For almost a year now I’ve been struggling with stomach issues which have progressively taken over my life. It started out as a sort of uncomfortable affliction, something that I could turn down if I simply paid attention to other things. Then it started to appear when I was in class, specifically during an independent study that I had last semester in preparation for my trip to Senegal. I would be overcome with nausea and discomfort for no apparent reason, and this nausea would trigger in me an anxiety that would only seem to exacerbate the fire in my stomach. Yet, I was too busy at Swarthmore to pay much attention to these issues, which came and went so randomly that I wasn’t convinced that they were really there. I hadn’t had any anxiety issues at all junior year, which was remarkable considering how much of an emotional roller coaster sophomore and freshman year had been. My psychological issues seemed to transform into bouts of pensiveness and introspection instead of episodes of self-loathing and existential angst. I would find myself questioning my choices, the absence of my choices, and the spaces in between the people around me. I found myself doing things because I could do them, not because I wanted to.
I am not sure if the fire in my stomach is really just my body’s way of bringing affliction back into my life, my mind renewing its war against my senses and my sensibilities. I cannot know that, although the last time I went to CAPS in the spring, my counselor told me that she didn’t think I needed the program anymore. I told her, “I just want someone to listen to me and tell me I’m making sense,” and she responded calmly, as all trained professionals are taught to do so well, “you should begin listening to yourself.”
Nonetheless, the past few months have been hard. Right after the semester ended, my stomach began to give me problems and these issues continued throughout my long winter break. Even when people saw me at Swarthmore during those two or three days I stayed in Willets, I was struggling with a lack of appetite and a general feeling of malaise in my bowels which I kept entirely to myself. I have never been a person to share my suffering with others, and publishing this in the school newspaper for my friends, professors, and associates to read is an act that an older part of me is loath to do. Yet, being here has made me realize that it is that smaller, older part of me who I truly have to come to terms with.
The past few days I’ve been walking around Dakar by myself. I have been feeling better, almost normal, actually, and feel the need to take advantage of this bout of good health by going around and seeing the city. I also decided that I would go out alone. I asked to my friends in my program to come with me, but I told myself that if no one was interested, I would still go out and see Dakar. I realized that my fear of being alone was something I brought with me from the United States. At Swarthmore, I enjoyed my solitude, but hated the idea of being truly disconnected from someone. I found that I was okay with loneliness in certain contexts, and that I could always count on seeing a familiar face somewhere on campus. Yet, here, in a foreign country, I don’t know anyone. I have a certain visibility as a Westerner, despite being black, which is a topic of conversation for the people I pass on the street. They see my brownish skin and curly dyed hair and my three ear piercings and ask themselves questions about my identity, to figure out what I am about. Sophomore year, this would have bothered me to no end, to be so visibly analyzed, but now it doesn’t matter. Slowly but surely, I am coming to terms with these questions, these personal afflictions, that have plagued my character for years. Slowly but surely, as I am becoming more comfortable in my body, as my time wanes in this ancient place, I am beginning to accomplish the greatest feat of my emotional and psychological development — an acceptance of who I am, both for the bad and the good.
As I struggle through my stomach issues, uncertain of what malady is attempting to seize the reins of my life, I can find solace in the fact that I have reached a point of self-acceptance and inner peace in my life which I have never experienced before. And in the coming weeks, as I head to the doctors to figure this problem out once and for all — I have been horribly unsuccessful with Senegalese doctors — I am confident that I am now in a place to take this issue head-on, knowing that in the end, like all tribulations, it will make me a better person.