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How Can a New Culture Lessen Paranoia?

July 31, 2010

Split Personality I, Exterior: Single Exposure Digital Photograph by Kate Sedgwick

Even at my strongest, in Louisville I was always aware of scrutiny. Whether that awareness was coming from inside myself or was the reality is not as important as the way it felt.

If I had told the doctors about this during my hospitalizations, I surely would have been diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic.

At my strongest and most sane, it was something I could ignore, a difference in the way I looked, the clothes I chose to wear, easily explained. I trained my eyes not to search the bar, the store, the restaurant for verification. I could feel the stares, even if it was just a lone, prim church lady silently shaking her head at me in the drug store.

At my worst and most tortured, it was something I could only try not to react to. Ridicule. I knew I was being maliciously maligned, talked about, gossiped about. I was a conspicuous freak to everyone’s amusement, a trove of ribald stories to entertain.

At my worst, my mind would turn actual words into personal, hurtful insults from strangers and co-workers and people I barely knew. Their boring English was converted by my mind to words I had once said, mockingly spit back at me, horrible things other people had said repeated by the table of teenagers next to me at the coffee shop, muttered under the breath of an unknown redneck in line behind me at the convenience store.

Yesterday I was thinking about what Buenos Aires offers me besides culture, a new language and gorgeous views through the bus windows. There are two layers of protection here from the pain my mind inflicted on me in Louisville.

In this vast, densely populated city, my insignificance is evident. I am a stranger here, so no matter what kind of attention I may attract, I can be certain this is based on my appearance rather than my history. Dark hair and eyes and olive skin, I could be from here until I open my mouth and my fits of self consciousness over my foreign status are quite a different thing from the conspicuousness of a layered 20 year history of bullying in school manifest in society at large in the fishbowl of Louisville, KY.

Secondly, I must concentrate to understand people and this level of concentration sideswipes the passive alpha wave listening my brain could convert into malicious words to peck away at my self worth. No matter how much I might want to understand effortlessly, it’s simply not possible and my brain — as much of an expert as it is in martyring itself — can not manufacture devastating insults to me out of Spanish. It’s not that clever.

Besides being relevant experience for the purpose of learning Spanish everyday, besides the friendships I have made here, the nearly two year relationship with my boyfriend, discovering that I love teaching, learning to have the confidence to write without fear, Buenos Aires is letting me save me from myself. Even on the days when my hour-long commute frustrates me and the city saps my energy, being here is more liberating than the best day in Louisville. And that’s one of the reasons I stay.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 2, 2010 12:25 am

    So good to be in a city that’s taking care of you not picking you apart. That’s worth a lot of struggle.

  2. August 2, 2010 3:27 pm

    this is strong.

  3. Lewis permalink
    August 18, 2010 1:10 am

    This is close to the answer I give when someone who counts asks why you moved to Argentina. I tell them that you’ve made some changes and Louisville small town history keeps trying to drag you back.

    Sometimes I just tell people you moved to improve your Spanish.

    • August 18, 2010 9:08 am

      As far as I know, Louisville is not trying to drag me back. People ask about me? People ask you about me? Hmmm. Interesting.

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