Saying goodbye to friends is never easy, but the end of an era can be the perfect reminder to live in the moment.
Living abroad is an immensely rewarding experience: the constant sense of adventure; opportunities for language learning; a greater respect and tolerance for difference. However, as an ex-pat, one inevitably makes a lot of ex-pat friends. It’s only natural – you’re taking language lessons together, perhaps working in international companies, people helpfully introduce you at parties (“Jo – meet Svetlana – she’s Russian so, well, foreign, just like you! You must have lots to discuss…”). And, in my opinion, having ex-pat friends is no bad thing, it’s certainly not a worry.
Until your ex-pat friends come over all patriotic and leave.
My refined and notoriously indecisive Bostonian friend (it’s all very “Where do you summer?” à la Katherine Hepburn), whom I have in past musings referred to as Peggy-Sue, is returning to her native land, where a new job and her wonderful man await. Despite being thrilled for her, this imminent departure makes me unutterably sad. Peggy was a bridesmaid at my wedding; she’s spent Christmas with my family; I call her when I need to work out the Big Issues of life and when I have nothing other to report than what I ate for dinner. Her not being in the same country or even in the same time zone any more will leave a chasm in my life.
All good things
Quite a few friends have left Paris recently – sabbatical years, travelling, job opportunities – but they all plan to come back. Not Peggy-Sue. She’s leaving on a jet plane and not coming back again. Since I found out, I’ve been heavy-hearted, with an unshakeable end-of-an-era feeling. The fact that Peg’s departure coincides with my getting married and a number of friends either doing likewise or having babies only adds to my fin-de-siècle malaise. Like many thirty-somethings, we’re closing the Roaring Twenties chapter of our lives and starting a new one; and while, in its own way, it’s equally as thrilling, I can’t help but mourn the end of a glorious period of much spontaneity and few responsibilities.
Profit and loss
The French have a wonderful verb for which I’ve never found a satisfying English translation: profiter. It means “to make the most of” or to “fully take advantage of”, though neither seem to really capture the notion of living fully, enjoying, savouring. It’s a word I’ve often had in mind of late. Have I lived this era of my life to the full? Have I made the most of my twenties and of Peggy Sue, enjoyed time spent together, gone places and done things we wanted? I’m still trying to answer myself, and I’m guessing the reply is somewhere in the grey area of “yes, but could have done more”.
Making your mind up
So that’s what I’m trying to focus on in the run-up to Peggy’s leaving. Living deeply and fully. Enjoying every moment. Savouring the people in my world. I can’t redo the chapter of my life that’s slowly coming to a close, but I can learn from it and resolve to make the next one even more of a page-turner. I can make the trip to visit Peggy Sue (and not simply talk about it); schedule skype dates over a glass of wine (and not just collapse in front of the television); make more time for friends who are still in Paris (and elsewhere); book tickets for that stand-up comic/play/band (instead of simply looking at the posters)… I’m sad to see my friend move so far away, but I have control over how our friendship evolves and the time I choose to invest in it from a distance. I can choose to wallow and focus on all the things we’ll no longer do together (silly films, Friday night drinks), or I can choose to be here now and make the most of what is. One path leads to misery and statis, the other promises growth, joy and gratitude.
Even Peggy-Sue would see that’s no dilemma!
The long nights and chilly air this time of the year can make us all want to take a duvet day or indeed a duvet month, but when it comes to fighting fatigue, attitude is half the battle.
Maybe it’s because of the winter weather, maybe it’s the general economic slump, maybe it’s an age thing, but I have noticed a tedious new phenomenon in discussions among colleagues and friends. I call it Fatigue Fighting. Sample dialogue:
Me: Morning James, how are you? Have a good weekend?
Sébastien: Yeah, great. I did nothing but sleep. Took a long nap Saturday afternoon.
Me: What a luxury!
Sébastien: Yeah, I’m just so tired! How are you?
OK, not too bad – James’ weekend was quiet and he’s revelling in that. Good for him. But look what happens when Marie joins us at the water cooler:
Me: Hey, Marie – how are you?
Marie: Oh, exhausted! I had about 6 hours sleep last night. And I’ve got meetings all day.
Sébastien: God, I know. I was still awake at 4am. I must have slept all of 5 hours.
Marie: And the problem is the night before that I was up at 4am for an early flight, so that makes two nights where I’ve got no sleep. I’m a zombie today!
Sébastien: Tell me about it. I’m already on my fourth coffee and it’s only 11am! It’s going to be a long day.
The city that doesn’t sleep?
Blah, blah, blah, winge, whine, complain. Is it a Paris thing, or are city dwellers like this the world over? I say city dwellers because it does feel like metropolis madness. It goes hand in hand with the complaint that in the big bad city life moves too fast, people walk too quickly, we don’t know our neighbours, we’re always running around… All of which are ills we can combat daily and can choose to partake in – or not. I happen to take my time whenever possible, I don’t make back-to-back appointments with friends or co-workers, and the Beloved and I have had drinks with our neighbours on several occasions. Life in a city can be whatever you want it to be – that’s one of the biggest advantages of living in a sprawling urban centre.
Now, to get back to the tiredness tantrums. Let’s not underestimate the importance of sleep. Whatever you may need – be it eight or three hours a night – it really is a need, and one that you should definitely fulfill for yourself. If you’re suffering from long-term sleep issues, you should clearly see a doctor. And if your lifestyle is such that you regularly get too little sleep, need to stay in bed until 2pm every Saturday and Sunday, and feel perpetually one degree under, you absolutely need to make some major changes to your routine! The easiest way to get more sleep is simply to sleep more. Excluding anyone who has children from what I’m about to write, the biggest obstacle to most people feeling less tired is just to go to bed a little earlier.
Without having to make fundamental changes to your lifestyle, there are a few adjustments you can make to feel a general energy boost. What about taking a short walk in the fresh air after lunch? Instead of phoning through to a colleague with a question, get up from your desk and take a walk over there. Make sure you take regular breaks from the computer – look out the window, fill your water glass, stand up and stretch your arms. And what about your diet? What you put into your body is as important for tiredness levels as how much you rest it. Are you really getting your five daily portions? Could you add a mid-morning banana or orange? And how much water do you actually manage? Filling a litre bottle each morning and making sure you get through it by home time is a good way to stay on track. Coffee is sometimes a quick fix, but causes you to feel even worse when the caffeine wears off. Since I gave it up completely, my energy levels have gone through the roof!
You feel your focus
While you’re making some adjustments that in time will boost your energy and help you feel less lethargic, you can also implement the biggest and most immediate change. You can stop thinking, talking and worrying about how tired you are. Let’s look at my sample dialogue. Did it help James and Marie to share their tales of insomnia and much-needed naps? Did they feel any better afterwards? Probably not. In fact, chances are they just made themselves even more aware of how much they needed sleep and more convinced of how hard getting through the day was going to be. What if that conversation had gone more like this?
Marie: Morning James, how are you? Have a good weekend?
Sébastien: Yeah, great. Very relaxing – really indulgent and luxurious. How are you?
Marie: Super, thanks. Pretty busy, and I spent lots of time with the kids. Getting back to work is going to be restful!
Sébastien: Wasn’t it Louis’ birthday party on Saturday? How did that go?
Nothing has changed for either of these tired people but their focus. But that’s the first thing that needs to change for you to feel just a bit more energetic. It’s simple: if you focus on fatigue, you’ll feel the bone-crushing tiredness and rush to the coffee machine. But if you look elsewhere, you might just find you forget that you didn’t get your full eight hours and find that, before you know it, you’re whizzing through the day, talking about more interesting things with colleagues and friends, and – well, what do you know? – it’s bedtime already.