The developing story of an American turned mermaid continues…

The crisp autumn air engulfed Croatia without hesitation, reminding me my prolonged summer was coming to an end. I wanted nothing more but to drive myself straight to success, but I kept looking at the long-road in front of me, while glancing in the rear-view mirror at everything I left behind. Reality hit the brakes, plunged me into a rut, and left me with whiplash. It was going off-road that gave me a new appreciation of the journey.

Previously on “The Mindful Mermaid”…

Another month has passed since I’ve updated my Dubrovnik Diaries series, and I’ve been hesitant to give the raw update. I can’t sugarcoat over the fact that this month went completely opposite as planned and took me a bit off-trail into a borderline quarter-life crisis.

What kind of Mindful Mermaid would I be with bringing you overly sensationalized life experiences? I’d rather give you all the truth. If you yourself feel stuck, this one is for you.

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I came back from my solo travel trip around Split, Zadar, and Zagreb feeling refreshed and ready to hit the ground running with my to-do list. First and foremost, I was ready to apply to a ton more jobs and internships throughout Europe, all while producing more content for my blog and building up my freelance writing portfolio.

Then, the universe came up behind me and was all “Not so fast.” I discussed previously some of the challenges of living abroad, and suddenly those challenges got harder. It all hit me at once, and I only had mercury in retrograde to blame.

-Chronic back pain and a trip to the hospital.

For those that know me personally, know that I’ve struggled my entire life with chronic back pain (I have scoliosis, disc degeneration, sciatica…which all stem from a spinal tumor I had removed as a child). My pain was terrible this past year, and seemed to have gotten better, but I spoke too soon. Suddenly pain radiating from my neck and going into my shoulder and arm sent me to the emergency room last month. I’ve since been going to physical therapy, doing yoga, and icing my back while resting as much as possible. I see a doctor this coming week, to hopefully confirm that it’s another nerve/disc problem, and not something more serious. fingers crossed.

I’ve put my health as the first priority, while putting my to-do list on the back burner. Chronic pain that comes and goes is not like broken leg, where you know it will heal in a few months. It’s something that is always there and creeps up behind you. The worse part of it is when your mind is eager but your body is weak.

-The anxiety and nostalgia

I have anxiety in general, but being far away from home while being in severe pain really seemed to trigger it. I didn’t feel like myself for many days and seemed like the smallest things would set me off into a full-blown anxiety attack.

Simultaneously I saw a lot of my friends going back to school, and it hit me. I’m not even returning to college this fall, and that chapter is gone. I suddenly was hit by a wave of nostalgia. The feeling of being isolated began to build up, and for once in a long time I felt far away from home.

-Dysfunction

All of this was followed by several other little things that built up: the internet going out in our town for a week, randomly everything breaking, communication and plans continuously falling apart. We even had to cancel a trip to Pula, Croatia for my birthday due to my back pain. There were several days I called my parents and said I just want to go home.

If it weren’t for Domeniko, I probably would have listened to those feelings of turning around and going home. I’m thankful for all his support, and every little thing he does for me, including making delicious gluten-free pizzas.

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Turning 23, and taking control of the wheel

I woke up on September 14th and felt different than I have any other birthday. I was happy it was my special day, of course, but I felt down. I somehow imagined myself having my life together more. For the first time in 23 years, I was reluctant to turn another year older.

That day I suddenly remembered something my mom said to me. She said when a car is stuck in a rut, and the wheels just keep spinning, you need to grab hold of the wheel and jerk it out of the mud.

I decided that day, you know what? Being so hard on myself is only making matters worse. Enough of being hung up over nothing going as I planned. Enough of saying I should have my life together more at 23. Enough of saying I’m not enough.
That night I put all our worries aside and went out for a special birthday dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Above 5, and later had drinks with our friends in town. I put my new two-piece dress on I’ve been saving for months.

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Enjoying the journey

I wish I could tell you that this was when everything magically fell into place, but it wasn’t. Many of the circumstances around me, like being in pain and finding a job, are only so much in my control. Despite a few low moments, here’s what did change: I began to let go of what I can’t control and seized control of what I did.

I began to take everything a day at a time, which was much more manageable and took the pressure off of “getting it all together at once”. I did things every day that made me feel better, like yoga, going for long walks, and swimming. I spent time with friends here, and I also started to Facetime more with friends and family from home.

Instead of putting pressure of taking these epic trips around Europe, I began to focus on the paradise in front of me. I’m in CROATIA, and that’s an incredible opportunity. So we started to plan more adventures closer to home.

Taking Domeniko’s little boat out for a spin

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Attending our friends’ wedding

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For once in my life, I let myself live fully in the moment. I had to rewire my brain to block out the noise of yesterday and tomorrow. Not much has changed, but I know I have.

The thing is, people see the pictures above and assume that’s an accurate picture of my life, like it’s all adventure with no challenges. Trust me when I say the grass isn’t greener on the other side. I often look at my friends and acquaintances back in Chicago and feel stressed that I don’t have a shiny post-graduate job, other than freelance writing. Meanwhile, I’m sure others look at my life and feel confined to their office cubicle.

Regardless of where you are in the world and what you’ve accomplished, take a moment to appreciate where you are in the journey right now. If you’re in a rut, know that you aren’t alone, first of all. Be patient with yourself, and take it one day at a time. Grab hold of the wheel and embrace the twists and turns.

Be kinder to yourself, because you’ve come a long way.

Questions for the reader:

  1. Can you relate to the experience of being stuck in a rut, either at home or while traveling?
  2. What advice would give to others?

Thank you for reading! Tune in later this week for the beginning of a sustainability series, and next week for a glimpse inside Croatian village life.

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