Not just the highlights

Living in Australia is no longer a “new” thing. I think it’s finally hitting home just how far from home, yet at home I feel here. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

When people ask me how long I’ve been here, I now have to pause and think. I realized I’m no longer counting up my days, weeks and months. When I first arrived, I treated my time here like young parents treat their newborn’s age, celebrating every month as a milestone. Even one year became 12 months, as somehow that felt more significant. But now I have to think. It’s over a year. No, not two. Definitely not two…How long has it been?

It’s funny how normal things feel, and yet I still “learn” new things every day. I’m still enjoying everything as an adventure, but simultaneously appreciating the comfort of the known. When I think about the US, I fondly remember my car and driving wherever whenever, but for some reason taking a tram or train doesn’t phase me anymore. I’ve almost become spoiled having instant access to a city constantly full of life. Every weekend entails some sort of brunch and yet I’ve only been to the same place twice (some places are just TOO good to stick with the one brunch per venue rule).

Home life is better than anything I could have hoped for. I’m in a beautiful neighborhood with so much character and a breathtaking garden that I walk through every morning I need to head to the hospital. I live with my best friend who is fits all the typical roles of “psychiatrist, cheerleader, adventurer, partner in crime” as well as the atypical wombat to my panda (you have to throw in some crazy). I have two other housemates that I’m forever grateful for. We have our separate lives and yet we’ve always found time to merge them altogether for a family meal or outing. I’m lucky enough to have tricked a British bloke into sticking with me for nearly half a year now (or should I count by months?? Or weeks?), and thank goodness for that as I’ve found someone who can match me in sarcasm and well surpass me in puns. A lovely accent to adoringly mock doesn’t hurt either.

All in all, I’d say this adventure is pretty swell. I could end there, but then I’d only be sharing the highlight reel of the story. Like when you cross paths with an acquaintance and you answer their inevitable ‘how are you’ with the cookie cutter ‘Great and you?’ response. It’s hard to share the other half. But when you don’t, it’s easy for everyone outside of your immediate world to have this false impression that your entire world is sunshine and rainbows. Well folks, even in Australia, even in Melbourne (the most livable city in the world) it is not perfect.

The work is hard. I’ve spent the last few months in almost a dazed state. It’s mostly self-induced. I have a knack for over-committing to tasks. I also like the challenge of ensuring all my tasks are completely and entirely unrelated to each other. I hope that the diversity of my experiences will assist me in my next phase, but for now I know they are making me stronger in the here and now. I’m teaching Masters students and being paid to redevelop all the content for that same unit into a digital format. I sit on the leadership team of my research institute with all the program leaders and director as the student representative and also lead a highly driven and passionate group of PhD students on our own committee. I’m planning an end of year conference for the research institute. I helped supervise a master’s student research project, and will be carrying on the data collection for it now that she has finished. My supervisor and I are working on two publications to hopefully get out by years end, and my other supervisor has tapped me to assist with another. I competed in a three-minute thesis competition at my university to improve my presentation skills, and through much support from friends, colleagues and supervisors, I ended up winning and will now present at the finals is Brisbane. All this said, and no mention of my actual PhD research, which is knock on wood going great.

I list them not as a pat on the back of accomplishments, but rather to highlight just how split my mind is through the day. Sure, I’ve enjoyed every task I’ve set myself up with, and yet, I’ve had many very taxing days because of this load. I push myself, and I can very easily find myself in a position of over-extension. Just last week I was forced into some rest and relaxation when out of nowhere my back gave way. I spent an afternoon in a doctor’s office getting x-rays to find out what I really need is to just stop. I need to just pause.

While the back situation is a more extreme example, I have had many nights in the last 3 months where I found myself questioning everything. In those moments, I’m even more thankful for my support system here. And the one back home. But the one back home remains a challenge. Not because it isn’t there, but rather because of me. I find it very hard in the few text exchanges I can have with people to share in any depth what is REALLY happening. So I give the highlight reel. I check the boxes off of all the “big” things that happened. Without proper time to go into a “problem” I’ve faced, I find it easier to gloss over it, to minimize its impact to some extent. In most exchanges I quickly change the topic back to the other person or at least onto happier news. It’s just easier. Why burden someone else with some of my harsh realities.

But then…why NOT? They are my friends. They are my family. It’s like I’m trying to protect this precious Australia bubble of perfection. How dare I be the one to “pop” that illusion? But I should. Because this isn’t a dream. It’s real. It’s not a holiday, it’s my life. And it’s perfectly messy. I never thought about just how hard it would be to not have ALL the people in my life that I forever took for granted back home. In the US I had friends that I’d known for decades. Friends from every single stage of life. Different friends. Different groups. I happily bounced house to house and city to city. Here I have one city. Granted, I know many internationals so one could argue I have a few countries now as well, but let’s set that aside for a moment.

It’s hard. It’s much easier for friends or family back home to “make an effort” for 3 months whilst you travel abroad. When there’s a known end date to the adventure, it’s just simpler. But my friends just know that I’m here. I have no return flight booked. I will be here at least 2 more years and then…who knows? I don’t even know. So people choosing a friendship with me right now are choosing a long distance friendship that is guaranteed to be a lot more work. I cannot at this point be a friend of convenience for anyone back home. In almost every aspect actually I’m a friend of Inconvenience. It’s work. There are only a precious few hours each day where my awake times coincide with those back home, and sadly those are my morning hours which are inevitably the busiest. It’s work.

What it shows me, however, is that the people that are still trying really care. The people that text me when I don’t respond to the first and get lost in my world are ok with inconvenience. I’m forever thankful for them. And I probably need to be better about telling them that.

It’s not yet a new year, but my current resolution is to stop playing the Australia highlight reel. Sure, I’ll still share the excitement and fun, but if you ask, I’ll share the whole story, because in the end, my life has ups and downs like anyone else’s. I’m no more immune to the moments of darkness than anyone else. Luckily, however, here in Australia Spring has sprung, and the bitter cold winter is coming to a close. The warm weather brings flowers and green and most importantly sunlight past 4:30pm. There’s your highlight reel. The other side of it? I promise I’ll bitterly complain when true summer hits and its 40degrees C (over 100F) and I’ve got no air conditioning in the house.