On December 28th, 2012, I left my life as I knew it behind in the States and, as my dad recalls, I practically ran to the gate to leave for Finland. He says I never looked back towards his direction as I disappeared through the security checkpoint. I’m almost certain that moment hurt him and it wasn’t intentional, but I was determined to go. I needed to go. I don’t regret my move or any part of life’s journey in general, since it makes us who we are and who we ultimately become.
Finland, this dear country, has softened me. It has melted my aggression and taken away my fears. Finland is like a motherly embrace after seeing monsters under your bed for the first time. It’s both comforting and simple. Life here isn’t defined by money, exhaustion, pain, stress, health issues, material things, or fabricated emotions. I no longer walk through life as a zombie, numb to everything that is happening around me. I don’t assume the worst or expect things to be difficult because of a seriously flawed system. I don’t worry about health care and I definitely don’t carry a weapon anymore.
I see beautiful people in all phases of life. I see tanned skin, saggy boobs, and wrinkly faces. I see truly happy kids and father’s pushing strollers while the mother is working. I see pale legs and insanely drunk people. I hear strong laughter and loads of silence. I see real human emotions, not fake, over-exaggerated, Hollywood quality expressions. Nudity has a whole different meaning here and I drink a lot more coffee.
People have a very different way of caring here. They really care. You can see it in their eyes and their expressions. Their expressions form facial patterns that I don’t even recognize and it always catches me off guard. It’s really hard to explain without experiencing it for yourself. It’s not to say Americans don’t care, but we have limited time to do anything over there and caring is rushed and oftentimes insincere and somewhat bothersome. A perfect example would be, a comment as simple as “I haven’t slept in a few days” results in a very serious reaction of concern and advice from a Finnish person. In the states the response would be more like, “Dude, tell me about it!” But of course he/she is not really expecting you to tell them about it, but rather insisting that they have been there, done that, all day, everyday… who cares!?
Oftentimes when people hear that I have moved to Finland from the US they always have the same reaction. "What?! Why here?"
I’ll tell you why.
The American lifestyle is not for me. You have to have very thick skin to live there and you have to be able to detach yourself from any situation convincing yourself with seemingly legitimate cause that even if it’s wrong, it’s life and you don’t really have time to change it. You have to be able to work yourself to the bone and accept that money, success, and sometimes fame is the ultimate prize in life – not family time, vacation time, or your health. You cannot rest for a second because you are instantly replaceable if you do. You become, in a lot of ways blind, deaf, and mute, while at the same time screaming your head off. You feel like a crackhead searching for your drug.
I just couldn’t or didn’t want to live like that anymore. I was lucky enough to grow up with summers in Finland and witness another way of life – a better way of life. Many of my friends and family thought or think I am wasting my life here in Finland, wasting my talents, my potential, and all that I had worked for in the States. They feel abandoned and I’m sorry for that. But I was a hollow shell when I left that country; the emptiness that lived inside me was ruining my life.
Have you ever gone spelunking and entered a large cavern, turned off your headlamp, and just stood there in the complete and utter darkness – feeling nothing, seeing nothing, and yet at the same time the darkness is so intense and heavy? Almost crushing? Yeah, that is way more emotion than I ever felt. Of course, in the US you feel anger, fear, passion, and joy, but the commitment to your emotions is flawed somehow; it’s insincere or protected rather. Emotions are deeply camouflaged.
I’m not interested in bashing the US, but rather exposing the changes I have undergone living here and to hopefully impart on you how important it is to follow those things in life which make you breath long deep breaths rather than short, panicked ones.
So, let me break it down for you in detail:
Changes to my body:
1. My hair is thick & wavy now. I had super straight, flat-to-my-head, thin hair in the States. A friend stated it as, “When you came here your ears stuck out under your hair,” and now my ears struggle to hold all the hair back behind them.
2. Aches and pains. My joints ached, so much to the point that some days it was painful to walk, sit, or even lay down. I was told I had a vitamin deficiency, but the supplements never helped. Today, the only time I have joint pain is if I have a deadline at work and I forget to get up from my desk!
3. Back pain. Holy crap I used to have such bad back and neck pain daily in the States, now if I have a sleepless night in Finland, which is rare, I wake up with lower back pain or if I drink to much Koskenkorva.
4. Stomach aches. I can’t really say if it is directly linked to the food produced in the US or the overall lifestyle of the US, but let’s just say it was rare to not feel sick after eating. I’ve been hospitalized for food poisoning on numerous occasions. As a comparison, I meet people in Finland, all the time, who have never even had food poisoning. Fascinating... And yes my stomach is pain free here. That weird full and bloated yet empty feeling is gone.
5. My teeth are no longer Hollywood-bright-white.
6. I’m still thin and I eat much more.
7. My friends back home think I have found the fountain of youth living here.
8. I feel my body’s happiness. I feel everything working as it should. I now understand the phrase “listen to your body” because I actually feel it working properly and notice if something goes awry. Previously, everything was so out of whack it was hard to know where to begin to fix it.
9. I actually sleep here.
10. Nervous energy. I can sit still now. I don’t have to be doing something 24/7. My walk is no longer determined, rigid, fast and adorned with my 'don’t mess with me' expression, but rather leisurely and unprotected. I no longer get whiplash if you tap me on the shoulder, nor am I startled from random sounds. I also have stopped training in boxing and martial arts for personal protection and rather now just for the exercise. I don’t want to 'fight you' anymore and my shoulders no longer reside at my ears, tense and stiff, but rest calmly where they should. Also men, for the most part, respect women here. I haven't heard a 'cat call' in years! Degrading comments happened on a daily basis in America.
1. I care more. I’ve always cared and been passionate in life, but I care differently now. I don’t care in a way that requires banners and aggression and fighting for what is right – I care in a way that means stopping by and taking time to have coffee with a friend and listening. Really listening and sharing. (When you are exhausted, stressed, and distracted by a million different things at once, it makes listening very difficult. There’s no unnecessary chatter here.)
2. My hardened shell is disappearing. I’m becoming vulnerable to emotions and experiencing emotions as they happen. It’s crazy weird, but also refreshing.
3. I smile more and I even smile when I’m alone. I can look out over the vast horizon or the sea and just take in all the natural beauty and smile.
4. I’ve been forced to face issues that I’ve never had the time to face before. Americans are incredible at keeping busy, focusing on work, and placing mental health to the side or pretty much out of mind.
5. The guilt for living my life the way I want is slowly, with constant effort, subsiding. For the majority of folks in the US, you are supposed to lead a prescribed lifestyle. By meeting certain milestones every year ensures a good and proper future.
6. Maybe it is part of the aging process or maybe it is influenced by seeing real, everyday people in the news, on TV, in ads, in all the different industries of work here, but I care less about what people think of me here or trying to be on top or discover the next best thing. For example, I drive a car from the 1990s with rust and holes spreading across it like it has leprosy and I couldn't care less. It’s refreshing to just drive an old car. Why? Well, you see, a beat up car to me signifies freedom. I would never drive a car that could potentially break down in the States. I would never be so stupid to rely on humankind to help me if I were to break down on the side of the road. In fact I would be petrified at that thought – who would stop? Would they help me or hurt me? What if it was in a bad area? Would they rob me at gunpoint or worse? Here, in Finland, I could potentially freeze to death if my car broke down in the dead of winter... but I don’t really think about it. You see, you don’t have to think about all the 'what if's here. It frees your mind up to focus on the good things in life. To be honest the only thing that really causes me stress in Finland are my insane student loans back in the US.
7. Relationships. Communication is much easier here in my opinion. It is direct and honest. Nothing is sugarcoated or requires you to read between the lines. It's not a mystery when someone states something. It is almost 99% guaranteed that if a Finn says something, you can rely on them to do it. Americans we say what we don't mean and we don't do what we say we will do. Sounds confusing? Completely!
There is so much more I could add to this list, but I will stop here. Moving to Finland was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life and I couldn’t be more grateful for all that this country has given me and the positive impact it has had on my body, mind, and spirit. We all want different things in life and I hope that whatever you want in life – you find a way to get it, if you don’t have it already. It is always scary and hard to turn your back on what you know and venture out into unknown territory, but I couldn’t imagine going back to the old Alexa and every tear, struggle, and moment of doubt was well worth it to arrive at this moment... content with life.