Monday, December 7, 2015

No, I Have Not Disappeared Completely Off the Face of the Earth (or The Reason Why I Haven't Written in Over a Month)

          I know I haven’t blogged in about a month and I do feel terrible about that. But it’s time for some honesty. This past month has been tough in a lot of ways: physically, mentally, and spiritually. And for some reason I’ve had trouble summoning up the mental energy to put my thoughts into writing, a problem I haven’t had in quite a while. Usually, I love to write and express myself. But not lately. Allow me to explain.
          A few days after I wrote my first blog post for this trip, I came down with a case of food poisoning. This would have been nasty enough, especially since it’s the second time this year, but it was quickly followed by an intestinal infection that took advantage of my weak stomach and immune system to give me a rather unpleasant week. After finally getting rid of that problem with helpful antibiotics, I discovered I had been exposed to lice (which I thankfully never got). To my slightly obsessive self, this led to a whole day of home treatments and about a week of imaginary itches all over my scalp. No sooner was that over than I contracted what I thought was allergies to something in the air, but what I’m pretty certain is a bad head cold. On top of this, my stomach decided that this was the perfect time to have a bad reaction to something I ate. Which literally brings us up to this weekend.
          All this stuff would constitute a problem for a person with normally functioning emotional and mental responses. But mine aren’t normal, and haven’t been in about three years. In the spring of 2014, I was diagnosed with a depression and anxiety disorder which had managed to wreak all kinds of havoc in my life before I realized what was wrong. What does this mean practically? It means that oftentimes I have to be careful about how long I’m in a noisy or stimulating environment, as too much sound and activity can cause a panic attack. For me, this means shaking, trouble breathing, and sometimes a twisting feeling in my stomach. Although this is partially just the way my brain is wired, I obsess way too much over everything, playing back possible or real scenarios over and over again until I just want my brain to stop. Things that are insignificant in themselves break me when they pile up in one day. When it gets really severe (which is blessedly rare), I don’t want to talk to anyone but close friends or family members and often not even to them. I tend to hide inside myself, spending a lot of time in mindless activities that don’t require engagement. During these times, I’m exhausted inside, no matter how much I’ve slept the previous night. It takes all my energy to process the strictly necessary activities of the day. I don’t have the stamina to invest in others during these times; I just want to crawl in bed and stay there until I feel less empty.
          Thankfully, these incidents have grown rarer with counseling and treatment, but they’re unfortunate aspects of my life that I still have to consider when making decisions and plans. So I guess I wasn’t completely surprised when I had a major relapse during this trip. Right after the food poisoning and before I found out that I had an infection, I began to realize that I just felt bad. I spent most of the next 1-2 weeks in my room, playing Nancy Drew computer games and wishing I could go home. I went to my classes and taught, but they were all I had the energy to do. I had started volunteering at an orphanage (which you will totally get a blog post on soon!), but I stopped going there. I just couldn’t handle the extra stimulation. Besides, how was I supposed to explain a panic attack to a 2-year-old if it happened while I was there? “I’m sorry, but your screaming overstimulates me, so now I’m gonna sit in this corner and shake. Please give me some space and try to be a bit quieter so I can get back to normal.” Nope, not going to work at all. My anxiety began to subside when treatment for the infection began, and I slowly began doing things like eating out and interacting with people again. But I’m fairly sure I worried the people around me a lot, as talking about depression and anxiety is a relatively new phenomenon in the U.S. and doesn’t seem to happen a lot in Bolivia.
          So why did I come to Bolivia with the kind of problem I have? Change, stress, culture shock, pressure, sickness, separation from family and friends…all definite triggers for me. But I decided at the time of my diagnosis to live-and to hold back from this trip because of fear would not have been living. This kind of trip has been my dream since early in college, and I am blessed to have been able to come here. Has it been hard? Very much so. Has it always been fun? Nope. Am I going to say at the end that I now want to live here forever and ever? Unlikely.
          I was asked by a dear friend the other day whether, in spite of all the issues, my trip has been good. And I can unabashedly say yes. There have been some wonderful times, some great Spanish practice, some crazy adventures, and a slow, steady movement out of the spiritual darkness that depression and anxiety exacerbated. I have seen God move for the first time in forever (Did I actually quote a Frozen song there? Weirdly enough, that was unintentional). I have worshipped to random rap songs that are not necessarily “Christian material.” I have become “auntie” to seventeen little kids. I have met some incredible people, both from the places I am volunteering and randomly on the street. I have danced, laughed myself silly, crashed a wedding, and seen some of the most beautiful mountains in existence. I have lived. 

The Cathedral in Cochabamba where I accidentally walked in on the prep for a wedding 
(the roses are not standard church decorations)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Rivers and Roads

Rivers and roads, rivers and roads, rivers till I reach you...
-Rivers and Roads,The Head and the Heart

"You can't step into the same river twice."
-Plato, as quoted by a good college friend

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by,  
And that has made all the difference. 
-The Road Less Traveled, Robert Frost

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” 
-The Lord of the Rings, J.R,R. Tolkien

So I've been thinking a lot about rivers and roads. In some of the best literature, music, and art in human history, these two things have represented both the journey to places unknown and the journey home. The Bible quotes extensively about both roads and rivers-there were so many quotes about rivers that I couldn't pick one. Most significantly, Christian tradition talks about a river as the ultimate ending to our journeys: the river Jordan (symbolizing death) as the last barrier before reaching Paradise. Rivers and roads both represent life choices, adventure, joy, grief, leaving behind all familiarity, and returning to it once again. But despite all these meanings, they have one thing in common: the people who travel the rivers and roads of this world, whether mental or physical, never return unchanged.

This topic has been near to my heart and thoughts lately. Over the past year, I have seen 5 couples who are dear to me commit to each other for life. I graduated from college, got engaged, and planned the wedding and this Bolivia trip simultaneously. At some point over the summer, I realized that my journey is leading away from many cherished aspects of my life over the past four years: living with some of my best friends every day, learning as my primary job, adventuring for the summer in far-off places, and having my relationships stay the same. And I’m coming to the realization that I can never go back (I know, it only took me a year, right?). But I can journey on, knowing that this will make the reunion in both my earthly and heavenly homes sweeter.

What does all this have to do with teaching English in Cochabamba, Bolivia for 2 ½ months? That’s a great question! (which is what I’m constantly telling my English students). I’d wanted to live abroad on a more long-term basis since the beginning of college and had been actively seeking opportunities to get back out on the road since graduation. It’s sort of a long story, but it’s enough to say that God definitely came through and provided this opportunity. The Guerreros graciously agreed to host me for 2 ½ months, the mission board accepted me, and family and friends overwhelmingly provided me with the resources to be here. All since the beginning of August. It’s been a wild ride, but I am so happy to be here during this time of journeying on and letting go. This trip is a fulfillment of my last remaining college dream, but is also a bridge into other journeys, other rivers, other roads…

I know this blog post has been really delayed, but between trying to adjust and having a major case of writer’s block, this first post has been a process. Thanks for your patience and your prayers. I will try to write again with more about my activities shortly. J

Ciudad de Refugio (the place where I'm working)