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Growth: A Month Sabbatical in Spain

Sabbatical in Spain
By Katherine McCombs

When you think of your future self, of the “new you” you want to create, what do you see? How do you feel? Me? I see someone whose anxiety isn’t at the forefront of their daily rhythm. Someone who doesn’t concern herself with the Italian barista judging her for ordering a cappuccino after noon. Oh, I have a detailed clear vision. She eats Greek yogurt with fruit and granola every morning. Tea, meditation, plenty of yoga, quiet and just totally Zen and calm.

I made a pact with myself that I would start building this future self this summer in my offseason. After a year of heartbreaks, death, stress, and change, it was time to step out and do something different. This was going to be My Year!

I booked a month long sabbatical in Spain. In a city I dreamed of living in one day. An apartment to myself, the city of my dreams at my feet, and few limitations to how I could refresh and start over. I was alone. Accountable only to myself for my goals -and failures.

It sounded so easy! I would come back in June like a monarch butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.

But one of those few limitations? My Anxiety. Yes, with a capital A.

Coupled with the fact that my Spanish is decent, but I still beat myself up over dumb little mistakes. I toss and turn at night still thinking “I knew it was List A, why did I say List O and embarrass myself to the Gelato guy, why oh why am I such an idiot” (I hope this helps you get the picture of the problem I have… Yes I start therapy this week.)

My first day I stumbled over my words so badly just at the airport and with my landlady that I bought eggs and bread at the tourist bodega and that was lunch and dinner. Because I didn’t trust myself to go to a restaurant alone.

But it’s okay. Day one.

The program I found my apartment through also sets you up with a “city host” who give you recommendations and show you around. We planned to have coffee my second day. She picked a spot in my neighborhood I hadn’t seen in my walking around the first day. But Google said it was one street over, how hard could it be?

My first challenge in speaking with locals occurred after 8 minutes walking the same circle. “Hola. I’m very lost”. Turns out Google was wrong. It was on my street. 6 doors down from my apartment, the other way I’d walked when I stepped out of my apartment. I was only slightly stupidly late.

After she showed me the best of everything in walking distance, I headed to the store. Future self, starting now. I even bought Greek yogurt to have for breakfast the next day.

Which I had maybe three bites of before I remembered something. Despite my fantasies; I don’t like yogurt. Never have. That’s why I hadn’t eaten it in like… ever. I’m honestly not sure where I got the fantasy that put together, grown-up women eat yogurt for breakfast but it was a large blow to my vision of adulthood.

So here I am at the end of my time in Spain. My taxi will be here in 12 hours. It was a roller coaster. But I made it.

I still don’t eat yogurt. I still struggle at getting up in the morning and creating a routine for myself. I have had more bad days than good as family affairs have seeped into my healing time. Evenings that I should have spent in bars or braving Spanish strangers, I spent curled up with a book or re-watching my favorite shows on Netflix. Or crying. There was a lot of that too.

But I think I wrote something close to 7000 words this month. Essays, stories, poems, working on the diary entry that somehow has become a 17,000 word novel in the making… just… writing. Because I can. Because I want to be doing it.

One part of my future-self vision; check.

I do yoga most days for 30 minutes. My body is tight and healing from the abuse I put it through for most of my life. I made a major gain in an “easy pose” that regularly causes me pain yesterday. I was almost crying in pride and release while bent over. My neighbors likely think I’m insane.

And you know what else I did? I went to an Italian restaurant alone. I met the owner who was the friend of a friend. Her friends invited me to join them once she left and bought me limoncello. I stayed at the restaurant for over 4 hours. Talking almost exclusively in Spanish!

I went back to the gelato place and correctly told the staff that I, a woman correctly using Spanish female adjectives, was “List A” to order my gelato.

Most importantly, I am taking time every day to think about what I really want, about what is actually a realistic vision of my future. I started journaling about it. (If this idea is speaking to you… follow @the_holistic_psychologist on Instagram. Her future-self journaling prompts are incredible.)

I spend ten minutes every day taking time to myself with coffee or tea and just my journal and pen. It’s nothing fancy, just thinking about small steps today you can do in your daily life to be your future self. Not just envision this ethereal person, but actually be them. Because they are you, now and in the future. You create in every small, daily choice the opportunity to be this future self you desire or stay in the same place, make the same choices, and stay the same.

So sure, I could stay in bed until noon (or later) on Instagram/Pinterest. Or I could take my book and go to the beach and read a book there. Or go for a walk. Talk to a stranger in Spanish. I could make the choice to go to that scary looking local lunch spot and order lunch. Or I could come home. To eggs or pasta and my laptop.

I could be a step closer to this future I envision or I could listen to what my anxiety wants.

Which one do you think actually gets me closer to the life I want?

There were days my anxiety won. Absolutely. But there were fewer as time went on. And as I return to NYC, as my life continues to change, I will keep growing. I will my anxiety from winning every battle. Day by day.

So it’s nearly midnight and I’m reluctantly packing and emptying out my fridge. I had a few eggs left so I chose to fall back to my usual safe snack.

And as an afterthought, I mixed in some of the Greek yogurt I was still refusing to abandon entirely. Some of the fantasy could mix into my reality after all.

It’s all about balance.

Also by Katherine McCombs:

Respect: The Middle East And Women At Work

Depression and Anxiety: Working With The Demons

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