"Nothing is usual. And it’s rarely easy. But that’s kinda the point, right?"

Psychologist Christine blogs about life in Myanmar, where she works with the team to provide mental health support to patients with TB and HIV/AIDS...

As I write this, I am more than nine months into my 12 month mission as a Mental Health Officer in Myanmar—whoa.  

Friends and I have joked about “MSF time" - that time seems to exist on a different continuum in the field.  Plenty of periods of time have passed almost interminably slow, yet, looking back, so much has happened that I also can’t believe it’s been only nine months.  

I’m still waiting to feel like I can say, “I got this,” with greater confidence than hesitation, but I haven’t got there yet, and at this point it seems most likely to be a post-mission occurrence. Could be?

Christine at work

This is my first mission with MSF, after working as a clinical psychologist in American health and academic settings for the last eight years.  

Nine days after I was accepted, I received an email with the offer for my assignment in Myanmar

The application process can take a long time—for me it was almost four months, but then nine days after I was accepted, I received an email with the offer for my assignment in Myanmar.  So that escalated quickly.  

I was originally assigned to work in Kachin Project, in northern Myanmar. I took over supervision of the only mental health counselling team that MSF has in Myanmar, focused on supporting the high number of Internally Displaced People (IDP) in northeastern Kachin state.  

Due to some operational challenges that couldn’t be navigated, after five months there I transferred to a different MSF project in Myanmar, in Shan State. I have been here in our main project site of Lashio since then.  

I feel really lucky to have been able to participate in two different projects in the same mission, especially here in Myanmar where there are many differences from state to state: culture, geography, language, religions, and best and most fun of all, food.  

The project in Shan State is largely HIV/AIDS and TB focused, which is a big change from working in a mental health-focused project.  

Here, my work is largely focused on supporting the HIV/TB counsellors, whose main role is to provide education and support to patients who are undergoing lifelong treatment for HIV or intensive treatment for TB.

In addition to managing these illnesses, most of our patients also experience any mix of additional challenges: poverty, unemployment, loss of family member(s), and the impact of ongoing violent conflict across Shan State.  It’s a far cry from treatment as usual back in the US.  Basically, nothing is usual.  And it’s rarely easy.  But that’s kinda the point, right?

Essentially, I’m here to reduce, even by a little, these challenges and empower the counsellors, as well as the entire medical team, to be more effective and successful at their jobs.  

That’s the idea anyway.  And with this blog I’ll let you all know more about how that’s gone for me, how it continues to go, and whether or not that confidence bit ever reveals itself to be a more enduring companion on this MSF ride.