I’m sitting with a glass of wine watching Eat, Pray, Love. I know, totally cringe-worthy right? But that's my reality right now. Our house is now empty, with all of our personal belongings in boxes on their way to Scotland. What’s left is our apartment, here in Kinshasa, filled with basic furnishings provided by the embassy. This includes a TV, and the choice of programmes is limited.
While the movie isn’t anything compared to Liz Gilbert’s brilliant book (sorry Julia Roberts!), it seems to be airing at the perfect time, as it reminds me of where I was when I first read it. The story resonated with me, as it did with millions of others, as it focussed on ‘life stuff’, on change, love and forgiveness. I’ve been struggling with this a lot lately, after deciding to leave DR Congo early and return to the UK.
My decision came from a place of wanting to regain my strength. There is so much need here, the stakes so high and the pressure to deliver that much more. As someone who thrives on sharing positive energy, I worked on trying to lift people up and drive things forward. As a result, I received positive reinforcement from others that I was special, unique and that my love was needed. People started coming to me and I threw myself into helping them because it made me feel valued. It also distracted me from my inner self telling me that something wasn’t right.
I’ve seen this referred to as being an Emotional Empath
"Empaths are highly sensitive, finely tuned instruments when it comes to emotions. Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually attuned, and good listeners. If you want heart, empaths have got it. Through thick and thin, they’re there for you, world-class nurturers. If empaths are around peace and love, their bodies assimilate these and flourish. Negativity, though, often feels assaultive, exhausting. When empaths absorb the impact of stressful emotions, it can trigger panic attacks, depression, food, sex and drug binges, and a plethora of physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis from fatigue to agorophobia."
So there I am, someone unable to find enough light to be sustained. When I made the decision to leave and told my team at work, they cried. One of them said “we knew you had too much light to be here. Those with so much light never stay.” This is something that’s haunted me ever since - why was I not strong enough to survive? Why could I not find enough light to flourish?
Have you ever realised that your gut is telling you something, and you’ve chosen to ignore it? After a while, it hits you a bit harder, almost like someone bumping into you on the street. If you ignore it further, it’s like a brick is dropped on your foot. Then it’s like you've been hit by a car.
It’s been four months since I made the decision to take my life back. I’ve been putting one foot in front of the other, going through the steps, trying to look normal. I figure that if no one looks too closely they’ll think all is well. I’m just another colleague getting ready to say goodbye. In reality, I wake up each day, go into the bathroom and look at myself in the mirror. I smile and tell myself that I’ll be ok, that if I can just get through it, I will be able to leave. But three weeks away, I still can’t bring myself to accept that it’s ok to give up.
They say that change is most difficult until accomplished. Perhaps that’s why I’m not at peace, as I’m still experiencing change, still learning. My friend reminded me that all difficult experiences teach us about ourselves and about our limits. I keep thinking back to Eat, Pray, Love. The story reminded me that it’s important for each of us to find our balance. Don’t give too much to others, or you’ll lose your energy. But if you retreat into selfishness, you’ll soon lose an appreciation and gratitude for the joys of living each day. I’m working on this, trying to tell myself that choosing a world which gives me inspiration and hope will ultimately lead to my using my gifts and talents for their purpose intended.
Someone wise once taught me something I try to live by each day. We all know that we tend to dwell on past mistakes, past experiences, and relive moments - usually sad or traumatic ones. If we don’t deal with them, fully embracing them, we never really move on. It’s like the difference between shallow breathing, and taking a big, deep breath all the way into your belly. The first makes you feel the need to breathe in again, immediately. The second sends a rush of calm down your spine, giving you more focus, more energy.
If you start to relive a moment, let it happen. There’s nothing wrong with weakness. If you need to crumble, just crumble. Sit, cry, scream and feel every emotion. But give yourself a set period of time to do this. Feel it, feel all of it. Then stop. Take a deep breath and tell yourself that you’ve grieved. Then accept it, forgive yourself and move on.
Each time that memory crops back into your mind, tell yourself “it’s ok, I dealt with this, I'm past it.” It might sound simple, but it’s working for me. So now, with three weeks to go until my departure, I’ve changed my routine. Each day, I will get up and look in that mirror, smile, and tell myself “it’s time to celebrate, three weeks until the world opens and your future starts.”