The cafe where I get my coffee every morning has a strange habit of playing brutal nature documentaries on the TV behind the bar. I’ll be sipping my espresso while glimpsing killer whales ripping apart baby seals, or adorable snow foxes feasting on scavenged carcasses of polar bear prey. Nothing like being reminded, first thing after waking up, that life is a ruthless competition for survival.
This morning for some reason I found that thought comforting. My anxieties about departing from stability and not knowing where my next job is coming from pale in comparison to having to outrun a lion.
But trouble finding work abroad is just one in a long list of fears I’m juggling about my upcoming trip. Most of the time I can keep calm and carry on but I’ve also had moments of utter insecurity and panic.
There’s a cognitive behavioral therapy technique called “worry time,” and it’s just as straightforward as it sounds. You carve out five minutes a day to articulate and dwell on each of your worries, the idea being that listing them out will take away their bite and you’ll stop obsessing over them.
So, here’s my current worry time rundown:
- I had counted on only needing two months of immersion to become proficient in French but lately I’m realizing that is probably a very big underestimate, especially in Senegal where the accents will be new and challenging to me. I don’t have enough money to continue this trip indefinitely and I’m nervous that I’ll have to come back before locking in solid language skills.
- Out of sheer force of disgusted and terrified will, I haven’t thrown up in more than 25 years, but I fear there is no way I can get through Africa without at least one bout of food poisoning. While I begrudgingly accept that I’m going to have to break the no-vomit streak at some point in my life, I’m horrified at the thought of breaking it many times in quick succession.
- I spent almost $6,000 on a camera package in the hopes that “if you build it they will come.” I have a few good leads for short video production jobs in Senegal and a couple of other nearby countries but nothing locked in, and I’m worried that I won’t be able to pay back the cost of my kit. Maybe I should have used the money to just travel the world instead of over-ambitiously trying to study and work and travel all at once.
- On the opposite side of the coin, I worry that I’ll get lots of work but screw it all up and be blacklisted from the entire continent.
- I’m concerned about what’s going on in Mali and Burkina Faso. It sucks in its own right but I’m also worried that it could impact the security situation in Senegal.
- I fear that the doxycycline (malaria prophylactic) that I’m about to start taking will make me antibiotic resistant to some weird Sub-Saharan disease I’ll later pick up.
- I’m also afraid that the doxycycline will give me an allergic reaction and my throat will close up. (Even though I have taken this drug before, with no adverse effects.)
- I wonder whether the needles that my new miracle-working acupuncturist left taped into my back (yes, you read that right) will give me septic shock and / or pierce my spine and paralyze me just days before my flight.
- My quasi-conquered roach phobia is most likely going to be given a run for its money in Africa, and that gives me pause. Very, very long pause.
- And finally, every time I think of the haircut I’m getting on Friday I worry that I will break the vomit seal in the barber’s chair instead of in Senegal. The real worry, though, is not nervous wretching. It’s that if I hate my new hair, I’ll have to hide it under head wraps for six months while it grows back from hideousness.
Of course, I can counter each of these fears with very rational counterarguments for their being unrealistic, overblown and / or not necessarily all bad. I’ve been doing that, a little. But mostly I’ve been forcing myself to continue putting one foot in front of the other despite my constant worry about everything big and small that could go horribly wrong.