Candy Bars and an Even Keel

I find it hard to believe I am only in the middle of my fourth week back from the holiday break. These four weeks
have been an eternity. So many things have gone wrong at work in the twenty five days or so that I had to start
keeping a tab of them on my phone so as not to lose track of what was wearing me down. And it was wearing me
down way too much.
Two blog entries ago I wrote about my enthusiasm to get back to work, all despite lingering work place issues and
frustrations. It was a genuine sentiment, one that I sincerely felt for a little while. Although problems- often
preventable- weighed down much of the progress of the last few months, I was still excited to move forward. But
yes, that feeling didn’t last. Even as I wrote that entry things were going quickly down hill, enough that for me to
have said I love it here was pretty close to a lie. Things aren’t easy here, and I don’t think there’s any reason I
should try to pretend they are.
My roommate, Samy, and his girlfriend Sophie, had their going away party just a week ago. It was a great break
from how ugly things had seemed to get the last few weeks. Wonderful just to talk to people who I’d never met,
about anything that came to mind. Staying away from the same things that have become too patterned in
conversation, the same collective complaints that a lot of us have working for the company we do in the place that
we do.
The little things always make it so much better, like a nice view
The little things always make it so much better, like a nice view
I was talking to a guy I’d never met before, and will probably never see again. He was maybe 30, had lived in Iraq
for about a decade, and was a former soldier of Desert Storm 2 from Kentucky now working locally in the private
security sector. I think we were in the middle of a conversation about vices. I mentioned that it seemed like a lot of
us had redeveloped old ones, or picked up new ones to ease the burden. He said something to the affect of
“Everyone here needs something, whatever it is, to keep an even keel.”
It was a simple comment really, and nothing new- Amanda and I discuss it all the time- but it was so nice to hear
it from a total stranger. It was exactly what I needed to hear. Living in Iraq hasn’t been easy, and I don’t expect it to
ever get easier. Solidarity is the best weapon I’ve found to fight against the problems I’ve so far had with this
experience, so to hear someone say that, even as simple as it was, was all I really needed to hear. This place isn’t
easy for almost any of us coming into it, and an uneasy sense of humor is a quick reference point for all of us that
feel that way. Like anything though, there comes strength from knowing that people are struggling through the
same problems as you, finding the same road blocks, and handling the same frustrations just as well or as poorly.
I think I’m now realizing I’ve hit a point where I can manage myself in this environment. The key really is to find
those things that keep you even-minded and balanced. It’s the kind of the thought that I can catch myself
preaching to other people and then ignoring myself until I’m about to teeter over the edge.
The reward for the four mile walk to the citadel was a beautiful day, some hot tea, and a comfortable chair to put my feet up
The reward for the four mile walk to the citadel was a beautiful day, some hot tea, and a comfortable chair to put my feet up
I’ve embraced my survival vices, but don’t over-rely on them. I’m doing my best to find any and all positives and
find other ways to keep my morale high. Candy is always an immediate pick-me-up. Buying a kindle was a big
boost. So was eventually booking my airline tickets for the two-week school break in March.  At home in America
my two biggest de-stressers had always been playing piano (I’m unashamedly addicted to playing piano) and
swimming. Neither one is realistic out here; the former because of scarcity, that latter because of hours of
availability and cost. So I’ve been forced to find new outlets, or reintroduce old ones.
With my kindle I’ve rediscovered my love for reading, and have been losing an hour or two a day to that little glare-
free screen. I’ve been listening to more music in the last month than I have in the last decade of my life; music
time having in the near past been devoted more to playing than listening. It’s been great not only to find a new
balance in my personal well- being but also to realize how narrow my habits of coping and thriving had become,
and that I can and probably should maintain a wider range of habits and hobbies to keep myself happy.
It has been a tough stretch, and I’m admittedly not the best at coming clean about that type of stuff, preferring to
sweep it under the rug. But now I’ll grab a candy bar, bitch a little bit to get it out, and wake up better tomorrow.

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