My first therapy session was in 2018. Since then, I have gone through three therapists to get to the one I have now, with whom I’ve done transformative work with. I always say my therapist is the only person in the world who understands my growth. It is because of the work I’ve done in therapy for the last five years that I am a more patient, introspective, and questioning traveler.
The work I’ve done in therapy for my personal life has carried over to the one visible for so many to see as I continue making my way through the world as a traveler and expat living in Ghana. Here are five ways in which this realization is evident.
Setting Boundaries Is to Protect Me, Not to Offend Others
Defining what boundaries meant to me is my first and favorite lesson that has stuck with me through therapy. I used to struggle with setting boundaries because I never wanted to be seen as a “bitch” or told that I was “doing too much, overdramatic, and selfish.” All terms that have been used in the past and during my upbringing to label me–of course, by people who never knew me. Like the for real me.
It’s less about what is being said about me and more about the perception people may have of me that always bothered me. I don’t care if people think I am those things if I have those moments, but it’s being misunderstood and misinterpreted, leading to those labels that I never wanted to happen. Sometimes I get scared that the perception will be inaccurate, so I end up not respecting my own boundaries in an effort to almost make myself more digestible to others.
I understand now that how I feel in whatever situation I find myself in is 100% valid because those are MY feelings. Only I know what I am feeling at that moment, and that is what I can control.
Moving to a new country has put me in a lot of positions where I have been misunderstood, mainly due to cultural barriers and stereotypes that have been imposed on me by default. In Ghana, respect is a big deal. However, I have noticed that speaking up against something, asking simple questions when things don’t seem quite right, or simply saying no can be seen as disrespectful. Needless to say, I was called disrespectful a lot when I first arrived.
Of course, that was not my intention, and I don’t view it as disrespect, so I did not want that perception of myself out there. As a result, I slowly began to conform and would say yes to things I normally wouldn’t and stopped questioning things to avoid conflict before being reminded of the importance of my boundaries.
My boundaries are to protect myself and not offend others. I know what purpose my boundaries serve, and that is why I am establishing them. It’s not my job to overthink whether or not I offended anyone because I can’t control how others interpret those boundaries. This has given me an unexplainable amount of peace while living in Ghana. It’s been two years, and I’ve learned how to enforce boundaries while, of course, being respectful of the local customs and culture I find myself immersed at the moment.
My “All or Nothing” Mindset Was Holding Me Back
The “All or Nothing Mindset” is thinking that something you want has to be obtained or completed in one way or it can’t be done at all. There are no alternatives, multiple courses of action, nada. It needs to be done the way I envisioned it, or else it won’t work.
In one of my therapy sessions, I was telling my therapist how I was planning an impulsive mental health trip and wanted to get out of the country (because that’s when I do my best thinking).
At the time, I felt like a staycation was not a real trip, so in my mind, it was either I go out of the country or continue being overwhelmed and clouded mentally.
My therapist helped me to realize that I can have a middle ground to achieve what it is I am trying to do–big or small in my eyes. The goal at the moment was to give me enough of a mental break to where I could disconnect from the stressful events and circumstances surrounding me at that time of my life.
I could have stayed at a hotel right up the street from my house and gotten that mental break. However, this false idea I had created for myself that my break had to look a certain way for it to be successful was holding me back from getting what I really needed.
I’ve worked to allow myself to be more flexible with my goals and not get stuck in thinking it has to be done in one way to be successful, and that has served me well, especially in Ghana.
When I wake up every day here, I have no idea what the day will look like or what I will get. The power may be off the entire day, I might not have water for the next four, find myself in traffic for 1 hour. I deal with a lot of unpredictability, and as someone with an anxiety disorder, this can be a lot.
I’ve had to really work to find common ground with myself here in Ghana because the fact that I don’t have control over most of my life here does impact me mentally and can cause me to freeze and get caught up in anxiety.
I now try to focus on the goal, no matter how big or small, and then come up with solutions on how to reach the goal. For example, this morning I ran out of water and went to buy a case, but no one was at the shop. I set aside time specifically to go shopping for water, and it was pretty much a waste of time.
The old me would have decided that because I couldn’t get water at the time I wanted to, I would not try to get it that day– all or nothing. But instead, I got a few bottles somewhere else to continue with my morning and returned later to get a case, even if that wasn’t the initial plan.
This mindset switch has trickled into other areas of my life, like this blog, and is the reason why I’m able to push through much more challenging issues as they arise. I’ve learned not to be so “stuck” in my thinking but more flexible and open-minded with whatever comes my way.
The Past Hurt I’ve Experienced in Past Life Are Keeping Me from Establishing New, Meaningful Relationships in New Life: Grief On My Terms
Grief is the loss of someone, something, or a place. Like many other people, before therapy, I associated grief with death and death only.
It wasn’t until the pandemic hit and I saw posts talking about how it was okay to grieve events, as many people were pushing back momentous ones like weddings, graduations, etc., that I realized I, too, was grieving, but friendships.
I had what I would call a rather emotionally and mentally traumatic college experience that completely changed who I was on the inside and out. A large reason for this was my negative interactions with people, being failed by those who promised to guide and mentor me, taken for granted, and constantly feeling abandoned and let down by people who were supposed to have my back.
I was extremely naive during those days. I thought everyone was good and had good intentions. I let everyone in very quickly when in hindsight, I should have had more discernment, but that’s who I was. I let people in, and they got to see the good, bad, and ugly of my life fairly quickly, then suddenly, they were no longer around.
When you’re living abroad, you have the opportunity to start from scratch and create your tribe. Something I used to be good at but suddenly found myself hesitating to do. I struggled to let people in. I always say I’m an introvert, frequently confused for being an extrovert, so people assume I’m very open in all aspects, and it reminds me that that part of me died with all of the disappointment I faced, and that hurt has carried over.
Making genuine friends in Ghana that have accepted and seen me for who I am, flaws and all, has made me realize that the hurt I still harbor on the inside from past interactions and friendships that have ended shows up in the process of getting to know new people here while living abroad.
I can honestly say that I have unconsciously sabotaged a lot of potential friendships by simply not allowing people in for fear of being hurt, used, or experiencing feelings of regret.
Therapy has taught me that it is okay to grieve what I need to and work through those emotions so I can eventually let go and move on. Not everyone that comes my way comes with harmful intentions. Some people are placed on my path to help me learn, keep me company, and go through life with. There’s beauty in that, and it can only happen if I allow it to.
To Disrupt the Disruption And Challenge Things That Are Out of My Control
“Disrupt the disruption” is a saying my therapist tells me when things in my life are suddenly interrupted by circumstances that are out of my control. As I mentioned, living in Ghana for me looks like living in a world filled with uncertainty and unpredictability, so I often feel like my days are a waste.
The truth of the matter is that I feel like my best self when I am productive and checking things off of my to-do list every day. Moving abroad meant that I went from completing everything on my list to being lucky if I could even get two things done due to my new environment.
I’d be sitting at home, and my Wi-Fi wouldn’t connect, my electricity would go off, mental health days, etc., and I would decide that the day was over as a result and would feel like a failure.
Now, instead of getting frustrated or feeling like the day is a waste, I find solutions. Even if they are frustrating or completely off track for what I planned during my days. Although I may have planned to stay home one day, I just get up and go to a cafe (costing time, money, and energy), but at least it’s a solution to having no Wi-Fi and electricity instead of sulking and letting the things I don’t have control over impact me.
People Know the Version of You That You Show Them
This is a more recent realization for me. I’ve always struggled with not really knowing how to show people that I’m drowning, suffering in any way, or the overall behind-the-scenes of my life…the struggle side. So people see the end result, which is often the awards, features, scholarships, degrees, but cannot fathom what I go through every day.
I am in a constant battle with myself. It’s really me versus me every single day, and it’s exhausting. I always say that if people could read the thoughts in my head, they would extend more grace toward me or know when to stop asking more of me than I can truly give at the moment.
Because I have shown people that when under pressure, I deliver. When they ask, I show up. When I get an email, I respond almost immediately, if not in a fairly reasonable amount of time. People have come to expect me to be a very well-put-together individual who is always available to give with my time.
I don’t feel like I receive the grace to make mistakes, to say no without being pressured in some form to reverse my decision, to not always know what to do, and I can take some responsibility for that.
Other people can only give what we show, so it’s up to you to honor what you can’t do. For the first time in my life, living in Ghana, people have been able to see right through the smile. Ghanaians are extremely empathetic people, so usually, once I communicate how I’m feeling, people know to adjust their standards of me. Has it always happened? No. However, the lesson in this one for me is to try to let people see that I’m not perfect and don’t have everything figured out. I think this will relieve some of the pressure off of me, but I also continue teaching people how they should treat me, as I believe we teach people how to treat us over time.
It’s been easier to let down some of my walls here in Ghana and allow people to see the real me without fear of judgment or hurt in the end, and that is something I hope to take with me after this experience is over.
Going to therapy for years has changed my life and many habits. I have grown so much from first sitting in a therapy office for the first time in 2018 and not taking it seriously to it now playing a major role in my healing and development as a person.
If you’re considering going to therapy, I encourage you to take the leap of faith. It takes strength to sit across a stranger and dive deep into all of your insecurities, doubts, and life battles, but the reward on the other side is transformative and one that you deserve to experience.
Therapy works if you work. It’s not an easy journey, but it is so rewarding.