Feeling Peripheral

peripheral dots feeling alone expat

I don’t think I am alone, but sometimes it feels lonely.

Maybe that’s life. We all feel lonely sometimes. But the pandemic has certainly heightened and exacerbated any loneliness or isolation we might have felt beforehand.

As Sheryl Paul so eloquently puts it:

“There’s a fundamental loneliness that is part of the fabric of being human. It arrives in the corners of night, when shadows form from curtain folds and the backs of chairs. It seeps in just before twilight, when afternoon exhales its last breath and evening hasn’t yet inhaled. It lives on the edges of exaltation, in the space between the golden hour when the gods breathe their jeweled breath over meadows and in the splintered crack just before night’s multi-colored ink begins to sink into dreams.”

Sheryl Paul – Conscious Transitions.

Ultimately we are all alone. But we get to share our days, hours or moments with family, work colleagues, friends, strangers. But no-one really knows what it is like to be us.

What we are really going through whether it is illness, grief, joy, despair, discontent, fear or worry, any of it. I am not saying this to depress ourselves, but to share the fact that we are actually not alone in any of this. No matter what we are feeling, there is always someone else that will be feeling it too, in this vast expansive world that we live in. The difficult part is to really allow ourselves to feel it, to name it and maybe if we feel able, to be vulnerable, to share it.

I am naturally quite a private person, so despite my love of writing and sharing, every time I write a post I hesitate to write it, let alone share it with the world. Not that many people are reading this, but I still feel very vulnerable sharing my thoughts and feelings like somehow it exposes me. I worry that people might think that I sound entitled or that I am looking for pity or someone to save me. When that is not the case at all. My motivation to write is largely for myself, I find it therapeutic, but partly as it might connect with someone out there and reassure (me and them!) that we are not alone. Although I am always reminded, if not haunted, by the quote from Elizabeth Gilbert:

“You’re not required to save the world with your creativity. Your art not only doesn’t have to be original, in other words, it also doesn’t have to be important. For example, whenever anyone tells me that they want to write a book in order to help other people I always think ‘Oh, please don’t. Please don’t try to help me.’ I mean it’s very kind of you to help people, but please don’t make it your sole creative motive because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

I am trying not to put a strain on anyone’s soul. By sharing these posts, it somehow makes me feel lighter, freer. Like I am uncorking a bottle and allowing something to burst free despite the reluctance for the cork to come out on occasion.

Anyway, this week I have been consciously pondering on how I have probably been feeling sub-consciously for quite some time. And I suddenly stumbled upon this word which summed it up…..


Peripheral in many ways.

I was thinking primarily feeling peripheral to other people outside our family (no, again I am not looking for sympathy, it is purely an observation).

Peripheral to family who (despite, very gratefully, having just visited them) we are not part of their day to day lives having lived abroad for 14+ years.

Peripheral to our many friends all over the world who again are there, but just not regularly connecting with (Facebook does not really count in my view).

Peripheral to most people’s lives in our still relatively new country of Spain. Despite having lived here for over 2 years, we had only been here 6 months when the pandemic hit and our world, our lives, seemingly narrowed. As things (sometimes!) feel like they are opening up to us again, it feels like many of us are still being very choiceful over who we spend time with. Sometimes I feel like our family is on the periphery as most people already have their network of family and friends already to connect with and I sometimes feel a bit like late gatecrashers to a well-established party. I am not complaining, it is just a fact of life and totally understandable given the situation. But I do wonder whether there are lots of other expats and maybe others that also feel the same.

I have to admit it was feeling quite painful to me, like we were missing out, not being part of a thriving social community. One paranoid thought leap to that we had been left out and that everyone was out getting together without us. But as I have pondered this week, it now has evolved to feeling quite different to me. It has again, like so much of this expat experience, strengthened my relationship with my husband and our children. It has made us both a lot more conscious about how we plan and spend our time at weekends or during holidays. Whether we already have enough on, do we really do want to be sociable or not? It is challenging me to think of ways to deepen my connections with those that I want to and how to develop and start new friendships.

It has also forced me to really question my own thoughts. I remind myself of the incredible wisdom and teaching of Tara Brach :

Thoughts and beliefs are navigational maps that are not inherently true. Rather, some serve us and others cause feelings of separation, self-aversion and/or blame of others. We can free ourselves from harmful beliefs by investigating them with a dedicated, mindful and courageous presence. 

Tara Brach, on her website
drop in the ocean under the surface

Having thought about my own fears and worries, it has enabled me to really shine a light on them. Are people really all getting together without us? Maybe. Maybe not. It actually feels like many people are still being pretty careful here where cases are very high again. It is easy to get caught up in old stories from childhood or whenever where we may have been left out by friends at school, in the playground, at a party, wherever. Just because that happened then, doesn’t mean it is happening now. And if it is, how do I really feel about it? We don’t have to be ‘best’ friends with everyone. Do I want to do something about it? I can choose I how I respond.

But in all this, it is not easy to admit to anyone how we are really feeling, be authentic (really) and open up. But I have found whenever I do, even a little bit, it is met with kindness, compassion and a bit more vulnerability on their part too. That is how connection is made and developed. I admitted to a good friend a few weeks ago how I felt about life here in Spain, having not found my niche personally or professionally (which also compounds the peripheral feeling).
As soon as I articulated it, even just outside of my own head, it made total sense, particularly with what is happening in the world these last nearly 2 years. But sometimes we get so caught up in our own stories and fears, that we can’t see the reality of the situation. We can empower ourselves to change it, not be the victim.

So as I write this now, no I am still not planning on organising any wild parties, I’m not even going to start joining some of the Facebook or real-life social groups out there, for now. I am going to try and sit with these feelings and think about what I really want:

Do I really want lots of friends or acquaintances, evenings and weekends booked up with plans for us or do I want something different?

What I really want is a life, including a social life, that really works for me, that brings genuine connection and fuels the soul. Not a full diary or lots of distractions to ensure that we don’t spend a single moment feeling peripheral or alone.

How do you feel about life socially right now, whether you are an expat or not have things returned as before or have you noticed a change in your friendships and relationships? I would love to hear from you in the comments below…..

Photos by Nathan Boadle, Victor Dementiev, Almos Bechtold, Alex Perez all on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Feeling Peripheral

  1. I wanted to leave a note to thank you for writing this post. I came across it while trying to figure out thoughts about belonging, identity, and living away from where I grew up, and what that now means (and how its shifted as a result of the pandemic) Its been so helpful to read this. Thank you.

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment, I am so glad to hear that this post was helpful. Apologies for the delay in replying, but my spam filter seemed to block your comment 🙁

      I can totally empathise (as you no doubt could tell from my post!) about belonging in particular, it is such an important human need and one that whether your an expat or away from your ´home´ creates many thoughts and feelings. I hope that you are finding some peace in knowing that you are not alone in feeling this way.

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