This is the first in a series of I Am More essays. If you would like to contribute a piece about how you are more than your pain, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for a Writing Guide.
I am more than my loneliness and depression. I have the superpower of making friends around the world!
Back in the ’90s, it seemed that my loneliness was a constant companion. Being part of a startup led me to believe that work was the most important aspect of my life. Deadlines, customer calls, and business travel 80% of the time wasn’t conducive to sustaining a long-term relationship. I had plenty of close friendships and was respected by my workmates, but I had come to realize that for many people love is like oxygen. I was slowly asphyxiating and didn’t know it until it was almost too late. It was this lack of someone to share my life with that led to a growing depression. I experienced several deeply depressed episodes which only hard exercise and the company of friends could snap me out of. I didn’t tell people of my dark moods back then, I barely acknowledged them to myself. My loneliness was a cage and I wanted to escape.
I decided the only way to break the cycle was to totally change my surroundings and the way I lived so I turned to travel. Taking advantage of a very lucrative layoff during the Tech Bubble recession of the early 2000’s, I decided to live abroad in Barcelona. I had fallen in love with Barcelona years before during several business trips and vacations, so it was the perfect place to begin my quest. Secretly I was hoping to meet someone special with whom I could share the rest of my life. Barcelona seemed to have everything I was looking for: a slower pace of life, great food, and both modern and old world traditions.
Traveling to a foreign city as a tourist and living there are two different things. My new life in the Mediterranean was like being born again. In your home country, you glide through situations based on the strength of your position and mastery of the spoken word. As an ex-pat, you’re forced to learn everything all over again. Ordering food, signing up for cable, getting a health club membership, going to the doctor, or getting a haircut are all intimidating when your level of a new language is the same level as a third grader.
With the help of friends that I had made in my previous visits to Barcelona I was slowly able to adapt. One of my biggest accomplishments was finding a nice apartment in one of the more upscale areas of town, in spite of the fact that I probably understood only 50% of the conversations involved. All my classmates in my Spanish immersion class were envious, and my native Spanish and Catalan friends called me Marques because of how nice a place it was. In the couple of years that I lived there, that apartment would be the location of many great gatherings and parties, all part of a lifestyle that was finally of my own making. I was meeting new and interesting people, I was learning Spanish to the point of fluency, enjoying coffee breaks and people-watching, throwing sushi parties, and I even got a job.
As I grew into my new world, I discovered I had a superpower: making friends from all over Europe was easy for me. The majority of my friends were children of, or adopted by the Mediterranean. I found that eventually I was adopted by the Mediterranean as well. My new friends and lifestyle taught me fluency in Spanish, but also openness in communication, and a deep appreciation for the small things in life. Although my loneliness never quite left me in spite of all my new friends and a brief but passionate relationship, I found that I could be honest about my feelings. No one looked down on my darker moods and many openly asked me how they could help. My dark moods came and went but I didn’t have to pretend they weren’t happening anymore.
Eventually my adventures in Barcelona came to an end. I had to resume my career and earn real money again. I returned to my home country far happier than when I left, alone but not lonely. I had traveled thousands of miles looking to find a cure for my loneliness by meeting the love of my life, but sometimes we find the treasure we seek not on the other side of the world, but close to home. Before I left for Barcelona I was living in the New York City area and I returned to live near Boston. On a short trip to visit one of my best friends in Manhattan I met a girl on a blind date. This girl, Lori, would eventually become my wife. This July we’ll celebrate our 10th anniversary and we have a 5-year old son named Andre. We share our life with our Corgi, Hachi. My family has filled the void in me and my loneliness is now gone.
My loneliness and depression were the impetus of my journey. I felt stuck in my old life and felt I needed to escape the pain I felt inside. Luckily that journey allowed me to learn things and know people who helped me to manage that pain. I am more than my loneliness and depression and I want others to realize they are more than their pain as well.