Travel Magazine

Facing My Fears

By Russellvjward @russellvjward
Ever done a deal with the devil?
Seeking out a new life isn't really that different from shaking hands with the bad man himself. I mean, sure, you're set for some pretty good times ahead, but at what expense? You're letting yourself in for a generous dose of heartbreak, hurt and regret that you've created through your own selfish pursuit. You'll anger family, upset friends, annoy employers, even confuse the poor cat and dog. And you, yourself, are about to face a world of fears that could have been avoided if you'd just stayed home and towed the line.
So, in the single-bloody-minded pursuit of this dream of yours, you'll take Beelzebub's hand, shake it firmly, and head off into the unknown to face a whole host of other unknowns. You'll face the fear of an unknown culture, fear of a new job, fear of learning alien customs and traditions, and perhaps the greatest fear of all: not even succeeding in this exciting adventure of yours.

Facing my fears

Image: Flickr Creative Commons dryhead

For me, my greatest fear was none of the above. It wasn't even a good ole Englishman's fear of the Australian snake, the terrifying white pointer or those fat, tender spiders that call the underneath of my antipodean house 'home'. My greatest fear when I decided to set out upon this adventure of ours was the perceived distance I'd place myself from my parents and sibling, friends and long-time acquaintances, both physically and emotionally.
I knew that packing up my life and moving to a new country would be rife with unknowns. Yet, however unfounded, the thought of leaving my immediate family behind left me tossing and turning in the night. It was my worst nightmare of sorts. It was the lone thing I'd dreaded from the point I put in my visa application. What would I do if my parents or sister got sick? How would I cope with the bad news? Who would I turn to in a strange new country? How could I ever hope to get home quickly enough?
It wasn't just the distance in kilometres that provided my increasing anxiety but also the effect of distance on the quality of my relationships with friends and family left behind. As the years passed, would I become a stranger to my own family? Would I struggle to connect with friends as the visits home grew less frequent and the space and awkwardness between us grew ever more?
I imagined all sorts of outcomes. I predicted the worst possible happenings. My fears manifested themselves via situations running through my head where my parents were left alone and unable to care for themselves while I gallivanted around the world. My sibling would grow angry and disappointed at my exciting new lifestyle, now full of abandon and little regret, while she dutifully looked after my mother and father as a son or daughter always should.

Facing my fears

Image: Flickr Creative Commons durera_toujours

Guilt regularly knocked at my door to become an ever-present force in my daily life. I often held back in those early expat years, preferring to spend any free time on the telephone or email to people back home always justifying my reasons for being in a new country and forever apologising for my continuing absence. Initially I became withdrawn, outwardly pretending to enjoy the experiences around me, but silently suffering from this fear of being so far from my home. I daydreamed often, thinking of my past life and contemplating at what point I should return.
Call it separation guilt or just plain nonsense, I found the immense distance from loved ones unsettling and unnatural. In Canada, we were located far from the UK but it wasn't an impossible, insurmountable distance, just a single non-stop flight back. However, Australia was an altogether different proposition. Australia was the other side of the world. Timezone differences were vast. The distance from the UK was absurd. We were that far away that the seasons were in reverse. How would I cope with facing my long held fear of the distance from family and friends?
It's been five years in Australia now. Five years of life on the other side of the planet. Five years of life lived a 24-hour plane ride from my family home. Five years of distance between my new life here and my old life there. Have I faced my fear and dealt with it? Is there a happy ending to my issues with distance and accompanying feelings of guilt?
Of course I still fear the day when I might receive bad news from afar and I'm not best pleased with a one or two-day journey to see loved ones, but I've learned to deal as best I can with the vast physical distance. There's not much more I can do and it is what it is. I focus on the positives and remind myself that, wherever I live my expat life, I will always be at least a plane ride away so I cross my fingers and touch my toes and hope that I'll never need to put that fast and frantic plane ride home to the test.
The emotional distance from families and friendships is more difficult to gauge but has grown over the years as 'out of sight, out of mind' rings ever truer. I fear the disconnect to my homeland and feel old relationships slipping from my grasp. I am that guy who left a long time ago and didn't come back. The emails have since dried up, even though true friends revealed themselves whilst poor friendships failed the test early on. Yet distance is a part of who I am and where I am, even though it might not always be this way.
Distance is a funny thing. I craved the chance to travel far afield but, when faced with its unnerving implications, my first instinct was to run right back. I've overcome this obstacle but I will always need to face my fear, reaffirming deep down the reasons for our remarkable journey. Because, through this amazing adventure, we have embraced a new life, an unexpected life, a wonderful life, and our life alone...  and we must never forget this achievement, no matter how far and wide the distance may be.
Have you had to face any fears in pursuit of a new life? If so, how did you overcome them - or didn't you?

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