I was unaware of how long I had been laying on the park bench until I realized the sun was setting. I was hungry too, but I made a deal with myself I couldn’t get off the bench until I knew what I was going to do. Did I look like an unhinged, depressed millennial who dropped their Airpods down a sewer grate? Probably, yes.
That’s the beautiful thing about living in a small town in a different country: you feel way more anonymous and give far fewer fucks.
It felt like Australia was weeks behind everywhere else when it came to COVID-19. I knew it was only a matter of time before the fear, closures and restrictions landed here. People had already begun hoarding; there was one box of overpriced pasta left on the shelf at the grocery store. I had heard murmurings that in Brisbane (the nearest city to the small town I was in) many of the hostels were either closing or not accepting new backpackers.
Things were about to get a whole lot more complicated for working holiday visa holders. I thought my only problem was finding another farm job when the planting season finished. Turns out I had to contemplate a much bigger decision:
Should I fly home to Canada while I still could, or should I stay in Australia?
I had entered into a state akin to when Cameron realizes he ran up the milage on his father’s prized car in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and goes totally catatonic. I know the reference is dated (sue me I fucking love that movie), but it felt like everything in my life froze for three days and wouldn’t resume until I chose to stay or go.
Which is how I found myself laying on a bench for four hours trying to think my way out of it. I felt an enormous amount of pressure to decide so I could start moving forward in some sort of direction.
I’m bad at making decisions, or at least that’s what I’ve always believed to be true.
It’s like my reverse superpower. I do whatever I can to avoid making a choice based on my own opinions, or I put it off until I’m backed into a corner. I also try to please as many people as I can in the process, or at least minimize collateral disappointment.
From the moment my brother called to talk about the Coronavirus situation (that I had been trying my best to avoid thinking about) I knew I was being faced with a
decision opportunity to change.
So I started out by going to my default: trying to choose to stay or go based on other people’s opinions, emotions and experiences. I messaged friends living abroad to see what they were going to do and listened to my friends back home in self-isolation. I called my parents every day and they begged me to make a decision and to come home. I asked other people in my hostel what their plans were. I listened to my brother, who is a doctor and is way more rational then I’ll ever be.
For the most part, none of it helped.
Talking to my fellow travelers didn’t help at all because I realized everyone had such different situations impacting their choice to stay or go. Talking to my friends and family didn’t help because they were mostly mega anxious.
Of course, it goes without saying there were also a bunch of details to do with money, healthcare and housing that impacted my decision that I won’t bore you with. I’ll just say that at the time of making the decision to stay or go I wasn’t in an ideal situation. I also understood that COVID-19 is serious AF and keeping others safe was top of mind for me too.
Before I went and dramatically laid on a bench for several hours, I told my parents I was going to buy a plane ticket and come home.
It felt good to see the relief on their faces on FaceTime, but it also felt like resignation. Instead of buying the plane ticket and waving the white flag, I found myself horizontal in a public place staring at a bunch of white parrots in a tree. I wasn’t sold on the decision I had already expressed my commitment to. I was so annoyed with myself for telling them I was coming home before I had *actually* decided that I practically was hoping a bird would shit on me to SEND ME A GODDAM SIGN AND HELP ME OUT.
I could feel my brain wrestling back and forth between believing in myself, and buying into the fear.
I had the balls to move across the world alone, and felt like I could tackle whatever came at me. Then a very loud, rude part of my brain chimed in with the following messages:
“Your friends and family are worried, don’t be selfish. Besides, what are you trying to prove? Who do you think you are trying to make your own decisions? What if someone I care about gets sick? What if I GET SICK? What if you stay and you end up having to come home anyway NOT ON YOUR OWN TERMS? You’re stupid to stay in Australia during a global pandemic. This has never happened before! What if!!!!!!!”
I eventually got off the bench due to needing to pee.
I went back to the hostel and bought the plane ticket that night. Even once it seemed final and I had backed myself into a corner there was the nagging truth I couldn’t avoid: everything in my body and soul wanted to stay.
Even if it blew up in my face later, I was so tired and frustrated I didn’t care about making the right decision anymore.
I wanted to listen to my gut and make the brave decision.
With some hindsight, I realize now that there were two personal beliefs I was challenging:
- I am bad at making decisions
- I do not believe in myself
I canceled the plane ticket and proved myself wrong to the power of two. I wanted to puke from the uncertainty. I knew I’d be disappointing people I cared about. I didn’t know if I was going to be ok. But I wasn’t just changing my mind about coming home – I felt like I was growing and changing.
Now I wake up and pack apples, grateful to have a job. I have a place to live and I’m grateful to the hostel manager who kept things open and stopped accepted new backpackers to keep me and the others who stayed, safe. I pay a monthly premium for health cover I’d get for free in Canada, and I’m grateful. I even got dumped during the pandemic, and I came out on the other side swinging and still grateful to be here!!!!!!! I miss home, but I’m grateful to have people I love. I acknowledge my privilege in being in a position to make a decision and I am super grateful to have the choice.
Change starts with challenging what you believe to be true about yourself. The behaviour follows those beliefs. Sometimes you have to go backwards in order to move forward, but it’s never too late to be brave (or to cancel a plane ticket and eat some of the cost).