How do I move on?
June 18, 2012 8:33 PM   Subscribe

Please help me move on.

I'm not quite sure how to put down my feelings on this, so I apologize ahead of time for the wall of text.

I moved to the US when I was 15, from Mexico. I moved between the end of secondary school (equivalent of junior high) and the beginning of high school here in 2005. When I was in Mexico, I was a bit of a child prodigy and very popular among my classmates. Over there, when you start secondary school, you are sorted into a technical "group", such as electricity, carpentry or industrial drawing, and then you stay with the entire group you are paired with for the entire three years, every class, every day. I grew very attached to my friends there as well as to the rest of the people. I was very happy with my life there. When my parents told us we would be moving I wasn't devastated or anything like that--I was actually kind of happy to start anew somewhere else. Excited, even. I didn't really know any English, but I still thought I'd be ok. And my life since has been pretty much great, with most of the toughness happening near the beginning of the move when I was learning to write and speak English. I made a few friends, dated a little (much less than in Mexico), graduated high school, started college and two years ago I married my husband, whom I love very much. I have an excellent job that pays me more right now than what I would earn out of college with my degree. We have our own little apartment and finances are great. So far so good, right?

But...I can't stop thinking about being in Mexico, specifically those three years in secondary school. It's been almost seven years, and not a day goes by without me thinking fondly about those years. I don't have many friends, and the few friends that I do have, I feel like I'm just a distant friend to them. I have trouble interacting with people socially--I saw a thread in here a few days ago mentioning the feeling of being with people as having one's arm in icy water, and I feel that describes what it's like for me now. I was never like this in Mexico; over there I was in speaking terms with almost everyone in my big school and casual friends with everyone in my grade. At first I thought there might be something wrong with me, but people seem to like me well enough and I've asked both friends and strangers I chitchat with if there's anything that they feel I'm doing "wrong". Nothing. I suppose perhaps friendships aren't the type of almost sibling-like love that people have over there...I don't know, but I miss it.
I've visited home once since I left, this past new year's. I (wisely, in retrospect) decided to go alone, and I found that it's not really the place itself I miss. I got together with some of my old friends, and while we had a good time, it felt off. Like they were interacting with someone they thought of as dead. I felt like they really didn't know how to handle me. I got a lot of "you STILL know me so well!" comments from them, so I'm guessing I still know them well, but they have moved on, and rightly so.
I've tried to talk about this with my husband, but he doesn't really understand. He barely remembers junior high, and it doesn't rank as any important period in his life. People in general don't seem to understand; they tend to suggest that I go home and visit, or that I find ways to contact my friends, or say "well, we all miss our childhood!". I have done those things, and while they do help somewhat (for example, when I visited my old school I realized the place itself didn't make me feel anything, and I've since stopped thinking of it as much as I used to), they don't really help me move on. They actually make me realize just how much I feel I have lost.

I'm realizing more and more that as I get older I'm starting to forget people and things. I've forgotten a few faces, names and voices. I was looking through one of our class shared notebooks and noticed a few memories we had recorded in there and I remember very few or none of them. This terrifies, horrifies me. The thought of it makes me want to cry. Soon, I will have been here longer than I was in Mexico, and this also terrifies me. I'm realizing I think of those three years as the absolute best years of my life, and I'm only 22! Lately I've been having lots of suicidal thoughts where my reasoning is that I've already lived the best years of my life, and what else do I have left? I have so much left to give, I think, but so far seven years have proven me wrong. I've never been at peace with myself as much as I was during that time. I think that's wrong, but I can't help it. How do I even begin to move on from this?
posted by cobain_angel to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
:massive hugs:

Therapy is a good start. So, honestly, is journaling about both your past life and your present.
posted by spunweb at 8:44 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: With no studies I can point to to "show" this, I think deepest lifetime friendships are generally made at the ages of 14-18. Yours were disrupted early in that time. It's not a Mexico/US thing, any move away would cause the same situation. Your old friends seem to have moved on from you, because they mostly stayed together during that whole time. You just don't have the same amount and same kind of shared memories of growing up that they have. And, you moved on, but without close friendships in your later part of that age range.

Staying together all though those ages helps those in the group reinforce the memories that are good to remember, but everyone forgets lots of things from that time - which is almost always a good thing.

So, I don't know a good answer here, but I think your feelings are entirely normal.

With Facebook and Skype and such, you might be able to reclaim some of those old friends, but it will be at a distance. Otherwise, you just have to make new friends. That has been covered here a lot and I hope someone has a good list of links to the best comments (I don't, and I will read them too). Best wishes.
posted by caclwmr4 at 9:04 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hi. First, I would suggest speaking about this with a therapist, as a start. But I would also try to find one who is well versed in intercultural, cultural, and environmental issues. You are living your adult life in a country that is not your home country. A lot of your identity is grounded in your childhood (like, um, everyone's), but you are not living in the same cultural context that forged a lot of the basis of who you are. So much of what you're saying, which sounds genuinely upsetting, sounds so reasonable and logical. You are living through an adjustment that lots of people have never experienced (lots do, too). That adjustment can be hard, and it's not a simple matter of just "forgetting the past and trying to naturalize" the cultural identity of your new home country - that idea is hugely problematic and often offensive. My mother is an immigrant and I grew up in an expat context; there is so much here I recognize, and so much more I know I cannot possibly understand.

You are feeling depressed, so it would be worth seeing a therapist. Also consider asking him/her for the hookup on intercultural, im/emigrant, and third-culture support and social groups. Talking about this with people from a similar background might help you realize that what you are feeling is a real thing, an expected (though sometimes difficult) process, and that you are not alone.
posted by vivid postcard at 9:16 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I also switched countries as a teenager and had many of the same issues. One thing that always helps is to reconnect with your culture. Either by going home to visit on a regular basis or by making local friends with people from your country of origin, ideally both I guess. I was also 15 years old when I moved and, much as I like where I live, there are just HUGE differences between the way I see the world and the way people here do. Some things are obvious cultural differences: the most liberal people here are not very liberal imho, it's a slower pace of life at home in some ways and faster in others, people prioritize family and work differently. The more subtle thing is the way people relate, I found making friends different because I simply had different ways of being a friend and different expectations. For me it's mainly been an issue with romantic relationships, I have completely different expectations for love and marriage than people where I live and that can be hard to reconcile (men here want to live in your pocket! And formal dating still weirds me out). At least you have that sorted! But if you can try to reach out to other people, especially women, your age from your home country you may find that you can connect with them on a level you can't with people you meet in every day life. And you can talk to them and get some advice or even just observe how they deal with it.
posted by fshgrl at 9:38 PM on June 18, 2012

It sounds like what you miss is a community of belonging that you were very fortunate to have at that tender age. Many people have this experience earlier or later than you are describing and many, many simply never have it at all. For some, the longing for what is lost seems to be about a childhood home or a neighborhood or even an idyllic period in high school or college where they enjoyed a kind of success and acceptance.

It is a deep part of our humanity to long for a place, a group where we belong. And it is very common to grieve when we have lost that time, whenever it was, that our world was complete and we experienced happiness. It's sad to know it is gone. At nineteen, I thought I had lost everything, no one was there for me anymore. I was lucky that I didn't keep thinking that way and I later looked back and knew I would never have to face those thoughts of suicide in quite the same way again. I had made my choice to live.

Do go to a therapist who can help you understand and resolve your feelings because you do sound depressed, or nearly so. And know that the work of assembling or discovering a community where you fit is important work in adulthood. Many never face this void because they are busily and successfully moving from college to burgeoning career until they have a 'midlife crisis.' You are wise to face this existential dilemma now and set out with therapeutic tools to create a life that brings you nearer to an intentional community, whether you find it or create it.

We can't go back to that Eden of our youth but knowing what we value can be a very great strength in setting out to find it for our future.

What you are missing is what we all crave. With help and a little bit of good luck, we can build the life we truly want. . Some people say that giving hospitality to others, creating a warm atmosphere and good food, etc., helps them feel that warmth and hospitality for themselves. They care for themselves as they care for others. Maybe when you've found a therapist and begun to feel better, you can explore some strategies of the sort that help you find community.

I wish you all the best. I wish you much love and the joy of finding yourself among warm and happy people whom you choose to bring into your life and the love of your very own chosen community that stays with you from now on.
posted by Anitanola at 9:58 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

I actually had a very adolescence to you, except even a bit more intense. There were only about 100 people in my year at school, and everyone met in kindergarten. So, imagine - seeing the same 100 people every day, all day from the age of 5 to the age of 18. It is hard to really duplicate that experience. Being SO enmeshed with all the people around you and knowing them all SO well. I once had a teacher who I had never spoken to and only even seen a few times before (she only taught the grades above me) come up and scold me for the behavior of my even younger sister at a football game the prior week. Even your most distant acquaintance in that scenario who you aren't friends with - you have still seen them wet their pants as a child, get spanked by their mom, smoke their first cigarette, have their first breakup. You know what academic subjects they're good and bad at. You know what they're like drunk. You know the ways their siblings look or act like them. You've met their parents many times over.

For me, I don't know 99% of the friends I've made in adulthood that well. And with acquaintances like workmates and neighbors, forget it, sometimes you're lucky if you even know their last names.

So I totally feel the same way as you do at times. When you grow up in such an connected social environment, and you like most of the people in it, anything less can feel really lonely, isolated, and disconnected.

So, I have found for myself, my preference isn't to make isolated friends here and there. I mean, it's good to be open to that too and it's kind of unavoidable. But for me the best way is to form groups of friends who all know each other and spend a lot of time participating in each others lives. Or, to join established groups of friends who already all know each other and go back a long time. There are lots of ways to do this. I think the first thing is to settle in a place where you'll be around for a while, and most of the people you meet will be around for a while too. And then, I think the most reliable way to form communities with people is shared activities and meetings. For some people this is church. For other people it could be their Burning Man camp. For me it's usually sports. There is a sport I play, and where I live, there are lots of pickup games and you can just go join one. When I first when to join a game, I saw dozens of people down there playing, and it seemed like none of the different groups knew each other and most people were strangers. I've now been playing there for a year and have learned the connections between people, and come to realize pretty much EVERYONE who goes down there to play knows each other or is connected within 1 or 2 degrees at most. That's because most people have been playing there in that same spot for a few years, or 5 years, or 20 years. So, for you, I recommend really trying to find an intertwined community like that, and see if it doesn't help.
posted by cairdeas at 10:54 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

That is a huge transition and I'm n-thing therapy, because I'm guessing there are a lot of unresolved/unexplored feelings about the transition, what you left behind, and, even though you by your own account have a good life, the challenges you faced at the time. Also, have you been back to Mexico often? If not, some visits are in order. I think we tend to romanticize the "other," whatever it is (other partner, other job, other place, etc), and absence only emphasizes the positives and minimizes the negatives. There is also a possibility you're simply not at home where you are.

Many people say home is the people you love, and in many ways, I believe that is true, but every place has an identity and a feel. For example, I grew up & love Boston (where most of my family & friends are), but Los Angeles feels like home to me. I usually explain it as Boston is like that old high school t-shirt that you love & can still wear and will never part with but doesn't fit quite right, but you don't realize it until you put on a new t-shirt that fits and you're like, "oh, this is how it's supposed to be." I'm not saying you should move back to Mexico (if that's even feasible), but maybe you need a different community either very locally (a different neighborhood) or a big change (a different state/country). What you're describing is a lack of community and fit, and that is solvable, if your husband is willing to make some changes. I feel the need to caution, in the words of my favorite therapist, "moving is not a solution." Any issues you have will follow you wherever, but geography, connection, and community still matters. Maybe a different neighborhood is what you need, wherever it is. It won't be the exact same experience as your youth, but it will have echoes of that experience and may reinforce important things you feel about yourself and value about life. Hope some of that helps & best of luck!
posted by katemcd at 11:05 PM on June 18, 2012

Also: I recovered some of that intensity of feeling and friendship when I began making friends as an adult through my creative hobbies, instead of just letting friendships happen. I think it was in part because being around creative/fulfilled people unblocked those emotions within me, and helped me experience really close, emotionally satisfying friendships with them. Do you have a creative outlet in your new space?
posted by spunweb at 2:13 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

The other day one of my friends posted something about how sometimes missing a person is not actually missing the person as much as it is missing the way you felt when you were with them. Your question made me think about that.

I read that you left an above average life (good social network, academic excellence) for an acceptable but not exceptional life (financially stable, etc.).

Yeah, therapy. Yeah, friend making strategies. But maybe you also need to get a little radical, learn by trial and error what would make 22 year old you feel like you are really living. For me it's travel and a job providing 40 hrs per week of social interaction, even though by most measures I am way less conventionally successful than I was at twenty four. Chase the feeling, not the past experience.
posted by skermunkil at 5:53 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Well, get to a good, probably multi-cultural therapist (like vivid said) ASAP. Even thinking about suicide is a red flag... not a full blown emergency but something that can become one. Your life is far from over, and far, far, far from having used up the best days!

I think a large part of this is culture shock. Boise, Idaho, is about as far away from Mexico social-culture-relationship wise as I can think of. I may be Americanizing here, but I believe Mexicans are more into the 'everybody is family, and if you're family, you are welcome'. American in general and farming communities in specific are more... 'we let you in grudgingly, and it takes hard work' Completely different styles of making and probably reacting to friends.

I'm not sure what Boise has to offer, but expose yourself to as many of the open minded, friendly people as you can. Life in farming communities often revolves around sports and church. If there is a college nearby, hang out there! Many/most college groups don't require you to go to said college. Look around, in all the nooks and crannies, and see what you can find. Moving is drastic and won't fix your personal issues, but might go a long way towards fixing some of the societal ones.

Your past makes you who you are today, but it does not control what you do tomorrow (unless you let it). Decide what you need to make yourself happy. Chase it.
posted by Jacen at 5:59 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much for all your answers so far. I'm grateful to hear from those of you that have gone through this! I don't really want to move back to Tijuana, even though I love love love being there. First because it would be troublesome for my husband (he's white, and I know expats there that have been harassed...although it's been a while so I don't know), and second because like so many of you have said, I know moving would be a temporary solution to that problem.
posted by cobain_angel at 6:38 AM on June 19, 2012

First of all, realize that you can't step into the same stream twice. Of course things are different now, than when you were a child.

I've moved a lot over my lifetime, and I've remained close with many of my friends all over the country. It's nice that I can call and re-connect with everyone, but at the same time I'm melancholy over the fact that the fun I had with my friends is in the past.

I miss the carefree days of high school, when all I had to do was go to class, and hang out with my friends.

I miss the days I spent early in my career, working for a maverick company, going out after work with my co-workers in an exciting city and feeling metropolitain and worldly beyond my years.

I miss the days that I spent in Florida. Going out with my friends to restaurants on the Intracoastal, watching the sun set over the water, living in my little condo, and kissing all those boys.

At each juncture of our lives, we're living in the best possible world. As we get older we get more responsibility and more nostalgic for our past.

We are so blessed to have these memories, and we are so blessed to still be here, with people we love making new, wonderful memories.

So for sure, get some counseling, I think you might be helped. But also realize that what you do now will be tomorrows wondeful memory.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:42 AM on June 19, 2012

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