When Uncertainty Strikes

Life is uncertain, no matter how meticulously you plan it.

I have a tendency to organise most areas of my life: from my work and studies to my hobbies and even my “downtime”. I wouldn’t have been able to travel so much as I have in these past months had it not been for this disposition. Whilst in some ways it’s served me well, such as in my educational and professional life, in others, it’s had the opposite effect, resulting in burn out and anxiety.

The uncertainty that is life leads many of us to seek control in other ways, and for me this could be a task as simple as cleaning the bathroom or months of mentally arranging my life for the next five years. For a while this even manifested itself in my thoughts, where I tried (and failed) to control what I thought about. The term OCD might spring to mind here and whilst I’m not compulsively washing my hands (or at least I wasn’t until COVID-19 came along), it’s a possible explanation for my behaviour. As I’ve reflected on this overtime, I’ve been able to manage it better.

Part of this involved learning to accept and embrace uncertainty, an act which used to fill me with fear. The events of this weekend have put that to the test and, realising there may be others struggling with this, I decided to share my experience of recent events in that hope that it might serve someone else.

This past month I’ve felt somewhat overwhelmed: juggling classes, activities and travel plans, all while living in a foreign country. I say without hesitation that I thoroughly enjoy my life here, having learnt and grown so much, and yet I felt I had little time to relax and unwind. All I wanted was a short break – for time to stop – but I struggled to show myself that kindness.

Thursday evening, I heard the news that President Pedro Sánchez planned to impose measures to tackle COVID-19 which, as I write this, has infected nearly 8,000 people in Spain. In his speech, he urged the public to take better care in their personal hygiene and encouraged them to limit their movement. I was then also informed by the schools in which I work that all educational institutions (from nurseries to universities) in Asturias would be closed for two weeks.

By Saturday evening this had escalated to the government putting Spain under a minimum two-week quarantine, allowing citizens to only leave their home or to travel if absolutely necessary. To reinforce this, they are limiting public transport and closing all establishments, except for those such as supermarkets and pharmacies. Law enforcement is being used to ensure such measures are taking place and those who don’t follow them will be fined. There are even talks of closing the Spanish borders during this period.

In a matter of days, my life in Spain has suddenly changed. After feeling stressed about having too much on my plate, it’s now completely empty. It’s a bittersweet result and has made me realise that it took such a situation to force me to slow down and take a break.

I’m incredibly lucky to know some very kind people here through my schools, voluntary work and the ESN and so I feel completely safe where I am. I’ve offered to help my schools during these two weeks but for the moment there’s very little I can do.

Nothing could have prepared me or anyone for such an outcome and it’s been an incredibly stressful time for all of us working or studying abroad. Some have chosen to go home with the hope of coming back, some, including myself, have chosen to stay. There’s no right or wrong choice; none of us truly know what to do or what’s going to happen.

I’m not concerned about becoming ill, nor am I alarmed by the seemingly extreme measures to rid the country of this disease, but I do appreciate the reasons they’ve been made and hope that all of us in Spain can work together so that we can return to normality. So far I’ve taken a very logical and rational approach to this matter, only reading information from official sources, all of which helped me to make an informed decision on whether I should stay or leave. I’m prepared for the fact that I might have to stay here for a while; however, I’m hopeful that this won’t last long.

What’s helped me the most, both this weekend and over my entire time abroad so far, is the amazing network of friends that I have. Your friendship, and you’ll know who you are, has been invaluable to me and enabled me to overcome some very difficult moments. I cannot stress the importance of friends during such times, no matter how big or small. Talking and listening are powerful tools and in doing so we often realise we’re not alone in our thoughts and experiences.

For anyone about to embark on a long-term journey abroad, remember that there will be times of uncertainty, and I feel that I’ve been luckier than most in that respect. When that uncertainty does arrive, remember to turn to others for support; friendship is invaluable. And then, when you feel ready, take uncertainty by the hand and move forward, in whatever direction that may be.

I think many of us are feeling rather lost at the moment but take comfort in the fact that this is not the end of your experience. The beauty of uncertainty is that it can also lead to many surprising and wonderful opportunities. Stay strong. ❤

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