Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fears, struggles, and coping mechanisms

As a gymnast I suppose you could say that I spent a lot of my life facing fears. Flipping on 4 inch surfaces, performing in front of judges… in a leotard of all things, coming back after injuries etc. Gymnastics is a sport for the fearless. However, Peace Corps is a totally different experience when it comes to fear. I suppose this is because in gymnastics, if you get too scared, you can choose not do whatever it is you’re scared of. You can pick your skills that eventually go into your routines. However, in PC life, situations are kind of thrown at you and then it’s either sink or swim. Here are some fears/struggles and coping mechanisms I’ve been working with lately:

1)      Fear: Loneliness and the rest of the world moving on without you.
This particular fear is my number one only because sometimes I feel pretty damn isolated. I find myself constantly talking about people back home, so much so that I feel like my community knows who all my family and best friends are. They always ask me when people are going to come and visit me and it’s difficult to explain that it’s not super easy or inexpensive for Americans to just hop on a plane and come and see me. As I talk about everyone back home, I just can’t help but feel like I’ve probably been somewhat forgotten. I speak of times that have passed and every time I look at my Facebook Newsfeed I see so many pictures of what is going on back home without me. As much as I try to keep in touch with people, there is nothing like the presence of being next to someone in real life. I fear that sometimes I’ll get back and have nothing in common with anyone anymore. I know these fears are extreme, but they’re honest and I suppose that’s part of fear anyway, having negative feelings toward a result that will likely never occur.

Coping Mechanism: I spend a lot of time giving myself pats on the back for learning to be alone. At the same time, I do my best to fill my life with optimism and hope. And what I’ve really been working on is allowing myself to just be. If that makes sense… There are a lot of things I can’t control in this world, but my own brain (luckily) is one of the things I can control. Do I want to spend my entire Peace Corps career being butthurt that people in America don’t miss me as much as I want them to? Absolutely not. I want to enjoy this time so that when I get home I can share my new additional life experiences with the people I love. It’s a good life lesson because if you’re lucky, you won’t always be living in the same place as you grew up in. You’ll get out there and meet some new people and experience some new cultures—even if it’s just one city over. You won’t always be surrounded by the same people, and therefore, your communication with your social circle will change. Learning to deal with that can be difficult, but it’s extremely important.  Even when it’s hard, at the end of the day I’m always glad to be here doing whatever it is I’m doing—despite how far I am from the people I love and miss.

2)      Fear: Finally getting comfortable/used to something and then having it be taken away from you.
This shit…this shit is just annoying, and isn’t it just how life goes. Whether it’s a job, a relationship, the weather etc. things always seem to shake themselves up once you get into a groove. My new counterpart has certainly thrown me for a loop. She is an incredibly nice lady, but her English is…uhhh…rusty (I’m being nice). She is from Korca, but she got married to a man in Lac and had a baby right after getting married. She is sad because she misses her family and home and has no friends, except for me I guess. The students are all really mean to her, and my colleagues aren’t much nicer. It’s definitely a difficult situation, but I guess Peace Corps wasn’t supposed to be easy. Though I keep trying to make it that way…

Coping Mechanism: First I turned to running…then alcohol… Then I took a vacation to Istanbul—and ate massive amounts of food. Uh, so yeah I guess you could say I went a little backwards on that one, but whatever. My coping mechanism now is to focus on all of the other things here that make me happy and to embrace every moment where a smile meets my face naturally. I also just laugh a lot when the stressful things happen because often times when I get angry I picture looking at myself from someone else’s perspective and there’s really nothing funnier than watching a tiny 4’10 woman getting pissed off and yelling nonsense in a mix of 2 languages. Also, I realize I’m only here for 2 years. Sometimes I feel like it’s like watching a hamster in a cage and observing its emotional reactions to various tests.

3)      Fear: Being around strangers and creepy people.
I spent my entire adolescence being afraid of strangers. I suffered from paranoia and the fact that I roam around, get into cars with strangers, and strike up conversations with random people strictly out of boredom is kind of odd. It’s cool though. We’ve all seen “Taken” and of course I’m in Albania—without Liam—so you’d think I’d be setting myself up for all sorts of kidnappings and interactions with scary people. Being around strangers and creepy people in a foreign country can be really scary. Seriously, who is going to save you when it’s just you and a scary man in a dark alley…or vehicle? I always carry pepper spray and a knife on me, but as a little woman, I think man with a gun would always win.

Coping Mechanism: The truth is I have had some bad interactions with creepers here. However, I have reacted extremely well when they’ve occurred. As opposed to freezing up or panicking, I’ve been very calm and in charge of my thoughts. It helps. I believe there is something to be said for being someone who finds strength in times of fear. A very direct: “No thank you. Please stop you’re making me uncomfortable” comes of a lot better than a shaky “umm..excuse me..but uh…” and trying to wiggle yourself away from the situation. Speaking up for yourself, remaining calm, and being direct is the best way for me to handle creepers. Also, trying to avoid those situations in the first place; the preemptive strike is an even better way to go.

4)      Fear: Getting lost.
I am the master of getting lost. I can remember the first time I got lost driving around in California I somehow got all the way to Stinson Beach from the center of San Francisco. There was no cell phone reception and I was super scared. There’s a feeling of “I’m never going to make it home” that hits you when you’re lost. Maybe that feeling is why people feel lost in many different ways.
Coping Mechanism: Embrace the chaos. So you get lost… big deal.  Maybe you feel like you’ll never find your way back, but that is a silly and false feeling. If that guy from Man Vs. Wild can find his way back to civilization, then I can find my way back from… a capital city surrounded by people. I have begun to see getting lost as more of an adventure and a fun piece of life. Often times, I feel lost in life here, but that’s cool. I find comfort in knowing there’s always going to be a way to get where I’m going.