You’re lying in bed reading on your Kindle. The sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, and the world seems peaceful. You’re reading one of your favorite series in Spanish to practice your translation skills. When you come across a word you don’t know, all you have to do is raise your hand and touch the screen for an automatic translation.
But you can’t.
You hurt too much to move your arms and touch the screen. Your hands are too swollen and painful to even bother reaching for that automatic translation. So you skip the word, and hope your comprehension can carry you through. If this has ever happened to you, and you’ve been living in a fairly tropical land with lots of mosquitoes, you might have Chikungunya.
In early September, I came down with Chikunguyna – a mosquito borne virus that usually consists of a high fever, rash, and lingering joint swelling pain. The joint pain can last a while after the initial onset of the disease. (I’ve heard anywhere from 2 months to two years afterwards!) In my case, I was out of commission for almost all of September and various days of October.
For a recovering perfectionist and a borderline work-aholic, this disease is both literally and figuratively crippling. For the few weeks of flare-ups, I became completely dependent on my lovely husband as I struggled to simply walk to the bathroom or hold a cup in my hand to drink. I couldn’t write or type. I couldn’t work. Combined with my October language interview yielding a lower score than I’d hoped, and a delay to starting the STEP program here in Estelí until next February, I had the perfect makings for a “Mid-Service Dip.”
So I dipped. And I thought. And I cried. And I thought some more. As October continued on, my mind kept coming back to this guidepost: Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting go of Perfectionism.
I realized that I’m actually decent at being kind to myself when things are going well: when I’m working hard and seeing incredible progress with my counterparts, when we run into Nicaraguans in the city and feel so integrated because people know us, when I’m watching Game of Thrones in Spanish and following the rapid dialogue and wit with more accuracy than I would have thought possible a year ago. In those moments, I have self-compassion and feel that I’m working towards not being so perfectionistic.
In those lower moments, though, is where the real challenge lies: when I received my language level and wanted to be told something higher, when I had to call my counterparts and say that I couldn’t walk to school, (let alone teach), even though they have to go to work when they’re sick, when the city feels big and un-integratable. The real challenge is being OK with those moments. Feeling them. Acknowledging them. And then letting them go.
I wish I could tell you that I bounced right back every time I hit one of those walls, but I’m not perfect, and for whatever reason, at times that reality is really hard for me to accept and love about myself. What I can tell you is that the lows are worth feeling through, and that with acknowledging the downs, through that act of self-compassion, the sun rises again and provides another day.
In the wise words of Kid President’s Tiny Poem:
The world is so big and we’re all so small
sometimes it feels like we can’t do anything at all
but the world can be better
(in spite of its flaws)
the world can be better
and you’ll be the cause
and even though the waves are bigger than our boats…
the wind keeps us sailing
its love gives us hope.
Some days it’s dark,
but we’ll keep rowing
because people like you whisper
‘keep going. keep going keep going.’
The waves and flaws may at times seem insurmountable, but just being here is what matters.
And I’m still here. I’m gonna keep being open to new experiences, sharing what I know and learning new ways to live. I now have stronger empathy and understanding for people who can’t physically do what they want to do. I’ve experienced an illness that is common in mostly the tropical, developing parts of the world. I’m gonna keep going, keep experiencing, keep living and loving and learning.
Thanks for the whispers, KP. November is a new month, and I’m still going.