INTERVIEW WITH GERALDINE [PART II]
On Mental Health, Community Care & Self-Care
Taeyin: How do you deal with racial stress in this new context?
Gerie: I think I pick my battles, which is something I wish I had learned earlier in my life. Being able to walk away from toxic situations has been very helpful for me.
Leaning on people on my team who are always willing to step in on my behalf has been a good resource in terms of coping. I think a good piece of advice for people of color traveling abroad is to communicate with the people around you – if they are allies – so that you have the luxury of picking your battles.
Taeyin: Can you tell me a little bit about the language barrier and finding mental health resources?
Gerie: The main language here is Slovak. Outside my workplace, it is very difficult to find communities of support that speak English. What was helpful for me was to rely heavily on the community and resources at my workplace. I have a regular check-in session with my supervisor and my wellness is a point of conversation. We also have a Wellness Team at work and I rely on them a lot.
Taeyin: What preparations or resources were you given before going abroad? What do you wish would have been done? What kind of community care do you wish you had?
Gerie: I often think that institutions don’t think about community care as a priority. I attended a predominantly white university as an international student. From that experience, I learned that there is a lot of focus on practical access to information and resources. Community care is an afterthought if it’s considered at all.
In an ideal environment, I think institutions should make community care a priority and go beyond informational resources. I would have appreciated it if I was offered an opportunity to have access to communities of color within this city before I made the move.
Taeyin: What are other ways the community could have supported you?
Gerie: It sounds silly but it took me several weeks before I was able to buy honey. It only happened a few weeks after I moved to Bratislava I happened to be in a supermarket with a coworker who spoke Slovak. And I was able to ask which jars were honey from bees and not syrup or plant-based honey?
In sharing that story, it’s actually not about the honey itself. It’s the type of help that translates a new world. I’ve talked to other people who moved to cities where they don’t speak the language. A common appreciation is for people who translate a new city and open it up for visitors.
Taeyin: What kind of community care do you wish you had?
Gerie: Community care becomes imperative in situations where your location makes you a constant other. My basic desire is to exist in a space that affirms my identities. That’s all I can wish for.
Community care becomes imperative in situations where your location makes you a constant other.
Taeyin: I think you’re right. We want spaces for people of color to feel affirmed and supported at the intersections we’re at. Building on community care, what were your self-care routines before going abroad?
Gerie: Walking is my favorite form of self-care because it is so easy to build a routine around it. Before traveling abroad I would begin each day with a 30 – 45 minute walk around my neighborhood. Depending on my levels of stress I would walk while listening to music or a podcast. Quiet strolls were for the really stressful periods.
I also journal and color as a way of calming my restlessness. The most important for me is spending time with friends and family. From cooking meals and having people over to just taking the time to grab coffee or tea.
Taeyin: What changed when you went abroad?
Gerie: Well here is the thing, when I moved, I went from a beautiful Zimbabwean summer to a European winter. That shift was rough. Surviving a harsh snowy winter in a country where you do not know anyone is hard. My self-care routines would not work here. Because it was too cold to take walks outside, I did not know anyone I could invite for meals or go for coffee with. To make matters worse I left all my adult coloring books at home and just could not bring myself to order new materials online.
Taeyin: What new ways of self-care where you able to find during this transition?
Gerie: I think the big thing for me was keeping in touch with friends using online resources. Through Skype, WhatsApp or writing letters I was able to eventually sustain my friendships and links to family in a nurturing way. Having regular conversations with people I care about helped me to feel less lonely.
Another thing that was very important was to start building routines. In any period of transition having routines to fall back on can be calming. When the weather eventually got warmer, I started a morning routine. I would wake up, eat breakfast and then instead of taking the bus, I would walk to work. It’s a 40-50 minute walk that helps me begin and end the day on a calm note. Plus, it also counts as exercise!
Taeyin: Do you have any advice for POC traveling abroad?
I would want to encourage POC who travel abroad to pace themselves
Gerie: I would want to encourage POC who travel abroad to pace themselves. I assumed that I could do everything at the same speed and energy levels as I did when I was home. It was only after I got overwhelmed and had a panic attack in the first few months that I realized that I should have given myself time to adjust to a new environment.
Don’t assume that you can do everything you could do in your home environment with the same energy level. Give yourself time to adjust. Pace yourself. I wish I had known that.
Taeyin: Thank you so much, Gerie.