Is it just me?



I’m going to try my best to articulate an experience I’ve been having since I’ve been living here in Panama. I am going to assume that this is all a part of adjusting and I wonder if this feeling is one that other expats have also experienced , or am I the only nutty one,(which I’m happy to embrace, I got no problem with being “NUTTY”) I’m not one to complain and I hope this post doesn’t come across as whining, but… Since I arrived in my new home just about three months ago, I’ve been experiencing, at times, a rather odd sense of total disorientation. I hope I can accurately describe what I mean by that. I seem to have lost any and all sense of direction when I’m in a store or just generally walking around town . It’s not just that I don’t know where I am, that’s nothing strange , I just moved to a new town in an entirely new country , I expect to feel this type of “lost”. But what I’m talking about is hard for me to put into words, possibly , “spacial awareness”? Is that what it is? I don’t know. All I know is for example, when we are in Romero’s shopping for groceries I am constantly in peoples way, I never seem to realize when someone is trying to get past me or which way I should push my cart to avoid an oncoming shopper. I feel such a strange , unfamiliar sense of confusion when I’m out in public, which for me is just crazy. I’ve never felt such a sense of feeling as though I need to be very careful with each and every step I make as I am walking around. Maybe it has to do with my inability to culturally pick up on social cues? I usually think of myself as a very intuitive person, I like to be courteous and thoughtful and I admit to almost feeling a sense of pride in myself for being able to intuitively pick up on the needs of those around me. I seem to have lost that ability and this, in part makes me feel rather lost in public. In addition to feeling so inept and a bit confused, I cant’ even express to the people around me how sorry I am. “No, really, this isn’t how I am!,” “I’m not usually so stupid!” “I didn’t mean to roll my cart over your foot! I’m soooo sorry!” GEESH! And they all seem so kind and mostly patient with this strange gringo who can hardly push a shopping cart through the store. I wonder what I must look like to them?

Scott thinks I’m just overwhelmed. There’s just too much to process so I’m just a little bit out of it. Every single thing about this new place has me feeling as though I’m upside down most of the time when I’m in town. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the people, how they behave, How I’m supposed to behave to be polite, Just about every aspect of life for me is entirely unknown and new. I was surprised today , when Scott and I were in Romero’s and unbeknownst to me, a man was coming up behind me, Scott said, very calmly,”look out!”, I just kinda froze, with a terrified look on my face, I didn’t know which way to move and felt so nervous. My response was inappropriate, He didn’t say it in an urgent manner or in a mean way at all, my reaction was just kinda strange. I’m so unaccustomed to this feeling of constant and long-term disorientation everywhere I go. Today was the first time I actually talked about it with Scott and I felt somewhat relieved to hear him say that he has noticed my apparent disorientation. I’ve been thinking it for some time but have been thinking that it would soon pass, as I’m sure it will.

In a much earlier post, before we moved, I promised to write about not only the good things about becoming an Expat, but to also share the challenges. Well, I seem to have come up with one (although this one may be just “me”) . I’m sooooo damn confused and disoriented by everything around me. Given the fact that I’ve never, in my 47 years, moved out of California I’m out of my element in more ways than one. Yes, I moved from Morgan Hill to Mountain View, Los Altos area in my twenties, but now, having moved to an entirely different country it’s proving to be an overwhelming experience for me. Almost nothing is recognizable. Even the simple fact that I’m not a familiar person here, no one knows anything about who I am. So that sense of knowing that comes from seeing familiar faces and familiar places and knowing that people around me know the type of person I am is not a “given” here. Lucky for me, Scott seems unaffected by this dilemma. As usual , the guy just glides through such an enormous life transition without seeming to be one bit disoriented. He constantly amazes me with his ability to overcome new experiences and to adapt so , seemingly easily, to all this newness that surrounds us. I honestly think he is in his element.

I’m really learning a lot about myself and about my perception of myself. I like to think of myself as a pretty easy going, relaxed kinda gal, going through life with my rose colored glasses at times, to make everything just a little prettier, a natural optimist, is how I like to see myself. But my “rose colored” glasses are only confusing me at the moment, nothing looks familiar even with the “rose color”! So the realist in me is poking it’s head out, (not a common occurrence for me). I realize I will adapt and this life will become more familiar and I will eventually learn how things work here. Surly I’ll soon find myself feeling as though this is where I belong. Soon? I look forward to coming to the realization , one day, that I no longer feel so disoriented. Because I know this must be , for me, just part of my adjusting period. I’m certain each person, no matter where they move, has a period of time when they must familiarize themselves to the new world around them. It’s exciting and I am not fretting too much. I love so many things about this choice to move and to embrace a new life which will naturally include many new and different experiences . I knew that there would be challenges and maybe I would face certain aspects of this new beginning that would be hard, but this isn’t too bad. I’m not one to wallow in negativity or let a difficulty cause me to feel defeated, noooo, not this girl! I plan to adapt and to grow and to change because anything less is just not acceptable,not to mention no fun at all! I may be a tiny bit disoriented and at times kinda confused and always a tad nutty, but I’m soooo happy to be living my adventure my way I’m fine with my temporary confusion, it’ll pass. Everyday is an Adventure and with each new day it begins again…

About hollycarter184

Life is Good! But it's time for a change, and more adventure! I'd like to share the whole experience of preparing then actually making a reality of expatriating, and moving to a new country. It's an exciting, and slightly scary move full of possibility . I'm looking forward to learning a new language and making new connections with the people who share our spirit of adventure. This blog is my way of continuing my connection with my friends and family in the States. Sooooo here it goes! :)

28 responses »

  1. Give yourself a hug and know you’re exactly where you should be in any given moment. This is one big life changing move you’ve made my dear friend in life. And with the outer changes comes many many layers of inner awareness that seems almost incomprehensible when they show up. Be kind to yourself. You are an amazing bright light to all you meet. It’s a tough test to get through in finding new comfort zones. Not always. But sometimes yes indeed. I used to travel a lot. Out of country and throughout the U.S. too. I can relate so much to your stories and journey at hand.

    My life theses days are also filled with deep self introspect and finding my new orientation in life. Finding My new normal is like climbing Mt Everest. Hardest work I’ve done in life so far. But unlike you. My new surroundings are my bed. My journey now is finding myself and living in a new frame of mind, for the most part…immobile. My troubled health has changed my way of life completely.

    I hope my ramblings didn’t make things worse for you. I just wanted to reach out and say I really feel what you must be going through I bet your fellow expats would agree too. I’m interested in what they will say Take a deep breath. Stay happy. Let go, let God. My favorite saying of all times Love you girl And thank you for sharing your hearts concern. You are a jewel. Sent from my iPhone

    • Oh Jere, thank you so much for such kind, supportive words. I’m sad to her that you are not well. Before I left you had made such good progress towards healing, I can’t imagine how hard it must be. I admire your abuts to hold onto positive thoughts, I hope you give most of that delicious optimism to yourself ! You are a lovely person! Hang in there my friend… Hugs & kisses from Panama to Half Moon Bay!!!😘

  2. Holly, as an expat living in Nicaragua for 3 years now, I want to reassure you that your feelings and disorientation are completely normal. Look at it this way. You were on automatic pilot for most of your life. You knew what to expect in almost every situation in the states. Now, you are experiencing sensory overload. Everything is new…it’s kind of like being born again and resetting your life. Learning to adjust to the newness of everything takes time. I’m still adjusting, but it gets easier. Some days, when I don’t have the energy to face the wacky world outside of my comfort zone, I just stay at home and read, draw or watch a movie in English. Honestly, some days are just exhausting! Yesterday, I went into town to get a plan for my iPhone. After an hour trying to listen to what the kind woman was trying to tell me in Spanish, I gave up. It was one of those days when none of the words were computing. Last week, someone stole our hammock from the second story porch of our guest house. I was furious! I walked around our neighborhood looking for my hammock, to no avail, and told everyone to be on the lookout for a thief. The reactions I got weren’t what I expected. They told me to get a big, mean dog and put a spotlight on the porch. Crimes of opportunity happen frequently and I was the one to blame for leaving the hammock outside unprotected.
    Then, at other times, my Spanish flows like a gentle river, my neighbors bring us homemade candy, and we’re harvesting sweet potatoes and peanuts out of our abundant garden. Life is generally good, with a few bad days mingling about. Don’t let the lack of orientation get the best of you. Laugh yourself through it with your wonderful sense of optimism and humor. Be gentle and patient with yourself. I go through life feeling like a manic-depressive here. Fortunately, there are more ups than downs..but those downs sure don’t feel good. I know we made the right decision to retire abroad and most of the time it’s my wonderful local friends who remind me of that. Sometimes, you just gotta laugh, say, “Lo siento” , and keep plugging forward one baby step at a time. Tomorrow is a new day. Hugs! πŸ™‚

  3. Holly, I love reading your posts:) No you are not alone. This expat has been in Central America for 3 years and I still have to shake myself to snap out of cultural insecurities!

    I think a good name for what your experiencing is a little “culture shock”. The culture here is much different than what we are accustomed:) Here you have to move your way into an empty space in front of you while standing in line or you will stand there all day with almost no one noticing you are in line. Today I had a similar experience to yours.

    I was in La Reyna ( a local dept. store) standing in line to buy a few things. There was a large crowd there for today’s sale. As I was standing in line I kept moving forward to fill in “that space in front of me”. While I was daydreaming a few women cut in line in front of me. Instead of getting upset, I just went with it. This time I made sure the space in front of me was occupied so no one else could cut. Then, all of a sudden to my surprise they were out of line again looking at their line of merchandise. So, I just moved up into the empty space in front of me. The ladies a few minutes later got back in line behind me. Now it was crowded, people moving back and forth to get out of each other’s way in a small space, kind of like how you feel in Romero. Then, I started to second guess my perception of the culture here. The whole time I was standing in line after that, I was feeling super paranoid that they were saying bad things about me literally behind my back:) They weren’t! I listened and understood every word they were saying. They didn’t even notice what had just happened! Now you know in the good old USA…things would have been a bit different:) This is part of the Panamanian culture! Occasionally you will find someone paying attention but for the most part this is how people move and function. I don’t know if you noticed but it can even happen while driving!

    This is just my take on it…don’t worry you will eventually become accustomed to it:)

    • Thanks Dinah! Wow! Yes, you are right, adjusting to cultural differences can often challenge our sanity! Thanks for the kind words of encouragement and for sharing your experience , it makes me feel less crazy!

  4. It couldn’t be more different than Los Altos and plus, you are not working all the time. That in itself would be pretty disorienting. But if I was in a store and someone said, “look out,” I would freeze too. You had no idea what to look out for! If Scott said, “look out behind you.” You would have known what to do. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Your fellow expats seem to have really good advice.” Thanks for not just saying that everything is perfect!

  5. You have embarked on what might well be the biggest change in your life, and it seems to me like you are handling the changes just fine. Many of your predecessors could not handle the culture shock and they left. We left to experience culture shock in other countries after Panama. Based on my experience I think you are adapting quite well. I also think that as your Spanish-speaking skills improve you will feel much more like you fit in. Keep sharing. I think the blog is a good outlet with lots of supportive feedback.

    • Mike, you guys are “Culture Shock Gluttons!” For sure! Lol! Thanks for your words if support and encouragement , your right, I’m not beating myself up much, just venting . And what I love about honestly and openly sharing is that it always opens others up to sharing their own experiences with me in return! What a gift that is! Cheers my friend !!

  6. Nothing strange about your feeling. You should always share what you are experiencing, it’s good to listen to yourself out loud and get some outside insight.

    With time you will get accustomed to your new environment. Just don’t put pressure on yourself!

  7. It will be a roller coaster ride. You’ll have good days and bad days. And just when you think that everything is going well you’ll experience something new and totally foreign to you again. You still have a lot of “firsts” to get through. Take a breath and enjoy the simplicity of your new life, even though some days the bureaucracy and red tape will drive you insane and you think that you will never “get” the Spanish language. Poco a poco, it’s a marathon not a race, but you’ve worked hard to get where you are and you’re where you should be. πŸ™‚

    • Truer words have never been spoken! I’m grateful to know that others who have gone before me can relate to me. And I’m even more grateful to be amongst such kind, generous, caring and most of all crazy adventurous people who, like me, embrace each moment on this wild ride we are on! Cheers Mi Amiga!! πŸ™‚

  8. I recently moved to Pedasi from Auburn, CA. I, too, have only lived in California (southern & northern) all my life until now, so I can relate to the same feelings. Trying to grasp that this is not a vacation, as in the past visits, but where I live now, has been a little disorienting to me. These feelings were not expected, and yet normal. Back in CA I have worked in social services counseling adults and children about adjustments to change, and yet thought I would have no problem in my adjusting to this new adventure. I forgot that change can affect us in many different ways. For me, as with many new expats, there have been many immediate changes besides just moving to another country. But as you wrote, it may take awhile, but this new life will be a familiar way of life some day. Just taking this one day at a time. Thanks for sharing your true thoughts.

    • Oh Connie! Your welcome! I really appreciate you connecting with me and sharing your very similar experience with me. It’s so great to feel less alone and to know that what is happening is not just me. I hope your transition is going well and that you will soon feel as though you are home. We have chosen a very exciting path and to begin everything again is a challenge , but isn’t it great that for once in our lives this challenge is one that we chose very deliberately and with the knowledge that it would stretch us and take us out of our comfort zones to become even stronger and wiser and more authentically who we are! The hardest things we do are always, without exception, the things that precipitate growth, and we are growing with each new day. Good For Us!! Cheers Mi Amiga!! Holly

    • Hmmmm…could be, or it could just be a tiny bit of culture shock, which I’ve never experienced before, but whatever the cause, I’m embracing it as just a necessary part of my particular adjustment process. As many folks like yourself, who have come before me so often tell me, “Poco a Poco”! Little by little everything will fall into place and eventually all these strange and new things will just feel like home to me. Until then, I think I’ll just try to avoid running over toes in the market with my cart!!! LOL!!!

      • Ah, good old Mr. Culture Shock…I think we talked about him at the now defunct Gringo’s Restaurant. He isn’t crippling unless one succumbs to his wiles, but there isn’t anyone who escapes a visit from him.

      • Yes, I do remember our talk about that, now that you mention it. It manifests itself in many different ways for many different people, or so I am told. But I’m up for it! I love it here too much to be defeated by it!!!GRRRR! And I was so sad to hear the news of Gringo’s restaurant closing, It was a good place to relax with good food and a not so bad margarita, another one bites the dust, Sigh!

  9. Great post, Holly. I had been thinking while reading your daily posts what a whirlwind your life has become. Not that you weren’t busy before, but your CA life was busy within a routine and grounded by your knowing your place in the scheme of things. Now you are embarked upon a kind of extended vacation in a foreign land with no “home routine” in sight and the grounding still to come. No wonder that you feel a bit dazed and confused. Time will cure this disorientation, of course, but as a fix-it kind of person, I’m wondering whether there are ways to speed the settling in process. It will be interesting to hear what advice your fellow ex-pats will offer (other than reassuring you that you’re not a complete nutcase!).

    We’ve been back on Orange Ave. this week. Neighbor Ken has sold his house ($2.3!!!) but is renting it back until Nov. so Jack still has a caretaker for now. Ken’s wife is living elsewhere and divorce is in the works. He says the new owners are planning a major remodel, but not a tear-down. No sign of the German family yet, but I expect they’ll move in before school starts at the end of the month. I meant to track down Mariah while I was here, get a haircut, and give her a big hug, but the week filled up quickly and rushed by. Flying back to NM maρana.

    Much love, Janet

  10. Holly just look at these commits from people you know and others you have yet to met., (but are in the same place you are). Like I have said before CHANGE is VERY DIFFERCULT πŸ™‚ You are so use to going into a store knowing where everything is going right to it getting the things and ALWAYS running into someone you have known for ever. That is not the case right now, it will be sooner than you think πŸ™‚ Just remember what your friend Jeri said above “You are an amazing bright light to all you meet” Love you Sunshine πŸ™‚ xxoo

  11. I can understand the feeling of disorientation. Just over 20 years ago I too left my country and moved to a foreign one. I had never moved anywhere else before. It was very difficult for me as I had always worked outside the home and then couldn’t. We as a family were reduced to one vehicle which my husband used for his commute. Here’s where you’ll laugh – we moved to Denver, CO from Calgary, AB! Change is difficult but the need is to focus on the positives of the change. Hope that brings a smile!

    • Jacqui, I’m Laughing! That’s a good one! Too funny how our experiences are so similar and yet you are practically in my home! Did you find many cultural differences moving from Canada to the U.S.? And I’m curious, did you have that strange sensation of disorientation? Are you still in the U.S.? That sounds like it was quite a huge adventure for you and your family. Thanks for sharing and giving my a chuckle for today!! Cheers Mi Amiga!

      • No, we did not stay for long. Project work – lived in Aurora, CO and then moved to Boca Raton, FL. Back to Calgary in the early 80’s. Since then , have lived in a few different places but Calgary has always been the base. There were a lot of differences for me at the time. Food shopping was the biggest challenge as all the family favorites were not to be found. Weird things for instance there was no Kraft peanut butter although there were other Kraft products. I think for me the biggest challenge was that I was unable to work, therefore had more time to fret about the things that were different and out of my comfort zone! Culturally, I did find a few differences. People there were quite interested in what religion we were and would we join their church? Calgary is very much an oil and gas town with many corporate head offices so a different mentaility from any place that is not in that industry. Houston is very similar. Needless to say, I am hopefully much more mature than I was back then. We are embaking on a new adventure which is retiring in Panama. The plan is to move there next year so I watch your blog as well as others with a great deal of interest. we’ve already made one trip and will be there again in November.

      • P.S. Regarding that strange sensation of disorientation I’m afraid I don’t really remember. I now have that strange sensation of constant memory loss!

  12. ‘ This too shall pass ! ” The first time we went to Scotland, we too were disoriented, driving on the ” wrong ” side of the road, calling things by the name we knew them as back home, getting directions in English but not being to understand them, ( HAHAHA ) .Strange looks from the ” natives ” as we spoke in our Southern accents, and trying to get on the right train or subway in unfamiliar areas.
    However when we went to Germany, the natives stopped us as we fractured their language and just replied to us in English !
    Besides at Oktoberfest everyone speaks dance and beer !
    Maybe you are not drinking or dancing enough ? See you in September, and I am sure we will make you feel better about your efforts to fit in as you see the dumb things we do and say ! RAS

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