It may seem a little weird to title the first blog post of 2024 with a Taylor Swift (I’m sure you might have heard of her) lyric but in this case, it makes perfect sense to the very personal post I have for you today.
This all started with a question from my husband asking me what I wanted to do for my 40th birthday this July.
Yes, folks, this year is the year that I will leave the exhilarating yet turbulent decade of my thirties and enter a new era that is probably best illustrated by millennials on TikTok.
A few years ago this girl had big plans for my 40th.
A surprise trip away with Nico, dinner with drinks and dancing with our closest friends.
All I wanted was to be encircled with the love of the people who have weathered the highs and lows of life around us and maybe embarrass myself after one-too-many mezcal margaritas and a playlist featuring heavily on Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” and early 2000s pop hits.
However, when I was asked this question recently “What do you want to do” I found myself avoiding the answer, purposely evasive, vague, and most definitely not enthusiastic.
Like who am I right now?
For me, birthdays coincide with celebrating life but also with success and a sense of completion, neither of which I have personally felt in the past few years.
Partly because our life has been decidedly transient. First with the lockdown in Florence and the uncomfortable uncertainty of it all with the exciting news of moving to Switzerland and having Annabelle, a baby that we so badly wanted after years of infertility and infant loss.
What a dream, right?
Then as the dust started to settle my anxiety centered around what I wanted to do professionally and what I wanted out of life.
As we entered year three in Switzerland I still felt woefully behind in my German and didn’t feel like I was doing enough. It was hard to properly find time to work/focus, ah the naivety of new motherhood, all while badly managing a growing sense of isolation and grief after my father died suddenly last January coupled with family pressure back home.
Also, becoming a mother brought about a complex range of emotions that I didn’t expect.
Mainly I felt a major sense of grief over not having active grandparents and family support in the first few years of our daughter’s life but also for myself—feeling a loss of control, of fear over something happening to her, and a sense that the days were long and I wasn’t enjoying them as much as I should. I needed a mom but didn’t have one and never did in the way that I needed. I missed my exciting work world, traveling and being able to have guilt-free time to myself.
In my warped way of thinking, everyone else was doing a better job at life and had an easier time breastfeeding, weaning, or enjoying family time without this constant anxiety that I seemed to personally harbor. I joined a play group in my local town in Switzerland which helped but it was hard trying to make and maintain new friends when I wasn’t my best, happy self. Small talk proved unfulfilling and discussing nap schedules and where we were going on holiday next felt slightly soul destroying.
Frankly, It was easy to feel like an absolute failure for so many reasons and I had a hard time opening up to old and treasured friends about how I was feeling. It was easier to be a shell of myself, an autopilot Georgette that did what she needed to do on a very basic level and who doom scrolled in anxiety over being possibly woken up multiple times at night.
In my head I was constantly giving myself an unhelpful internal flogging. Get it together girl!
It had me constantly thinking about how, just a few years ago, did I feel on top of the world with possibilities and hope to then feel like I was failing everyone and everything in my life, my amazing husband, my miracle daughter, this incredible blog and you guys. I had (still have) a growing general disillusion with social media and how I felt I was meant to communicate to get any views.
I didn’t want to create short videos and spend hours editing reels to get favor in the ubiquitous-yet-purposely-mysterious algorithm when I felt so non-confident and incapable of producing anything worthy.
I’ve always connected more over in-person communication, reveled in camaraderie, seeing actual people and having a real impact professionally. All of which generally slowly erased over COVID and our move abroad.
The truth is, I had a small child and couldn’t know “all of the best places” in Florence and Switzerland. I was mainly at home, on my own or with Nico, encased in a web of complicated and unhelpful thoughts.
A pervasive part of me felt that locally in Switzerland when explaining my work in communications (likely this was perception) I felt that people thought my job was silly and superfluous.
I wasn’t a star in banking, cryptocurrency, or engineering. I don’t speak six languages, have a master’s degree, hike or bike 10 kilometers in my spare time. I don’t plan my social life six months in advance and I wasn’t this super confident stay-at-home mom planning daily Montessori activities at home between baking bread and planning organic, nutritious, meals.
Looking back.. The truth is that I have always had anxiety but having grown up raised by a single father who was dealing heavily and openly with the act of keeping everything together I’ve learned to put my emotions aside, be the perfect friend-colleague-wife who seeks stability and predictability with a bright smile brightly with a calculated “I’m fine” response even if inside felt anything but.
Of course, that sort of attitude when your life implodes on many levels just isn’t sustainable and the cracks start to widen.
I found myself, especially last year, openly emotional with friends which is something I’ve never allowed much for before and something that brought about a lot of inner feelings of shame.
I’ve always felt very comfortable in the “let me listen to you” role as a friend without sharing my deepest darkest demons with anyone aside from the infinitely patient Nico.
Asking for help or dealing with it other than isolating myself seemed impossible because what I lacked was a true sense of compassion for myself. Aging parents and young children are a common reason for stress and anxiety but in my head I should have had everything figured out which is kind of irrational but made sense to me.
I started to get therapy which naturally I should have started much sooner and I started to volunteer with a digital women’s organization that was doing some impactful and interesting things around Switzerland. I hired a business coach to help me navigate what I wanted to do and settle in that I was looking for more meaning in my work life, searching for more of an impact that aligned with my values sets, a chance to mentor more and use my apt communications skills in a way that made more sense in the world I was actually living in now.
Then, we got the news that we were moving back to Italy, something that was unplanned but held some serious mixed emotions.
We had just moved into our dream place in Switzerland and I started to finally get a little traction with my professional life and here we are, starting again in a very familiar but also difficult place.
Florence is home to me and the place I feel most comfortable and happy but compared to Switzerland, the act of even logistically moving back was its sort of special hell that I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with at this vulnerable time in life. The red tape was to be expected but just everything, and I mean everything was hard, especially finding a place to live since our Florence pad was too small for us long term.
Thanks to the rise of Airbnb and short-term rentals, decent long-term rentals in and around the center were increasingly rare or came with caveats like a random washing machine placed precariously up some wonky basement stairs, or a kitchen missing an oven but most of all finding anything unfurnished that would allow us to be residents was the hardest part. People don’t want to rent to families because of Italian rental laws favoring renters and frankly, you can make a boatload of money just charging tourists for weeks at a time rather than giving a family a home. It is what it is.
We had a couple of disastrous rental fails, one of which resulted in Nico quite literally walking out of a house before signing the contract all while being berated by the owner because of a miscommunication with his son and the agent over us bringing our furnishings from abroad.
This guy harangued Nico from the very instant he entered the door, making rude jokes and complaining that we were “so lucky” to get the house at x price because in Zurich things are more expensive (uh yes, as are the higher salaries) culminating with him insulating Nico over expressing emotion over them not being able to figure out a compromise to get us in the home. “This is Florentine humor, you just don’t get it” as if Nico’s 14 years in the country were in some sort of non-Italian expat enclave. It was a true low for us in so many senses of the word and both of us were devastated that our return to a place we loved so much was marred by such an experience.
The good news is, and there’s always some good news isn’t there, is that we did end up finding a house and it’s the perfect place for us as a family.
And naturally, irrationally, for me I was still just waiting for the proverbial ball to drop. But so far it hasn’t.
For the first time, we have a garden (Ginger the beagle is so happy!) and there is such a sense of peace where we live among the olive trees, stone walls and pretty panoramas. I absolutely love where we live.
We traveled to America this December and even though I had a lot of fear over visiting Texas after my father passed, we spent a nice time connecting with long-lost family in Arizona and bonding with others in Texas. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my dorky dad with his big smiles, bad jokes, interesting Uber rides and weird scenarios that only my dad managed to find himself in.
Do I have everything figured out now? The career of my dreams and the perfect confidence as a parent, a friend, a sister, a wife?
No, but I know I will get there.
It’s hard to see what you have already achieved in the present moment because you are so focused on what you have not yet achieved.
I’ve had to take a good hard look at myself, stop comparing myself to everyone else, slow down, and lower my expectations.
Most of all, I’ve needed to get out of my damn way.
I’ve had such fear over sharing anything during a time when I felt so lost as a person and that has to change because the inner thoughts of “you suck as a writer, just stop” just aren’t helpful and I’m kindly telling them to f*** off.
If you too have felt similar feelings, I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone and to have more compassion for yourself.
I’m working on this myself and part of that is just getting back to what I love, writing, sharing, communicating. Being part of something — anything.
Despite the chronic sleep deprivation (toddlers guys!) There is so much of me that still feels like I’m 22 and so much that I do look forward to in life. I still might not know what I’ll do for my 40th birthday but taking this chance to be vulnerable and grow from these tough and amazing past few years is perhaps enough of a kick-start this girl- heck-woman in Florence has needed.
And to you guys, thank you for taking the time to listen.