For those who want a sneak peek into my brain and my many conflicting feelings here’s my internal monologue on pretty much a daily basis:
- This is too much.
- I hope that this watermelon doesn’t give me cholera.
- What is this place?
- Am I on the Oregon trail?
- Why do I have to worry about getting cholera?
- I wish I didn’t have to buy bottled water at restaurants.
- Why do people think that it’s okay to drive like that?
- Why are there so many speed bumps?
- Why are there speed bumps on the superhighway?
- Why aren’t there more stoplights?
- Why are there stoplights in roundabouts?
- Why is that man staring at me?
- Why are people flashing their headlights at me?
- But really, why?
- Sometimes it’s because they plan on going; sometimes it’s because they want me to go. What am I supposed to do?
- Jesus, help!
- What have I done?
- I feel like I’m pretending to be an adult.
- Why did I move here?
- Has shouting “you’re sexy as f***” or “my queen Elizabeth” at a woman while she is running ever gotten you a positive response? Ever?
- I don’t even look anything like Queen Elizabeth.
- What are you expecting my response to be when you harass me?
- I feel so lucky that I live here.
- I miss my old friends.
- I love my new friends.
- How did I end up making such a great group of friends so quickly?
- Why do busses and motorbikes think that it’s okay to drive into oncoming traffic?
- IT IS NOT OKAY TO DRIVE INTO ONCOMING TRAFFIC.
- It’s really not okay to drive into oncoming traffic and then act like it’s my fault that you’re stuck.
- How come people think that it’s okay to shout what kind of white they think I am as I walk by?
- I’m not German.
- I’m not British.
- Okay, I’m kind of German.
- No, I don’t own a tea farm.
- You can give me your phone number all you want but that doesn’t mean I’m calling you.
- Where’s my mom?
- Dad! How do I decide which car to buy???
- Is this area safe?
- Do I need to be afraid of that man?
- Look down. Don’t make eye contact. If you make eye contact that’s an invitation for a conversation.
- I feel like I’m being bullied right now.
- Why is that ceramic hippo sitting like a human?
- Why am I crying because of a silly looking ceramic hippo?
- I can’t do this anymore.
- I wish I could wear shorts more often.
- I want to go swimming.
- I miss the humidity?
- I’m so happy.
- I can’s stop smiling.
- Are people even allowed to be this happy?
- Is this normal?
- Everything feels difficult.
- But seriously, why did I move here?
- I hate the smell of burning piles of garbage.
- Why is there so much litter?
- Kenya is so beautiful.
- I never want to leave.
- Working here is a dream come true.
- I love these people.
- How did I not know that she was pregnant?
- The entire time I knew her she was pregnant!
- How did that man carry a fridge on his head so far?
- Anything is possible.
- Everything feels impossible.
- You just have to keep moving forward little by little.
- But seriously this traffic…
- Why are people pointing and laughing at me?
- I feel less than human.
- I’m a normal person with normal problems!!!
- Why is life so difficult?
- I’m not as patient as I thought I was.
- God, what are you doing?
- I feel like all of my rough edges are being smoothed out.
- I feel so young.
- God is so faithful.
- He keeps his promises.
- This is a hard season.
- This is a good season.
About six weeks ago I had my first real bout of depression here in Nairobi. It was terrifying. I was scared because the people that I have been open with about my struggle, the people that know what questions to ask, the people that I feel okay telling that I’m depressed without worrying what they’ll think or feeling like a burden—all those people live 8,000 miles away. And at what point do you tell new friends about depression? How does that come up in conversation?
I was also afraid because I didn’t know how long it would last. In the moment it felt like I would be sad forever. Thankfully, I have a bit of experience on my side. I’ve had mild depression and anxiety since I was about 10. I went to counseling regularly in high school. I know that things do eventually feel better. I know what things help and what things make it worse. For example: I shouldn’t be alone, but I also shouldn’t be around a group of people I don’t know very well. I should keep doing things, keep moving forward, but I shouldn’t to do too many things because then I’ll be overwhelmed and anxious.
During this week I had a million things running through my brain stressing me out. I was moving soon—at least hopefully. I was still looking for a new place. The place I thought I would move into fell through. I had to figure out how to furnish said new place with having forgotten to budget for furniture. I had to get in documents for my work visa. Class was really stressful. There were other personal things going on both back in the states and here in Kenya. I was exhausted because of chronic sleep deprivation caused by health issues. Everything felt impossible. My internal monologue sounded like this: “Stand up. Walk to the printer. Make copies of your work permit application. Eat breakfast. Get in the car. Show up for class. Go for a run. I know you don’t want to run, but it helps.”
Then I remembered something that filled me with hope and joy. My greatest need has already been met. My biggest problem is not depression, anxiety, a boy, health issues, moving logistics, or not having enough money. My biggest problem was that my sin had separated me from God. I could never measure up to God’s holy standard and because of that I was destined to spend eternity apart from him. But Jesus stepped in. He ransomed me from death by dying in my place. He defeated the grave in his resurrection. Because of Jesus’ righteousness, I have been counted righteous. None of my wrongdoing is counted against me. The debt I could never hope to pay has been paid in full. Compared to my sin, every other problem that I have is small.
Because of what Jesus has already accomplished on my behalf, I am confident that God will supply all my needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). Because I have a high priest who is sympathetic to my weaknesses I can approach God boldly to find grace in my time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16). Because God did not spare his own son but gave him up on my behalf I know that he will not withhold from me the things I need (Romans 8:32). Because of Jesus I don’t have to live in fear of the next time I sink into a bog of depression or worry about how I’m going to get furniture or dishes. I know that God will provide for me. He will provide the people and things I need for this season of life.
This revelation did not make my depression vanish instantly. It still lingered. However, intentionally recalling what God has already done for me enabled me to praise him in the midst of it. I reminded myself of the truth of God’s love over and over again. I have often prayed that God would take my depression away. He hasn’t. Like the Apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) my depression remains a reminder of my need for God, of my weakness and dependence on God. God meeting our needs doesn’t always look like him fixing the problems we have immediately or giving us everything we want, but even in our darkest hours we can trust that God is good and that he loves us. We can trust him because he already proved his affections toward us on the cross. The God of the universe loves you so much that he was willing to die to be able to be with you. That is a reason to celebrate.
With abounding joy,
I cannot believe that I’ve been in Kenya for ten months! I’m quickly approaching the one year mark which is the halfway point of my initial commitment here. My time here has been both so very good and so hard. I’ve learned a lot about myself, about people, and about God in the last ten months. Honestly, it feels like I’ve had wave after wave of difficult things crashing into me. The past three months especially I have felt buffeted by the circumstances of life. I feel like the struggles of daily life here are my primary conduit for becoming more like Jesus in this season. Slowly but surely He is wearing down my rough edges and growing my faith. These are some of the key lessons that have made living in a foreign country easier for me. I think that a lot of them can apply to moving to any new place.
- Treat yo’self
Life overseas can be really, really, really difficult. Dealing with the traffic, multiple different cultures, pollution, and a million other life things in Nairobi often frustrate and exhaust me. I have realized how important it is to get myself little treats to make life a little better. Stopping for a donut on the way home from a difficult language class, getting a pineapple mint juice or coffee at a cafe, doing yoga, scheduling a long run– these are little things that help make life here livable and enjoyable. I know that many people won’t understand this but taking the time to run really is a way that I treat myself. Prioritizing going on a 2+ hour run might not seem like a treat but it’s a way that I am able to let other things go.
- Ask, “What do I need?”
I first asked myself this question when I was running my marathon in November. It helped me narrow down what I had to do to succeed. On a regular basis here I ask myself this question to figure out what I should prioritize. There are a million things I could be doing here at any moment but what do I need to do? Sometimes I need to nap. (Actually a lot of times I need a nap.) Sometimes I need to lace up my running shoes even when I don’t feel like it. Sometimes I need to go out with friends. Sometimes I need to go to bed at 8PM. Sometimes I need to have a good, long cry. Sometimes I need to call my parents or a friend back home. Wanting something and needing something are not the same thing. Sometimes what I want and what I need are in agreement and other times they conflict. I am learning to choose to do what I truly need to do instead of letting what other people think I should do or even what I think would be the most fun to do take over my life.
- When in doubt dance it out
Did I mention life here is really stressful at times? Nothing helps me relax and let go of the stress quite like dancing. Sometimes I like to dance to Taylor Swift by myself around my apartment and other times I like to go out and dance with friends. Either way dancing has helped keep me sane. It allows my silly side to come out. It reminds me of the freedom and joy I have in Christ.
- Be yourself
Making all new friends is terrifying. But you’ve made friends before. People have loved you before and people will love you in your new place as well. Trust that they will like you and open up to them. Not every new person you meet is going to be your new best friend. That’s okay. But if you don’t allow people to really know you, if you don’t take a risk then you’ll be really lonely in your new place.
- Find your people
People need community. Find people who love the same things you do and encourage you to try new things as well. About four months into living here I got more connected with a group of people who love to hike, dance, go to cultural events, and have quality conversations about social issues and life. Getting closer to these people made a HUGE difference in my quality of life here in Nairobi.
- Be kind to yourself
I often have a self depreciating sense of humor. I have often made people laugh by dramaticizing my internal dialog or by talking about the type of person that I used to be. Since moving here though I have realized that in this new context I can’t do that as much. I have to be kind to 15 and 18 year old Hannah as well as the person that I am now. So much is going on my heart. So many of the things that I haven’t struggled with in years are popping up. Moving to a new place can be a lot like heart surgery. I’m often so far out of my comfort zone here and to survive I have to extend kindness and grace to myself.
- Life is messy
Life isn’t just a little messy. It feels like everything is going wrong at times. I like to be a person that has life generally put together. I have a lot of emotions, but I’m also very introspective so I can usually tell you the five different things that I’m feeling and multiple reasons I might be feeling each one. I like to organize my feelings so to speak. Here though, my heart feels like a tangled ball of yarn. I don’t even know where to start with all of the emotions I’m feeling on a daily basis. Being sleep deprived and having health issues on top of it all means that I’ve had some really not perfectly put together moments. In January, I was driving to class and I started crying when I saw a ceramic hippo statue. It was seated like a human and I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen and I started crying a little. I’ve snapped at parking attendants and security guards. I’ve had so many moments where I am just not sure what is culturally appropriate to do. Moving to a new country and living in a different culture is a lot like being born for a second time, but it’s harder as an adult because you’re painfully aware of social mistakes and mom isn’t there to fix things.
- Allow yourself to be cared for
My teammates and a few close friends here have really done such a good job of taking care of me. I’m not used to letting people take care of me. I feel like a burden when I have to ask for help. Mostly I’ve needed emotional support here. For example, I was feeling really broken hearted last Friday. When I walked into my team meeting one of my teammates asked me how I was doing. I sighed and burst into tears. My teammates encouraged me listened to what was bothering me. That night I got dinner with one of my teammates because I knew that I needed to be around people but that I also didn’t want to do what most of my other friends were going that night. It was refreshing and fun. We talked a bit about what was bothering me but she also helped me get my mind off of the issue.
- Be a “yes”
Get out of your comfort zone. Explore. Do things that terrify you a bit. Don’t let your fear hold you back; you are far stronger and braver than you realize. Don’t be afraid to take risks. You’ll miss out on the joy of life if you only do things you have always done. I didn’t think that I would ever take the bus into the area of town where I work by myself, but I’m stronger and better for it. I didn’t think that I would travel standby so many places alone (or that I would like traveling alone). There are so many things that I said “I could never…” to before I moved here that I am so happy that I have done.
- It’s okay to say “no”
Sometimes life will be too much in your new place. Sometimes friends will all be doing something, but what you will really need is to stay in and get a good night’s rest. This is okay. Give yourself the freedom to say “no,” to do what you truly need to do. You don’t have to live outside of your comfort zone all of the time. It is okay to retreat and to be refreshed. Saying “no” can take courage too. Saying “no” is a part of learning to be yourself and to take care of yourself in your new context.
Sometimes you know in advance the days that will change your life forever and sometimes you might not even know how important a particular day is until much later. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about one of those life-changing days that snuck up on me without warning. The pictures above are from that day.
Since I was young I have really struggled with feeling like people actually want to be my friend. Then when I was fifteen I switched from a small private school to a huge public school. That same year my family was excommunicated from the church that we were highly involved in. That year I lost almost every single one of my friends. The voices of doubt in my head told me that if I was worthy of having friends, that if people really liked me, that the other friends would have stuck around, that they wouldn’t have shunned me. I have fought hard against that lie but honestly sometimes it still pops up in my heart bringing back all of the pain and insecurity of that time in my life. But this post isn’t about the pain I experienced when I was 15.
It was December my freshman year of college. My best friend from high school (the public high school) was in town visiting and we had a lot of fun things planned for the evening. A large group of friends from my high school as well as a few other friends that we had met that semester were hanging out. At our first stop, a concert benefitting International Justice Mission, I had what I now view to be one of the most important conversations of my life. We were all having a good time, laughing, joking. I’m not really sure how the conversation turned serious, but next thing I knew I was realizing that I had been keeping all of my friends at an arms distance. I wasn’t fully allowing them in because I was afraid that, like other people before, they would leave. I don’t know if you have ever tried to love someone who doesn’t believe that they are loveable but it is hard. My friends sat in a circle on the ground with me and held me as I sobbed. They promised that they weren’t going anywhere. They promised that they weren’t going to give up on me. They pleaded with me to believe them and let them in, to allow myself to be loved. They committed to help me fight the thoughts that told me that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t lovable.
That night was filled with so many tears and so much laughter. After the concert we went to a midnight showing of a movie, after the movie we went to IHOP. My friend who was visiting and I ended up getting back to my dorm at 5am. We watched some television and fell asleep in the blanket fort I had built earlier in the week. That night was so healing for me. God used my friends to speak such grace and truth to my broken heart. The friends that were there that night kept their promises.
Knowing that back home people love me and are willing to fight for me has helped me so much in my transition moving to Kenya. It has been hard starting over and making new friends. Just about every insecurity that I have ever struggled with has come up since moving here but having such wonderful people back in the states who have loved me so well has helped give me the confidence I need to really be open with people and let them see the real me. I have a picture of me with three of my best college friends next to my door. I look at it every day and I’m reminded that there are people who love me, people who are in my corner, and who are willing to fight for me no matter what. This might sound silly but on the hard days here, looking at that picture helps give me the strength I need to walk out the front door.