Before I left the mainland, I had a conversation with my academic advisor. He has been all over the world, and he has done a lot of work away from home and family. I told him how apprehensive I was about my extended time away from home, and how I was going to be very home sick. Once I got here, I reiterated that feeling to him.
“You’re going to have to work on your resilience,” he said.
Resilience is defined as “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.” There’s a whole body of work dedicated to how people can become resilient, and how resilient children is something parents should aim to have. In the opinion of many — including my advisor, it seems — it is necessary to have resilience when confronted with situations where you are shipped off far from home to do a serious job.
You certainly need your soldiers to be resilient.
I’ve been reading about resilience, and I’ve come to understand that self-care is a big factor in building resilience. In other words, it is crucial that I take care of “number one” when it comes to this and other deployments. Last year, when I was in Colombia, I made the mistake of not building a network of friends that extended outside of the university where I was working. The only people I really befriended were the teachers/professors at the university. Outside of there, I’d jump into a cab and go straight to the apartment I was renting. Only twice did the professor supervising my work take me out for dinner, once with his family.
So I spent a lot of time outside the apartment in the evenings and weekends by myself. While the distraction was good, I didn’t have a lot of people to talk to. Now, you’d think that with all my social network activity I wouldn’t have a hard time finding someone to talk to. But talking online, by text, or even by phone is different than talking to someone in person for me. I need the social cues, the inflections and the tone in order to read the other person and carry on a good conversation. Absent that, I get all sorts of jumbled up in the conversations.
I know, right?
It was great to get a group of folks together last weekend and head out and go to the beach. The amount of relief that it brought to my mind was incredible. Come Monday, I felt much more ready to face the tasks. I felt reenergized.
And it was very interesting to me the level of decompression that I felt after the roadtrip to the beach, and the snorkeling, and the goofing around on the beach. It was something I had not noticed because I have my support network readily available to me back home. I get the “debrief” and rant sessions with my wife each evening. There are friends who will join me for tacos at the drop of a hat. For the first ten days or so that I was here, I didn’t have that.
Now I’ve got that, and I’m working on other aspects of becoming resilient and learning the techniques necessary to bounce back from long deployments and tense situations. I’m learning what it takes to stay cool under all the stress, and under the added stress of seeing so many of my friends be so scared of what the Orange Administration will bring with it.
I’m learning to take care of number one so number one can take care of the world.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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