Before I left for Nairobi I had dinner with a friend from graduate school who is someone who truly inspires me. She has traveled everywhere in the world and accomplishes amazing things on a day-to-day basis. At our leisurely goodbye dinner over two glasses of malbec on a rainy night, she was advising me on what to bring to Nairobi and what to expect. She explained that when she goes to the field she feels like a better version of herself and some of the daily anxieties that she experiences in the U.S. are not there. I nodded in agreement, but doubted that my daily anxieties would ever disappear no matter how far away I travel.
It is only in this past week that what my friend has said has really clicked. In Nairobi I have not worried about the little stuff that normally occupies my mind in the U.S. I am not a germ freak here, haven’t really worried about getting sick, don’t spend hours agonizing over decisions, and just generally live my life in a way that feels more free. I have been embracing challenges, adventures, and opportunities as they come.
As I prepare to leave here in less than a week I have noticed some of these little worries creeping back into my mind. I have spent unnecessary hours fretting over travel details and plans for when I get back. I have been thinking about when I will see my family and what I will be missing if I choose one plan instead of another. I am amazed how quickly this type of thinking has caught up with me as I prepare to leave Nairobi. Can I trick my brain into thinking I am not leaving in a week so it doesn’t go back into worry mode? What is it about being here that allows the little stuff fade into the background?
I have developed a solid theory this year about worrying. The theory is that I have an overactive brain and anxiety creeps in when there is a pause in this activity (not yet a scientific theory). This is why I love learning so much because my brain has less space for worrying. Perhaps it is the same idea with being abroad. My brain is too busy observing the environment around me to spend time worrying about unimportant issues.
This adventure has felt like a vacation from my frivolous worries. I am so looking forward to coming back to the U.S., but part of me knows that my useless worrying will come back. My hope is that when I am fretting over some small issue I can remember the challenges I overcame here and embrace my adventurous spirit even for minor accomplishments in the U.S. Perhaps it is all a balance. When I am abroad I inevitably have to struggle with feelings of being uncomfortable, lonely, and missing the people I love. When I am in the U.S. I am comfortable and can see the people I love, but occasionally I sweat (or obsess) over the small stuff. If my career allows me to have more short adventures maybe I can more easily merge these two version of myself. Until then, I am excited to come back to the U.S., even if it means my worries will be waiting for me.