Saturday, November 30, 2013

Not all who wander are lost...but some are.

     "An athlete on a trapeze wanting to switch to the next trapeze has to let go of the current one to reach the next one. For a few seconds the athlete is just suspended in air with nothing to hold on to. When you leave the culture where you have been serving a term and start home, you also find yourself in the same position. You have left one place, and you are not yet in another. You are not where (and who) you were, but you are not yet where (and who) you will be. There is nothing to hold on to, and you may feel confused and disoriented." 
-from "Coming "Home": The Reentry Transition by Ron Koteskey. The free ebook an be found at

     There are many books and resources available for helping people through 'reverse culture shock'-the psychological effects of returning "home", or one's passport culture. They talk about having feelings of depression, disorientation, and helplessness, and an intense longing to return to the host culture (read more here). One blog called it "post-travel depression", which I think is highly accurate.

    These resources are helpful in knowing you're not alone. They remind you that others have gone through it, and what you're feeling is normal. However, it doesn't make the feelings go away. It doesn't make you miss your host culture less. It doesn't make everything in your passport country suddenly feel 'normal'. It just helps you know you are "normal" for feeling lost and disoriented, and eventually things will get better.
    Thing is, I want to know WHEN? When will things get better? Everyone has a different time frame for how quickly they adjust. Some of this depends on how long they were gone, their adaptability, how much they adapted to their host culture, etc. Having been home for almost 4 months now, I would say there are different phases to transitioning back to your passport culture.
    First, there is the initial shock. Constant electricity, fast internet, hot showers, endless supply of ice cream, cheese, and milk, reuniting with friends and family. And the jet lag (let's not forget that!). This phase takes a couple of weeks to wear off as you get used to everything. Surprisingly, I found reintegrating with friends was harder than I expected. I waited nearly a month hoping that now that I was home I would get phone calls from friends. Finally, I realised since we hadn't really talked frequently in the last few years, we were out of the habit. I had to make an effort to call them, to re-integrate into their lives. This was a bit of a struggle for my introverted self, despite these people being among my closest friends. The proud/conceited part of me wanted them to drop what they were doing to call and say hello. The realistic part of me knows they have lives and families and schedules and I'm sure had intentions to call but it's just not that easy. (To my friends-I love you all, please don't feel bad about me writing this. It's a common thing that happens when people come back from being overseas.)
    Phase two is the sensory overload that is the US. That has been by far the most ongoing difficult for me to deal with since my return, and has been a challenge every time I've come home from being overseas. When living here in the US you don't realize how much you are bombarded with on a daily basis. The constant commercials on the TV and radio, ads on billboards, newspapers and flyers, even the shelves and isles at stores. All are in bright colors or flashing lights or loud noises. Someone or something is constantly telling you you don't have enough and you need MORE!!! It's sickening, because most people don't have any more space to put more stuff, but feel the constant need to buy things. I find it hard to go into stores because there is just so much STUFF. A recent trip to purchase a baby shower gift sums up my feelings perfectly: I was in a store fully of baby supplies, standing in the toy section. Remember, all of these baby toys are meant to 'stimulate your baby'. Well, here I was surrounded on 3 sides of 15 ft high walls of brightly colored baby toys. A friend had gone to another store and called to find out where I was so she could meet back up with me. I told her "I'm in the baby toy section and feeling very overwhelmed!" I wanted to go back to the crib section so I could curl up in a fetal position and hide from all that STUFF.
Sensory overload happens at work and home too. I might be having a good time, or be with people I enjoy but it still gets overwhelming. When I return home from work or time out with friends I find the need to isolate myself in my room, hide under the covers of my bed with my ear plugs and get away from everything. After 20-30 minutes, I am better and able to be social once again.
     Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy getting to go to the store and getting just about anything I want, and realizing I can wait to purchase something because it will STILL BE IN STOCK in 6 weeks when I will need more (can I say AMAZING!). I still get a little thrill when I order something online and it arrives in 2 days. TWO DAYS! It's like Christmas every time. I have to restrict myself because the little thrill can be addicting. (Do it again! Do it again! my mind says with glee and giggling). I also really enjoy instant access to Facebook and emails, Pinterest and Amazon.

Phase three has to do with adjusting to the superficiality we experience here. In western culture, we're so individualistic, we have a hard time really opening up and asking for help or showing the ugly part of ourselves. We all display our sunday best like peacocks all the time, and then make comparisons between our worst and someone else's best, and end up feeling insufficient and inadequate. (Case in point: Facebook, Pinterest). Guess what? Life is messy. Life is hard. Life is made up of both the pretty and the ugly parts. We have it so good here in the US you have no idea. It's okay not to have it all together, and it's okay to admit that. We don't have to bear the burden of always hiding behind our perfection masks.
     But by far phase four is  the biggest challenge. It involves dealing with the loss of feeing a sense of purpose, and importance. You suddenly feeling a loss of purpose, trivial, unimportant, and lost in the crowd. Perhaps some of that is because the work I am doing while home is not fulfilling, and I should have chosen a different short-term position. But some of the loss comes because in Congo I felt called to what I was doing there. I enjoyed teaching and working along side my Congolese counterparts (as frustrating as it could be at times for all involved!) Yes, I have plans to head overseas again, and it helps to remember that. But at times I just feel lost and adrift amid the noisy self-centered materialism that is America. It's times like these I want to scream "DON'T YOU GET IT!? YOU DON'T NEED ALL THIS STUFF TO MAKE YOU HAPPY. IN FACT, YOU'LL BE HAPPIER WITHOUT MOST OF IT CLUTTERING YOUR LIFE. TURN THE TV AND RADIO OFF AND INTERACT WITH EACH OTHER!" But it falls on deaf ears. The volume is turned up too loud in America.
     And so I continue in this transition, realizing I will be leaving again in a few months and so will never fully 'fit in' while here. To get through the difficult patches I cry, pray, talk with friends, and remind myself of a quote that has been the signature line on my email for the last three years:

I cannot flee His presence. Go where I will, He leads me, and watches me, and cares for me. The same Being who is now at work in the remotest domains of nature and of providence is also at my hand to make more full every moment of my being. 
-Thomas Chalmers

And then I work on really believing it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What's next?

*Spoiler Alert* You may see some of this same info in a newsletter I'll be sending out. But since not everyone reads my blog, I feel I can write it twice...

Many of you have been asking me what my plans are now that I've completed my service with the Post-Residency Program. Well, if I told you, I'd have to kill you...

Not really. The truth is, beyond about May 2014, I'm really not sure. And I'm trying to be okay with that. But what am I doing up until May 2014, you ask? And what have I been doing in the meantime?

Since arriving home in July, I've had the opportunity to spend some time with my family and friends. I haven't gotten to see everyone I'd like to see, nor spend all the time I would like with each person, but it has still been nice to be home.

Many of you know I started a Masters in Public Health through Loma Linda University seven years ago (yeah, seven-time has flown by!) I am finishing my last two courses this semester! (God willing-please be praying for me about that-many things to finish up in the next few weeks!)

I've been able to do some Locum Tenens work (it's like substitute/part time doctoring), which has allowed me to a)pay those pesky student loan bills, b)save money to pay those pesky student loan bills while I'm gone to Congo this spring (more on that in a bit), c)be able to attend the AAFP conference in San Diego and get in some much needed CME, and d)pay off some other pesky bills I have.

I'm currently planning on going to Nyankunde, Democratic Republic of Congo in February for a three months to work alongside a surgeon (Warren Cooper) and learn how to do a few types of surgeries I haven't been able to learn in the time I was in Impfondo. I've worked with Dr Cooper before in Impfondo, and he and his wife (a neonatologist) are currently based in Nyankunde. For those of you who are geographically challenged, it is in the northeastern part of the DRC, along the Ugandan border (Uganda is west of Kenya). Yes, it is safe for me to go there. No, there is no fighting's a ways away, near Goma.

This trip will be through Samaritan's Purse, but will be a volunteer position. As such, I need support for this trip! Most importantly, I need prayer support. No matter what we do, we should always submit it to prayer first. I can't tell you how much your prayers have helped me while I was in Impfondo, and even now in this transition period as I've returned to the US and set out on another trip.
Secondly, your financial support would also be such a blessing to me! I can't tell you how much it has meant to me for those of you who have been able to support me financially in the past. It's like I get a big hug every time I see my monthly account statement!
To give, you can click on this link to Samaritan's Purse website, or write a check and send it to the address at the right. The account number is the same as when I was in the Post-Residency Program (3594).

What's up after I return from Nyankunde? Well, that's a good question. I'll start by coming home and having a nice steak dinner with some ice cream for dessert. ;-) For a while, it was just a blank slate, but now God is starting to fill in some holes, but I'm not yet ready to share them with the world yet. Suffice it to say I feel called to return to the mission field. Please be praying for me to clearly see where God is calling me to work for Him next, for hearts and minds of those I leave and those I will meet to be prepared.

Could you do me a favor? If you're willing to being a prayer partner with me, could you leave a message after this blog? Either here, or on Facebook? Thank you so much!