18 months into living in Florence and one of the first questions I get when I meet Italians is “Come ti stai trovando a Firenze?” (How are you finding things in Florence?)
Thinking back to when I first moved here, I wasn’t completely in the dark about how life in Italy would be less than perfect. I just don’t think I realized that after a year and a half, it would still be hard if not harder than at the beginning. Of course, eventually things do start to take shape and you create your own sort of routines. In the same way that not every day is a bureaucratic hurdle, not every day is a pasta pizza fantasy land. You sort of find the messy in-between. Living here isn’t everything that I imagined it would be.
In a lot of respects, my quality of life is better here. Italy’s climate is much more tolerable compared to the brutally cold Ohio winters. I work fewer hours and get paid a respectable amount. I ride my bike to work all year round which is better for my health and the environment. Fresh, quality groceries cost less here.
However, what I didn’t expect and couldn’t have planned for was the depression, anxiety and the feeling of being trapped and alone. There have been moments where I’ve been ready to leave everything and everyone.
I’ve gotten to the point of feelings of panic, fight or flight with Italy. Out of the blue, I will get so emotionally disrupted by the stupidest of things like scooterists driving on sidewalks or cars parked at intersections that I become enraged. Emotions start to snowball and the smallest comment will send me over the edge. I lose control.
My husband constantly reassures me that he would go with me to the US if that’s what it takes and despite the fact that he speaks very little English, he would leave his family and try to make things work there. He has had to talk me down from that ledge several times. Obviously, the US isn’t exactly the land of milk and honey right now either, especially when it comes to immigrants.
I’ve realized I can either fight my way through this or flee. I’m not stuck here forever, but this is the place I have chosen to make my home.
I sometimes look at other expats who seem like they have it all together and compare my life to theirs and think, “what is it about me, what’s wrong with me that I’m so bothered by things?” I feel like as time passes, it’s expected that I become more Italianized but it makes me feel like shouting sometimes, “I had another life before this! I wasn’t born yesterday here! I’m not ignorant about everything, I just didn’t grow up here!” The lack of acknowledgment about your own culture’s existence can be incredibly grating. Sometimes I act very childishly (I admit) and throw a sort of a fit because I’m just done cooperating. I feel as if I have adapted enough and I want things to adapt to me every once and a while. But it just doesn’t work like that.
Turns out, life abroad is more complicated than you think.