Ausländer Audacity

I’ve been told that during times of stress our adrenal glands kick in to prepare us for two possible responses: fight or flight. This is conventional thought. But I’d like to argue there’s a third response that many animals employ, a response that’s often overlooked. It’s the hide response. When you’re too weak or scared to fight, and you know there’s no use in trying to run away (most of the time for me!), it only makes sense to head for the ditch and take cover. Maybe growing up in a tornado-fraught land selected the hide response in me over the other two. It would seem so because when faced with something terrifying, I almost always decide to hide. I learned, though, that hiding always seems like a better solution than it is. Just think back to Hide-and-Seek as a child and you may remember that when you found a really good hiding place, it was at first intoxicatingly satisfying. You felt sneaky and clever. You were almost in disbelief that such a perfect loophole existed. As time passed, however, you became a bit bored of being isolated from the outside world and others’ company. You grew impatient and began to wonder what was taking the others so long to discover you. You’re hiding place started to work against you as far as fun was concerned. Finally, if you were like me and trusted little in others’ concern for you, you gave up and came out of hiding, only to find that your playmates had long since moved on to the next episode. The immediate rewards of hiding are great, but the end result of doing it is that life moves on without you—you miss out. Even as a pseudo-adult I still love to hide. When something or someone new intimidates me, I retreat. My bed becomes my best friend, in it I feel safe and alone, and I make promises to it like, “Yeah, I know it sucks I have to go to this new class/job/party, but I’ll be back to you in just x hours and then we can relax.” I sometimes sleep for more than 12 hours straight just because my emotions, whether they be dread or sadness or confusion, are just too much for me to face. (Okay, this is only one cause of my hypersomnia, so don’t jump to conclusions!) I get a false sense of security from being alone and worrying. But in this emptiness the threat that I’ve imagined only grows, and the outside environment turns to support it. Being alone and worrying about my fears–dreading them–makes me believe more and more that they’re legitimate. “Yes, this new job must really be awful, because otherwise why would I be so nervous about it?” At the same time, other people can tell that I’m hiding and assume that maybe I’m in a bad mood and don’t want to be bothered, so they avoid contact with me. I then believe that I really am alone, that people are cold, and that I really do have something to fear. Then maybe I become even more isolated and miss out on opportunities for jobs, fun, friendships, etc. You see how quickly things can spiral downward. Suddenly your world becomes very separate from the real world and you lose your grip on reality altogether. This was happening to me as of this morning. That’s when I decided to stop hiding and instead to fight. I thought maybe even if I didn’t have the actual strength to fight this imaginary fear, just the switch in mentality would be enough to turn my downward spiral into an upward draft…just maybe. I decided that my status here as an Ausländer, or foreigner, would make the perfect front for my uncommon audacity. I gave audacity a try, saying, “Throw whatever you want at me life, I’m ready!”, and sure enough, I had great results. People talked to me more. One head of a lab, who I had never seen before, talked with me during our whole elevator ride and then out of the building. My coworkers invited me for coffee. The owner of the Indian market where I went to buy paneer told me it would be much cheaper for me to buy it at the supermarket. They opened up to me. It seemed as if the world opened up to me! And most of all, I had a lot of fun. I laughed at myself and at my own audacity. I did jump turns on the sidewalk ledge as if on a balance beam while passing cars watched me through the rain (sadly this isn’t a metaphor). I smiled at people for no reason at all. I came to respect myself for facing my fears. I grew. And that’s the point. I couldn’t grow in my hiding place. Now “Ich bin neue” (I’m new here) is my favorite phrase and my excuse to make a fool of myself in any situation. The draft has turned upwards. At least now I’m facing my fears. At least I’m not hiding anymore in that staticky orange plastic tunnel on the playground waiting for my friends to notice that I’m gone. Now I’m a part of all that I’d been missing.


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