Updated: Jul 5
I have had the most difficult time deciding how I would even write this blog, what I would say, how I would say it, and if I even had the energy and courage to put the proverbial pen to paper for this. I have been adding to and editing this for weeks. I have felt the biggest range of emotions trying to process and deal with a shitstorm while being stuck in another country during a pandemic.
I wanted to talk about how moving out of the house I was in for my workaway into an apartment totally changed my quality of life in Poland, even during Pandemia. I wanted to talk about how excited I've been at the idea of relocating to Ireland as well as Scotland to explore my family's history in honor of my late grandfather (birthday present to myself). I wanted to talk about how much I've absorbed and learned while living abroad. I've wanted to impart so much knowledge about European international travel (especially during pandemic) that I've acquired through literally living it. I've felt like there's so much to share. And eventually I will. But now? All I can manage is this:
It's early in the morning on Monday, June 14th, 2020 (around 1:35am, in Poland). I had just returned in the late evening from an absolutely wonderful mini trip away to Hel, Gdansk, Gdynia, and Sopot. I had showered and lit my incense; working on my pre-bedtime stretches, and was .02 seconds away from shutting off for the night....when I got a phone call that rocked my world again. My baby sister officially went on life support.
"Abby," I breathed, as a freight train simultaneously knocked that very breath out of me. I felt my stomach and heart swap places, and a darkness overwhelmed me as I was suddenly in a fog in the Twilight Zone. My brother passed the phone to my Uncle Eddy. Then to my mom. Then back to my uncle. "She collapsed…," "her heart stopped for a minute and a half....,`` ''they resuscitated her and she is stable for now…,” ''..good news, Baylor University in Dallas is admitting her and she is about to be medevaced there by helicopter in 30 minutes...". My head is spinning. I'm trying not to choke. A shockwave courses its way through my body and I'm immediately flooded with memories of my Grand. I'm terrified.
Hours pass. It's now 3am. I'm texting my co-teacher that I will not be taking classes the following day. I am past the point of exhaustion, heavier than I've felt since quarantine began, and struggling to pull myself out of the darkness. I am making phone calls to people left and right. Struggling to reel in my panic. I talk to my uncle again. "Do I need to look at flights?" I ask him, not even 100% sure how I'd make that happen with the current state of the world. He hesitates. "Not yet. I'll tell you if and when. Get some rest, we'll keep you updated." I can't be alone right now. I make a phone call to a local friend, Jay. He races over.
4am. I really need to sleep, but I'm in this state of darkness overwhelming me and pulling me into my worst nightmares and memories. I keep finding myself thinking about Grand. Thinking about the event of his unexpected passing and how I handled that. Thinking about what life would be like without my baby sister. I'm spiraling. My mind is racing; anxiety clutching at me with its angry claws, and fear spiking to new heights. How am I supposed to handle this? I'm thousands of miles away in the middle of a pandemic, without any easy or possible way to get back to my family. I feel helpless. What would I even do if I was there? How could I even help? How would I ever be able to go out into the outside world again and live my dream when another part of my world was falling apart? I feel selfish. Drained. Too exhausted to even cry anymore. Jay gently encourages me to try to sleep. It reluctantly comes.
I don't remember much more than that from the first day. It's a blur. I remember waking up to a vase full of flowers on my desk that Jay went out and got for me. I remember all the phone calls I received but not so much the conversations that were held. I remember wrestling with a massive decision. Could I even get back to the US? I had no idea. I remembered the current situation I'm in here. My job as a teacher in Poland is coming to a close. My apartment lease is coming up and I have chosen not to renew my lease. I am at another turning point.
It has become very apparent to me that I am living my next greatest challenge in my life. From the beginning of quarantine, to changing scenery in a move from a toxic living situation to a new apartment, to living on a legal technicality in a foreign country with limited options for my next destination, to devastating and terrifying news about my sister. It has made such an impact on my quality of life here in Poland, and caused me to really reflect on some major directions and decisions in my life.
In the heart of my darkest moments, the fight continues and my inner strength is drawn from a core vision I have. Me, covered in blood, sweat, and tears, decked in a full suit of medieval armor on a battlefield, falling down over and over again, but getting back up each and every time with new determination and force, with full gasping effort to swing my blade again. I feel wings lifting me up, as if God Himself was raising me up to continue the battle. This imagery has pulled me out of my darkest moments. It's given me that extra push I need to keep pushing forward. To knowing that even in those moments, I am not alone.
In the past couple of weeks, I have been told by numerous people to stay strong. Each and every time, I imagine myself curled up on a bed in a hotel room, with all of my favorite people surrounding me, showering me with love and support. In these moments, I've asked people to be strong for me for a moment while I rest. I know I am strong, but it is important to remember for myself, and anyone else who might be reading this and thinks you have to be strong all the time, that it is not required of you to be so every second of every day. Sometimes, it's okay to not feel it, to rely on others to help you through the toughest of times. It's okay to feel weak sometimes. Badass as you are, you are only human. And it's pretty badass to rely on others for strength and support sometimes.
I am unbelievably blessed. I have the best support system in the world. I am surrounded by people across the globe who have reached out and offered kind words, love, support, prayers, their listening ears, and more. I type this now with tears in my eyes, filled with gratitude for the most amazing people in my life who have helped to lift me back up to my feet again to continue fighting and healing through these traumatic events. I have received resources from the most unexpected places, blessings at the most necessary times, and been refilled with hope. These past several months have transformed me more than I ever thought possible.
I have been learning how to compartmentalize my thoughts and emotions in ways I have never done so before. My first impulse upon learning news about my sister was to book the next flight out. But, the life I have chosen has also taught me to take a step back and think critically about my next move, as it is not simple to make such an impulsive decision. I have spent hours upon hours researching what I could possibly do next. Unfortunately for the state of the globe as it is currently, I am unable to make it back to the US.
No matter your stance politically, the reality I am faced with is simple: due to the response and handling of the pandemic in the US, I am unable to do much of anything right now. I have extremely limited options for my next move right now. From the perspective of an American expat abroad, I am highly disappointed in the response from my country of birth. Because of the COVID crisis in America, some countries will not accept me into their borders -- simply because I hold a US passport, even to pass through. It is a harsh reality that many will not understand, but is very sensitive and real given how many other countries have responded differently.
Get it together, America. Wear your damn masks. Follow guidelines set in place by the CDC and WHO. Yes, I'm angry. Your selfishness and cavalier behavior does not only affect you, it affects everyone.
It is also in moments like this that I'm reminded of all the families across the globe separated from one another. As the German agent at the embassy I called sympathetically explained, "You're not the only one in this situation." My heart goes out to all the families separated from each other everywhere. I know I'm not the only one. There are so many of you everywhere who are struggling with this distance from your loved ones.
After many heavy discussions with many family members, I have forgone my efforts to scramble for a flight back to the US. Taking into consideration the fact that there are no real current options for me to do just that, in my particular situation, it would also only be an emotional comfort to myself and my family to do so; not a logical or feasible move.
As of right now, my sister is in stable condition in the best place she could possibly be: Baylor University Hospital in Dallas, Texas. This hospital specializes in exactly the kind of critical care she needs. I am in constant, daily communication with my family members getting updates on her well-being. I post updates for everyone following, and I am confident in the state of her health-- it is improving, albeit slowly, but it is progress. I am choosing to make each careful decision right now through faith.
You might be asking, "Why in the world is she not headed back sooner? She could figure out how to repatriate for sure." I get it. I questioned it so much when I was tossing and turning at night begging for the right answer, but right now, after tremendous prayer, I have decided that returning in a hurry would be selfish. Selfish because I know I can take care of myself better with the situation before me, here(really), as opposed to in the US with my family.
Allow me to explain. Even if it were possible for me to get there, I would be faced with the longevity of that move. I would be forced to rely on other people, namely family, to support me. I would be back in Texas (which is currently seeing a spike in the number of COVID cases) for an undetermined amount of time, with no means of transportation, no livable income, and living with family. Not to mention the mental transition it would take to adjust to everything again. Would they do it? Absolutely. Should they? Absolutely not.
Sure, I could help in some ways by returning, but right now, the amount of resources, energy, and support that would be needed in aiding my transition back to Texas needs to be spent on my sister and ensuring full focus on her and her recovery. And if traveling completely on my own through all the challenges I have faced thus far abroad has taught me anything, it’s how completely capable I am of handling myself in the present.
I have already been able to provide so much more aid to Abby and to my perfect niece from thousands of miles away than I would if I was there in person. I'm so ready to meet and hold my Lillypad in person and clutch my sister, crying out of gratitude for the chance to see her again. My sister and I have had more than our fair share of outs and fights, but I'd give everything to talk to her face-to-face again. To hug her again.
I am currently tackling international affairs, a priority to maintain my legal status in the midst of COVID-19, transitioning out of another living situation (healthy this time) and my current source of income. I am faced with new, surprising and heavy emotions daily. I am placing all of my focus into maintaining my mental health as best as absolutely possible. I am looking for and recognizing the little wins in each and every moment they happen. I am taking time away from social media and technology whenever I can to practice serious self care. I am putting boundaries up and limiting interaction with the rest of the world because I absolutely do not have that kind of energy right now. I need myself. I need to focus on taking care of myself as best as I possibly can.
I have been cycling through so many emotions even writing this piece. I've been angry. I've been absolutely devastated and terrified. I've felt helpless. I've felt raw strength. I've felt shock and an odd sense of peace and acceptance. I've cycled through all of these many times over. I am confident in the decisions I have been making for myself, despite all the odds and the countless people giving me their own opinions. The truth is, unless you're in this situation, feeling what I'm feeling and faced with this exact circumstance, you can't possibly know the right answer. I am focused on doing what's best for me.
I am open to information anyone might have about international travel that I have not already discovered myself, but in regards to what those who think they know that I should do in this incredibly difficult time, with all due respect, don't.
I am learning how to strategize and focus on problem solving and priorities in ways I've never done before. The Serenity Prayer is on repeat in my head almost 24/7. I am coping. I am healing. I am capable. I am handling it. I am a traveler. I am making the best decisions for me based on the situations presented to me. I am focused and determined. I have okay days and I have extremely taxing days. I am only human, just like you, but I am one incredibly badass human, and I've got this. Welcome to a piece of my inner world. I'm surviving and cannot wait to start thriving again.
**For those of you who have been following everything this far, please, please consider donating to my sister's GoFund Me page. It is vital to her recovery and aiding in the care of my niece. And thank you for everything, truly. **