Facing My Demons in the Land of the Tulips

These posts should be about my new experiences. My travels, the friends I have made, the awesome things I have done and the overall culturally enriching experience of study abroad. I could take this opportunity to share the great things in my life right now, which are more than at maybe any point in my 20 years of life. And I will eventually.

But I need to get something off my chest first.

For as long as I can remember, I have been unhappy. It’s a hard feeling to quantify, but there has been no time in my young life that I can remember feeling honestly happy for longer than maybe a week at a time. I can’t exactly pinpoint when it started, although if I had to guess I would say right when I started sixth grade. I had three really close friends in elementary school, and none of them went to the same school as I did, and I think I had a hard time fitting in in middle school.

I never felt the need to talk to anybody. For one, I was embarrassed, because I had loving parents, a roof over my head, food on my plate, got to go to Oakland A’s baseball games — I didn’t know what I had to be unhappy about. And because of that, I thought people would look down on me for feeling the way i felt … I actually still feel that way sometimes.

I convinced myself around that time that I wasn’t anything like other kids, and honestly that I was inherently worse than other kids. I convinced myself that I would have to work that much harder, and almost be perfect, to see the same respect and love that they did.

Now, that leaves me with a huge chip on my shoulder, which is a good thing — it does make me work harder, drives me to be better. But it also leaves me with a lot of self hate, a lot of regret and some really down days.

I still feel like I have to be almost perfect and that I have to constantly prove myself not only in my job or in school, but with my friends. I have a deep seeded fear that a friend, girlfriend, boss, etc. will drop without a moments notice, because I’m not good enough. Nothing every seems stable — even with my best friends, there’s always a gnawing fear that they’re going to outgrow me, or get tired of me.

This also puts me in a tough spot, because I want to make changes to better myself, but I’m often too scared to do anything, not only because I am afraid to fail, but because I’m afraid it will just confirm my assumption that I’m not good enough.

Being abroad has made this become every more challenging to deal with. Having no real comfort zone, no place to call home, has forced my to evaluate and face my demons. Likewise, having no job or intense schoolwork to distract me gives me a lot more time to overthink and dwell on my mistakes and the things I don’t like about myself. Every mistake is magnified, every flaw I scrutinize more.

I came abroad to see the world, and have an opportunity to, in some ways, reinvent myself. But, above all other things, I have just reminded myself of what I believe are my worst flaws. Some days are bad, and it takes a lot to get myself out of bed, which is sad, because I spend so much time self-reflecting and dwelling on things that I could spend doing one of a million other amazing things.

Honestly, I have been waiting years to be saved. Waiting for my soulmate, an amazing experience, a job, anything, to radically change my life, fill the massive hole that I feel, or inspire me to change myself. But I’ve come to realize that doing so is taking the power out of my own hands. And, really, the only one that can change me, that can fix me to the extent that I feel I need to be fixed, is me.

That is one thing that I thought studying abroad would bring me. I thought that being in a new place, with new people at a new school in a brand new country, would help give me more confidence and make me feel more at peace with myself. But to this point I have spent more moments terrified or nervous out of my mind that I have at peace.

I know that this is a long process, but I was hoping this fresh experience in a fresh setting would mean a fresh me. Maybe I’ll see a change when I go back to San Diego, where I already feel comfortable and strong. But I don’t want to have to wait that long; I am done wasting my time. I am done being unhappy.

But until then, my confidence will continue to be consistently inconsistent, my mood flipping from despondent to ecstatic by the drop of a hat.

Hopefully the sun and tulips will help put me in a better mindset for the springtime, because more than anything I want to enjoy my last two-plus months in the Netherlands.


Zach Engberg is a junior journalism major. He is studying abroad at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands this spring.

2 thoughts on “Facing My Demons in the Land of the Tulips

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  1. It is still mind-blowing to me to think that it took for us to come 5000 miles away from San Diego to meet Zach (especially knowing you have been inside my old apartment back home!). I appreciate you being real with the audience, but more happy you have found yourself able to write and feel how you are feeling internally. We have around 2 months left, lets make the best of them! And the six of us SDSU Rotterdam exchange student will continue to keep our memories coming when we are back in San Diego man. You know where to find me in Rotterdam and San Diego if you need to talk.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Zach – how refreshingly honest your writing is. I want you to read Herman Hesse ‘Steppenwolf’. And I would love you to see this short video by School of Life – it’s a great site with lots of free stuff, podcasts etc. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbtflLkVv4E
    Most men lead lives of quiet desperation, but you don’t have to! Watch Alan Watts on you tube on discovery.
    Your self is neither happy, nor unhappy. There will be moments of transendence and periods of deep boredom. It is being human. There is no happy, only a stream of life .

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