I feel powerless. And exhausted. And frustrated. And absolutely exhausted. My body has been fighting viruses, bugs, bacteria, insomnia for nearly a week now. My mind, however, has been waging a much tougher war against my body and against itself. My body is winning (or losing, depending on how you look at it). I am too tired, too weak to do anything and it is driving me absolutely insane.
It started a week ago, in Villa de Leyva, Colombia. On Sunday night, I started shivering uncontrollably, shaking while those around me comfortably sported t-shirts. My appetite disappeared and the thought of food made my stomach turn. I knew what was happening, after months of working without stopping and, now, weeks of travelling without stopping, my body had had enough. I was getting sick.
My entire life I have been uncomfortable with stillness. Action, moving, doing something (even if it is unimportant) feels better than relaxing or taking a day to do absolutely nothing. Unless I have earned it. Go ahead, laugh at me, I know right now that the universe is. I am the only one who is telling myself that seven straight weeks of solo travel to non-English speaking third world countries is not deserving of a break. Well, it was deserving of a one-day break, which I gratefully took in Villa de Leyva after a rough night of chills, hot flashes, fever and body aches. After that day of rest, though, it was time to get back to action. I sat in the Plaza Mayor, relishing in my seemingly renewed health, and decided I wanted to go to Ecuador. It was Tuesday, I would leave for Bogota the next day and Ecuador the day after. Brilliant. Stubbornly, I ignored my dad’s warning from the night before: feel healthy for 24 hours and then wait another 24 hours and then you can make a move. I felt better now and was ready to move on. Stubborn. Stupid. As I write that now, it sounds ridiculous. A week later, though, still just as sick and possibly even more tired, I am still struggling with the act of surrendering and letting go of control.
A beautiful hike hours before coming down with the flu
It turns out, the night before leaving Villa De Leyva, I got a rare case of insomnia (in the past sleepless nights were a frequent occurrence in my life) and ended up sleeping from 5:30 – 7:00 a.m. Previously, during sleepless nights, I would pass the time by going out for 4:00 a.m. runs or sending random snapchats or text messages that I would forget that I sent until I got strange responses the next morning. I was in Colombia, however, and sick, and so neither of these were viable or safe options. New ways to spend this quasi all-nighter were rudely presented and came with a harsh reminder that I was not in my normal country, living my normal lifestyle, or in my right state of mind. Around 2:00 a.m., I encountered a cockroach trying to eat a mango that I had attempted to peal with a key at midnight the night before after my fever vanished and my hunger made an inconvenient and dramatic reappearance. The cockroach had a similar effect as the scorpion in Costa Rica and led me to leave the light on while humming myself to ‘sleep’ to drown out the sound of it eating through the plastic bag containing the mango. It was disgusting and I kept shuddering wondering how many of its friends were also sharing the room with me. A couple of hours later, under the influence of several melatonin, I came to the delusional idea that I wanted to spend more time with children during my travels (to those who don’t know, kids terrify me). So rather than sending soon to be forgotten text messages to friends back home, I started sending soon to be forgotten emails to Ecuadorian children’s organizations inquiring about volunteer opportunities. It wasn’t until I received a number of email responses from Ecuador in the coming weeks that I was able to put the pieces together. This brief illusion was shattered the next morning as I breakfasted with a screaming child who then threw a spoon at my head. That child-loving phase ended quickly.
Anyways, back to the point, if the delusional thinking and insomnia weren’t signs that I should have taken an extra day to rest, they should have been. My tunnel vision to make the most of my time before teaching prevented me from accepting that I needed more of a break. I staggered over to the bus station and bought a ticket back to Bogota. The bus ride was miserable. I spent the last two hours convinced that I was going to either throw up or pass out. It was then that I started to second-guess my decision to leave so early. Maybe I should push back Ecuador another day, I thought, I’ll leave on Friday. Spoiler alert: it’s currently Saturday and I’m still in Colombia with no ticket to Ecuador (and as I edit this for posting, a month later, the only time I have left my current five mile radius since writing this is to go to the doctor). So take a guess as to how far my planning, trying to control my illness and stubborn thinking got me.
Feeling miserable after two hours of sleep, but still had to get a picture in the Plaza Mayor before leaving
To my credit, I tried to rest the next day. After hours in bed, though, I went on a walk telling myself that it was unacceptable to stay inside all day while I was in freaking Colombia (completely disregarding the fact that I have SIX MORE MONTHS HERE). I bundled up in sweaters and wandered down the street to a café because I was craving a hot chocolate. I thought I would go read in a café for an hour, drink something warm and then go back to the house. That was my plan. Well, I struggled down the street to the café, my lungs burned the whole way and I felt like I had walked for miles, when in reality it was less than three blocks. I ordered the hot chocolate, and when it arrived, just started crying. I was so, so tired. I couldn’t even read, all I wanted was to lie down. Rather than slowly sip it in an hour, like I usually do, I chugged it, desperate to get back to bed. I got back, immediately climbed into bed and slept for hours.
My nap time companion
I felt so guilty doing nothing. Fighting a 24-hour bug and sleeping for less than 2 hours the night before (to not even take into account traveling the past seven weeks without a break) didn’t seem deserving enough for a complete day in bed. Completely delusional, I know.
The following morning after my breakdown at the coffee shop, I woke up with a cold. My throat was raw and I was coughing. Still, it didn’t justify taking a full day in bed. Midday, I tried to take a walk around the block. I made it down the steps and around the corner before I felt like I was going to collapse. I turned around and spent ten minutes sitting on a bench, too embarrassed to reenter the house after leaving only minutes before. I was ashamed of being exhausted, embarrassed of being sick and too proud to admit that I needed more of a break.
I can stand up to the Cuban police, sneak myself into Colombia (more to come on that later) and defend myself against hustlers and overeager Latino men but for some reason, I could not admit and truly embrace the fact that I was and am sick. Sick, exhausted and completely powerless as to when I am going to get my full strength back. This lesson may not be as dramatic as the others I have had to learn but, my God, is it hard.
Now, it’s a beautiful day out, the first day with clear skies in a week. So of course, stupidly, I went to a café. My lungs are still burning, my arms are aching, and I am starting to laugh at how fucking stubborn I am still being. SERIOUSLY?! To top it all off, two screaming children just walked in. I’m really, really losing this war…
I’m trying to tell myself that the past week of bed rest and Spanish Netflix and reading hasn’t been a waste. It’s hard. There is a greater lesson in this, like there has been in every challenge that I’ve faced. Surrender. I need to surrender. What I need is to lay down, sleep, drink water and rest. No more pushing myself to do things that I am physically unable to do or trying to go places that I am currently incapable of enjoying. I am not in control. So I will make it to Ecuador, or I won’t. I’ll spend the next month in bed, or I won’t. I’ll go climb a freaking mountain, or I won’t. I have no idea what the next month holds for me but to try to plan, to try to control, to try to heal myself without actually taking the time to take care of myself will not help me. So, Dad, universe, everyone, I am surrendering. I am sick, I am exhausted, I am frustrated and I think I will leave these screaming children and go back to bed now.