Santiago and Valparaiso, Chile
“There I was, in the middle of the bus terminal in Santiago, tears streaming down my face, with a scammer taking advantage of my emotional state…”
When we are able to take a step back and observe ourselves we can learn many things about the way we function. We can see what upsets us, what makes us feel fulfilled, what our core values are, and how that effects our relations to others. But perhaps most importantly, we can learn to be kind to ourselves. This story is about the day I lost my phone and how it challenged my core beliefs.
It was a sunny day in Santiago, Chile, I woke up to my 8am alarm and got myself ready for the day. We were moving house, or hotel as it were, to the colourful seaside town of Valparaiso. I played Tetris with our belongings in our suitcases and neglected to eat breakfast. We said our goodbyes to the maid, crammed our bags into the tiny Uber car, and set off for the bus terminal. I was feeling depressed and homesick, so I distracted myself with my phone. I took video of the streets to use for a video on Santiago I’m working on. Reminding myself of my purpose and projects didn’t lift my spirits like I hoped it would. My thoughts turned negative, telling me I was a fool to come on this adventure, to spend a year trekking foreign lands, for leaving the comfort and safety of my home and community. I can’t achieve my goals, I won’t obtain personal growth here.
My mind was my enemy and I fought against it. Externally I was going through the motions as we arrived at the bus terminal. Pull the bags out of the car, get my backpacks on and find our way to the cashier window. Ash pulled out his phone and it shocked my brain into gear, and I knew before I even checked my pockets that I had left mine in the Uber. I checked all my pockets and my backpack, but it wasn’t there. I ran out to the road in case it had fallen out of the car, but it wasn’t there either. We went through the Uber app to be patched through to the driver, but he wasn’t answering. We struggled with the online “report a lost item” form which was all in Spanish.
Meanwhile, my brain was in meltdown. My emotional brain was firing out of control and I felt drunk with the overwhelming fight/flight response. I was so disappointed in myself, I was angry and cursing myself through sobs tears, in the middle of the terminal thoroughfare. I am the type of person that always checks the backseat of Ubers and Taxis to make sure I haven’t left anything. But the one time I didn’t do it, is the time that I left something behind. My logical brain struggled to keep up with my emotional overreaction and with each burst came negative thoughts that shredded my self-esteem. How could I be so stupid? I felt that I needed to allow myself to be disappointed so that the message would hard-wire into my brain.
A security guard comes over to warn us that thieves may be around and we are an obvious target. He sees I am upset and asks what is wrong, but he doesn’t speak any English. My Spanish is basic at the best of times, in my emotional state I was useless. The guard calls over some help from a local man in the station who can speak English. Claudio is a rough looking middle aged man, but he seems friendly and helpful. He translates the Uber form for us so we can submit the request. We need to make a decision, do we get on our bus to Valparaiso, or do we delay our trip another day so we can retrieve my phone? Claudio offers to call us if he finds out anymore information about my phone. With the departure time getting closer and feeling like there’s nothing more we can do until Uber responds to us, we get on the bus, and I begin to accept that my phone is never coming back.
I don’t remember much of the bus ride to Valparaiso, I was in my head, putting out fires. The photos and video of my trip that weren’t backed up, I can capture again. The contacts in my phone can be collected again with a simple message on Facebook. I won’t have google translate in my pocket, so I will have to study harder and use my own Spanish from memory. I won’t have a camera, so I will need to get a new one. I may lose my phone number, it has sentimental value as I’ve never changed it. Then I wonder what kind of damage could be done to me if the thieves got into my phone. What personal information could be obtained? My credit cards. I am logged into my google accounts on my phone and those accounts have all my passwords and credit card information saved. But that is still an easy fix, I can log out of those accounts remotely once I arrive in Valparaiso. But the waves of emotion were still washing over me and I have moments of deep sobbing as we pass by roadhouses.
I called into action what I know about the brain, emotions, psychology, and even philosophy, to calm my emotions. I focused on the beginning of my day, spent packing and repacking, I had skipped breakfast because I didn’t want to interrupt my flow. That unmet need for food lowered my tolerance to stress. Which may have led to me being depressed and hard on myself in the Uber. The negative voices in my head, my inner demons that shred my self-confidence, were internalised a long time ago and I’ve been working hard to reduce their power over me. But doing so takes effort and energy, I become preoccupied, and the exhaustion lowered my tolerance to stress. Then at the terminal, taking so many bags from the car, so many items to remember, to keep an eye on, it was too much to manage and I had no head-space left to remember to double-check the back seat.. When I noticed my phone was missing it’s no surprise that I went straight into overload. My amygdala, part of the emotional brain, hijacked my logical thinking prefrontal cortex and I had an emotional meltdown.
Some people have told me that I over-think things, I can’t disagree with that assessment. However, had I not tried and tested a purely logical assessment of my emotions not too long ago, I would not have reached this point where I realise logic isn’t enough. And so I am at a point in my emotional development where I am bridging the gap between thinking my way through life and adding in the right amount of feeling my way through life. Because our thoughts and our feelings are linked, to feel is to think. With each emotion there is a thought, I am sad because I think my phone is gone forever, I am disappointed because I think I am forgetful, I am angry because I think someone will steal my phone. To be able to put my emotions and thoughts into words allowed me to process my feelings and organise my thinking. I was consciously giving my feelings airtime and answering the panicked questions in my head. Because I could recall the times where I didn’t respond to my emotions appropriately I have gained respect for self-care. When I tried something different for myself and it worked, like a hug when I felt alone, a moment to cry when the tears pushed through, or a look at the scenery when the emotions lulled. On this day, I proved to myself that spending so much time on learning about myself, and nurturing my emotional growth, was time and effort well spent. I allowed myself to feel and encouraged myself to think about what I know works for me. It is my personal journey to become a friend to myself.
As I offered myself this time of expression and reflection, this kindness, I notice a pattern. When I imagine that the Uber driver or one of his passengers steals my phone I become more upset. That’s when it dawned on me. It’s not about the loss that makes me upset, I clearly accept every aspect of losing my phone. It’s that I believe every person is good at heart, people aren’t born evil. I have known enough people in my life to confirm that beneath the ego, the bullshit, the facade, people are compassionate and empathetic. To imagine that someone would do wrong by me, to hurt me, challenges my beliefs. If only people knew this about themselves, if only they knew themselves, the world could be a nicer place. I understand the naivety of my belief, because I have no control over other people. And as I try to understand the complexity of the human condition (of my own conditions) I should not be so surprised when I am hurt by others. But it’s not bad to approach life with such an optimistic and openhearted philosophy. I would rather confirm my bias that people are good and be hurt by the exceptions, than be bitter about the times I was hurt and over-looking the good in people. Negativity and pain are a heavy weight to carry. But so is seeing the problems that affect this world and it’s inhabitants, and making attempts to change that image. I decided the latter was more my style. Following my thoughts and feelings on this day lead me to touch on a core belief and I felt like I found myself, like I was more at one with me.
To offer a happy ending to this story, I can tell you that when I arrived in Valparaiso, Uber responded to our message. The driver had my phone and Uber gave us his phone number so that we could organise for it to be returned. My workaway host called the driver and arranged for him to post it to us. The other volunteers were non-judgemental and instantly understanding of my situation, sharing with me their stories of lost items. The friendly translator turned out to be the villain, trying to scam us, but by then we were already talking to the uber driver and could easily poke holes in his fraudulent story. I count myself lucky that my phone was returned to me. But what I really gained from this whole experience was self-confidence in my resilience to overcome my fears that the worst could happen. I rekindled my appreciation for the things in life that really matter to me, self love and love for the good people around me. The anger I felt for myself was unwarranted, I made a very human mistake, and I shouldn’t allow myself to be persecuted for being human. I’m still working to dismantle this negative self-reflection, to stop fearing the thoughts that have brought about many years of depression and anxiety, and face my painful inner voices. But I count it as a win to see the progress I have made. This kind of introspection on the fly, could not have been possible without the protection of a trust-worthy companion. Ash is the encouraging and confident voice that I need to internalise in order to overcome my negativity and grow emotionally. Because we absorb the tone of others. Those bad inner voices came from an outer voice at another time in my life. That is why I am so grateful for the good connections in my life, as they help me achieve inner happiness and maturity.