What Living in Chile Taught me About Mental Health

It’s the hardest part of my day.

I unpeel the hand-woven wool blankets off of me and rise from my mat. My feet, triple coated in thick socks, hit the floor and I rummage through my duffel in the dark. 

It’s time to get dressed. 

At this point in my travels, I’m cursing myself for not having a better system for my morning routine. I’ve been living in southern Chile for three weeks now and my body hasn’t at all adapted to the frigid temperature. 

It isn’t just that it’s winter and I’m living a boat ride away from Antarctica, but I’m staying with an indigenous tribe. There isn’t any hot water, no electric heating system. The heat comes from the wood burning stove in the kitchen but the warmth doesn’t quite make it to my corner of the house. The windows aren’t insulated so the inevitable wind and rain rest on me as I sleep. 

It is really, really cold. 

And getting out from under my strategically layered blankets and confronting the cold reality is highly unwelcome. 

As I blindly sift through my bag, I try to remember when my last shower was. The cold shower experience is one I like to limit as much as socially acceptable. I think back to the hotel in Santiago from weeks ago, the days of limitless warm water. As I find my stash of fresh wool socks, I decide to skip the shower but endure the cold water to wash my face. 


Steps away, my host mother Elaina is making breakfast: Hot-from-the-fire sopapillas with native grape jam. This is my motivation to get dressed. 

The problem with getting dressed for the day is that I have to get undressed first. I’m almost embarrassed by how many pieces of clothing I slept in: a long-sleeve shirt, hoodie, a flannel and a fleece North Face jacket; a pair of leggings and sweats; three pairs of socks and a beanie. 

And they all have to come off. 

The moment one piece of clothing leaves my body, I rush to replace it. The feeling of cold air hitting my skin is terrible, just terrible. My whole body moves to the rhythm of involuntary shivers. I must look absolutely ridiculous hopping around in a hurry to get this process over with as quickly as humanly possible. 

After I get dressed, I feel excellent. I walk to the kitchen and exchange pleasantries with Elaina and her young daughter, Scarlett. We stand around the stove, preparing tea with herbs from the lush tribal garden and I tickle Scarlett into sing-song giggles. This life is simple, and this life is beautiful. 

I don’t want this to end. 

Back in the United States, I reflect on this memory and smile. I no longer have to wake up every two hours to add wood to the fire and I can take nice, warm baths but I would trade the comfort in a heartbeat if it meant I got to be back there. 

It comes down to one simple reason:

Everything in their lives mattered. 

Nothing was superficial. There was meaning assigned to every person and every item that they allowed into the space. Each drop of water and each leafy tree was a gift to be cherished. 

There was inherent beauty and worth in everything. 

Back at home, I drown in the superficiality. 

Digital drugs at our fingertips that tell us to buy things we don’t need. Pacifiers that keep us from being healthy people. Distracting ourselves to death and avoiding what really matters.

If this is normal, then I’m out.

I no longer know how to do “normal.” 

And I don’t want to relearn. 

Instead, I’m committed to the unlearning process.

Chile taught me not to mistake comfort for happiness.

My life in the States was filled with less value and more depression than my Chilean life where I had far less “stuff” than I usually do. 

Less value = more depression. 

More value = less depression. 

I want to live a life where everything matters, where there is purpose and value in how I use my time, resources and attention, and where my actions align with what is truly most important to me. 

I think to some degree, we all want to live that way but we lose sight of it in the day-to-day process of being a human in this day & age. 

I’m ready to abandon status quo if it means my emotional life will be better.

Join me in the pursuit of MORE VALUE as opposed to MORE COMFORT. 

Our mental health will thank us for it. 

For more words on mental health, visit alexiszevnick.com

1 thought on “What Living in Chile Taught me About Mental Health”

  1. The cold reminds of my early life in France. The ember filled wood stove I walked into in the middle of the night. We all slept in one room. Dad, mom, my brother, sister and me. I was 3 years old and kept the scar on my belly for years until it finally faded now I’m grown. Those are values we rarely see in America, best kept as a reminder that life is not always so over abundant.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.