Every once in a while, I find myself in a place where all my worries and paranoias become justified. A monster appears in my head and suddenly, I’m a failure in every aspect of my job. When I look at the library that I’ve been working on for the past month, I don’t see progress in the form of clean, termite-free bookshelves, I see a mess. I see 1,000+ books that still need to be organized and labeled. The blank looks on the faces of my pupils no longer motivates me, it haunts me. Surrounded by the sing-song accents of my fellow teachers, I become paranoid. What if my counterpart secretly dislikes me? What if the head teacher talks about me behind my back? In that moment, I’m convinced and it fills me with crippling doubt. I get nervous and I can’t contain my nasally American accent. No one understands me. I’m a foreigner, an outsider. For once, I don’t feel like I belong.
I give up. I lock myself in my house, feeding the monster inside me who whispers “you’re not doing enough.” I ignore mounting piles of laundry and dirty dishes. I lie in bed binge-watching TV-shows to quell the thoughts wreaking havoc in my mind. Inevitably, my laptop dies and I’m left to stare blankly at the shadows on the wall that are ominously taking the shape of my greatest fears. I am drained but restless. Sleep has escaped me so instead, I obsess. I think about the kids who come to school with no shoes on, their feet caked with mud. I think about the pupils who were just diagnosed with HIV. I feel helpless. My American privilege suffocates me and I feel guilty. I worry that the school will shut down, that I won’t reach my fundraising goal. I am obsessed with the project, trying to think of new ways to fundraise. I have nightmares about it. I can’t escape the possibility of impending failure. I feel as if I’m trying to stay afloat with legs chained to the bottom of the lake. I cry. I can’t even pinpoint exactly what I cry about but I start to doubt if I’ll ever find my way out of the darkness that consumes my mind.
I miss home. I miss the chill air and crisp freshness of autumn. I want to wrap myself in the ignorance that once coddled me. To shake of these thoughts, I fantasize about upcoming trips. I count the days until I’m in the company of Americans once again. But when I get there, when I’m surrounded by fellow volunteers, in a café that feels as if it was uprooted from America and dropped in the middle of a small town in Uganda, I still feel alone and the juxtaposition of both worlds leaves me feeling uneasy. I spend too much money on fancy coffee and numb my mind with mindless web-surfing. My former life taunts me on Facebook and I judge everyone on my newsfeed. I become the monster in my head.
I am acutely aware of every emotion. My body hurts. My shoulders burn from heavy jerry cans and an even heavier backpack. My feet are torn and calloused. Mosquito bites decorate my body. I feel dirty and all my thoughts are irrational, but just like I still can’t cross the street without thinking about all the ways I could get hit and die, I can’t control them. All I can do is get to the other side. Eventually, I shake off the monster and I emerge, still aching, with a renewed sense of positivity that keeps me going until I find myself in this place again.