poorly, and remained on the verge of tears at all times during my five-day stay.
To fully finish off my mental capacities, on the last night we had a conference dinner at this amazing old stone courtyard turned ballroom – and as it was Mexico, they brought around trays of tequila shots. Lots of trays with lots of shots. I was smart enough to take it easy – but it really doesn’t take a lot of tequila does it?
When I got to the airport the next morning, I had the brain power of a grapefruit. I had a several-hour layover in Austin, and immediately went in search of non-cheese based food. Unfortunately Texans also do not understand the concept of vegetarianism. After buying a magazine at a news-stand, I finally found myself a decent salad. With my mouth salivating at the checkout, I reached for my wallet – it wasn’t there. Cue panic.
Now while I do regularly forget my wallet/keys/cell phone at home, I actually rarely leave these things just lying around out in the world. My purse had been open with my wallet near the top, so it could have been stolen – in my weakened state, anything was possible.
I immediately traced my steps to the little news-stand where I last had my wallet. When I asked the clerks about it, they seemed baffled by the very idea of a “wallet” but eventually turned their heads around a couple of times to scan their immediate surroundings. I convinced them to check the back room as well, but I assume the glance was about as cursory as in the front.
No surprise, they didn’t find it. I don’t think they would have found their own feet to be honest.
Next, I hunted down the airport Lost and Found (which ironically was very hard to find), who were about as helpful as the news-stand and told me it might be turned in the next day. Thanks.
The only items of any value in my possession at this point were: a passport (thank god), a quarter of a Mars bar, and a barely functioning brain.
With that brain, I called John collect to get the number to cancel my Visa. Then I felt sorry for myself. I nibbled on my mushed Mars bar remnant, very aware that I had to ration it for at least the next eight hours. I scraped every bit of caramel off the wrapper.
Then my flight got delayed by three hours. Then another hour. I prayed that it wouldn’t get canceled, as many other flights were – if it did, I would have no choice but to sleep in the airport, starving. I thought I had felt helpless in Mexico without my things, but having no access to money felt far more vulnerable.
About 12 hours later I made it home.
At the airport John was there to pick me up, piece by piece, as I was finally allowed to fall apart.
The next day my mom called me from Finland to say my wallet had been found. Go ahead and read that again, I’ll wait.
Apparently it had been at the news-stand the whole time and eventually made it to the lost and found. The kindly ladies there had searched through my wallet and apparently the only thing they found with contact information was my mom’s business card. They called the company where she no longer worked who then called my mom in Finland who then called me in Vancouver.
They mailed me my wallet back.
I was happy not to travel for a while after that.
Due to having a family on the other side of the globe and a job on the other side of the country, I end up traveling a decent amount. I like to think I’ve got it figured out. When I strut through the airport in my long black coat, with my cute purse and my laptop slung over my shoulder, I almost believe it. I actually feel and look for all the world like a true seasoned traveler.
That is until I have to do anything other than walk directly forward with a known destination. As soon as I even break my gait it becomes painfully obvious that I’m not in fact a seasoned traveler – I’m a fumbly mess with no control over my possessions or my limbs.
Let me paint you a typical scene: as I approach the security line my too-full purse starts to slip off my shoulder, throwing off my tea-carrying arm and sending hot milky tea splashing all over my pretty black coat. Suddenly I can’t find the ID I just slipped into my bag for easy access so I have to excuse myself from the line to unload everything off of my arms and dig through my bag in earnest. When I finally find it, I have to hastily gather up my assortment of belongings – my cute purse now bulging in an awkward shape and stabbing my back – and sheepishly get back in line. A businessman, looking very calm and slightly amused, lets me in with a wave of his arm (noticeable unburdened with crap).
Now repeat in various forms throughout the airport experience, with pieces of my belongings falling off or falling apart in turn. I always end up covered in sweat and hoping no one gropes me at security (which they did).
This trip has a new challenge – I didn’t check in a bag. Impressive, I know. It wasn’t easy – this plan has been in the works for months now, requiring specialized equipment, detailed spreadsheets, and outside consultants. At times it seemed so hopeless I nearly gave up, but lured by images of perfectly efficient travel I pressed onward.
Clothing was picked with the precision of a NASA mission. Every square inch counted. What makes this trip extra tricky is that I’ll be spending half of it in an office, and the other half visiting friends. If a piece of clothing wasn’t versatile enough to be worn for both, it didn’t come with me. (A tube-top is work appropriate right? With trousers of course.)
The liquids restrictions are the hardest. I feel like they are a special attack on women and contact lens wearers. Luckily a couple of months ago I found a tiny plane-sized version of my contact lens solution and immediately purchased it in anticipation of the mission. It cost practically the same as a full sized bottle, but I knew there would be sacrifices along the way. I was prepared for this.
The next challenge was hair products, which in the end had to be eliminated from the equation all together – I just bought a cheap bottle of mousse on arrival.
Luckily, most of the other supplies I need to maintain myself are already in tiny, security-friendly containers (I’m sure this is what the cosmetics company was thinking when they put my lotion into a 23.5 ml container, because I can’t think of any other logical reason. They are so thoughtful!).
Now here I am, with my purse and my ‘little’ carry-on suitcase hopefully containing everything I need for the next seven days.
I won’t lie, walking off the plane and heading directly to the outside world – right past all the suckers waiting at the luggage carousel – was one of the best moments of my life. But I’ve since had to face the hard reality that it may not have been completely worth it.
Turns out it’s actually kind of handy to have the airline carry your crap for you.
In exchange for those twenty or so minutes I saved, I nearly killed a small child and took out several other people trying to hoist a bag that weighed about a quarter of my weight into an overhead bin that is literally over my head! Normally this might be ok (like I said, sacrifices had to be made), but what really pushed it over the edge was re-tweaking my persistent shoulder injury yet again.
And for what? I’m never rushing off to anything pressing straight from the airport – just to my hotel room, where I spent the evening lounging around in my pajamas, checking out the cute little bottles of shampoo, and attempting to arrange the twenty or so pillows on my bed into the most comfortable arrangement for watching a mini-marathon of Till Debt Do Us Part.*
Yes, keeping track of my possessions at the airport is already a significant challenge for me (more on that tomorrow… or maybe the next day), so I’ve now learned it’s best to offload the responsibility as much as possible.
*This might be a strictly Canadian show so I’ll explain – it’s where they have a personal finance expert help couples who are absolutely terrible with money get their act together. Like they eat out so much they don’t even own plates kind of terrible! I mainly love it for the first 10 minutes where the host picks apart their spending habits. Guaranteed to make me feel very good about myself.