First Days in Finland: Running Backwards


Early in the morning, I arrived in Finland with bags of expectation, desire, and fear. I didn’t realize it at the time, though, because I made it very, very clear in my head that no matter what I would be at the whims of fate in this new country and that I would have to focus my energy on adaption. I missed my bus connection, so I calmly walked to a nearby gas station and asked the attendant if she could call me a cab and bought some salty licorice. ‘First problem averted, no biggie, I’m doing great’, I thought. Looking back, it’s funny how wisdom can act like a safety blanket, as though if we expect something or call it out it stings a little bit less. This is true, in the long term, but I held this abstract concept of going-with-the-flow like a shield and it turned into a prism in a room of mirrors, compounding every string of worry, loss, and sadness into anxious cycle of ‘holding it together’.

I remember my first week being so so so hard. I had a lot of free time and free space, because I moved in on a holiday into an unfurnished studio apartment. The first few days were great, but this strange tinge started to build, like there was layer of eggshells between my spine and skin. I realized once I arrived how I’d never really been alone before by circumstance, instead of choice, and that feeling was a lot to handle. I knew consciously that it was all OK and that this would pass, but it was the incongruence between the worry that I felt and this peace which I grasped intellectually that pushed me deeper and deeper into panic. Scary thoughts and images would flood in and I would try to blot them out with better ones, thinking, ‘You’re in a brand new country, stop feeling worried, and appreciate this opportunity’. Soon enough, I pushed my body into a kind of numbness and this ambivalent fear engulfed the images of the people I loved and my own future, and terror seemed to follow me everywhere.

I want to write about the lesson I learned from this. I want to call out the silver lining. I want to remind myself why this doesn’t have to happen again in the future. But, I know I’m writing from the edge of the storm. I’m in a lot easier position now, but I won’t always be. If there’s anything Finland has taught me about myself it’s that the storm is what keeps me alive. The wind underneath all the stability we associate with ourselves, family, and circumstance doesn’t have a resolution or harness. Ever. It’s the wind which rubs me raw, and if I’m honest with myself, it’s the only thing which compels me to act. I don’t need to be calm, I don’t need to be confident, I don’t need to be collected. The fuel of life as I see it is a vitality which comes from the rawness of doubt, not the comfort of trust. Again, I wish I could stand by something which I’ve learned here to help me ride this energy with grace and awareness, but the truth is we are all running backwards. You can be mindful of this condition, but it doesn’t help it go away or change the fundamental condition. You can fall or you can jump, but don’t expect either to feel like standing.

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