I got kicked out, y’all.
Kind of, but not really. I got home and within the first week I had appointments set up to see my usual doctors who know me and my body well. At my first appointment, I walked in, handed my papers over to the doctor, and he told me EXACTLY what was up within three minutes of him scanning my documents.
I had been fighting undiagnosed double pneumonia, had possibly fought my way through dengue without anyone knowing it, and also was suffering from THREE MONTHS OF HEAT STROKE.
*** THREE MONTHS OF HEAT STROKE ***
“I have seen people come back from doing your job for only a couple weeks and have to be on bedrest for a month to recover. I can only imagine what your recovery time will be like in order to fully get your energy and health back after 18 months. Go home, and go to bed. Now.” — my doctor.
I was deemed too weak, sick, and my body untrustworthy to head back to my community, and I was “med-sepped”, which mean I was formally medically discharged.
I knew all of this within a week of getting home, but I think it took me a really long time to fully accept it. Panama was such a wild ride that it felt like a crazy dream/ nightmare/ adventure, and it was difficult to talk about it with anyone. Especially those who don’t understand how intense the volunteer life can be. Even talking to my family and friends who know everything… I still feel like they can never really be in the mind set and completely get me and my emotions regarding the whole thing.
Reintegration was harder than expected, my mental stability wasn’t great, and I found myself getting really upset randomly. So I distracted myself for several weeks with video games, Netflix, my cats, etc.
I woke up at 3 a.m. each night panicking that I had missed my time slot to haul water. It’s still a habit to wear clothes repeatedly because I don’t want to have to wash them by hand. The air conditioning makes me so cold that I sleep with 5 quilts on my bed and have to wear heavy sweatpants and a sweatshirt around the house, but I still shiver. Getting back into the swing of things wasn’t as simple as I expected it to be. It kinda sucked.
Another way I distracted myself from feeling too lost and alone was by keeping up with my friends still serving in Panama, who kept me up to date on my host family, Pinky (who I had to leave behind but I’m told is happy and healthy), and how much they are jealous of me for getting to go home early. That made me feel better, but I was still uneasy about the whole thing.
Contact with my Panamanian friends and host families started dwindling, but that’s understandable. We all have to move on, and I’m not sure staying in touch with them would help me get to where I need to be honestly. I’ll never forget Panama and the incredible memories I made there, but I need to start moving forward. As incredibly grateful as I am for everything I’ve learned, I’m relieved to be out of there.
I like to be busy, but my health was my main priority. I started working out lightly to burn the fat that I had gained from forcing fried chicken and rice down my throat every day for every meal, and to start building my energy back up. Sometimes I would go running, other times did weight lifting classes, and even started hydro-cardio which allowed me to use water to get my muscles used to movement without straining myself to death. The endorphins from an hour workout every day made me feel better, lighter, and happier. Progress was fast, and I feel my energy is already 80% back.
I also dove back into the job search. Although my parents were happy I was home again, I knew if I sat down on the coach for weeks on end, I would never get back up. I have to keep in motion. So I applied to bunches of jobs all over the world, and interviewed three to four times a week for 9ish weeks. A ranch manager position in Mongolia, teaching English in Shanghai, a naturalist position in Kentucky… It felt good to get back out there, but I wasn’t excited about any of them. So then I started to look into long term traveling, and started to plan a route through South America and Africa. That felt even better.
But then, I got a call saying I was offered a position as a STEM instructor in New Hampshire, on the lake, for a few months. And it paid decent. After careful consideration, I’ve decided to take this job and have a much-needed, dreamy, New England Autumn on the lake. I see myself hanging out under trees, watching the fall colors change in the reflection of the water. The cool breeze brushing my hair back with a hint of winter tickling my nose. I’m excited about something again. Finally.
And, I got my friends and family’s approval to then take a year to travel starting in January. So I can handle this short term job if it gives me a little more of a cash boost to make my travel dreams come true in the long run. I finally feel relaxed and content with my short term future, and know that I can start to check things off my bucket list again soon.
Baby Fiona! She’s one of my cats in Illinois who we refer to as a “close sitter” because she prefers to sit on your chest with her cheek touching yours. It’s her happy place, and I’ve made it mine as well. I love my Baby Fi!
And last, but not least, “An Ode to Pinky”
Oh Pinky, how I loved and adored you, you rambunctious pupperino! You dutifully cared for me in my low moments, celebrated with me in my high moments, and entertained me in the slow moments. Some of my best memories of us are walking the forest together, chasing chickens and lizards out of my house, and letting me groom you, although reluctantly. You are a patient, loving, handsome boy, who has won the “Goodest Boy in the Whole World” award. You deserve it! And I wish I could’ve brought you home, but I don’t think you would be as happy here. There in Panama, you have the house you’ve adopted to protect, doggy friends who visit you daily, and fun things to do- like run through the creek, climb into the countryside brush, and terrorize the iguanas. Here, you would be in a fenced yard or in a house filled with things you weren’t allowed to eat or break. I promise, it’s for your own good. Leaving you behind was the hardest thing, and now I feel like I know what it’s like to get attached to a child. You were my baby for nine glorious months, and I know you’d understand if you could speak to me. Take care of whoever moves in to that house next, and if I am ever in a good place to bring you to the states with me, you know I will be coming back for you in a heartbeat. You’re the best boy, Pinky! ❤
Thank you to everyone who has supported me through this crazy experience! Whether it was reading this blog, sending me packages, cards, texts, emails, etc. I truly appreciated every little thing you did to encourage me to keep on going. It meant the world to me!