worry time

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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.

[Photo: Domiriel]

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3 thoughts on “worry time

  1. There’s only one of those things that I would worry about seriously, and that’s those needles in your back – what were you thinking?! All the rest are just the normal challenges of life, to be approached with just good sense and normal precautions as advised by WHO etc. and no unrealistic expectations. Face into them and you will be all the better for them. You will learn enough French to get by, and many, many equally valuable other things along the way; you will get sick at least once, and it will pass; I have a slight concern about you carrying such valuable equipment about, so just be careful with it and who you trust; with regard to your work, just do your best and have faith; during the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland when there were bombs, knee-cappings and all sorts of other horrors going on almost daily, people outside Ireland would often say “How can you live there?!” and I would have to remind them that I didn’t live in THAT part of Ireland, even though it was only a hundred or so miles away! Be careful where you go, but within reason. Remember, millions of Africans live there safely! If you think anywhere on earth is ever truly safe then you are mistaken, even if you never went outside your door; roaches are fine, they won’t hurt or poison you; mosquitoes are not, you must take your meds; and trust me, you will not be thinking about your hair, you will have more important things to think about, and you will need to cover it most of the time anyway! Overall, again, be sensible, and try not to be foolish, or too gullible and you should be fine. Which brings me back to those needles…

    • the fear about the acupuncture needles is actually the one i was joking about most! the doctor came highly recommended and practically cured my back pain on my first visit, so the second time i saw him i trusted him completely to do whatever he wanted. he assured me that the needles could stay in for up to two weeks and were protected by the tape. plus one of them started coming undone today so i took it out and it was so tiny that i could barely see it. and now my back feels better than it has in years.

      thanks for the encouragement re: keeping calm and carrying on! 🙂

      • Hm, most probably a placebo. Acupuncture is based on an old misunderstanding about how the human body works. But whether you feel it helped your backache or not, please, please do not head off to Africa with needles sticking into your back!

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