Fewer Days Left Than Past: Mid-Trip Musings

I’ve been feeling a little melancholy this weekend. It’s a combination of things like feeling as though I’m a boring person for not going out and travelling around Ghana more, worrying that I might be missing out on a lot of fun of travelling by focusing on studying, worrying about how little time is left in the semester, and feeling shamed by dudes here regarding my reticence to befriend men. That last is one I’m fighting with myself over: the way some of the guys have treated me is actually not okay, and they’re not entitled to my friendship or time. Still, I feel like I’m being rude or something. A guy flagged me down to chat the other day, and asked for my room number (but not my name, which is kind of rude). He said he saw me and liked my personality (which is just ????) so he wanted to be my friend — which is the exact same way a few other guys have approached me, and definitely does not make me want to be friends with them. One of the guys who cleans the hostel here has more than once tried to talk me into buying him food (order me, actually), despite the fact that we rarely talk much and don’t really know each other. Plus, there are a couple guys who’ve straight up proposed to me within minutes of meeting me. Some people have told me this is a joke, and some people have told me that it’s not, that they actually hope to marry an American for citizenship. Honestly, these dudes are exhausting me, and making me want to stay in my room.

I actually feel guilty for spending so much time alone in my room, which is probably pretty irrational — it’s my right to do what I want with my time. I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m “wasting” this opportunity. Many of the other students arrange trips every weekend and go out every other night, and — even though trying to do homework on trips stresses me out and I don’t actually really like drinking or hanging out at bars — I feel like that’s something I should be doing to get “the most” out of my time here. (Now that I’ve written that out, it actually sounds even sillier than it does in my head.) I’m enjoying my time here, and I have made  friends with some Ghanaian students and with some women who work in the Night Market and one of my TAs. I’ve learned how to navigate an entirely different university, and I’ve been on tours, and gone to beaches, and those experiences aren’t less valuable for having been planned by my study abroad program.

I do wish I could stay, though. There’s so much I’d like to see, but I don’t have time to do it, since I have classes and homework. I’d love to go back to Kakum National Park to just sit in the forest for a while. I’d love to go to the Volta region and visit the falls there. I’d love to tour the palace and explore Kumasi. I just don’t have the time (or money, frankly) to do it. There’s one month until final exams start, and then I’m going back to the US. If I had more money, I’d stay 2 extra weeks here, after the semester ends. I will come back some day, though, and do all the things I wish I could do now.

Another reason I wish I could stay has to do with my health. Studies indicate that discrimination can strongly impact physical and mental health. Fibromyalgia is exacerbated by stress, leading to a rise in symptoms; this is why a lot of medical advice for treating fibro boils down to stress management. While living in Oregon, I find that periods of less stress lead to reduced symptoms, but I still need to keep my cane with me, as well as carrying “the kit” — a bag of health management tools for controlling fibromyalgia and diabetes symptoms. I can walk longer without getting tired, and I use my cane occasionally to help with my balance. Exposure to chemical scents, too much loud noise, a stressful event, or another trigger can render me unable to function within 20 minutes. During last fall term, I didn’t use my cane for the first two weeks of class, but soon found myself experiencing greater stress and needing to use my cane every day. In contrast, within 3 weeks of landing in Ghana, I stopped needing my cane at all. In fact, during the last 2 months (September and October), I can only recall needing my cane 4 days, even though I have had serious trouble finding scentless hand soap, and frequently encounter people wearing a lot of perfume. Living here the last 2 months has been almost like not having fibromyalgia; I would be lying if I said that wasn’t a nice feeling. In light of this, I’m honestly a little afraid of returning. I miss my friends and family, but at the same time I’m scared of going back to being in that much pain, being that tired, all the time.

Still, I have to go back to finish my degree and graduate. I know I have a beautiful, giving, loving community waiting for me, that I have friends and family who care for me and will listen to me rant and cry and reminisce and so much more, who will give me hugs and feed me and remind me that I have good things in my life back in the US. I can come back some day, and I can visit other places. I can go on with my life, and I will.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my time here, even if it’s mostly spent at my dorm, in my room: studying, reading, and recharging.

 

 

P.S.: I feel super self-conscious about always asking for money, but I still need to raise funds to cover school costs, food, and toiletries. Please donate to my Crowdrise, if you can, and share the link on social media to help me cover the next month and a half here in Ghana.

Other ways to support my semester abroad: CrowdriseZazzleBookSpoken Word AlbumPatreon

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Me, My Health, and I

Two weeks ago, my doctor gave me a fibromyalgia diagnosis. I suspected I had it when I went to see her; she ran tests to rule other causes out before confirming I have fibro. On one hand, it’s nice to have a diagnosis, so I can try to get accommodations from my school. On the other, fibro is a lifelong thing, one where my treatment options are often likely to be about pain management. To reduce my low energy, high pain days, I have to eat well, sleep enough, and exercise often.

Above all, I have to find a way to minimise stress, which is not always my strong suit. I tend to commit to a lot of important, fulfilling things, juggle them all with increasing difficulty until I just can’t keep up, and I need to let one or two or three drop away. But I’ve been going through a lot the last few months, and it’s definitely made me slow down and listen to my body a lot. I have been forced to say no to things I want to do, and I’ve been forced to ask for help when I can’t manage everything I’ve got.

I am used to being pretty independent, to handling my own needs. Even when I tell other people I’m struggling, I often insist that I’ll figure something out; there’s no opening for help to be given or, in some cases, even offered. I’ve been increasingly frustrated at my lack of mobility and energy, because I don’t like asking for help. I don’t like having to rely on others, and I often feel guilty for inconveniencing friends. I apologise constantly, even for things that my friends have offered freely. I am grateful for their support, of course I am, but I also feel that I shouldn’t need it.

Recently, my mother texted me about a Facebook post I made. Her text said I should ask her for money when I need it; she might not always have it, but she likes to be asked. My automatic reply was “okay.” I didn’t know what else to say. But after reflecting on it, I also replied that I likely still wouldn’t ask her. Part of why I push so hard is that I want to get experience and find a job paying well enough that I can buy a house and move my mother in.

In my story for the Intersections event, I mentioned that my biggest life goal, my dream, is to make enough money that my mother can retire. Most folks are retired by 70. I have another 19 years to make it happen, but my recent low mobility has raised some scary possibilities. I’m afraid that I’ll never get there, that my mother will still be working 3 jobs and caring for my brother in her 70s. I’m afraid that something terrible will happen to her before I am established enough to take care of her. I’m afraid something will happen to me, and I’ll add to her burdens instead of lifting them.

How can I take care of my mother when I can’t even take care of myself?

Since my symptoms started back in October, I’ve started a slow return to stable health. I’m not as able and mobile as I was before the flare, but I’m considerably better than I was in the worst of it. I haven’t slept through class in weeks, and I can walk almost as much as I used to, though I still need a cane. The meds my doctor prescribed keep me from having too much pain during the course of the day, and I haven’t had incapacitating brain fog for almost a month. I still struggle to remember words on a regular basis, and I have to process out loud a lot now, but I also know it could be worse.

Still, I’m haunted by the possibility of going back to that place. I have been able to get accommodations from my school, and both my professors and my supervisor at work have been very understanding and supportive, but I’m used to being able to do more. That’s a manifestation of societal pressure: our society is capitalistic, and emphasises production as the measure for self-worth. (I wrote a couple of poems about that—one is here.) I know this, but I still struggle in allowing myself the space and time I would give anyone else.

I encourage my friends to care for themselves, to take things slow, to tell me and others what they need, and so on, but when it comes to myself, I am impatient. It is a good thing when my friends self-care, but I have too much to do. I even put off my own self-care by caring for my friends!

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The tattoo on my upper chest says “Radical Self Begins with Radical Self-Love”. It’s meant to be a reminder to take care of myself: I can’t do all of the cool, amazing, important things I want to do if I don’t take care of myself. I am definitely radical, but I’m also running myself into the ground, and I need to take time and space to love and care for myself, before I totally burn out.

I think it’s time to make a self care plan, and schedule some time to just do things that will help me unwind. After all, I’m not superhuman, even if I try to act like it sometimes.

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