Some of you may have noticed I haven’t done the Freedom Life monthly recaps for these last few months. To be honest, I don’t have much of an excuse for why I’ve taken some time off except for that sometimes you need a little bit of a break. With everything that’s been happening this year in regards to my blog, business, and Coronavirus, I think you’ll understand why I needed to take a little time away.
While I plan to start my monthly recaps back up soon, I wanted to let you know what I’ve been up to these last few months and shed a little light on where I’ve been… physically, mentally, and financially.
I Moved to Tbilisi Georgia (The Country)
If you didn’t already know, I moved to Tbilisi, Georgia (aka the country of Georgia) at the end of January. While this deserves a whole post in and of itself, the gist is that Chris and I had a wedding to attend in the UK at the end of December, and a ton of US weddings this summer (none of which are happening now, of course).
We needed a place in Europe to stay for four months while we waited in limbo, and Tbilisi seemed like the perfect city. Tbilisi is beautiful, affordable, full of history, has great food and wine, and our blogger friends Tommo and Megsy from Food Fun Travel live here. Not to mention, you can stay in Georgia visa-free for up to a year!
So after spending a few weeks visiting friends in the UK, and a few days traveling in Italy, Chris and I moved to Tbilisi and found a cute 1-bedroom apartment in the Vake neighborhood.
Chris and I ate amazing Georgian food and stayed out drinking liters of house wine with friends until 1 am. We explored Tbilisi’s old town and relaxed in the traditional sulfur baths. The two of us made a ton of friends in a short amount of time and even had the audacity to complain about the number of social events we were invited to. We even took a few weekend trips to go wine tasting in Kakheti, and enjoy the snow in Gudauri.
Coronavirus Shut Down China
At the beginning of 2020 during the Chinese New Year holiday, I started to hear some concerns over a new virus in China. I run a free Facebook group for people who teach abroad in China (or want to teach in China), and slowly but surely I started to see more and more posts about concerns over the new Coronavirus.
My Free Facebook Group Blew Up
At that point, most of us thought it was just a very bad flu, and many people decided to wait it out in China. When Wuhan went on lockdown, people started to book flights home or extend their Chinese New Year trips abroad. There was so much confusion and concern, and I felt responsible for managing the emotions and information in the group.
I spent hours every day researching, watching videos, reading articles on both ends of the spectrum, from “it’s no big deal” to “people are dying in the streets and the government is building the new Wuhan hospital as a death prison!!”
The group has over 500 people and is managed exclusively by me, so let me tell you, this was a full-time job in and of itself trying to manage the flow of information and emotions. Thankfully the members still in China were very helpful in providing on-the-ground information and practical advice which really helped alleviate some of the panic.
Working With My Teach Abroad Squad Members
Not only that, but some of the members of my Teach Abroad Squad program started having major issues too! This is a paid program for people who really want to work with me privately to have an incredible experience in China the FIRST time around. However, COVID-19 was something that I never could’ve anticipated, and I was honestly at a loss for what to do.
I had one member who was sitting in Thailand while all of her stuff (including her laptop!) was stuck in China. She eventually flew home to Hawaii, and it’s been months since she’s seen her computer or the majority of her wardrobe. I had another member who was literally about to fly to China in a few days when he was told not to come anymore. He was then stuck at home in the US with no job and no timeline for when he can eventually arrive in China.
I know it’s not my personal fault that the members of my program were suffering, but for some reason, I felt like it was. I honestly felt like it was my responsibility to protect them and make sure they have the adventure of a lifetime, and I felt horribly guilty when COVID-19 crushed their dreams and plans.
It took a lot of talks with my group coaching program for female entrepreneurs to get over my issues sounding this and to be honest, I still take it all waaaay too personally.
I Felt So Alone
Honestly, the worst part of all of this was that I felt so alone because I was the only one in my immediate social circle that was dealing with this catastrophe. Then, of course, I felt super guilty for feeling that way, when people were suffering all over China.
Because Coronavirus was only really affecting China and a few surrounding countries, in my immediate circle of Tbilisi expats, travel bloggers, and friends back home in the US and Australia, it felt like I was the only one struggling with how the virus was impacting my business and life. It was almost like some weird joke. “Oh… you work with China? That must suck.” Yeah, it sucked.
I honestly felt like a leper. I had hordes of people unsubscribing every time I sent an email about China (even helpful ones about Coronavirus!). I offered free 20-minute calls with me to work through any issues people were facing when it came to COVID-19 and barely anyone took me up on them. Seriously?? Don’t you guys need help??!
Then I got in my head that no one wanted to hear from me, and people didn’t trust me as an expert that could help them because I wasn’t in China. The imposter syndrome is REAL people.
Not only that, but I started having weekly panic attacks and days of full-on depression where I couldn’t even get out of bed. The career I’d spent YEARS building for myself came crashing down all around me, and without my job, I just felt useless.
Coronavirus Destroyed the Travel Industry
Slowly but surely, the panic spread from China to the rest of the world. People started canceling their international trips, and travel bloggers began to panic. My husband Chris sells safaris in Africa, and while Africa had zero cases at the time, people started canceling and postponing their trips left and right because they were worried their international flights would be canceled without a refund.
Almost overnight Chris and I had ZERO income. Chris went from piles of inquiries on a daily basis to waking up with an empty inbox. While my income has been a bit sporadic since I quit my high-paid college counseling job in China, Chris’ consistent safari income made up for this. But with zero money coming in, we both started to worry. Summer is high season in Tanzania, and we’d been counting on a year’s worth of sales commissions to come in at this time.
On top of all of this my blog traffic halved, my affiliate commissions dried up and sponsored posts and brands I had already done the work for all of a sudden just stopped responding to my emails when I asked for payment. Cool.
I started applying to all the decent online jobs I could find. From social media manager positions to working as an online dating coach (yeah that happened). I even considered teaching English online, but I honestly couldn’t go back to teaching basic ESL online for a fraction of what I used to make on-the-ground in China.
Well, after a solid week of applying to positions, I ended up getting offered a job to manage Facebook for another brand. While it’s only a few hours a week right now, at least some income is better than none!
COVID-19 Shut Down the World
Slowly but surely Coronavirus spread to the rest of the world. My home state of Washington was a mess, Northern Italy (a place I had just visited earlier that year) was on complete lockdown, and Georgians started canceling events as more of us opted to stay indoors.
As the weeks went by, things started to get more and more serious. Georgia closed the airports, no one from outside Tbilisi was allowed in, all the shops and restaurants closed (except for grocery stores and food delivery), and we all waited patiently inside our homes.
Wait… Isn’t This Old News?
Once the rest of the world started panicking about COVID-19, it felt strange. I’d been an anxious mess for MONTHS and now the rest of the world was finally catching on. I joked with my course members and China friends that it felt like old news to us. We’d been dealing with Coronavirus for what felt like an eternity!
In a horrible way, it was a bit reassuring to feel like I wasn’t alone in my panic anymore. As much as I hated how the virus was spreading, it was somewhat nice (in an awful way) that I had friends and family to commiserate with. Then, of course, I felt like an absolutely horrible human for feeling relieved that I wasn’t alone in this.
Why We Decided to Stay in Georgia
Eventually, Chris and I had to make a decision: would we stay in Tbilisi or head to the US or Australia? This was actually a huge dilemma for a few reasons.
Firstly, Chris and I planned to be in the US over the summer because we had three weddings to attend (one of which was our second wedding in my parents’ backyard). Now, Chris doesn’t have a Green Card, so the plan was to head to the US in mid-May and stay until the end of July, hop down to Mexico for a bit, and return in October. So, flying to the US early just didn’t make sense considering we’d have to consistently fly in and out for Chris’ visa. Obviously, that’s not ideal during a pandemic.
Another option was to stay with Chris’ family in rural Australia, which was a much safer option than the West Coast of the US. However, flights were going to be at least $1,000 each with multiple layovers. Plus, if things did clear up, we’d need to spend a ton of money getting to the US for all of the wedding festivities.
It just seemed like the most practical and economical option was to stay in Tbilisi. Georgia had far fewer cases and deaths than both Australia and the US (we didn’t have our first death until waaay into the pandemic). Our stores were fully stocked with toilet paper, people were actually staying home, and the government seemed to be taking everything very seriously.
What It’s Like in Tbilisi Right Now
If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll probably notice I’ve been doing Facebook lives every few days to talk about what life is like in Tbilisi right now (among other things). But as of right now, all of the shops are closed except for grocery stores. Thankfully we have a small Europroduct grocer right below us, and a fruit and vegetable shop down the block. We also have a man who delivers meat for us to cook with!
In addition to grocery stores, food delivery is available, but you need to order very early. Tbilisi has a curfew that runs from 9 pm to 6 am, however most of the restaurants close their food delivery after 6:30 pm!
All shops and pharmacies have a mask policy, and you’re not allowed inside without one. They also have limits on the number of people allowed inside at any given time. For example, my local pharmacy (which is also the only place to buy shampoo, lotion, and body wash) only allows two people in at a time, so the few times we’ve had to go this usually involves a 20-30 minute wait.
For the most part, Tbilisi has been doing a great job, except for one aspect: the church. We recently celebrated Georgian Orthodox Easter, and unfortunately for us, the churches blatantly refused to close. Since the Georgian government was unable to stand up to the church, they ended up BANNING CARS for over a week! I have no idea why they thought this would help considering there’s a church on every block, but that’s what they did.
Overall, it was actually very peaceful to be able to walk around the block through the deserted streets. The only downside was that the fruit and vegetable shop closed during this time, and the meat man couldn’t deliver, making it difficult to cook. As the government kept extending the car ban, we started to get worried, but thankfully that’s all finished now!
Turning into a Workaholic
As everyone started joking about having nothing to do, I was working harder than ever! I kept doing all of my regular blogging tasks, running my Teach Abroad Squad course, and social media. But in addition, I was also providing tons of extra content and support.
Emergency coaching sessions, daily Facebook Lives, interviews with recruiters still in China, supporting both my Facebook groups, and more! I also took on two different social media jobs, did a launch for Teach Abroad Squad (with free strategy calls), and got extremely involved in my women’s entrepreneur group coaching program, which was also offering additional training and resources.
I felt like I was working harder than I’d ever worked while making a fraction of the income. I was beyond stressed, started having problems with my jaw from grinding my teeth in my sleep, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t turn it off!
My husband Chris encouraged me to just take this time to relax, but I kept getting swept up in all the hype. Take this extra time to work on your business! Now is a time for leaders to step up! People still want your online products, you just need to pivot and be essential!
If I couldn’t make it work during Coronavirus, what does that say about me? I just need to work harder and everything will be okay!!! Yeah, that’s a healthy way to live your life Richelle…
So… I Guess I’m a Leper Now?
To be honest, for most of 2020 I’ve felt like a leper. I send an email and get heaps of unsubscribes. I offered free coaching and had barely any people take me up on it. It felt like every time I opened my mouth, people just wanted me to shut it.
I tried so hard to be helpful, and it seemed like the world just wasn’t interested. I even created a free webinar called “So you wanted to teach in China… Now What?” to help people through this time. But when I went to promote it on Facebook, I started getting angry faces and mean comments. Seriously? I’m just trying to help!
It got to the point where I just wanted to stick my head in the sand and hope it would all go away. I was tired of feeling like I was talking to a void. I didn’t want to do my webinar, Facebook lives, write blog posts, or send emails. But my business coach kept pushing me to be present and show up. UGH.
I guess my fear of disappointing her outweighed my fear of embarrassing myself… barely.
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
A few days before my live webinar training, I started to panic. What am I doing?? Why did I think this was a good idea???
I wanted to run away and hide. I felt awkward promoting my paid program at a time like this. I knew I could really help people with Teach Abroad Squad, but man, I felt weird charging for ANYTHING when so many people around the world are suffering and in need of help.
But I showed up and did the webinar launch anyway, and I’m so glad I did. Not only was the training really fun and interactive (so much participation in the chat!), it ended up going for an extra HOUR. Whoopsies!
Not only that, but we had some incredible new people join Teach Abroad Squad, which was really exciting!
Through this experience, I realized that pulling back was helping literally no one. Sure, not everyone wants to hear me talk right now, but there are some people that need my help and advice, especially during a time like this. The whole experience was really strangely empowering and made me feel like all the time, effort, and anxiety was worth it in the end.
The Things Keeping Me Sane Right Now
After the last few months of overworking and my live teach abroad training, I’ve been super exhausted lately. I’ve been working on this post for literally two weeks, but I haven’t had the energy to actually sit down and finish it. All of the stress has finally caught up with me, and all I want to do is sleep, relax, and have fun. It’s funny how weeks of chronic stress will really do a number on you.
Thankfully there are a few things I’ve been doing to make my life sane, so I figured I’d share them with all of you. Firstly, while I do live in a tiny apartment, I’m lucky to have a balcony that gets a lot of sun. So when the weather is nice, I sit out on the balcony with a cup of coffee and a good book (I’m reading the Wheel of Time series right now) and get some sun and fresh air.
I’ve also started doing Yoga With Adrienne every morning for the last few months. Not only is it a great way to get some exercise, but yoga also helped me a ton with my stress and anxiety. With the focus on breathing, plus the difficulty of the poses, there isn’t much room left in my mind for stress and worry. Not only do I feel great and healthy afterward, but I also feel so much more relaxed and calm!
In the evenings I’ve been relaxing by playing a ton of Animal Crossing (which Chris just got me for my birthday!) or playing online games of D&D, otherwise known as Dungeons and Dragons. Yes, I am a hugely unapologetic nerd. I went from playing once every other week, to playing 2-3 times a week! It’s a great way to actually have a social life while taking your mind off of everything that’s happening in the world right now.
My Plans for the Future
Well, the plan was to head back to the US for a bunch of weddings, bachelorette parties, and showers, but one by one all of them keep getting canceled.
Until all three of my friends and I (in the last few days) decided to cancel our weddings and related events, I had no idea how much stress and anxiety this summer was causing me. Would I even be able to make it home for the end of July even if things cleared up? Would there be a resurgence of COVID in October for my friend’s wedding (which I’m a bridesmaid for)? Even if things clear up, are plane tickets still going to be over $1,000 with multiple layovers? Will the Georgian airports even open in July as promised??
Well, now that everything is canceled, I feel like a giant weight has been taken off my chest. There’s no constant stressing, checking flights, and hours on hours spent discussing possibilities. For now, we can just stay in Tbilisi until this all blows over…
How Have Your Plans Changed?
I’d love to hear from you: How have your plans changed this year? Are you stuck abroad like me? Were you supposed to be moving abroad or traveling during this time? Have you lost your source of income? Tell me what’s happening with you in a comment below!