tiistai 26. syyskuuta 2017

I Am a Highly Sensitive Person & It's Okay


Two weeks of university life have passed and the change of life has, inevitably, forced me to face myself. I am a Highly Sensitive Person and this trait (not a disorder) just simply does come with its particular set of gifts and limitations. I just tend to forget about them whenever I have managed to build my own comfortable bubble. It's meeting people, being put in new situations and just in general having a lot of things happen at once that makes me realise that I don't function like most other people. 

In short high sensitivity means that the body processes sensory data more deeply and thoroughly due to a difference in the nervous system. Elaine Aron has summarized the trait with the acronym DOES, which stands for:

Depth of Processing

We process received information naturally more thoroughly than non-HSPs due to the differences in our nervous systems. We are also more aware of the subtleties in our environment.

Overstimulation

HSPs can get overwhelmed by both internal (such as feelings and thoughts) and external (lights, noises, people etc.) stimulation. This is the aspect of the trait that often causes most problems for HSPs as it basically makes it impossible to tolerate the hectic lifestyle that is normal for the non-HSPs. For me overstimulation feels like being "filled up" and I just urgently need some down time to even function normally. If this withdrawal to the calm isn't possible I start feeling  confused, foggy, clumsy, irritated and all kinds of emotional. 

Emotional Intensity & Empathy

HSPs have strong emotional responses and they are very empathetic due to their highly responsive mirror neurons. This also makes them skilled at reading other people's feelings, but in the other hand they get easily affected by someone else's mood (especially negative).

Sensory sensitivity

We tend to have lower tolerance for a bunch of  external stimulation: coffee, alcohol, bright lights, noisy or chaotic surroundings, uncomfortable clothes etc.

It's been about 4 years since I found out that I'm a HSP and it was an emormous relief to be able to finally name that something, that profound difference between me and most other people. However, I do still struggle with self-acceptance and the persistent need to "be normal" and fit in. For a HSP to insist living life exactly like non-HSPs is basically the same as banging one's head against a wall. It just doesn't work and this is where being highly sensitive becomes relevant as I try to explain my feelings about my first weeks back to school. So, I had this image in my head that I would be all open minded social butterfly and everything would be great, easy breezy. Mind over matter and so on. I thought that I could become friends with just anyone if I just got over my "overly high expectations".

Here's why being a HSP makes things complicated
  1. I crave for adventure, but big changes can be too tough on my body and mind.
  2. I want to make friends, but most people don't really spark my interest since I always look for "that special someone" who will understand me.
  3. I want to be social, but social settings are full of stimuli + small talk bores me (anybody wanna discuss meaning of life?)
  4. When I force myself to just do it and break the ice, people find me strange as I try to nervously imitate small talk (I can't).
  5. With non-HSPs there will always be the inevitable, distance creating dynamic of "I really don't get who you are"
  6. I am deeply interested in people and my eagerness to discuss life and feelings can be too much for most. 
  7. At the end of the school day I'm so exhausted that I have no more energy to ask people to hang out.

Voilà. I was first disappointed that I didn't live up to my expectations and be immediately at ease in my new life. I felt guilty and blamed myself for being so stupid, awkward and incapable of adaptation. Then I realised that, what the hell, this is who I am. This is not my fault and there is nothing to apologize for. The others are so at ease because that's who they are. They don't have to like or understand me and I do not have to force myself to like them. And that's okay. I am part of the 20 percent of the population that experiences life from a different angle so, naturally, a lot of people will not be for me. I have also been these past few weeks in a constant state of overwhelm as there's a lot of things (and the 7000 students...) to get used to, but I know that even socializing will become much easier when I'm not so preoccupied by everything else. It just takes a bit of time and it'll be fine (as so many times before).

Anyway, I haven't mentioned yet here on the blog (I'm more active on instagram) that I made it to the B2 language level group! I'm very proud I got this far by just mainly listening to the people around me. There's though a certain level of pressure involved in being placed on this level as I have never actually studied the French grammar. I hardly even know how many words are written...Gladly I'm not the only one in our small group with this problem so the teachers are willing to adjust the course to our needs. I have learnt already so much, but the more I learn the more I also realise how much I didn't know! 

Did you make some sort of life change this autumn? How is it going?

maanantai 4. syyskuuta 2017

The First Day Of University




I am going to study French for a full academic year and today was my first day! The schedule was very light as we just gathered to receive some informations and listened to a welcome speech from the teachers and other school staff. 

When I arrived at the meeting point, I found people waiting around, divided in large groups that all seemed to already know each other. I knew that in this mass of people there were both the Erasmus students and the other foreigners (like me) who were going to do only language studies and eventually obtain the French Language Diploma. We were just all put together for the Welcome Week and the rest of the year our schedules would be different. I had no idea which students were going to be in my program (much easier to break the ice and start a conversation with) so I decided to just observe and see what happens for the moment. I eyed through each group and let the visual images, different voices and perceived social connections sink in. 

Standing alone in the middle of the different groups, for a moment a flashback from my childhood took over of which followed a second of panic: what if I will not be able to talk to anybody? But the moment passed and things started rolling with their own weight: the speeches started and ended, we made our way to the refreshments, someone jumped from the crowd to chat with me, disappeared and another took over and so it continued...I even got a chance to try out my japanese skills, which always brings me such huge joy even though it gives me each time a reminder to keep practicing not to eventually forget it all.

So, how does one feel on the first day of university in a foreign country? Well...strange and surreal. What takes me apart from the others is that I have already been in the country for over a year and in a sense these foreigners are to me both familiar and more foreign than the french. I am however open to the change and curious to see where this new adventure takes me.

Tomorrow is a new day and I will be taking an exam for the first time in a looong time! This test will define my French language level and it will determine which group I will be joining for the rest of the year.


sunnuntai 20. elokuuta 2017

Times I Jumped To Conclusions Abroad


Misunderstandings abroad are inevitable and they happen for many reasons: cultural differences, prejudices, insufficient mastering of the language or simply misreading the situation. These moments can be hilarious, but also awake feelings of embarrassment, sadness and anger. I can name several situations where my misapprehension sparked negative feelings and either made the already charged circumstances worse or turned a completely harmless one into something hurtful in my mind. I have a vivid imagination which can very efficiently paint a distorted image of the reality.

Last time this morning I ruined a nice family outing for myself by stirring in my own bitter imaginations and misjudgements. We were at the flea market and I had been going through one vendor's scarf selection. The scarves were neatly folded and I had been unfolding them to get a better look at their colours and patterns. I was deeply focused when the vendor spoke to me and I heard her say, "Do you want to unfold them?" I was surprised and confused since I had been unfolding them under her nose already for a few minutes so I just replied, "Umm..no, it's fine." I didn't look up, but heard a nervous burst of laughter. I associate that sound with disbelief when faced with something utterly and unexpectedly rude. Had I misunderstood the lady? She must have not said what I thought...Oh, shit. She probably told me to refold them! And I replied back like that...I was feeling confused, embarrassed and pissed off all at once. I thought she was mad at me for messing up her organization. And I was vexed because I would have folded them up nicely after I had finished and probably even bought something. Well, because of me misjudging the whole situation in the first place, I left her stand empty-handed and with mixed feelings. Only when we were finally home and I checked from dictionary the word she had used (déplier = unfold), I realised that I had made it all up in my head and the vendor had just tried to be helpful.

This little episode made me recall another time (in Japan) when my imagination magnified a totally harmless scene into a horrible betrayal. I happened to overhear my name in a conversation between my teacher and three classmates. I was about two meters away and didn't even hear anything else but my name and saw their serious faces. I thought they were all criticising me behind my back! I headed to the library to study japanese for a couple of hours, constantly wondering what I had done wrong and why they just didn't talk straight to me. Fired up, I decided to go face them and find out what they were talking about earlier. Well, it turned out that the teacher had been just trying to comfort my classmates since they were scared about their upcoming short exchange in Canada. And my teacher had used me as an example to give them more confidence! To be fair, my past encounters with the japanese behaviour of avoiding confontation had made me jumpy and paranoid about hearing my name in a conversation. 
These are just a few of the misunderstandings I have had during my time as an expat, but there are maaany more and probably some that I never even realised happened. Every once in a while there are just those situations when I reply to someone (in my opinion in a totally sensible, correct way) and I get back a blank face combined with a weak smile. There are some cases that will remain eternal mysteries...

Do you have a wild imagination like me? I would love to hear some of the times that you jumped to conclusions abroad!

perjantai 11. elokuuta 2017

A Day In Arles & Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer



Yesterday we decided to spend some quality time with Q's mother and sister-in-law. We headed to explore the town of Arles following an afternoon at the beach in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.



Arles is a southern French city famous for its many roman time monuments and the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh who lived there from 1888 to 1889. The city is very beautiful although a bit too touristic to my taste. You can buy just about anything with one of Van Gogh's paintings imprinted on it.
















A rule of thumb in France is that the further south you go, the less polite, law-abiding and angry people get. Things haven't really changed in the last 129 years as when the artist Gauguin, Van Gogh's friend and rival, visited the city he hated it for its disagreeable habitants. I had just told this story to my mother-in-law by a cup of coffee when she got yelled at by the waiter. The service is polite only as long as you don't dare to ask for the bill. Last year that sort of drama would have still shocked me, but I was pleased to notice that now it just genuinely amuses me. If you are planning to visit, try to avoid the most touristic-looking restaurants and bars to get more decent service. 



Our closest beach (about 1h 30 mins by car) is located in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, capital of the Camargue natural region. The town is famous for numerous reasons: its beaches, white horses, bulls, flamingos and a large regional parc.











We spent the afternoon enjoying the sea wind, swimming and tanning and then went to have a little stroll in the town. Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer survives mainly for its tourism so the downtown is everything you would expect from a beach resort: ice cream, souvenir shops and many bars and restaurants.

We returned home tired but happy, tanned and two kilos of sand in our hair, clothes and bags!

perjantai 4. elokuuta 2017

July Favorites


I know this is about the most cliché thing ever to say, but where the hell did last month go?? I wonder if it really has to do with age (they claim time feels faster the older you get) or I just need to focus more in the present moment. In any case, I will definitely remember last July as the hottest one I have ever experienced here in Provence. Bad news is that the goddamn heat has followed us all the way to August. Car trips make me recall what a badly heated sauna feels like (no AC and passenger side window is jammed) and to fall asleep we rely on wet towels on our naked bodies. Well, lets maybe be more positive and take a look at the things I actually loved in July! 

Eating Clean



As soon as my brother and his gf were on the plane back to Finland, Q and I stopped consuming wine, cheese and pastries as if it was 1999 and I'm so proud of the determination we have had ever since! It's definitely easier to stay on track when we are not hosting people nor constantly visiting Q's parents. Recently though my parents-in-law have been very supportive and they try not to tempt us. My father-in-law is also supposed to be on a strict diet for health issues so we can motivate and encourage each other. 

Q and I have both some kilos to shed, but our way of eating has so many more benefits than just weight loss. When I eat well I notice it also positively affecting my mood, hair and nail growth plus skin health! We eat lots and lots of fresh vegetables and fruits which are so easily accessible here. Quinoa, bulgur and whole wheat bread provide us carbs and turkey, chicken, fish and eggs protein. But I still have my one glass of good wine every sunday!

Lavender Honey



Just look at that! That right there was one kilo of lavender honey three weeks ago. Our lovestory with this specific sweet gold started already last summer, but it was in june that we made the one hour trip to Gordes to the producer in order to stock up big time. Hah, we thought this one kilo would last us at least three months. Such naivety. We have added it in our tea and natural yogurt daily and this is the result. It's super delicious with butter on a good baguette, too. I told Q that next time we will buy two or three kilos to be safe.

Swimming




With the heatwave around it has been very easy to stick to our habit of heading to the pool at least 3 mornings per week. Our current routine is to swim 30 lengths which makes a total of 750 meters. The goal is to get to 1 kilometer with 40 lengths. After that it is just about improving strength, speed and technique. We have already come so far though as in the beginning we could only swim five lengths in a row and now ten!

At the pool it's funny to observe cultural differences. In Finland, for example, we are very fine with being naked even around strangers in swimming pool dressing rooms and showers. Here most often the women undress their bathing suit just until the hips when washing up. According to Q, the men are less concerned about showing their private parts though. Another difference is the amount of gadgets people have. It makes me smile when I think about what a basic Finnish guy would say about the french showing up with their palm and foot paddles, pull buoys (yeah, I had no idea that blue foam thing between the thighs was called that until I googled it), water resistant mp3-players, kick boards and nose pinchers. I haven't been to a pool for a while in Finland, but back then people barely had swim caps (and having one was a sign of a serious swimmer). 

Swimming is our sport of choice not only because it is too hot for anything else, but because for me it's doctor's orders. I have had some knee pains for months already and the conclusion was that I'm simply not overall muscular enough. My bad posture was also an indicator of muscle weakness. Quite shocking to be in such a bad shape at 26! Swimming is excellent for people like me who can easily injure themself with high impact sports; it's gentle on the joints while the whole body gets stronger. And lets not forget that it also burns major calories.

Moomin Shopping Bag



Like all Finns I'm a huge Moomin fan. I got this shopping bag at a grocery store in Finland last december, but it was just last month that I started consistently taking it with us to the food store. And I'm loving how it reminds me of Finland and all the funny (and some deep also) Moomin stories everytime I use it. 

Finnish Music


There's no denying it: Finland is the home to some of the most musical people in the world. There are so many new talented artists making their way to the charts all the time. Not many countries have their spotify top 50 filled with songs made by their own countrymen, in their native language. I'll list below some of my most listened Finnish songs in July.










I hope you had a great month of july (and well, if not, let's leave it behind us). Until next time!


torstai 27. heinäkuuta 2017

The Blues & Life Updates


It's time again for some real talk about the challenges of expat life. 

For the past few weeks I have been constantly carrying this heaviness in my chest, no matter how hard I have tried to pretend it's not there. I try to be fine during the day, but all night I clench my teeth together and dream of horrible things. This period of anxiety and generally feeling just down, started when I realised that I am losing many of my old friends back in Finland. As an expat you get to experience first hand the fact that most friendships exist only as long as it's convenient. As long as both are in the same school, job, city, hobby... They vow eternal friendship on social media, but ignore my private messages. Yes, it hurts even if I try to be the bigger person about it. "Oh well, their loss"-attitude doesn't take away the feelings of abandonment and betrayal.

And then suddenly, my sorrow is not only about loneliness, but everything at once: the past, the present, the future. I try my best to stop the snowball effect, but maybe in this case the healing will be in the aching. Giving myself the permission to grieve what is lost and maybe then...move on. 

In september I will start my French studies at the university. I trust that having something structured and concretic to do from day to day will already improve my mood enormously. Currently I just feel so foggy and indecisive about everything that school will give me a much needed kick to the right direction. I will also finally be in an ideal place for meeting people. People with similar life stories and interests. If everything goes according to plan *knocks wood*, the coming autumn will make things fall into place.

Meanwhile I have started to follow one of my oldest passions: painting. Once a week I go to a local atelier to make some art. The workshop is open for anyone who wishes to discover their creativity. There are people from all walks of life. The atelier even holds exhibitions for which you receive help to price your works. Everytime I go there is an exercise of diminishing the little voice in my head that says "You are not up to this." It's time to follow my intuition and find my confidence again.

So, feeling blue for now, but staying hopeful :)

torstai 20. heinäkuuta 2017

Finished Crochet & Knitting Projects

It's been quite a while since I talked about knitting or crochet, my two big passions, here on the blog. Nevertheless, I have been keeping my hands constantly busy behind the scenes. The only problem is that I seem to start lots of projects, but then mystically I end up with a pile of unfinished stuff. The situation got recently critical and I finally pushed myself to just do it. Now I have a pile of cute handmade items ready to be used plus I don't need to feel guilty about starting anything new! Ever since I received the new number of Novita-magazine, I have been eyeing it almost everyday and feeling so inspired. For example, I dream of starting one of the amazing crochet pullovers (I don't even care it's 35 degrees here). Now I just need to order some skeins of cotton yarn from Finland for the project.

One of the best things about finishing everything I have been working on is that I can finally share my finished items with you. I hope you will be inspired to make something with your own two hands, too.



This summery yellow market tote bag is actually my latest work! I used the tutorial you can find here. You can make the bag by just using your fingers (as instucted in the tutorial video) or with a large crochet hook. It was my first time trying finger crochet and I was suprised by two things: 

1. It's very easy.
2. It hurts. 

Well, obviously my fingers were not used to work so hard for hours in a row (I finished in one afternoon). Once you have strong fingers you can really enjoy the method though! It was definitely a fun experiment, but next time I'll probably use a hook anyway...However, I love how stretchy (but not too) and squishy it turned out. It's comfy to keep on the shoulder, too. It served as my pool bag this morning and performed excellently.



Continuing with another crochet bag! When I created my capsule wardrobe  I was complaining that I don't have any tote bags. Originally I wanted a leather tote and I searched for one in flea markets and second hand stores. As I had no luck, I figured that for summer I could make a crochet tote with materials that I already have at hand: canvas bag, cotton yarn and some fabric (made in France!) for lining. I would still like to replace the handles with something more sturdy as they tend to be uncomfortably thin when I'm carrying half the house in my bag. For now it functions as it is.


Pouches! I'm not only crazy about boxes but also all sorts of cute pouches to arrange my things. 


This one consists of two granny squares which I just stitched together. I use it for now as my camera's protection. Would work great for keys too as I added the clip.





The two last ones I crocheted using the star stitch. I'm loving all sorts of pom poms and tassels these times so I didn't hesitate to add them on both. Both pouches have a white cotton lining with silvery pineapples! I use the smaller pouch for keeping my eyeglasses safe in my bigger bag. The other one I might give as a gift to someone :)




More crochet pouches. The first two are again created from two granny squares attached together. I attached zippers and they are perfect for storing my little sewing tools or serving as a coin purse. The last one is my first attempt at crochet pouches. I didn't add a closure nor lining, but it works well for keeping my tissue papers organized in my tote bag.




This turquoise blue cross body bag was supposed to be much bigger, but it ended up being just a tiny bit more spacious than my other capsule wardrobe purses. In that sense it is a bit of a fail even though I really like how it turned out. I am not wearing it actively at the moment since I want to purchase a proper strap for it. My mom loved it so much that I made one for her too. She told me that she already got compliments wearing it!



Problem: laptop has no case.
Solution: Grab some yarn and make it yourself.

This case was created by using zpaghetti t-shirt yarn. Their yarns are made from the waste of garment industry!


I had some cute yarn I purchased in Finland back in december. Once again I didn't care much about the local weather. I felt like making mittens so I made a pair. Not the best idea though as a subject for this bulky yarn...they ended up ridiculously thick for me to ever wear in France. I will send them to Finland.


The last item! We had four incredibly ugly couch pillows so I crocheted them new covers. The pillows were thin so I put two in each case. This one is gray-white and the other one is fully white.

Whoooo! We have reached the end of my latest creations. I decided to introduce all of them in one post since I'm too impatient to carry on with my new projects. If you have questions about how to make some of these, I will do my best so explain.