It has now almost been two months since I have moved to Nashville. The best way to describe these past two months would be that it has been the best two months of my life but also the most challenging two months of my life. Crazy right? How can that be possible? Well, I am learning it is normal when you start a job that can be emotionally draining some days along with also being triggered and struggling with your mental health due to the major change and on your own for the first time ever. But, I also love my new “home”, I absolutely love my new job at the same time due to the support from the staff and the participants I am lucky enough to serve, and I am able to work on my mental health due to the resources that my job offers and support from friends that I have made here and loved ones from home. So yes, it has been the most challenging two months but also the best.
I have A LOT of support here. So much that I am learning to actually accept it, something that I have struggled with. I am learning that everyone was right when they said that a strong community is important for a year of service. I am living with six other people and even though at times it can feel a little crowded, I would not want it any other way. I grew up in a large family so it reminds me of home a little. It also makes us feel like we are never alone. Which for some people can sound terrible, but for all of us in my community we enjoy that. I got very lucky. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I go to my room to get a moment alone so it is possible if we do need a moment. But, I think my favorite part of community living so far is dinner. We plan out our dinner for the week on Saturday night and we all cook a meal one night a week. Most of the meals are amazing. But on my nights, well I stress. When dinner is ready and I am placing my meal on the table and everyone says “it looks and smells good” I follow with: “Don’t worry, I will buy the pizza tonight” every time. I have no hope for my food. It is edible though so that is all that really matters. I also have picked up stress baking. My housemates caught onto what I was doing. They would see me frantically mixing a bowl of cookie dough and just know it was a tough day at work. At first the baked goods came out amazing and it was a great deal for them, but now for some reason they have become inedible and I need supervision - which takes away the purpose of stress baking so I need to find a new coping mechanism that will not give anyone salmonella.
Now that I have just rambled about my cooking and baking skills I should probably talk about my experience with service so far. My job is at Room In The Inn. Each day is different. Something I knew going into my job. One day, I can sort mail that participants receive, working the welcome desk where I would be in charge of showers and answering any questions that I am able to answer. But, then the next hour I can be outside giving out water, masks, lunches or donuts (depending on the time of day), over the counter medicine and vitamins, ponchos, and pretty much any supplies that we have available to offer. I can also be helping participants sign up for classes, showers, food stamps sessions, orientation sessions, and computers. Each week I am lucky enough to be given more responsibilities, which I really enjoy. I am also lucky enough to have some really amazing conversations with participants when I am outside on the street. There are some participants that can make me smile and laugh until my cheeks hurt.
Then there are days where some tough situations happen. My job is usually a day center but due to Covid and the protocols we now have to mostly serve participants outside in the public. With that, come more incidents. I struggled and still struggle at times with these incidents due to what they bring up from past experiences but it is also teaching me how to change my fight or flight mechanism. Instead of freezing I am now reacting and stepping in, something I have never really done in my life. There are also some days where I struggle with hearing a participant’s situation. I get in the mindset some days of just wanting to “fix them” which is not healthy or possible. I also struggle with hearing the negative comments or stigmas that some people have about people who struggle with homelessness. A stigma I thought one day in the past as well, so I am not saying I am not any better. But I have learned that a person who struggles with homelessness is a human just like myself. They are a son, daughter, father, mother, sister, or brother just like everyone else. Things happen in life that can get people in situations and they are just not as fortunate as others where they could get the help or out of a situation.
I know my experience so far could sound a little confusing but this is my honest experience so far with trying not to rant too much. So, I will end by telling this little experience I had during my first couple of weeks:
The first weeks of my time here I felt stuck and forgot why I was here. Then, one day I was looking through photos on my phone and a photo of myself and a couple of the girls that I met in Guatemala popped up. I remembered that trip was the reason I started to love service and ultimately changed my life. It reminded me why I am here. I am here to serve others, not only for the selfish reason that it makes me feel like my best self, but also because everyday at work I am able to see God in people and I am lucky enough to get the chance to serve them. I now have that photo of the girls and I as my lock screen to remind me when the days at work get tough, the days when my mental health is not the best, and for when I start to feel stuck. So, yes these past two months have been the most challenging months of my life but they have also been the best two months. I can give the credit to my community at work and new home, support from back home, and the participants that I am lucky enough to serve.