Facing Yourself In The Mirror, Lice and All

Sara Barac - Ecuador


June 1, 2017

February 11th, 2017

Positivity, take one:

I have lice and I love it.

Also, I am lying. Only one of the statements above is true, and I’m sure that by now you have guess it is the loving it part. Yes, I have lice. 

Positivity, take two:

I hate washing my hair because it dries it out, and I hate deep cleaning because it’s hard to get your room to the same kind of comfy.

I come back home for lunch with my family, waving good-bye to my coworker in the white truck. I get a call on my phone from Maryanne, and when I pick up, I expect to hear her cheer sound through the speaker but instead there is urgency. “Sara, you need to wash all of your blankets right now.”

Turns out that I have lice. At first I thought, maybe this is a lesson to teach me about humility and the importance of routine. Yet, after my first visit to the doctor’s office that promptly crushed my clean bill of health and my streak of not filling out insurance forms, I wasn’t nearly as optimistic.

Positivity, take three:

I shampoo my hair twice a day, vacuum and iron my mattress, and wash my sheets every day.

The doctor ordered a mix of three toxic chemicals that are known to cause cancer so I could drown those itchy suckers out. By the third day and the ninth shower, I got some of the lice shampoo on my skin when it shouldn’t have been, and in the desperate panic to flush it out, I also got it on my chest, shoulders, neck, and face. I didn’t even finish the treatment for that day, just stumbled out of the shower cursing and hoping the inflammation would go down in a couple hours. I smelled like a chem lab and wasn’t even able to curl up under my blankets to cry. I couldn’t stop the flood of negative thoughts.

Where did Maryanne get lice? Why did she have to sleep in my bed? Why can’t I just have hot water in my shower? Why doesn’t my toilet flush properly? Why did I have to be placed in the middle of nowhere Pimampiro? Why am I so trapped here? Why didn’t I just go to college? Why did my parents let me do this? Why do I have to be separated from the people I want to be with? Why is it so easy for my friends and my boyfriend to forget about me so far away? Why am I so forgettable? Why can’t I be more interesting? Why can’t I be more passionate, more driven, more courageous, more, more, more? Why am I not enough?

And then I stopped. From something (lice, in case anyone forgot—I have lice) that realistically isn’t significant, I spiraled into this abyss of blame and self-loathing. In that halting moment I knew that the problem wasn’t my host family, my friends back home, my parents, my boyfriend, or even me. It was my mindset.

The weird thing about living in a new place is the isolation of self. Suddenly you are forced to examine the things that make you who you are away from environments that are familiar. When first going abroad and away from home, I was expecting to be pleasantly surprised and find out amazing new things about my resilience and ability to connect to people across barriers. While I did discover these things about myself, I also didn’t expect to come face to chemical burned face with the hopelessness I allow myself to fall prey to and my predisposition for deprecation (both of others and myself). 

Understanding my penchant for negativity wasn’t really a realization or epiphany of any sort. Instead, it was a harsh reminder of something I had known for a long time but always blamed on others. Living in Ecuador forced me to re-examine and challenge the way that I am wired. If I know that positivity is something I actively have to work towards, why do I give myself the excuse not to by pinning my own blame on others? Despite my heart-held belief that life must be lived intentionally, I would duck and hide away from mirrors until I was sent spiraling into the mood where the world is against me. 

Melisa was the one that looked me straight in the face and told me that my problems were my own fault and I needed to take responsibility for the issues I was only exacerbating in my own head. I lived there, in the dark spaces of my mind, in the lonely corners of my room, because that was where I felt safe. But my team leader knew me best, and she knew that I wasn’t happy there because I wasn’t achieving the things we both knew I could. It was always me holding myself back, and thinking positively was only the umbrella to it all. My self-consciousness prevented me from practicing my Spanish and building connections, my laziness didn’t help me reach for success in my classes, my refusal to try new foods kept me from a truer experience of culture.

Ecuador taught me a lot about myself and how I want to go on to live my life. I struggle as a creative person who tries her best to live methodically, trying to distill the grey into black and white only to find again and again that you can’t. I used to think that days were always good or bad, and I just had more bad days than good. Yet, as everything started to blend together I saw that the days can’t exactly be classified like that. When I started to live by moment, by experience, I started to see that the good matters more if you choose to focus on it. Sometimes that focus is hard. It tires you out and it gets frustrating. You get antsy trying to ignore the bad things. (Trust me, have you ever scratched your head on the bus so many times that the people around you start to get suspicious?)

Life changes very quickly if you want it to. You have 1440 minutes every day to make happy memories, so tackle every moment like it matters.

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Sara Barac