La Vie Française: Winter Detox

By Fiona Hardie

I won’t lie, November was tough. It’s never an ideal month for me – my mood is generally affected by the lack of sunlight; the way the cold seeps into your bones; the weird in-between feeling of not-autumn-anymore/not-quite-Christmas-yet limbo, and I can be more prone to bouts of anxiety because of it. So it didn’t surprise me that this past month ended up being filled with weird up-and-down mood levels and a strange kind of isolation (all I wanted to do was be at home with my sister watching The Office US on Netflix. Or Strictly Come Dancing).

I’ve always been one of those people who just takes the rough with the smooth, though. This is what this year is all about – at least I think that’s how I see it. It’s about dealing with things you haven’t faced before, and it obviously isn’t going to be all smooth sailing – some things are still so new; of course there will be low points. I just need to stop beating myself up about the days when I’m not feeling so great.

Anyway, as luck would have it, a good friend of mine suggested starting a Little Gratefulness Diary and even within two weeks, it began to work wonders. When the days are dreary and you’re feeling down without really knowing why, picking up on the little things you’re thankful for can be a lifeline. It’s like spring cleaning in the winter; it clears your mind and genuinely leaves you more focused about the things that matter. Kind of like an emotional detox, I guess. I’ve been thinking a lot about the people I’m glad to have around, the people who help me out, little things I’m enjoying from day to day (like a hot chocolate on a chilly evening, the way candles help brighten up a dark room,  having time to cook properly). I’m also grateful for my job here, the pupils and the staff, and for the fact that my scholarship project looks like it’s on the brink of being sorted out. Honestly, keeping notes like this every day is something I’d recommend to anyone.

Another good thing is that I’ve been keeping up with my little notebook of new words I’m learning! (I thought I’d better include a bit of my “academic progress” – that is, after all, the whole reason for me being out here.) So how is my French doing, actually? Not too badly, I’d hope. I’m able to have conversations, particularly noticeable in shops and restaurants – on every single family holiday to France, I felt too shy to go into a place on my own and order something. I spoke French, but only when my family were there, and even then it was just the odd phrase, like “coca light” or “café crème”. So, even if I’m not totally fluent yet, at least my confidence is kind of growing. (To be honest, the hardest part is just how fast people talk.)

I’m just so thankful so far that I have the opportunity for a year abroad – it’s compulsory, but even that’s a blessing because I literally have to be here, and it’s an opportunity not everyone gets. I think at the beginning I just saw this as a year I had to do as part of my degree, but the further along I get and the more challenges I have to face, I’m realising how genuinely enriching this whole experience is. Each month when I come to write this column I can feel myself changing as a person – in tiny tiny steps, bit by bit, but it’s reshaping me.

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