The beginning of my second year teaching in Lesotho as a Peace Corps volunteer didn’t start off well. Using my one year of experience and a renewed sense of motivation after the summer break, I had hoped to launch into the school year with great fervor and determination. The projects that couldn’t get off the ground the year before would be success stories. I would empower the struggling students. I would find grace and capability in my position.
But, the students carried a host of grievances, many of them justified. The school was losing money and students daily and there was an accumulating fear that the students would strike or the school would close.
Often, I went into class thinking we were going to discuss verb-subject agreement only to spend the entire hour calming students about the fact that it was four weeks into the year and they did not yet have a math and science teacher.
By that point in my two-year service, after a great deal of heartache, I had learned to let things be. I had finally released the idea that I was in control or that I should avoid disappointment and failure. I knew there was something greater than me and my little Peace Corps mission at work, and so I gave into it. I let events and situations play out, participating from the sides and not as a leading or objective voice.
I thought of those days this afternoon as I walked through the tree-lined streets of my quiet neighborhood. After a day and half of computer issues, I was finally on track to getting my compute and printer set up to perform the daily tasks of my job when my internet cut out for 45 minutes. Practically in tears, I chose to step outside and let the gentle hot wind calm my nerves.
There have been several changes in my life in the last three months. Not necessarily bad change, but also not unnoticeable change.
The best of the changes is that Ethan and I moved in together. While it’s a slight adjustment to live with another person again (I lived alone last year after having a roommate my first year in Chicago), it’s been great. Making this two-bedroom apartment our home has brought us closer and he makes me giggle more than anyone else. Recently, he yelled “Heather!” from the bathroom and then came out with a bowl and said, “I guess living with Heather means finding bowls of popcorn in random places.”
In that, though, we are learning about each other in our more plainest and purest forms, which comes with some minor turbulence at times.
The biggest of these adjustments is that my new home has also become my new office. I am still employed and with the same employer, but because of expired leases and the timeline of preparing a new place, our entire office is working from temporary spaces. I opted to work from home for the five months rather than a rented space downtown (part of the reason Ethan and I opted for a two-bedroom instead of a cheaper one-bedroom unit). At first, I did not think working from home would suit me, given that I am quite chatty and maintain friendly relationships with my co-workers. I softened to the idea when I started to think about the commute time I would gain back in my day, not having to travel from far north to the Loop.
We are not an entire week into it and the rough waters feel quite stormy (back to the aforementioned tech issues). And I can tell sitting at my desk and trying to interpret what others mean through instant messages and emails is not good for my social paranoia. What did he really mean in that email?
As soon as Ethan walks in the door, I speak at him for 10 minutes straight. It sort of reminds me of what mothers of small children talk about when they say they miss adult interaction.
There’ve been other changes as well, personally and professionally. Another big one is not being able to run and the undoing of my summer plans to marathon train. Some of my social circles have also shifted, mostly due life progressing, but it’s still never an easy adjustment for me to accept.
With so much change, I put a great deal of pressure on myself to deliver, to be the gold standard. With change often comes room for error, but not for me. I walk on thinner eggshells in hopes of not disappointing others.
But, I feel like I am failing, and greatly. At the end of the day, some days, I am so exhausted trying to please others that I’ve forgotten how to take care of myself, and frankly I don’t have the motivation to do so. I want to be everything and all things to everyone around me and it really upsets me when I can’t. I’ve always put such pressures on myself, but in the times of great change those expectations feel like bricks on the throat.
I do not know how to be. I have forgotten since those long lost days in rural Lesotho. Instead, I scatter around to fix and make better, and when I cannot, I blame, punish, and make excuses.
How do I return to a state of being instead of doing? Is that even possible for me again? I guess I do not know, but I know that I need to try or at least give myself some kind of relief. My poor nails can’t take my anxious state anymore.
For now, I take walks instead of cry. I let the sun soak up the buzzing worry. And, I think back to a time when I was strong and present. If I could be that then, I could can be it now.