Monday, August 1, 2011

the perfect storm

Along with hitting our six month mark in Peru, I also hit something else. A wall. Rock bottom. Depression.

This is common. You are warned about it before entering the field. In fact, here's an official description of this stage (as written by Gailyn Van Rheenan, a long time missionary):

Anxiety stage
You begin to notice that below the surface, not all is well in your new culture.

Culture shock: Cultural confusion and disorientation due to moving from one culture to another. Comes from loss of familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse—familiar props have been knocked out from under you.

Symptoms: 1) Excessive preoccupation w/cleanliness. 2) Fits of anger over delays and minor frustrations. 3) Fixed idea that “people are cheating me” (sometimes they are). 4) Fixation on the difficulty of the new language. 5) Excessive longing or thinking about home. 6) Withdrawal. 7) Excessive exhaustion.

(Numbers 6 and 7 are my specialties. Blake wishes I suffered more from number 1. Number 4 was so interesting to find out about because I have definitely spent many days stressing out about the difficulty of Spanish. I had no idea that was a symptom of this stage.)

So, here's the perfect storm we found ourselves in. The six month mark is typically when the first depression hits. At six months in Peru, we had just returned from an amazing trip to the States. It is winter here with cold and nasty weather that doesn't allow us to be outside much. The sun almost never comes out during the winter. The kids are out of school for three weeks with nothing to do.

This bus was once white. Hard to not be depressed when the whole city is covered in layers of dirt and the sky is always gray.

The first week after returning home from the States was the worst. I was exhausted both emotionally and physically. No sun and cold weather are the biggest triggers for my depression even in a normal setting. I was struggling to get out of bed every morning, yet I had four kids who were going stir crazy. The pressure to keep them happy everyday only made me want to crawl further under my sheets and hide. Driving here has been giving me panic attacks recently and I honestly didn't know anywhere free I could take the kids anyway. Plus I didn't feel up to dealing with the language issue. I was just trying to survive, so stretching my brain to speak Spanish was too much. I felt trapped and overwhelmed and it all came spilling out as depression and anger. I got pretty angry that I was stuck in this situation. That I had to live in a city where I didn't even feel like I could leave the house with my kids. I went to my default place, which is wanting my old life in the States back.

After that first week, I was able to come out from under my rock a little bit. I didn't necessary become much more active (although we did leave the house three times that week). But I was able to get outside of my depression and anger and see it for what it was. To see the perfect storm that had caused it all and know that Peru isn't to blame. I made myself remember how many fun things we had done this past summer here, so that I could name the weather as one of my triggers. I reminded myself that the kids would be back in school in just a few short weeks, living it up with their friends. I thought about all of the things that I don't like about living in the States. And I daydreamed about our program and finally having something to give myself to here. Baby steps.

I'm on week three of this whole depression/anxiety/anger stage and I'm still on edge, but much better than before. I've talked myself off the cliff and am now working my way back down the mountain. Learning to deal with this is part of being able to adapt and live abroad. Learning how to take care of myself during this part of the cycle is vital. As is preparing myself when I see triggers on the horizon (like next winter). For now, we are headed over the mountain to a district of Lima where the sun supposedly always shines. We are spending three days there with another expat family who have four kids. We're pretty sure that sun plus fellowship for both us parents and our kids is going to equal some restoration for our family.

And just for laughs, here's what I did with my depression:


I couldn't make it out of the house, but I needed to channel what little energy I had into something productive. We had brought back these organizers from our trip and I spent three days going through our big bin of legos and separating them into their sets. Unfortunately we didn't have enough organizers for all of our sets and I couldn't finish my task. I guess that just means I have my coping mechanism all lined up for me when we go to the States in October.


Lindsay said...

Thanks for sharing, Sarah. I feel helpless so far away reading about this, but I can relate, even if on a tiny tiny tiny level since I've never had my kids living in a foreign country. I feel that way here sometimes, but it's easier to escape. I can commit to praying for you, though. I will pray that God shows you ways out of the isolation and comforts you when you find yourself in it.

Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

Like Lindsay, I wish there was something I could DO. Bring you ice cream or something. Love you, and I will be praying for you.

Breanne said...

Hang in there, best. You're doing all you can. Know that you are loved and prayed for over here. Proud of you... for putting this into words, for seeing it for what it is, for pulling yourself out, for being in Peru. Love you much. Praying for grace and for joy.