Saturday, February 23, 2013

Take me home, country Airlines

This may not come as a shock to anyone (and some of you have heard from me or through the familial grapevine by now anyway, I'm sure) but I am headed home. No, not to glory.To Florida, that place I so badly wanted to escape but that now has some sudden charms. I'll be leaving Hungary the morning of March 4th, and arriving in Orlando that night.

So how did I arrive at this decision? Well, when my mom left a few weeks ago, I had reached the point of deciding that if my emotional state backslid into depression again, I'd be outta here. I have suffered that cursed illness enough of my life. If staying here meant suffering way jose. A week ago this evening, I was at a school function (and was not feeling great emotionally, having to take anxiety pills) and I could tell I was coming down with something. I ended up having bronchitis and having to be off work all week. My emotional state continued to deteriorate and I realized that I had really digressed from where I was a few months ago when I was seeing my BFF pharmacist regularly and felt like myself. Its been so many weeks now since I have felt completely like myself. I don't really know who myself is anymore, but I'd really like to find her. So while the depressed part of my brain was screaming at me that quitting equals failure, the very small rational part of my brain knew that losing all sense of proportion about this endeavor probably meant it was time to be done.

So that's all, really. My health just isn't up for this. Now and in the next few days as I begin packing and cleaning my flat, telling my students I have to leave and saying goodbyes... I'll begin the arduous internal journey of trying to understand what all this meant. I have a lot of questions floating through my mind right now -- questions I've begun to process but that will take a lot of time to find the answers to. If I ever find them. Questions like why did God allow me to come when He knew it wouldn't work out. Could I have done anything differently to make it work out. What does it say about me that I couldn't stay. Certainly, I wonder what people will think about me leaving, both here and at home. But in a better state of mind I know that being at peace with this decision within myself is all that matters. At the risk of sounding cliche, those that mind don't matter and those that matter don't mind.

Ultimately though...I hope ...and I think I can...accept my own limitations, love myself in spite of them, be proud of myself for trying this, and forgive myself for the fact that it didn't work out.  I learned through my mom's having to come "rescue" me here that there is freedom in accepting your weaknesses rather than trying to prove that they don't exist. Yeah, I'm weak, and there are things I just can't hack. But here's a pat on my own back for trying. And a bigger one for knowing when to quit.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Being OK is for the Dogs. Really.

I am settling into a routine here in my new life in Tiszaújváros. This was my second week "going it on my own" since Mom and Aunt Mel's departure. I am ok. Just ok. Not in the depths of despair; not loving life. And ready to put my fist through the wall the next time someone tells me this is a great adventure.

I left Florida in pursuit of freedom. Freedom from unpleasant memories of being depressed that haunted me still in certain places (i.e. I remain a devout Gator fan, due in part to the fact that the years I spent at UCF were so hard that it has even been unpleasant at times to drive by the campus). Freedom from old relationship dynamics that I thought needed to change. I dreamed of leaving at least some of my problems and hangups by leaving town.  I wasn't naive enough to think I'd really leave ALL my problems behind, but sometimes a change of scenery can do good things for your mind, emotions...everything. 

This is not one of those times, as evidenced by the emotional trainwreck I experienced upon first arriving here. If there's anything I've learned in these 23 years, it's that healthy, energizing relationships are built on authenticity. So I have been upfront with many people about my emotional health history. But when I say "I was so depressed when I first arrived here that my mom had to come stay for a couple weeks," people don't get it. They just think I was homesick and having a hard time with the transition.  I should say, "No really, the thought of getting a knife out of the drawer did cross my mind." They. don't. get. it. And I am OVER being misunderstood. Now I have taken being misunderstood...abroad. Well yip yip.

I have spent so much time in the wasteland of emotional mediocrity, not really having the capacity to put both feet in and LOVE something. I love school, but at the time I was in it, I was so hung up on doing it perfectly and was stretched so thin (operating on about 20% of the emotional energy of a normal person) that I couldn't enjoy it the way I would now.  I am enjoying teaching. In fact, I will probably pursue teaching high or middle school English when I return to the states. But I'm not healthy enough to feel able to pour myself into it here. So many mornings I feel like a zombie doing a half-way job because I don't have the emotional or physical strength to really do a bang-up job of it. Oh, and I'm new at it and have no curriculum to follow soooooo.....

I've got a lot working against me. The stress of a new home, a new job, a new I came completely off the antidepressant I had previously been taking (one I spent 8 months taking and a year and a half getting off of) in order to start a new one when my mom arrived here. I took the new one for 5 days before deciding  no way, jose. It made me feel numb and cranky, and disturbed my sleep considerably. So I decided if this six month stint was going to happen, it would have to be sans medication. But still I am left with the withdrawal symptoms of the previous one, including but not limited to lack of physical energy, blood sugar level upheaval, and emotional indifference. I have supplements to help but...they don't fix it all. 

Overall, I'm tired of feeling like this is supposed to be great. It isn't. Yes, there are good things about being here. Certainly, I'm not the same person that left Orlando nearly six weeks ago. But people sometimes make going abroad sound magical. It isn't. I work. I eat. I sleep. And I still have problems. I was ready for magic, for pete's sake. *ahem* God? This is your cue pal....

Thursday, February 7, 2013

This whole...language dealio

I have SUCH a new appreciation for people who emigrate to a country where they don't speak the language, particularly if they are older and aren't forced to pick it up in school. Until you live in a place where you don't understand the language, I don't think you can appreciate how isolating it feels to truly be a foreigner. It's like there's an invisible wall around me that I'm constantly aware of. When I'm standing in line and paying at Tesco or just passing someone on the sidewalk, others don't always realize right off the bat that we can't talk to each other, but I am always aware, and that's hard. It's especially ironic considering that, proportionally, there are WAY more white people here than there are in Central Florida. So we all look like we should be able to communicate ;)

I really want to learn Hungarian (well, more of it at least) and I intend to try (currently, I can count to 10, say "I don't speak Hungarian", "Do you speak English?" and "I am an English teacher from Hungary" plus a few other random words and phrases). But with lesson plans and teaching, I have plenty to keep my mind stimulated, so in my down time, learning a language isn't what I ...jump to.

Difficulties aside, the language barrier has created some...interesting and humorous scenarios. Such as: sitting in the teacher's room at my school with all my coworkers speaking Hungarian and hearing them laugh at some joke I am clueless about. Standing up front at a school assembly and being introduced to the entire school and not understanding any of the introduction except "Abigail" and "Angol" (I had to ask the teacher I was standing next to, who speaks English, if the introduction was done...). Having someone try the door when I'm using the "water closet" and realizing that saying "just a minute" will mean nothing (well, except to convey that there is in fact someone inside). Telling my first graders to close their eyes, and having it take about 10 minutes to convey my meaning. Saying to my second graders "Say...such and such" and they repeat me word-for-word...including the "say." Attending a teacher's meeting and leaving the room without the foggiest notion of what was discussed (one of the bi-lingual teachers jokingly told me she was going to give me a quiz on the content of the meeting afterward). And last but not, in one of my second grade classes, I was trying to explain to the kids that we were going to play Pictionary (good game for practicing English theory). I wrote the word "dog" on a piece of paper and handed it to the first player. But he didn't seem to grasp the whole "draw don't write" aspect of Pictionary which makes it...Pictionary. Slowly, carefully, and with lovely penmanship he wrote "d-o-g" on the board.

Definitely thinking Pictionary can wait till the 3rd grade....

Monday, February 4, 2013

Here, there, or in the (really cold) air

Well, it has been quite some time since I posted here, for which I do apologize. I know that you, my vast audience, have been waiting with baited breath for the next installment in "Abby's Attempt at Living Abroad '13" (or as it would more appropriately have been titled when I first arrived....Down Abbey) Thank goodness, this is not Downton Abbey, with issues going from bad to worse. I have not been thrown in prison for a crime I didn't commit, maimed in a war, or had my fortune (that huge one I have) jeopardized.

My mom and Aunt Mel, dearest angels sent from across the pond, arrived two weeks ago tonight, and left yesterday morning. Truly, they were a God send, and I am doing so much better now than I initially was when I arrived here. Having them come really helped me stabilize emotionally, and they helped me with various odds and ends associated with moving that had me quite overwhelmed (i.e. cooking, getting supplies for my flat, etc). When one is so depressed that one is sans appetite and motivation to cook, one subsists on cheese sandwiches and muesli. One loses weight this way, but I wouldn't recommend it. Instead, I recommend having your mother and aunt travel thousands of miles to cook for you...

I continue to have ups and downs. Tomorrow may be harder than today. But over the last couple weeks, as I have come to a more rational place mentally and emotionally, I have found a great amount of freedom in realizing that if I decide that my health is not up for this, or simply that this situation just isn't right for me, that's ok. I can pack it all up tomorrow if I want to. Till just the last couple days, I had made a huge idol of this experience. I thought it would define my adulthood...fix anything that's wrong with me...make me the person I am to become. I exaggerate to make a point, but I had built this whole six-month ordeal up to be so much bigger than it needs to be. That pressure made my depression all the worse. But thankfully I know a God who doesn't require six month journeys abroad to make me into the person I'm supposed to be, and if it doesn't work out, it's still been a life-changing experience.

So for now, I will stay on here, until 1) the school year ends 2) my health declines again or 3) I turn into a popsicle ....whichever comes first.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

WWMSD: What would Martha Stewart do....

In an effort to keep this blog from being all about fun, lightness and frivolity (to quote Mr. Grant from the MTM show, "After all, life is more than just mirth and whoopy") I thought I would impart some of my adventures with the...nittier-grittier aspects of life here in northeastern Hungary. Namely, my appliances.

I need to name my washing machine. I am afraid of it. Maybe a name will bring down the intimidation factor. Like most of my appliances, my washer is considerably smaller than it's American counterpart. That part I don't mind; I can adjust to doing things on a smaller scale. I'm only one person, after all, and one doesn't exactly sweat bullets in this climate, so I can certainly learn to economize where it concerns laundry. No, the daunting part is the fact that this small machine a) drains into my bathtub, so if I manage to knock the drain hose awry, I will flood my bathroom with detergent and water and b) this small washer makes so much noise I am convinced Soviet tanks are tearing through the building in an attempt to recapture Hungary.

I have successfully done one load of laundry, and #2 is currently being uh..pulverized by this contraption.

Next is my range. Well this isn't Hungary's fault. I'm just not used to gas stoves. I've never lived in a home that had one. It took Mariann showing me how to use it twice in order for me to get it. I attempted to light it on my own between instructional sessions 1 and 2, but I saw no flame and smelled gas so I hastily opened the window and aborted the whole process. Turns out, I wasn't approaching the lighting process with enough  chutzbah (when it comes to things like lighters and gas, I've never been one to exhibit lots of chutzbah). I have successfully cooked a pan of chicken and a pot of rice (which was only minimally burned).

I haven't even touched the oven yet. The teacher who was here before me told me she burned a lot of stuff. 'Nuf said. Will tackle the oven on a day when I feel particularly ambitious. Or when my mom gets here. 

I already tripped a breaker by flipping a light switch. I guess something shorted out because the bulb burned out when I turned on the light, and all the appliances/lights in that part of the flat went out. A little initiative got me through this trial. I stood on a chair so I could gander at the breaker box (or whatever you call that thing) and flipped the switch that didn't look like the others. Boddaboom, boddabing, I had lights again (well except the one burned bulb). Bob Vila ain't got nothin' on me. 

Finally, I must give a shout-out to my bathroom faucet. And shower. Well they are one in the same. See, it goes like this -- when I shower, I turn on the faucet in the sink to the appropriate temperature. Then I pull this little nob, and the water switches from the sink faucet to the shower head. So basically, I have a faucet with a shower head attached to the back end of it. This is not a spatial challenge because the bathroom is so small that the sink is right next to the tub anyway. Really, it's quite a functional little system. Just. Different. 

This would seem to describe many aspects of life here: small, functional, and ...different.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Expectations: why DO they get you every time?

Well, this adventure is ...shockingly enough...not going as I expected. Truth be told, I didn't know what to expect regarding many aspects of it. But I know what I wanted out of it -- to prove something about my strength.
See, I've always felt that I was too "tied to the apron strings" (as it were), that I was too dependent on my family, that I needed to do something to prove to myself and ...the world I guess...that I'm a big girl, that maybe I'm not as limited as my emotional issues have always made me feel that I am. 

There are tears coursing down my face as I write this because, in the upheaval of trying to prove my strength, I have become so paralysingly (yes, new word) depressed that my mom (along with my aunt) is flying over here in two days to help me get stabilized on an antidepressant. I didn't broadcast it at the time, but I had a panic attack the night after I arrived in Budapest. I managed to get through orientation with anxiety meds, assuming I'd be better once I got settled and started with my job. And that's when the bottom started to fall out.

Strength indeed. 

I agonized over the decision to let Mom come. Do I just need to buck up and get through it? Is this just homesickness and a natural part of moving on to another phase of life? Am I taking the easy way out? The truth is, I feel such gut-wrenching emotional pain and darkness that I have almost no appetite, zero motivation for...anything...And I just can't do it anymore. Depression in American wasn't fun. Depression in a foreign country where the days are short and the sun shines rarely and there are no other Americans to be seen's just a whole new level of fun :)

I'm learning a lot though. About humility..and Hungarians. My contact teacher (the person from the school assigned to handle all my integration issues) is a wonderful woman named Marianne. She is Hungarian but speaks English well. Like many Hungarians/Eastern Europeans, she doesn't have the warmest exterior upon first acquaintance. But I'm finding out how warm her heart is. I feel utterly helpless and at her mercy as we have spent the last two days navigating the red tape of getting a residence permit and national health insurance card (if anyone was wondering how I am teaching in my current state of mind,I haven't been for the last two days because we've had to travel twice to the bigger nearby city of Miskolc to handle paperwork). Marianne also took me shopping today for some things my flat needed, and is constantly asking if there is anything else she can do. After the 6000th "thank you" from me (which came after she took me to the doctor) she finally told me to stop thanking her and to consider her my "spare mother." I don't think she quite "gets" depression, but she knows I am unwell and calls or texts me each evening to make sure I am ok and have eaten dinner. It really is quite humbling for me to be this dependent on a relative stranger. But I'm trying to let her help me because I know deep down that accepting  charity is as character-building as handing it out.

What was that about independence...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

4th grade fun

In total, I teach 16 classes each week: 2 classes per grade for grades 1-8 (btw, 1st grade here is a year later than it is in the US so my first graders are all 7ish). Plus I will have six other class sessions with smaller groups for tutoring, test prep, etc. but those don't start till next week. Anyway, each grade has a Hungarian teacher who teachers their English grammar (and at least some of their other subjects), and I am here for the conversational English lessons. This being my first week (and my first day being a Tuesday, as I was at orientation in Budapest till Monday) it has been a bit crazy, but basically for each class I have gone in and introduced myself and spent the majority of the 45 minute class period telling my students about myself and getting them to tell me about themselves. With the older grades who have had several years of English already, this is pretty easy.  With the younger grades who don't know much English yet, this can be considerably more challenging (however the little kids are so stinking cute that it all evens out). Today, one of the groups I had was the 4th graders. Based on my experience with 4th graders yesterday in which I overestimated how much English they knew, I was prepared today to spend time playing games rather than just doing introductions. Introductions just don't take up much time when all the kids can say is "My name is Betti. I am 10 years old." So "Mees Abeegail" was ready and waiting with "article of clothing bingo" once the topic of pets was pretty much exhausted (btw, in  future I will have real lesson plans, but since the point is to get them to talk in English, introductions can be very much a part of their English education). This group turned out to be my favorite yet for the following reasons:
As they were introducing themselves, one little girl came over to my desk and handed me a note from her mother. At first I was like "uh oh, I've only been here a day, and already parental trouble." But no, it was a lovely note in broken English from a woman named Eve, offering her services in any way as I settle in here. She said she has worked in the past with US Army wives, and she sounds like a pro at helping people integrate. Apparently, she's about to go out of town for a week, but I will definitely try to become BFFs with Eve when she returns! I was definitely touched by her kindness.
Next, one of the stinkin' cutest little girls I have ever seen named Lilla, with big blue eyes, came up to my desk with a bracelet ...or maybe anklet...that she braided out of that plastic weaving stuff that was all the rage for making neon-colored jewelry when I was her age. It is a lovely medley of green colors, and I was pleased to tell her that green is one of my favorite colors!
(the sign on the classroom door)
Since I had never received a gift or note in any of the other classes, I was kind of wondering what other tricks the 4th grade had up their sleeve, when Blanka introduced herself. Rather than simply say her name, age,and favorite color as the others had done, Blanka marched right up to the chalk board and informed me that "her Italian name is Gemma" and proceeded to draw me a diagram of the solar system and how she's named after a star which can be seen in the such-and-suchaborealis and well..I was so taken aback at being taught astronomy by a 4th grader that some of it went over my head. But I feel like I need to issue a warning: Watch out world, Blanka/Gemma is comin' and she knows who she is! After the emotional struggles of the last few days, the 4th grade was a much needed pick-me-up!