Category Archives: past

Poland, part 2; or: the socially anxious traveler

This post is a continuation of Poland, part 1….

While studying in Poland, I traveled extensively throughout Europe not only to see other parts of the world, but also to get away from the other Americans. Again, I had high hopes when I returned to Poland after I fled back to the states–expectations that I couldn’t live up to. The second I got off the airplane I knew things wouldn’t be different. I wouldn’t connect with anyone or fit in or feel comfortable–and I didn’t. And so, I spent as much time away as I could.

I’d now like to document my travels, which I should have done a long time ago ..

BEFORE POLAND

New York City (January 7th-11th, 2006)

I had a blast in New York. In fact, I had such a good time, I ended up moving there a year later. We (my ex-girlfriend and I) stayed in a YMCA hostel near Times Square for a night, but after getting no sleep, because of the extremely loud steam heating system, we moved to a hotel (also near Times Square).

Unfortunately, most of the pictures taken either have me and/or my girlfriend in them. So I can’t post them.

On liberty island, looking toward Manhattan.

Watching a band at CBGB who described themselves as Radiohead meets Pink Floyd. They turned out to be nothing like that. It was still cool, and I’m glad I went because the club closed later that year.

London (January 12th-14th)

After New York, we flew to London. I don’t think I saw the sun once, which somewhat prepared me for the weather here in San Francisco.

Buckingham Palace

Dali Museum

Tube

Big Ben

Paris (January 15th-18th)

Paris was/is definitely one of my favorite cities. Again, I didn’t see the sun or sky, but the wonderful architecture made up for it. I also fell in love with crepes and nutella–and nutella on crepes.

Arc de Triomphe

Madrid (January 19th-23rd )

Next up was Madrid. I honestly didn’t care for the city (aside for the Prado Museum), but that could be because I was starting to get a bit burned out. I did get some sun, though. These pictures are of no significance ..

Rome (January 24th-27th)

I got sick the first day in Rome. I didn’t really enjoy the city. If I wasn’t sick and was Catholic I probably would have enjoyed it more. I’ll make a mental note of that in case I ever go back.

Vatican Museum

Ancient ruins

Colosseum

DURING MY TIME IN POLAND

Budapest (February 10th-12th)

So, as I said in my previous post, my first few weeks in Poland were hard–so hard, in fact, I had to go home. When I returned, a week later, all the Americans welcomed me back by feeding me shots of vodka. We all went out that night. I don’t remember much. In the morning I awoke to an angry girlfriend who said she was going to go to Budapest to visit her ex-boyfriend–who she dated when she lived in Hungary with her family on an exchange program–because I apparently did something stupid the night before. She wouldn’t say what exactly, and I was still a bit drunk so I didn’t care.

In retrospect, I don’t think I did anything–she was just looking for an excuse to see her ex-boyfriend.

Anyway, my girlfriend left, and I went back to sleep. I got up again a few hours later. Sober, I realized what had happened, and so I hightailed it to Budapest. I don’t remember much of the city because I honestly didn’t do much. I spent most of my time in a hotel, hungover.

Chain Bridge

Prague (March 9th-13th)

After Budapest I had a month of social hell–everything from attending classes to going on a pub crawl (and blacking out) to leaving my room to brush my teeth was very difficult. That said, Prague was an amazing city–one of my favorites, architecturally speaking. Oh, and we also got snowed in for a night.

Prague Castle

Red roof city

Drinking the pain away ..

Germany: Frankfurt and Heidelberg (March 24th-26th)

We flew on a discount airline (like $20 a ticket) from Warsaw to Frankfurt–a boring, ultra-modern city, I felt like I was in the financial district of NY–and then took a train to Heidelberg, a small college town in the south-west portion of the country. I enjoyed the city.

Skyscrapers in Frankfurt

Tree path in Frankfurt

Heidelberg–red roof city 2

Famous church in Heidelberg

Poznan, Poland (March 31st-April 2nd)

I don’t remember much of Poznan, aside for the excellent local beer from the bar at the hotel. I think we saw more of the bar than the actual city.

Old town square

Former Pope, John Paul II memorial (about 90% of
the population in Poland is Catholic)

Gdansk, Poland (April 7th-9th)

I also don’t remember much of Gdansk, namely because all the Americans went there together, as an organized group, and I had a terrible time. I think I’ve blocked most of it out. I remember three hour dinners each night, having to sit at a table with fifteen other people I didn’t connect with. I drank a lot.

Solidarity memorial

Bird flu

Hurghada, Egypt (April 15th to 22nd)

We spent spring break in Egypt. It was great–I got to forget all the horrible social interactions in Poland, and I even forgot I had to go back. We bought our tickets through a Polish travel agency and ended up staying at a Polish resort.

Red Sea

Trip to Giza / Cairo

Resort

Krakow, Poland (April 30th- May 5th)

Krakow. Another group trip. Another disaster.

Auschwitz

Jewish cemetary

Salt mine

Wawel Castle

Amsterdam (May 6th-10th)

Amsterdam was a nice break–got high, saw Radiohead.

Canals

More canals

Pot

Heineken Brewery

Thom Yorke

Brussels (May 12th to 14th)

I wasn’t planning on traveling that weekend, but I found out we had a group dinner, and so I picked the cheapest flight. I was very depressed in Brussels. There also wasn’t much to do. I spent most of my time in the hostel and only came out for a few meals of ice cream and waffles. I got so bored, I took a train back to Amsterdam and got really, really high.

Cool church

Arc de Triomphe

Random street

Manneken Pis

AFTER POLAND

Oslo, Norway (May 21st to 23rd, 28th to 29th)

Saying goodbye to everyone in Poland was difficult. Those who really made connections with people were crying. I just felt like an outsider, giving forced smiles and hugs. When I stepped on the plane, I felt an immediate release. I could escape again.

Norway was beautiful, but Oslo wasn’t so great–just another big city.

Harbor, round 1

Harbor, round 2

Vigeland Sculpture Park

Bergen, Norway (May 23rd to 28th)

Bergen, a city surrounded by beautiful fjords and seven mountains, was absolutely amazing. So beautiful, so wonderful. I wanted to learn the language and stay there forever.

Harbor

Mountains ..

.. fjords

Cool church

City

Alley

London (May 29th to 30th)

We had a layover in London before returning home. It was actually sunny, so I spent the day running around the city taking photos to make up for the gloomy photos from the first time around.

Big Ben

Big Ben, Westminster, London Eye

Colosseum

therapy, 9-28-10

Well, therapy this week continued right where we left off last Tuesday.

It was like I never left …

Last week I ended with- “Well, now I feel like I can’t bring anger into the room, which makes me angry.” And this week I began with- “I’m angry.”

I explained to Mr. J., my therapist, that I felt hurt because he didn’t listen to me last week. In our previous session, he made me angry because he changed the subject while I was in the middle of dealing with some difficult feelings, and he concluded that anger arose because the session was difficult for me–because I was trying to avoid something, in other words. I tried to explain that my anger was just anger but he didn’t listen.

He immediately apologized for not listening (which seemed sincere). I felt a lot better, and we moved on.

It’s interesting (and ironic, I guess) that I started going to therapy to get help with my relationships, and yet in the beginning of our session yesterday, we had to work on our relationship. A part of me thinks that was just a waste of time, but another part thinks that it’s great those feelings came up because my relationship with my therapist is a microcosm of how I view the world.

Once I become content with myself in therapy, and with our relationship, those feelings should extend to all my relationships.

***

Afterward, I told J. about my weekend (see the camping post, if interested), and we chose to look deeper at what’s behind my desire to keep my girlfriend away from my friends.

I’m very uncomfortable with my girlfriend connecting (or cathecting, as J. put it) with my friends, because in a past relationship my girlfriend “stole” one of my friends after we broke up–that is, for whatever reason, my friend stopped being friends with me (who I was friends with first) but kept hanging out with my ex. So I’m afraid this will happen again, and so my solution is to keep my girlfriend away from my friends, which is hard for me to do because she’s my “safe” person, so she ends up hanging out with most of my friends, and because she’s fun and outgoing and interesting (and I’m not) this makes me very uncomfortable (did I say that already?).

Why would so and so want to be friends with me when they can be friends with her–someone infinitely more interesting?

What’s more, I don’t have very many friends, and so I’m very protective of the ones I have, and I keep them at a distance because I’m afraid if they get too close, they’ll see the real me and then run the other way. Because of this I don’t have true relationships with them, and the relationships are very fragile.

“I don’t understand this behavior,” I told J. “I really want real friendships; I don’t like having to cling to my girlfriend all the time, but I just can’t seem to let my guard down. What can I do?”

“It’s simple,” he said. “Develop a relationship with yourself. Relationships come and go; the only constant is your relationship with yourself.”

If I can develop an inner relationships (sounds easy, right?) I will have stability in life no matter what comes my way, and the real me will open up. My friends will see this and will connect more with me.

Okay, sounds great. How do I do that?

“You’re doing it right now,” J. said. “We’re doing it together, you and I. I give you the space to be yourself–the real you, whatever that may be in the moment–in here, while you slowly open up to yourself. It’s a lifetime of work, but it’s necessary because you can’t have happiness and joy in your life if you don’t have affinity for yourself.”

“That’s too abstract,” I said. “It has no practical meaning for me now, in
the present. I don’t know what to do”

“You’re doing it.”

We sat in silence for some time.

“I know that you feel vulnerable and exposed in here,” he said breaking the silence, “but all I really see is a man trying to develop a relationship with himself. That’s all.”

“I feel like I’m twelve years old,” I said.

“You feel like you need someone to look up to and to take care of you?”

Yes. And I didn’t have anybody there–emotionally speaking–when I was twelve, but I do now–I have myself.

Poland, part 1

n 2005 I met a girl, fell into a relationship, and abandoned all my friends. I couldn’t handle maintaining the friendships because of my anxiety (and my issues with constancy), and besides, I had a girlfriend who took care of all my needs. Why would I need anybody else? My friends thought otherwise, and they kept calling me–wanting me to hang out, wondering where I’d disappeared to. I never answered their calls, but they just kept on calling. I felt guilt and shame and regret and remorse. I just wanted them all to go away. I needed a clean break–and one finally came. Poland.

After living together for only three months, my girlfriend and I decided to study abroad together. She’d lived in Hungary for a year with her family and really enjoyed many parts of Eastern Europe. I didn’t care where we went–I just wanted to get away. We … err she chose Poland, and we left in January of 2006. I told almost no one. Finally. I got the break I needed. I left everything behind, hoping I could start over.

In the weeks before moving, I pictured my girlfriend and I only spending time with each other when we were there. I knew there would be other Americans there, but I didn’t want to get to know them. My girlfriend had other ideas, though. She wanted to connect with others and make the most of her experience abroad. So in those first few days in Poland, my girlfriend hung out with others and made friends while I stayed hidden in my dorm room. I cried a lot. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to feel comfortable talking to others. I wanted so badly to be anybody but myself. My depression coupled with the terrible weather meant I barely left the dorms. I don’t remember much from those first few weeks, but I do remember taking a lovely stroll downtown braving the cold and the fog and the snow and the slush–

This hiding continued for about two weeks, ending when I decided to escape again by running home. At the time my mom was going through chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer, and so I told everybody I was extremely upset about her cancer–which was partially true–and I fled back home. Finally. I could relax again. But right when I got home, the depression hit again. I felt like a failure. I just wanted to go back. Things will be different, I told myself. I’ll be different. I booked my plane ticket back to Poland the very same day I landed home in Kansas City.

My time at home was hard. I slept late. I sat around watching TV and playing video games. I cried. My parents didn’t know how to help because they didn’t know what was wrong with me. My dad ignored me altogether, but my mom confronted me one day, asking me why I came home. I said I didn’t know. I wanted so badly to open up to her and tell her all the things bothering me. But I didn’t. I passed up another opportunity to connect with a family member.

On the plane ride back to Poland I promised myself I would be someone different. I would make connections. I would be popular. This of course didn’t happen. I spent the rest of my time in Poland miserable, hiding in my room, planning out how things would be different when I got back to America. Now I honestly don’t remember much from the remainder of my time there. I can tell you that it was hard. I can tell you I felt depressed. I can tell you I felt like dying. Beyond that, though, there’s only some flashes here and there. I’m not going to detail them … yet. I may come back to this someday and fill in what I remember or start a new post or something. But right now, I’m exhausted. I can’t think about this anymore.

I added another part–Poland, part 2; or: the socially anxious traveler

Poland, part 2; or: the socially anxious traveler

constancy

Maintaining friendships is very difficult for me. This is a very complicated issue and one that isn’t easy to talk about, but I’ll do my best to explain it.

It all comes down to trust. I don’t like who I am on the inside, and so I keep people at a distance because I’m afraid they’ll see who I really am and run the other way. By not letting people in though, trust does not develop. Trusting others is risky, and I think people need to put themselves out there in order to build trust. This includes opening yourself up to others by showing them who you really are, speaking your true feelings, and revealing secrets–all of which I don’t do. Without trust, relationships become disposable. There is no replacement for trust; yet, I’ve spent my whole life replacing trust with constancy.

Constancy is stability; it’s being faithful and loyal.  Constancy is part of trust, but it’s definitely not a replacement. In my case, constancy develops through repetition: the more I see somebody, the more I feel comfortable around him or her. It’s vital for my personal relationships. Without it, there is only anxiety.

So because constancy, rather than trust, is the glue holding my relationships together, my friendships never feel right. I always question them. I think the person doesn’t really like me. I think he or she is always talking negatively about me behind my back. I think he or she is always trying to find a way to get out of the friendship. I think he or she doesn’t even really like me. In reality, I am the one talking negatively about myself. I am the one trying to find a way out. I am the one who doesn’t like me.

The problems are with me, and yet instead of dealing with them, I project them onto others.

What’s more, I’m always searching for someone I can have a deeper relationship with. Everyone needs to have some deep friendships. We need someone to talk to about our feelings, someone to confide in and feel save with. I don’t get to have those things in my personal, platonic friendships so I seek out deeper, sexual relationships for my true friendships. Then once I do find that true friendship and start connecting, I abandon all of my disposable friends. I think it’s normal (to a certain degree) to desert friends when one enters into a relationship, especially at the beginning. In my case, it’s hard to view my life objectively at the start of an intimate relationship. I’m lost in euphoria, filled with happiness and excitement. When that phase is over though, people generally reconnect with friends, creating balance between their intimate relationship and platonic one’s. I however continue to cling to the sexual relationship.

So after I find a sexual partner and establish an intimate relationship I don’t reconnect with friends and so I just ignore them altogether until they eventually go away. There isn’t a malicious intent, and I’m not even really conscious of this behavior–it’s a coping technique because I lose the stability or constancy I once had in the platonic relationships.

Let’s look at this deeper. Why is it so difficult for me to reestablish relationships? It’s simple: because constancy is lost. That’s the one thing needed for my friendships to work. Some people can go weeks or months without seeing someone and still be “close”, and when they finally do see each other, “it’s like nothing changed.” They go right back to what they had before the separation. If I get separated from a friend for even a week (depending on the situation, of course), that relationship won’t be easy to pick back up. In a sense, I feel like I have to start over with that person.  Often times, it’s easier just to abandon it altogether.

Sexual relationships, on the other hand, are easy to maintain because I generally see my partner every single day. There’s constancy. Plus, I generally open up to my partner so there’s actually trust. But constancy is still more important. For example, if I’m dating someone and we see each other every day for a month and my partner decides one day not to see me, I’ll get very, very upset. I’ll feel depressed, lonely, uncertain. I’ll think my partner doesn’t really like me.

All this because of constancy.

***

The hardest relationships for me are the casual kind in which constancy haven’t been established. It’s the people I see semi-regularly but not regularly. The people who live in my building. Co-workers I’d see at work but not really know  (when I used to work). And those I have to say hello to at my girlfriend’s work. Even deeper relationships–like with parents or life-long friends–can become difficult and anxiety-provoking when I don’t engage with them for some time.

Again, part of the issue is that I’m just not comfortable with who I am on the inside. How can someone else accept me if I can’t even accept myself? I wonder what some of the other causes are? Maybe my parents didn’t give me enough attention? Or maybe I was afraid my dad wouldn’t come home from work–and maybe he didn’t for a while (like he went on a business trip or something)? With my hyper sensitive nature, issues that seem small or trivial to other people can have a profound, lasting effect on me.

Consequently, a number of events could have been the cause for me to have difficulty with relationships. I don’t think it’s that important to find causes from my childhood or adolescence. I do, however, believe it’s vital that I become more aware of this issue and learn to deal with it as it arises. Trying to maintain balance in my relationships is vital when I enter into an intimate relationship. I could also share this with my close friends–and maybe even talk with old friends about this so they have a better understanding as to why I suddenly started to ignore them. Finally, I need to work on becoming more accepting of myself so that I can build trust with people and let them in. By doing so, constancy becomes less of an issue.

***

I addressed this very issue in therapy a few weeks ago, and my therapist and I concluded that I lock myself into romantic relationships to protect myself. It’s a defense mechanism.

To summarize: It’s very difficult for me to maintain friendships because I don’t open up to people. I replace trust with constancy, which doesn’t really work. The friendships seem superficial and disposable–and in a way they are. When I’m not in a serious romantic relationship I strive to make friends, and I succeed. But there’s just something missing. I feel empty inside. That’s because I don’t allow people inside, to see the real me. Consequently, I settle into a relationship, somewhat open up, and allow that relationship to fulfill my interpersonal needs.

Fortunately, in my current relationship, I’ve recognized this past behavior and am trying to have more balance in my life. It’s been difficult.

“By giving yourself solely to the other person,” my therapist asked, referring to my past romantic partners, “is that your way of showing that you love and care for her?”

Of course not. I’m using them to protect myself from the world. Love is secondary. Up until my current relationship, I don’t think I’ve ever loved any of my romantic partners. There was an intense emotional feeling that I thought was love, but it was only there because I was being saved.