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September 3, 2019 6:42 PM   Subscribe

I’m feeling not present after life changes. How did you overcome?

Six months ago, I moved across country (New Jersey to California) to find better opportunities and to further a serious relationship. It was a struggle in the beginning but I managed to find a full time job that is definitely a step above what I’ve had before and is a lot close to what I want to do in my life. I’m also pursuing my art through freelance jobs which I’ve been successful enough to find around here. I’ve been in a serious relationship for two years I love and it’s been a blast getting to know her even more here (she was born and raised around here).

For the past month or two, I’ve been losing focus and concentration at work and my relationship all of a sudden. I’m starting to make a lot of minor mistakes at work and I’m becoming more quiet and stoic with my girlfriend. Just lost in thoughts. The move was a big change. I normally had routines and did things by myself that would calm me or help keep me focused but I’ve been struggling to do the same here. It’s been hard to face reality and realize that I’ve moved away from close family and friends. I still keep up with them through phone calls and FaceTime but I feel like I haven’t got used to that. I feel keeping up with family back home, finding ways to relax by myself and dealing with these new dynamics has tired me out emotionally. Only because I’ve never done it before. This is the first time I’m out on my own. Completely.

I feel lost in my head and not present most times. As if I’m just observing but not reacting to what’s been going on. I’m not unhappy, I just feel like I’m having a hard time growing up and the unfamiliarity is making me feel uncomfortable.

I’ve thought about meditation and doing more things on my own. But I’m curious to see if anyone’s ever gone through this. I barely know anyone who’s made a move this big so I have no one to really talk to about this.

Does this sound familiar to anyone at all? If so, how did you overcome? And how long was it before you felt at home somewhere.

Apologies for any grammar errors and misspellings. Thank you!
posted by morning_television to Human Relations (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry to hear that you're feeling disconnected. I've certainly had that happen from time to time after big life changes--moves across country, new jobs, big Life Events. Sometimes it was accompanied by a real blue period, other times, more like what you're describing-- a bit of disconnect.

If this is your first big move away from friends and family, that seems natural to me. If it's a matter of not having a routine, you can work to build a new one, which could help instead of waiting for a new routine to fall into place. It's probably cliche at this point, but joining a club or a group, or just deciding to have a regular hangout cafe or bookstore or park can be grounding. You mention trying meditation, and that does seem to work well for lots of people--it's certainly worth a shot.

You also mention that you're being more reserved with your girlfriend. You might want to talk with her about this some, to let her know what you're going through. Partially as an explanation for the change (I presume) n your behavior, and partly because she might be someone who can sympathize: Assuming you met her in your old haunts, she's had the experience of moving across country as well.
posted by pykrete jungle at 8:29 PM on September 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Welcome to California! I'm from Georgia, so I can totally identify with your situation, mostly. I too have become reserved and more quiet. I think that for me, the culture here isn't what I was expecting at all. I really do not mean to offend other Californians, but this is how I personally feel from what I have been exposed to. It does not mean everyone in California is like this nor that anyone else perceives it the way that I do.

I have made some friends, only to have been treated very badly. Relationships here are different than what I was raised with. Most are superficial and catty. It's a much more plastic society than where I come from. I caught someone actually referring to me as Mrs. Wolowitz by someone that I thought was a dear friend, one day. These are my neighbors! It was so hurtful that I no longer even want to go outside. He's even a police officer! Couple this with my parents passing away, one right after the other, and I am personally miserable here but cannot leave at this time.

I am from Georgia, but have lived in a number of states and am retired military. I am used to making new friends, even in the short term. I have lived in (in order) Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, back to Georgia, Alaska, back to Georgia, Alabama and now California. Never have I ever been treated, so badly, in a variety of different ways.

New Jersey is culturally different from any of the states I've lived in (I've been there though, myself) but I think that California just doesn't have a real sense of community. They call it that, but a sense of community on the East coast is very different than their definition out here.

I am sorry, but I do not have an answer. I just wanted you to know that transitions are not always good. I've moved so many times in my life without any problems before, but this one only gets worse. I think that sometimes, we just simply do not belong somewhere. Life is all about finding your happiness and by all means, give it time. However if you are very unhappy, maybe you can take your partner home for a visit. That may re-energize you a little bit.

Good luck!
posted by magnoliasouth at 10:56 PM on September 3, 2019

Yeah, something really similar happened to me the last time I made more than one big life change at once (moving across country to rejoin my husband after a year of LDR + buying first home + taking first grownup job in a new role + some of our best friends moved away, all in the span of a year). I spent several months being tired all the time and needing to go to sleep at, like, eight pm. I mostly just let my body do what it needed to do until it was better, and put a moratorium on more big life changes (no kids or pets for six months, I stipulated -- in point of fact we wound up waiting another year and a half). I would say that I knew it was better when I had mental energy to think about things other than work: when I started going to the library again, when I decided I was ready to apply for that grad program I'd had my eye on, etc. Time passed so very weirdly during that time in my life that it felt like aeons subjectively, but when I look back I realize that actually I was ready for new challenges again in under a year.

I agree with pykrete jungle that you should talk to your partner about this if you haven't -- you don't want her thinking that this is a referendum on her, and being able to talk about it may provide some relief for you, too.
posted by eirias at 4:27 AM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is classic culture shock timeline - the honeymoon period is over, but you haven't really settled in yet either. It's a well known low point among expats. You can definitely find resources of you google around for "culture shock" "culture shock timeline" and expat sources. I'd find a few things to do for at least a few months to at least get through the worst of it - therapy, journaling, a bucket list... Whatever works for you. Commonplace advice is to give it another 6-12 mo from here. (And yes, tell your partner - this is super common and it's not them, and they can support you!)

Magnoliasouth has a point too. Theres the "wherever you go there you are" theory (you can't escape yourself); but also it's foolish to say that everywhere (or everyone) is the same. Different places gel with different people. If you're still at loose ends (or legit miserable) in (X amount of time), then it's time to make other plans. It might be a simple change in neighbourhood... Or not. I vaguely remember some threads about "I moved, hated it, and moved again and it was different (better)" and "I moved and it was tough but now I love it".

I've so been where you are, in places I've liked and not liked. When I'm in this space these things helped:
The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
Transitions: Making sense of life changes by William Bridges
Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron.
Real Talk with Nicole Antoinette (podcast)

You might also try "This is where you belong" by Melody Warnick, and/or "Finding Home Abroad: a guided journal" by Rachel Yates and Tracy Carter.

Don't underestimate the largeness of what you've done - the US is *large*. My expat group is full of Europeans having a terrible time - within Europe, within a few hours of their families, and without a language barrier even...and talking about how they loved S Germany but the north is awful, or how is taken ten years to adjust to British humour etc. Just because they're states and not countries doesn't mean it's not a huge deal.

I had an easier time in Japan than Australia. From California and moving to S New Hampshire early next year (ymmv, but WOO HOOO for me!).

Also will note that reverse SAD is a thing (too much sunshine), and it is quite possible to get regular SAD on the foggy Coast (winter, June gloom).

Happy for you to MeMail me if you want to.
We'll be in CA in January of you want to get coffee and you're anywhere between LA and SF (including inland).
posted by jrobin276 at 4:40 AM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Okay last note promise!
Do you have any visits planned back to New Jersey?
Would anyone back home be interested in doing an art or letter writing thing with you? Remote book club? Watch things together (there's an app for this)? Awhile ago two friends (sisters?) had a blog and they'd each post a picture from their morning every day to keep in touch after one moved far away.
I also have a standing weekly Skype call with my dad and sister, which is great. It's on autopilot. It can be ten minutes or an hour, or something comes up, but having it on autopilot, and the reliability of it, has been really great.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:48 AM on September 4, 2019

The fact that you are aware of getting lost in thought etc is a very good sign that you already have the building blocks in place to find the peace you're looking for.

I have felt Lost after big moves several times. What helped me was realizing that: it was OK to feel discomfort, that it wouldn't last forever and that it is a part of growth & feeling wobbly after a big life change, even if a positive one, is natural.

It also helped to be creative in these ways:
--invest in my community, do small things to put energy into what was around me, (i.e. helping a neighbor),
-- find my vibe (shows/gatherings/interests), find 'my people' - started making lists of activities/ projects around them.
-- and to deliberately CULTIVATE presence through the day to carry me during those 'lost' times. This is the benefit of meditation.. or consciously bringing presence to 'mundane' activities (washing dishes, brushing teeth, chopping wood, carrying water)

a few notes:
-- your girlfriend is not your therapist. It's ok to relate etc, but prolonged, deeper challenges should be addressed with someone else (a friend/ therapist)
-- less reaction and more observing is a good thing! (putting space between stimulus and response)
-- Connection is essential etc. but question your reliance on 'other people' to find your peace.
posted by mrmarley at 9:17 AM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just piping in to say that I live in CA (SF specifically) and Magnoliasouth's comment breaks my heart. I have a community here of people who care so deeply about each other that it brings tears to my eyes, and I hope you both find that as well. If either of you are in SF, please DM me... It takes a while, but it can take a while anywhere (or, who knows, maybe it takes longer in CA than in other places - the right people aren't always easy to find).
posted by namesarehard at 10:45 AM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

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