Life happens to you even when you work in the field.
In MSF you work to alleviate human suffering. You strive to help and support people as much as possible, every day. In the midst of this, it is easy to forget that you too are only human, that on occasions you too will need support.
It is a great part of the professionalism as a psychologist to have ways to cope with emotional stress. Taking care of one’s emotional well-being is actually quite easy. It is done by simple, everyday things. When working clinically in my home country, Finland, I avoided working overtime and in my free time I did things I enjoy (like salsa dancing, cooking, reading, watching movies and spending time with friends). I took care of my close relationships and I exercised regularly (physical exercise is nature’s own anti-depressant!). Here in the field, I strive to use the same tactic and it has resulted successful (even though it takes creativity to find ways to exercise in our small compound).
Sometimes one’s usual coping mechanisms are not enough. Not even for a psychologist. When the big things hit you, like the loss of someone close – the great life changes – the mind is not prepared for such an overwhelming situation and has limited ways to handle it. This results in anxiety. Crying at night. Insecurity. Fears. Deep sorrow.
As a psychologist, I theoretically acknowledge that the mind needs time to process great emotional stress and to restore the emotional balance. As a person in grief, I just acknowledge how much loss hurts. How deep sorrow actually can cause physical pain in the body.
So what do I do? Every day I need to get up and continue working for the people who I am here for. And doing that actually helps me feel better, that gives me purpose. I talk to friends who offer great support. I listen to joyful Latin music which makes me smile. Yesterday my team mate asked me to do circuit training with him and since he is a former Marine, the exercise was tough! Afterwards, I was physically exhausted and my heart rate was up in the skies. As I reached the lovely runner’s high, my worries vanished and life felt really good.
Little by little, it will all turn out alright.