Lessons Learned in Beirut

Summer break started over a week ago for me, but I have not left my house since Monday. It’s strange really; I have been on a hamster wheel trying to get caught up on all my responsibilities for the past ten months, and now that I no longer have classes to go to or classes to teach, I don’t know what to do with myself. Most of my friends are  traveling for the summer; some have left for (supposedly) good.

This time to myself has been really good for me to rest. I have not done much self-reflection; I’ve mostly binge-watched Orange is the New Black, finally getting caught up with that show, and stuffed my face with popcorn. I’ve read a bit of The Brothers Karamazov (I really do need to finish that book), and I’ve spent quite a good chunk of my time sleeping. But I’ve also done a bit of thinking about my time in Beirut these last ten months, of the lessons I’ve learned, and of the personal realizations I’ve made about myself.

This is not a quirky or fun post; maybe this is why I am writing it out well past midnight like a chicken. Yet it is necessary for me to say these things out loud so I can move on with my summer and prepare myself well for starting over, academically and professionally, in September.

So without further ado, here is a list of things/lessons I learned this year.

1. I am an over-thinker: This year has been quite stressful, due to starting a new job and a new graduate program at the same time. It was a steep learning curve, and with work, it lasted almost all of the academic year, with a few weeks here and there of breathing room and recollection. I am thankful for all that I have learned, and I believe it has equipped me well to start my second year well, but there were times when I second guessed myself about the quality of the work that I was delivering, both academically and professionally. I made mistakes, naturally, and as everyone does, but I let those mistakes define my work and eclipse my strengths. I ruminated over them and felt guilt and lack of worth and all other sorts of unhealthy feelings. A sign of growth this year has been that I can now recognize those feelings and that is the first step in learning how to appropriately address them.

2. Not everyone will like you, and not all friendships will last: This is probably one of the most difficult things I’ve had to come to grips with and has caused a lot of grief. I thought that when I moved into the city, that I would be seeing more of my friends more regularly. Unfortunately, as I grew busier and busier, and did not have time for church on Sundays anymore, and was no longer certain about my faith, those people slowly dropped out of my life. They (with few exceptions) no longer asked about how I was doing, or reached out to make plans to see me. Some would message me only if they needed something from me, like money for ministry. This is not a pity party invite though. Yes, I have lost several friends along the way (both due to my negligence and theirs), and I have shed quite a few tears as well. But it has taught me who the people in my life are that matter, whether near or far, and I have learned to identify who my community and my support system is.

3. Speaking of which, having a support system is importantMine came in the form of colleagues this year, and I am ever appreciative of afternoons spent over glasses of wine talking about work, and late nights lying on couches in much needed silence with cake sitting on my belly with more-than-just-colleagues. They were my rock, and I would not have gotten through this year without the help and support of a lot of people at work. In my short time there, I already feel like I am part of a second family. And that is a wonderful thing to have.

4. I have an unhealthy relationship with food, resulting in distorted body image: For several reasons, some of which already mentioned, stress was something I was dealing with on a frequent basis, and while I was good at dealing with it by exercising regularly at the beginning, it didn’t last, and I soon found myself either eating unhealthy comfort food more than I should, or not eating much for days on end. My weight fluctuated, and I was praised when I looked slimmer, and shamed when I was on the less desirable side of the seemingly endless cycle. I learned that people will always have an opinion on your body, and find it important to voice it. On two separate occasions, by the same colleague, I was told that I had put on weight, and then, a few weeks later, praised in a surprised tone that I had become leaner. In a way, this paralyzed me, and I felt that I could not make decisions for my body that were mine alone if others were either praising or condemning it. Of course I want to be healthy, but am I doing it for me, or am I doing it for others? I have not yet figured that out.

5. Making time to build the life you want for yourself is worth it: I enjoy running, and I love cooking, and having movie nights, and going out to watch plays, and attending poetry nights. And I did not do much of any of these things. I kept putting them off, thinking I had more time to do it later on. And then I never got around to it. I would come home from work or from class, tired and sapped of energy. I would take a nap, then microwave my dinner and perhaps do some more work from home, and then, if I mustered up an ounce of energy, I would go out for drinks with friends. That was fun, and it was a decision I made, but it wasn’t the decision I would have wanted to make. I hope that makes some sense to you.

And there you have it. Five lessons I’ve learned this year. There are far more, but those are the most important ones. If you’ve read through this in its entirety, you’re a rock-star, and I’m grateful for you.

-C

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