Settling Syndrome

Daniel Lewis - Brazil


September 24, 2015

What is Settling Syndrome? Settling Syndrome is a bout of hyper sensitivity and hyper openness that occurs whence an individual is tossed into a place he’s never been before, with a language he barely knows and a new family he has just met (Warning: this definition is from the DHD, the Daniel’s Head Dictionary, a fantastical collection of words and self-fashioned slang that remains entirely unfinished and mildly incoherent). In general terms, Settling Syndrome is the feeling one gets when they are just beginning a long tenure at any new location. It comes about because we tend to be split about how to treat the future; a part of our brain knows that the probabilities are in our favor for our new setting to work itself out but another part likes to throw away rational evidence like a stinky diaper. The first part, the better part isn’t so worried about our potential prospects, because it knows that we will most likely make friends, have great memories and come out okay. But the other part, the louder part will have none of this happiness. It’s view is that we have to do a lot of work and undergo a lot of stress to make this new place, our place; when in reality, relaxing, ‘being yourself’, is usually the best option.

When Settling Syndrome kicks in, it feels like the little Inside Out emotions embedded in your skull are on a bad LSD trip. You become hyperaware of every little action you do: Can I touch that plant?? Can I let the dog in now??? Do I put my toilet paper in the trash can or the toilet????(Yes, in Brazil they put their TP in the trashcan). Little things that in your everyday ‘normal’ life go without a thought become your very own personal apocalyptic decisions.

In a weird twist of psychology you also become hyper-open to new things: A guitar in my room, hell yeah I will try that again. A beach? Guess I have got to take up swimming now too. What’s that, an Afro-Brazilian martial art that was created 400 years ago and disguised as a dance to hide its true motives from slavers? I’m in!

We see new places, as new opportunities. They provide fertile ground for a refresh and are an integral part in our search for comfort and normality. Our usual strategy is to spread ourselves out into as many different directions as possible hoping to eventually toss a hook that catches. Whether that be in another person or an activity (not literally you dinguses) we just want a base. Sometimes you find something great, a rock in your stormy sea of newness, but usually you will reel your hook in and all it will have are a few signs of wear and tear and some lumpy seaweed.

Our brains like to play their own Jedi mind tricks to keep us happy. But their method of keeping us afloat is not the best. When we are in new environments we latch onto the high moments like a baby on a pacifier because they tend to be so few and far between. During these spikes, our mind lets us think we have it all figured out, that we have found our new normal. You may have just had a five minute conversation with your host dad or the dog has just begun to use your face as a lollipop or you actually did something useful at your job. No matter what it is that made you happy, you will ride the high of accomplishment until the newness of your surroundings rears its ugly head again. I’m not saying don’t enjoy these highs, just be aware that our brains are overcorrecting.

These spikes of enlightenment are our brains way of coping with a situation of overwhelming unknown: they get us comfortable with the right now forgetting that the right now doesn't usually last very long. Once that moment of bliss is gone, we are back to treading water, back to searching for “normality”. Our brains are only trying to help us settle in, but what they don't or maybe can’t understand is that in the beginning, there is not yet any stable ground to set up shop.

This insatiable scramble for comfort is our way of finding a new “normal” because a perpetual state of true unknown would drive us all mad. While it may not always seem so great, this rat-race is the best weapon in our mental arsenal for figuring out new situations, or so we think. There is always the simple yet nearly impossible act of just asking for what we want instead of fishing. But for most kids my age, the amount of courage that requires is way beyond our years. So for teenagers entering new situations: college, jobs, other countries. Be aware of what your brain is trying to do and try to tone it back, just a smidgen. You will begin to see just how much easier your new experiences can be.

Daniel Lewis