08 November 2007

He Lives! How Readjusting To American Life Is Overwhelmingly Difficult

It has been nearly 2 months since I wrote a significant, telling, insightful blog entry (assuming my previous entries were one or all of these things). The truth is that the last 2 months have been the most trying, complicated and draining of my life (besides that first week in Shanghai, which was REAL BAD). In fact, the last 60 days have felt strikingly similar to those first days in China. I’ve felt out of place. I’ve felt lost. I’ve felt like a foreigner. It’s absolutely true that you have no idea how much you’ve changed until you come back to a place that is familiar.

For the first few weeks I clung to being a nomad because it offered comfort. Calm. After all, I knew how to live out of a suitcase! I wandered aimlessly from friend to friend, crashing on couches, spending hours a day on conference calls with international organizations talking about their youth programs – something I knew about. A permanent position at Youth Venture wasn’t shoring up as fast as I had hoped but I continued working full-steam, denying some offers and not looking elsewhere for fear of closing that door.

Of course, there were still the after effects of the Dengue. I was lethargic. I needed LOTS of sleep. I woke up some days too depressed to do anything. Then there was the confusion. Is this the Dengue or is it my own life? I had no job, no home and the personal life wasn’t exactly moving as I had thought. Maybe it was a little of both. Maybe having my own place would fix it. Maybe a job would fix it. Maybe nothing would.

I was in a constant state of “I don’t fit in at all.” I felt like the only thing I was supposed to do here – in America – was shop and buy things. Like that was my purpose. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel comfortable. Instead, it made me really unhappy. Turning on a light, taking a long shower, simply being able to get water out of a faucet whenever I felt like it made me feel guilty. I had just spent four months with people who were happy to get three meals a day. Who was I to use – and in my mind abuse – the abundance of resources at my fingertips? Why should I get these things when they don’t? Why was my life so darn easy, and how was everyone around me taking it all for granted?

Needless to say, this mindset did not help, nor did the unfortunate string of events that reigned down on me over the course of several weeks. The passing of three close family friends (one of whom was only 23). Finding - then losing housing on multiple occasions. Constant mood swings from the Dengue fever. Floundering to find an income, and feeling controlled by money all the time. A constant and continual deterioration in my personal life. It was like that first week in Shanghai, only drawn out over 8 weeks in an environment that – unlike China - you expected to be easy and familiar. I got cynical. I got depressed. I got sad. I got angry. I went through the entire spectrum of emotions, and I’m still going through them.

Fortunately for me though, I’ve been reminded by close friends, family and one great therapist that I’m all but useless in doing good if I’m miserable and upset all the time. Wallowing in my own guilt and self-pity isn’t going to help youth in South Africa get out of poverty. So I’m learning to reaccept my world and see the positives in it, which has been a challenge.

I’m finally employed, my housing situation is shoring up and, above all, I’ve realized that I have some great people around me who have really helped to hold me up through this particularly rough patch.

So, where do I go from here? I’m going to keep writing about what I think, whether it relates to development, youth, my generation or my own life. Sometimes it will be funny. Sometimes it won’t. No matter what, it will be honest. There are still stories to tell. There are still youth who need a voice, and I’m no good at being that voice if I’m crying under my sheets listening to Joni Mitchell. It’s time to turn the page and begin a new chapter. Rock on.

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