The sun’s strength wanes as it dips beyond the horizon, but in its last hour, it is magical.
A warm orange glow floods the earth. The last traces of the light of day glisten on the water’s surface, the reflections forming an illuminative path from the edge of the sun to our feet, now dangling freely over the stern of the boat. We stretch our toes forward for the cool touch of the Mediterranean sea, hoping to catch the tips of the waves that now trail behind us as we make our way back to the Grand Harbour.
Barely into the first semester of our studies here in Malta, I had my first experience sailing its picturesque waters. Now, at sea eight months later in celebration of the end of our grad school courses, I find myself in the same state of utter bliss. Same loss for words. Same feeling of absolute serenity and calm. The kind of moment that slows down time, leaving me inhaling deeply, then exhaling to the thoughts of, “This is amazing.”
With my time here coming to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot. About what I’ve seen, what I’ve learned. About the thoughts, fears, and anticipation I had before even coming.
I had high expectations. Mainly of myself.
I expected to come and leave as this brand new person, all figured out. All the ways I was insecure: poof, gone. All the problems I had that I knew I needed to work on: poof, solved. As if 10 months abroad was all I needed to grow up, to find myself (what the hell does that even mean anyway?). Yeah, I blame the movies.
When I first arrived, in awe, wide-eyed to this gorgeous island and the new adventure that lay ahead of me, I felt, as cliché and cheesy as this may sound, like a bird that had just learned to fly. The rush, the sheer happiness, the freedom of it all.
So when I found myself in a place of deeper insecurities and with seemingly more flaws to tack on to the preexisting, I was wondering how somewhere along the line, this once-progressive ascension had taken an unexpected nose-dive.
I was becoming more defensive. I hit serious lows in the area of self-image. And my biggest downfall that is at the root of all else: I was finding myself beginning to worry a lot again, think too much. I was frustrated. Why am I moving backwards?
In December, my sisters came to visit, and in May, my boyfriend. I was excited for them to come, and hopefully, see all the ways that I’d felt myself growing and becoming more independent. So I was dismayed and confused when they agreed on a more negative attribute I’d picked up: I was taking everything they’d say to me as a personal attack, I was constantly on guard.
I guess I had just been so aware of my capabilities of truly living independently and not in reliance of others, that if anyone questioned me in those areas I would be overly offended. At home, it was always the joke that I had the worst sense of direction, that I always got lost, and that I always needed the help of others. I was always playfully teased as the “dumb one.”
Never had I known how much it really bugged me until later in life. So when I had visitors from back home in the States come to see me here in Malta, I reacted in combination of resentment towards that old label, plus eagerness to showcase this new level of maturity I’d felt I’d reached. Any slightly condescending remark (usually skewed in my own mind), or a comment slightly similar to the whole, “Ohhh Ev, what are we going to do with you” thing, pissed me off.
Perhaps the area that I found myself struggling back and forth with the most since I’ve been here has been my self-image. I was suddenly reverting back to my high school mentality of wishing that I was the type of girl that I’m not, and I started feeling inadequate, inferior. Because there are things about my body that are the way they are and not in my control, I became obsessed with doing everything I could to change the things I could control.
So I became obsessed. I was working out constantly and jumped all too quickly into an extremely restrictive diet. I was consumed by it, and the way I looked (more like how I didn’t look). That “routine” obviously didn’t last long.
I’d crossed over that fine line. I was obsessed with working out and sticking to my strict diet, but not for the endorphins, or the long-term health benefits, or for my overall well-being. It was all in emotional frustration, striving to achieve this image I had in my head for myself that I could never realistically attain. I didn’t like the way I looked. I was angry that I’d never get there. I was bitter that there was nothing I could do about it.
The other day my classmates and I spent a beach day together in celebration of completing the last course of our grad school studies. It was an amazing day of laying out, swimming, and the most enjoyable part to me: beach volleyball. It wasn’t anything serious, but me being as competitive as I am, even though it was for fun, I wanted to win. And I wanted to be good. On this day in particular I found it extremely challenging to even serve the ball over the net, let alone within the boundaries of the court. I found myself getting increasingly frustrated. My classmate turned to me and told me to just calm down, stop thinking so much, and just have fun.
And suddenly this piece of advice I received at a fun game of beach volleyball brought me back to club soccer, high school basketball, and every other sport I’ve ever played growing up. Thinking too much was always my downfall: missed shot or free throw, bad pitch, long jump scratch, etc. But then the second I stopped over-thinking, I was a different player. It would just come natural. It was the number one critique my dad would give me in post-game talks. This all (far too metaphorically) relates back to every aspect of my life. I’ve always been my own worst enemy.
And one person that has come to find the truth in this more than anyone else is Leslie, my classmate/neighbor turned one of my closest friends. From overanalyzing what people say or think of me, to freaking out if I missed out on a work out or ate a giant pasta entree, Les would be the first to tell me to chill. out. “You’re so in your own head,” she’d say. And she’s right.
Throughout the time we’ve been here, we’ve had a lot of heart to hearts. Between going on walks, laying out at Exiles, swimming at the Pointe, walking to or from class, long bus rides, and everything in between. These talks are always what I needed to bring me back to reality and out of my seemingly incessant state of worry.
She’s seen me go through my stages. She’s seen me at my lows, and she’s also seen me in my absolute highs. And when I’m at those lows she reminds me of those highs.
Rewind to that day. That first day that I went sailing for the first time with my friends.
What happened to that girl? The one that had no cares in the world, the one that just soaked up every moment of the day, basked in the simple joys of everyday life?
…And there I go thinking too much again. Damn it. See how this whole thing is just one big vicious circle for me?
Alright, so here’s the part where take a step back, reflect, and get real.
I can be proud of my new sense of independence, but it doesn’t need to be for anyone else but me. If someone doesn’t agree, screw them. I know what I’ve been through, and I know where I stand, and I am only inferior if I give others permission to make me feel that way (yeah, that’s from an Eleanor Roosevelt quote). I don’t need to prove it to anyone else. And I don’t need to feel threatened if I think that someone else doesn’t see it. Especially when that’s usually not even the case to begin with. People actually do believe in me, whether I realize it or not, but how am I supposed to see it if I don’t even believe in me?
As far as my insecurities and self-image go, these are the kind of things that take time. Everyone struggles with it. It never goes away completely. I’ve come to find that victory isn’t in the day that I no longer have any insecurities, but in the day that I can more quickly debunk these negative thoughts.
I find myself comparing myself to others all the time. I find myself feeling guilty way too often, over what or how much I eat, or over not working out.
But then again, I have definitely found myself feeling incredibly inspired in positive ways to work out and eat better (especially as of late).
I really enjoy working out. I love that rewarding feeling after a hard, sweaty workout. And I push myself harder and harder each time — one more jump knee tuck, one more pushup, five more minutes — out of drive, out of my competitive nature. I strive to be better each time I go at it. I’ve always been a highly motivated person if I decide what I want.
This is a positive thing. But obviously the comparing/guilt is a negative thing. So my competitive drive takes me to striving to be stronger, more flexible, etc. But is that always what I’m striving for? Not that it’s wrong that part of the reason that I do it is for physique-related aspirations, as it usually is for most people, but sometimes I let it become an obsession and consuming thought. NOT ok.
So basically what I’ve come to find — it’s all about balance. And I’m not going to be in a state of equilibrium all the time, it’s not possible. I will have my good days. And Lord knows, I will have my bad days. But those bad days don’t mean that I’m not making any progress. Those bad days just mean that my next good day will be even better.
Being away in Malta was not the solution to my problems, and I shouldn’t have expected it to be. But it has put me in a position to grow in a completely different way, by way of completely different experiences and perspectives. I was put (far) outside my comfort zone. It’s allowed me to thrive, and has revealed to me more things, good and bad, that I never knew about myself.
There’s no doubt that this experience has been amazing for me, and something that I truly needed for my own personal growth. But by no means has this growth been a straight shot up (as I had envisioned it would be). It has been a slow ascension with dips, turns, and plenty of turbulence along the way. But the growth is there. Or at least the gaining of attributes and awareness that will only lead me closer to it.
I definitely am not the same person I was when I arrived. But then again, I am not the same person I was yesterday, either. And when this experience is done, I will still be a work in progress. I hope to always be.
“You can never step into the same river; for new waters are always flowing on to you.” –Heraclitus