Global Health has been somewhat of a struggle for me internally. It has been a fascinating class, but I often find myself feeling horrifically guilty that all I’m doing is sitting in class learning about all of these issues facing millions of people near me and far away, and sometimes that distracts me. I catch myself feeling guilty that I have so much and other people have so little, but also because people are inflicted with diseases that are a product of their environment or where they were born, over which they have little control. I spoke to my partner about this and she says she feels guilty sometimes, but she is more spurred to action than bogged down by thoughts similar to mine.
I also find myself feeling paralyzed by the extent of the issues people face and the fact that there is no easy solution; global health issues are costly to address and programs are difficult to implement. Sometimes I feel hopeless that these issues will ever be resolved, and alarmed that the worsening climate will exacerbate all of these health issues before they have a chance to be tackled. This guilt I think gets in the way of my ability to feel empathy, and I am aware that it is an unproductive emotional approach to these issues. Still, it’s hard to not feel guilty for all that you have and all that you don’t have (namely, negative structural and social determinants of health) when other people out there suffer.
One of the ‘hot topics’ around campus centers around race relations, race sensitivity, and cultural appropriation. This is a conversation in which I want to participate, but feel that I can’t because I have not experienced the kind of subtle (or overt) discrimination people of color have, and I would not want to upset anyone by speaking without knowing exactly how it will affect others. Over break I was speaking with friends and family about the ‘Coddling of the American Mind’ article in the Atlantic a couple of months back and a more recent article published by an African American professor at Columbia, both of which mention that students in general need to be less sensitive about issues like the ones I mentioned above. I am struggling hard to assimilate both sides of this issue, and feel myself getting frustrated that there is no simple solution to race relations in this country that will benefit everyone. It is also frustrating to think that this lack of a simple solution applies to nearly all issues plaguing our society today, an issue that Global Health class has brought to the forefront of my mind. I know I will drive myself less crazy if I acccept this difficult truth, but right now I’m finding that difficult.
November, so far, has been abnormally warm. This is not to say I am not a fan of so-called ‘sweater weather’, but I was a little uneasy about the implications of this weather on climate change. Thankfully, for my peace of mind, the weather has cooled down. I find these moments walking outside to be very meditative in a way – I enjoy the sensation taking deep breaths of fresh, crisp, chilly air. I know that breathing meditation has been proven over and over to be beneficial for mental health (especially anxiety and depression), but usually I do not have the time or patience to sit down and focus on my inhales and exhales. However, as I walk up the hill from my house every morning (which is a struggle in its own right), it is nice to take my mind off of everything and take a few deep, cleansing breaths to try and center myself.
Over the past several days (okay, weeks) the clutter in my room has piled up on my desk and been scattered on my floor. I realized that it was taking a real toll on my mental clarity and calmness – I would immediately feel stressed (thoughts included “oh gosh I need to attend to this now” “why have you not cleaned your room yet” “why are you so lazy”) and angry at myself for letting my room get into the state of disarray it was in. My room is also on the smaller side (96 square feet) so the assorted clothes and magazines and food containers would pile up and make me feel even more claustrophobic than I already had in such a tight space.
At 11:00 AM on Monday, I took out the trash, which led to a cleaning/organizing spree. Now my room is not perfectly neat, but it is in much better shape than it had been. I realize that the space I was inhabiting and its cleanliness/neatness had a real toll on my mental state because now when I come home to a neat(er) room, I feel happier and calmer and am able to wind down more easily.
I found this article and concept related to utilizing dance and movement as a means of promoting global health initiatives really interesting. A chair with a ‘missing fourth leg’ represented how MDGs 4 and 5 (related to child and maternal health) have not been fulfilled, and how they are crucial to promoting a number of global health initiatives because they deal with the beginning of life and the subsequent formative years. Dancers demonstrated how they would stand in as the fourth leg and showed that there are a number of creative ways to solve a physical problem of a chair without a leg, much as there are myriad creative ways to solve a global problem like subpar child and maternal health.