I have already been away from home for 54 days. In this time, I have felt myself changing. I threw myself into an entirely new way of life in the first five weeks in Virginia, for another three weeks in Germany, and will continue to do so in my two weeks of travels after my program ends.I feel that I have broken habits, have shifted my values, and view the world with a slightly softer lens.
When I left Santa Barbara on June 1, I was hurting. I had been running at full speed since 2011 and didn't know how to slow down. I was in survival mode: broke all the time, working too much, stretching myself too thin, eating and sleeping poorly, and trying to keep everyone happy and yet still alienating people. In the midst of this, I was not unhappy - I have amazing people in my life and have been blessed with work that is truly fulfilling - but I did have a lot of excess things in my life that I thought I loved but were slowly breaking me down. I made myself like things I didn't like, I made myself do things that weren't my passion, I said a lot of things I didn't mean, and none of it was done knowingly. That's what "survival mode" is like for me. I adopted a lifestyle full of anxiety and bitterness that lacked joy or fulfillment. I can only see that now.
I should have seen the warning signs. I certainly felt them but couldn't recognize them for what they were: social withdrawal, not being able to get out of bed, constant anxiety and pains in my chest, recurring illnesses that kept me from eating or sleeping enough, and intense guilt about taking any time off work because of the pain, anxiety, or sickness. Just trying to survive was causing me emotional and physical pain and draining me mentally and spiritually. The last two years have probably been the hardest of my whole life.
I have some anxiety about going back. Not about going back home: I can brave Santa Barbara, especially because I have had some new opportunities that will lighten my schedule and balance my workload. Not about school: I can brave my independent study project for graduate school because it's something I am passionate about and have given myself some reasonable limits and deadlines. Not even about failure: I am not afraid to fail, as I am aware that I constantly do so and often more spectacularly than most. I am afraid, mostly, of disconnecting from myself again and letting myself get dragged back down into "survival".
Being here in Germany has reminded me of who I naturally am and how I want to be.
I don't want to stop being excited. I get excited about details: the Frankfurt skyline in the morning, the smell of the rain, a piece of interesting graffiti, the look of the sun reflecting on the river, my 50 cent coffee and croissant each morning, carrying everything I need in just my backpack, silence... Survival mode dulled my senses and brought hyper-focus to the road ahead, it stiffened me so I could not notice the world around me.
I don't want to lose my compassion. That I love being with people, I love praying for them, I love talking to them about their lives, I love being honest with them and being sensitive and compassionate to their pain... Survival mode put me in a hyper-protective state where I could not open up and was easily bitter.
I don't want to go too fast. I like taking my time: walking a long distance with no music in my earbuds, no urgency to my steps, no reason to not take in my surroundings... Survival mode made me focus on the future and miss out on the present.
I don't want to stop trusting God. This has been the hardest. In my life and in my field, I have felt the need to push the timeline and plan that God has for me in what I am doing so it fit my ideas of what it looks like to be successful. I have damaged relationships with other people because of this and I have also greatly hurt myself. This has been a larger issue in my life but survival mode accentuated my natural doubt and caused me a great deal of unnecessary anxiety.
But I can do it. There is so much hope for this year, so many exciting opportunities, and so many people that I know will support me when I get back home. Finding balance will probably always be a struggle for me but having the opportunity to step back and reevaluate, like I have done these past eight weeks, will always be available.
Just pray for me, okay? And maybe remind me every once in a while to chill.