See what I’ve been up to on my travels:
- Fear, bravery and bees
- To the summit: A climbing post from a girl who hates exercise
- My Canadian bucket list
- My experience on a homestay adventure in Sri Lanka
See what I’ve been up to on my travels:
I saw it out of the corner of my eye, all brown legs and twitching. I yelled and backed out of the bathroom. It’s incredible I didn’t wet myself, given what I’d gone to there to do. The spider crawled sideways up the wall, further into the bathroom, away from me.
Another one. Ugh.
I first heard of huntsman spiders because they were the ones used in the movie Arachnophobia. I’ve never watched the entire thing, but I’d watched a couple of scenes while flipping through the channels, looking for something to watch one night. The movie wasn’t for me—I don’t care for spiders.
The spider in front of me in the bathroom was the second hunstman I’d seen in my apartment that night. The other was sitting motionless on the ceiling of the main room. This one was much more lively.
I knew species of huntsman live all over the world. They’re large and scary-looking, but essentially harmless. Their bite hurts about as much as a bee sting, but doesn’t do any lasting damage.
You see, I may not want to watch a silly fictional movie about spiders, but I will spend hours reading up on them. Anxiety is the kind of condition where you tend to ruminate on things that upset you. My fear has led me to know a lot about spiders.
Earlier that day, before I realized I had eight-legged roommates, I told my coworker about one of the spider blogs I follow. Catherine Scott, the blogger, is a PhD student at the University of Toronto Scarborough and she was featuring a different spider every day for #spiderweek. That day was fishing spiders (aka dock spiders).
Shortly after telling my coworker all my new spider facts, a black and yellow spider descended from the tree canopy above us and almost ended up in my hair.
I was having a bad spider day.
I managed to go to the bathroom while watching the huntsman skitter about on the far wall. Then I got into my mosquito net sanctuary and warily watched the other spider from the corner of my eye.
“I don’t like you,” I said. “Go away.” It ignored me.
It took a long time to relax enough to fall asleep. To keep my mind occupied I read a great thread maintained by Museum Victoria in Australia that calms people worried about huntsman spiders. As I already knew, they’re quite harmless. Some species also like living in houses. A lot.
Eventually I did asleep and managed not to have spider nightmares. When I woke up, the wall huntsman was gone. The bathroom spider was in some sort of sleep state and when I threw shoes at it and it just stepped over a couple of inches. Not wanting to shower with it, I ended up killing it and feeling guilty.
When I came home this evening, the other spider had returned.
Another thing I’ve learned from living with anxiety, is that being constantly afraid eventually means not being afraid. The fear dulls to a low hum in the pit of my stomach. Sometimes I even manage to feel brave in the end.
I’m not at zero fear yet and I have been checking on it every few minutes to see if it’s moved. My neck is a little sore. But I’m not cowering in my bed or making plans to change apartments.
My coworkers reminded me that huntsmen are harmless and eat the cockroaches. I’ve read they eat mosquitoes, too. So if I’m not delighted with my new roommate, it’s kind of like it pays the rent in a way.
I’m thinking of naming it. Maybe I’ll even come to like it.
“So, where is Sri Lanka?” he asks after a pause. He looks down, then up, not sure how I’ll react. Will I think he’s foolish or unworldly for not knowing?
It’s the question I’m most often asked when I tell people I’m going away. The easy answer is that it’s an island just south of India. I hate this response though. It feels too simple.
I don’t think anyone is foolish for not knowing where the country is, but I hope they’ll give me a chance to explain more than the basics.
The first thing you should know and one of the reasons I wanted to go to Sri Lanka is that it’s beautiful. Do a Google Image Search and scroll through the photographic proof of how gorgeous it is.
But that’s not the whole reason—I’m not quite that shallow—and it’s hard to explain unless you know a little bit more than how to find it on a map.
You should know that I’ll be eating a lot of curry. Which is good because I love curry. I’m not sure how high my tolerance for spice will be, but I can adjust. I’ll take the tears and runny nose in exchange for delicious food.
It’s also worth knowing that Sri Lanka is incredibly hot and I’m incredibly fair. I expect to be sunburned and sweaty for most of my time there. I’ve been investing in lighter clothing than I would typically wear in an Ottawa summer.
Sri Lanka is kind of like a mini Australia in that it has a wide variety of animals, many of which are found only on the island. This is making me nervous, because Australia is terrifying.
Speaking of animals, there’s the elephant in the room. Sri Lanka had a 30-year-long civil war. It ended in 2009, and even though the country has had seven years to recover and rebuild, there is still work to be done. (Further reading: This Divided Island by Samanth Subramanian)
That’s partly why I’m going. I’ll be working as a communications intern for Uniterra, a program run by the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) and the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI). They do development work around the world, helping ensure women and youth have a meaningful place in their societies. They are also trying to set up programs in such a way that people they help can continue working long after the development agencies are gone.
I like to tell stories. I’m a master of journalism student at Carleton University, a former editor-in-chief of the Fulcrum, an occasional radio host for CHUO 89.1 FM and a freelancer. My role is in sharing the stories of the work Uniterra does in Sri Lanka.
If you’ll follow along, by the end of August we’ll all know more than the outline of an island on a sea of blue. This country will mean something more than its civil war, its proximity to India or even it’s beautiful beaches.
Of course I’ll mention geography when people ask where Sri Lanka is. However, I want to let them know there are more important and interesting things than what you can find on Google Maps.
I’ll be posting more here and on my website: http://sabrinanemis.com
And in answer to the question, this is where Sri Lanka is.
I turn the air conditioning on. Then I get cold and turn it off. I open the back door. It’s humid. My mosquito bites itch. I go upstairs. The Internet says I can treat the bites with toothpaste. I don’t try it.
I read Austin Clarke to try and get a feel for Barbados. The book is absorbing, but ends up mostly being set in Toronto–in winter. I go back downstairs and look longingly at the rum smoothie sitting in the fridge. I resist the urge to day-drink alone.
I’m sitting in the villa and waiting for Ryan.
Valentine’s Day chocolates, Thanksgiving turkeys, Easter eggs and Christmas candy canes–holidays are all about food.
Listen as I talk with Christine Lam and Fangliang Xu about how they’re eating to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
“I wish someone had told me this simple, but confusing truth: Even when everything’s going your way you can still be sad. Or anxious. Or uncomfortably numb. Because you can’t always control your brain or your emotions even when things are perfect.” —Jenny Lawson
“Sabrina, can I talk to you?”
I walked into my office, expecting another thing to be added to my list. Being editor-in-chief of the Fulcrum, a student paper in Ottawa, meant I was doing a lot less reporting than I’d wanted and a lot more of being responsible for other people’s problems.
She launched into a series of apologies for bringing it up. She said she was sorry, but she couldn’t work this way. Why was I being so abrupt and unfriendly?
I looked at her through watery eyes and felt like someone was seeing me for the first time in months. I burst into tears
* * *
It’s not the kind of thing you worry about, having a bad day. Everyone has them.
An occasional bad day turned into bad sets of days. Eventually the good days were so rare that I wouldn’t want to go to sleep at night, terrified of losing the normal, good feeling.
And I should have been happy.
Everything was going great. I had a job I loved with great co-workers; our paper hosted a huge student journalism conference and I got to meet Peter Mansbridge, Diana Swain and Anna Holmes; I got paid to write my first freelance pieces; and I had my first press pass so I could report at the House of Commons.
It was all of the things I wanted, but I felt so awful. Not awful about those things, just awful about being alive. I opened my eyes every morning and wished I had never woken up. If this was going to be the rest of my life, I didn’t want it.
* * *
“Oh god, I’m so sorry Sabrina, I just say what’s on my mind, and it comes out,” she said it all in a flurry and it took me a few minutes to stop crying enough to respond.
It spilled out. All of the awful feelings, all of the unhappiness and the desperation. The trying more sleep, less sleep, staying home, going out. How none of it made me feel better or less numb.
The night before, in a moment of wanting more than this weak half-life, I had prayed for the first time in a decade. My co-worker felt like an answer to that prayer.
She knew a psychiatrist who operated out of her home and could be paid using OHIP. I could talk to someone, finally, without waiting weeks and months for a referral appointment through the university.
The last therapist I’d seen through the school had told me to start meditating and quit journalism. That experience hadn’t felt entirely helpful, but I was willing to try someone new.
* * *
This therapist worked out. Now I take medication and I try hard to go easy on myself. I’ve had to convince myself it’s OK to take breaks and get a good night’s sleep and ask for help.
But I was terribly lucky. Most students get six paid therapy sessions through the university and then they’re on their own. If you don’t see eye-to-eye with your therapist, you might have to wait weeks or months to see someone else.
This isn’t a personnel problem. My first therapist had the best of intentions. The problem is she’s probably seen thousands of people in the past few years and she’s limited by time and money, just like everyone else in the mental health field.
I hope the funds raised by Bell Let’s Talk go toward expanding and fixing a broken system. If I’d had to wait for months to see someone, I’m not sure if I would have believed it was worth it. I don’t know if I’d be writing this blog post. A long life of unhappiness stretching before you is a lot to face.
Live on Elgin at 220 Elgin St., hosts an open mic night every Tuesday starting at 8 p.m. The bar, owned and operated by father-and-son-team, Lawrence and Jon Evenchick, opened on June 5 with the intent of fostering the local music scene by providing a venue for up-and-coming performers. Most of the open mic performers have played at Live before–some have hosted their album release nights there and some are more casual musicians.
Click on a photo below to view the gallery.
Rogers TV Ottawa will also be playing a new series about the open mic nights, showcasing local performers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjgYCU-8_bM