Sunday, August 20, 2017

Gaining The Courage To Press The Button

I'd be lying if I said I've sat down multiple times to write this post. I've thought about it multiple times but decided I didn't have the energy or that I wouldn't have anything of substance to write about. I took it upon myself to decide that you, the reader, wouldn't want to read any more about my troubles in the last few months. But this morning, as I sat in bed drinking my coffee, I thought about how much I missed Uganda. The busy streets, the work I was part of, the few words I learned in Luganda, and mostly the people I got close to. Missing them made me realize I needed to finally get my thoughts down.

Physically, I am healthy again. I didn't suffer from any huge disease. Malaria wasn't what sent me home. But after a series of treatable ailments-a stomach bacteria and an allergic reaction to some sort of bite, I decided with those who know and love me most that my body needed to be back in the States. What kind of social worker would I be if I didn't take into account my health while working for a health organization? Ultimately, I am glad I came home. I gave my body the time it needed to recover- not only from Uganda, but from Germany, from graduation, and the seemingly endless weeks of finals for grad school. I realized I was so focused on getting to the next task or destination that I didn't let my body heal from the previous one. Yesterday, I admired with a friend that for the first time in two years, maybe six if we're being honest, my nails were healthy. They weren't chipped or frail because I wasn't picking at them. Sure, it's a small detail, but to me it means the world.

The post could be over. I could summarize for everyone reading that I am officially graduated and on the job hunt and all is good in the world. That I am confident that my degree will land me a fantastic job and I can start movin' on up. That is a lot of what I have been telling people who ask because it's easy. It's expected.

Those things aren't totally false, but it isn't the whole truth. The whole truth is that I am extremely anxious that I won't get a job I'm proud of or am excited to go to every day. Most days I wish that I had a few more years of work experience before jumping into grad school. I often question if I should have gone to such an expensive school-will it really pay off? I'm anxious about having to come home halfway through my practicum experience. I felt like I failed my organization because my body couldn't take what my mind wanted to accomplish. I see friends and family members doing incredible things and I am both proud of them and envious. I feel stuck.

Being stuck with anxiety feels like being trapped in an elevator with someone who won't stop talking. They say all the things you don't want to hear and bring up worries you didn't know you had. It starts to get stuffy because they are sucking up all the oxygen and you just keep looking up, praying that the elevator starts moving again. Sometimes you scream hoping someone will hear you. Hoping they will find you and that you aren't forgotten about. People on the other floors are moving on with their life, doing what they planned for the day, not realizing you're stuck somewhere in the middle, unable to move. Unable to do what you planned.

In that elevator, there is an emergency button. One to push to let someone, even if it's not anyone you know, come rescue you. For a long time, I knew I needed to press that button, but I was too stubborn. I thought if I just keep looking up, just keep praying, just keep thinking of ways to pry open that door, I wouldn't need outside help. But it got really stuffy in that elevator. The voice of anxiety got louder and more convincing. Keeping me from sleep, taking away my own voice.

A few weeks ago, I pressed that button. I decided it was time to admit that prayers weren't enough. I needed someone else to hear me. I found myself in the offices of a counselor and a doctor asking for help in quieting the voice of anxiety. Rationally, I knew it was anxiety and not truth speaking. I knew that it's normal for someone in such a transition period like grad school to be stressed. I was fully aware that my experience in Uganda triggered a lot of nervous thinking. But I didn't think I would need to push the button. Social workers are normally the ones who respond when that button is pushed, but we have a very hard time being the ones to do it. I know I've mentioned that in this blog before.

I still feel like I'm in that elevator most days, but I've pressed the button and know help is coming. It isn't an automatic response by any means, but man, do I wish it was. I am finding out how difficult it is to talk about my own problems because all I want is to be seen as put together. Sometimes I don't even have words for how I feel, which is incredibly frustrating. How can I not even express why I'm anxious? Why I wake up in a panic at night? It's a vicious cycle. But I'm slowly learning that I need to listen to myself, even if I don't have the words. Just like I did with my physical health, I need to take an outside look at my mental health and trust one day, I will be healthy again.

I write this blog not to elicit comments or reassurance. Like I mentioned, rationally I know that my education will lead me to fantastic opportunities like it already has. I am proud of my accomplishments and know I won't live with my parents forever. I write this for anyone reading who still hasn't pushed the button. If you need help, if you feel like you are stuck in an elevator or however else you view anxiety, it is okay to push it. You don't have to let the voice of anxiety take up all the oxygen in the room. You have a voice, too.

Friday, June 16, 2017

"Nothing is more critical than life"

Things I've done while I've been in Uganda:

  • I've put my hand in the Nile River.
  • I've tried some local foods-motoke (mashed plantains), posho (dense grits of sorts) and loved them
  • I've watched a little gecko crawl out of the top of my toilet and tried not to freak out
  • I've battled with a few crickets in my room-and won
  • I've contracted malaria in record timing (and will be finished with medication tomorrow) 
  • I've played with children, listened to them call after me "Muzungo" which means "White Person"
  • I've met Mayors and very important district officials
  • I've played endless rounds of skip-bo with a good friend, Sumayah
  • I've needle-pointed and thought endlessly of home
  • I've begun to learn local greetings-which I'm learning only get me so far
I've doubted if this was the right way for me to spend the summer. I've cried for my boyfriend,my mom, my niece. I've cried for everyone in my family. I've sat and just listened. Listened to the early morning or the late night. I've sat in the back of a van full of 10 people and simply admired the beauty of this country, the acres upon acres of fertile land, the kindness of individuals and bravery of animals trying to get a stray piece of maize on the other side of the road.

I wish I could say it's as glorious of a start to the summer as I imagined. I thought I would be able to adapt to the weather, culture and job seamlessly. I've spent the last two years of grad school imagining this trip. I just knew I was cut out for international work and I could jump right in. That didn't happen. 

The first two weeks have been filled with frustration-not with the people or my job or the country, but with myself. First, because I am so incredibly terrible at being dependent. Two days in I was mad at myself for not knowing how to navigate the town. I hated that I had to (get to, really) be driven around my my organization's van. It is of course for my own safety while I learn the city but I HATE that I was so reliant on the van. I didn't know anyone other than fellow interns and staff members and I was frustrated that I didn't know everything yet. The end of last week felt much better than the start. We had a pool day-which always cures a bad mood. We walked around a new city, Jinja, and ended by a pool, then a sunset boat cruise on the Nile. I was absolutely exhausted by that point, but energized to start the next week with greater assurance that I knew I would find my way. The next day I walked the whole town with Sumayah, a godsend of a friend here in Uganda. She showed me shortcuts, where to buy food at the market, what the best fabric store was and how to get from my hotel to the office. Finally. 

Monday was a typical day at the office, settling into my job, beginning my responsibilities here as a practicum student. On Tuesday I woke up with a migraine-I figured from dehydration, so I called and told my bosses that I wouldn't be coming in. I would work from the hotel. Hours later, I woke from a nap with a fever and body aches-things that don't come with my migraines so my wonderful friend who works at UDHA graciously took me to the health center that is practically connected to our office. In what I think is record timing, I had contracted a very low-grade case of Malaria. (For those reading, don't worry, I was treated) The typical time it takes to contract Malaria is between 10 days to 4 weeks. As of Tuesday I had been there 10 days...

(A break for people unfamiliar with Malaria. Many travelers to countries with high rates of Malaria will take anti-malarial drugs each day. However, these drugs are like a flu shot-they only protect against certain 'strains'. So even though I did all the things I could've done to prevent it, "One stubborn mosquito" as my doctor called it, did the trick. It is typically treated with shots and/or pills and the recovery time is relatively quick-about a week.)

So here I was, already frustrated with being dependent on others and wondering how I was going to make it the next two months and I'm bogged down with a stupid illness caused by one dang mosquito. If God was quietly hinting at a lesson the first week, he was screaming it the second. Asking people for help doesn't make me any less dependent. Any less of an adult. It shows vulnerability, sure, but it doesn't take any part of "Abby" away. Everyone who has been sick away from home-be it from their mom, their partner or even just their own bed, knows how miserable it is. For me, it's also frustrating that I'm not better yet. I've never had this illness and already I'm telling myself I should be better. I should go back to work. 

This morning, one of my supervisors, Michael, came to check on me. I told him I would do some work from the hotel today and he shook his head and said, "Nothing is more critical than life, Abby". That's it. The silly lesson that I couldn't see. No matter how frustrating it is to be vulnerable or dependent on someone to make me eat or make sure I'm drinking fluids, it is to make sure I keep on living. Keep living so I can keep learning. I didn't ever feel like Malaria was going to kill me, but I thought my boredom might. Instead, I am trying to be grateful for recuperation. I am immensely grateful for the people who have taken care of me, offered prayers and acted as a source of comfort while I am away from home. Even if it was just a smile that inferred "it will be okay", I noticed and appreciated it. 

I am appreciative of the people who love me back home. I didn't tell many people outside of my family and boyfriend of being sick or even admit that the first few weeks here have been tough. I still felt like I had an image to maintain-though I don't know who would see that image-seeing as I haven't been great at posting on facebook or sending emails. It has been bittersweet to be relatively disconnected. I miss the constant photos of Hadley, though they have been increasing since I'm sick and I miss regular talks with my boyfriend and my family. I miss the laughs of my friends and know there will be major changes to adjust to when I get back. But it is also nice to wake up in the morning to the sound of a chicken clucking in the garden outside of my room. To go sit in the restaurant area of my hotel and read a good book before work. So far, Ugandans have taught me the power of kindness and hospitality, and how to enjoy downtime. For that, I am grateful.

Oh, and for anyone out there reading this with the thought "What is Abby going to do after Uganda?" the answer is extremely unknown. 

Oh, Oh, for anyone who is wondering what I'm actually doing in Uganda: The organization is called Uganda Development and Health Associates. It is in Iganga district and I am working on the Health Systems Strengthening project. It aims to train Community Linkage Facilitators to go into various districts and encourage residents to access health care and figure out how to make it more accessible. UDHA is also working with other Community Based Organizations in those districts to increase access and educations surrounding major topics like HIV, TB, Malaria, and Maternal/Child health. Pretty cool stuff. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Not just another post about Lent

I could make up an excuse as to why I haven't blogged in a while, but we all know you'd see right through it, so I'll just get to typing. 

One of the things I love to do most is looking back through my blog, especially the posts about the posts during Lent. It is a good reminder of where my head and my heart were at the time and looking to see if I still feel and understand what I posted. So here goes another post about Lent for me to look back on in a year:

I struggled with what to give up for Lent this year. I normally take pride in thinking of something both creative and challenging, and I was at a loss up until I was at church on Ash Wednesday. The gospel for that day read: 

"...And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you..."
Matthew 6: 5-6

This passage used to confuse me, especially when it is read on Ash Wednesday, where we wear ashes on our head, proclaiming our faith. But it made me realize that I shouldn't be giving up something just to be creative-or to impress those I tell. It should be something to remind me of God's love, the sacrifice Jesus made and to bring me back to my faith. So I decided to add 30 minutes of reading my Bible each day. I'll admit-there have been days when its been 19 minutes or that I forgot all together. I won't use the excuse of grad school or being tired either, because I could have found time in the day. 

The first day, I sat with my Bible open, reading all the notes or highlighted passages but I didn't have much of a plan on how I would spend my 30 minutes each night. I started reading Proverbs because it's been on my list of books I haven't read all the way through but want to. Boy, did I choose a tough book to get through. Not because it's heavy, but because it is filled with so many little pieces of advice, often written in a metaphor (what I love most is that when Solomon discusses Wisdom with female pronouns!) Since it is so complex, I later chose to read one chapter each night. Two nights ago I read chapter 13 where it states:

"Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice."
Proverbs: 13:10

It is such a great reminder that being right isn't the only thing that matters. I LOVE being right, anyone who knows me knows this. But it can also be dangerous to get so confident in myself that I don't look for or accept advice when I need it. I act as though accepting advice would hurt my pride, when it would only increase my wellbeing. Sure, there is some bad advice out there, but there is also some really good advice. Like what Matthew 6 says-I don't need to stand prideful at the street corners telling everyone how good of a Christian I am, sometimes I need to go in my own room and listen for God's advice. That sure is harder said than done, though. 

With all the anxieties that come with finishing grad school, like finishing coursework and finding a job, I haven't done a very good job of seeking help. My focus is so much on being able to do these last papers on my own and job searching and preparing for graduation, that I am overwhelming myself. I am not asking for help or advice because I don't want to seem like I'm not put together-and that is just what the Proverbs passage is cautioning. 

Moving forward through the Lenten season, I am really going to try to ask for help or advice on things that feel overwhelming. Areas of my life that could use an outside opinion, rather than trying to maintain my pride. Because there won't be much left to be proud of if I can't get to the finish line.