My ten months in India are coming to an end, and I’m grateful. Grateful for the opportunity to live in a country that has long fascinated me. Grateful to do human rights work—my passion, my dream. Grateful for the many ways I’ve grown and the many things I’ve learned. But most of all, I’m grateful that this fellowship was even possible.
Ten years ago, doing this fellowship would have been out of the question. I had just returned from the Peace Corps—two years of living in a remote Kenyan village—and I was a mess. Several unrelated health problems had hit me at the same time—a perfect storm, of sorts—and utterly derailed my life. I was in excruciating physical pain, I was constantly exhausted, and none of my many doctors seemed to know what was going on. At times—and I mean this literally—I could barely stand up.
Exacerbating the physical challenges were the mental ones. Prolonged bodily misery takes its toll, and I was becoming angry, bitter, and resentful. The very core of my personality—my joy, my humor—was fading. I was losing myself.
I even came to resent my friends, for they represented everything that I had lost. They traveled, attended graduate school, and got married. I was living with my parents, barely able to manage a part-time job. In what seemed like a cruel joke, there were incredible opportunities within my reach—I was offered a full scholarship to BU Law School and I got a perfect score on the GRE—but there was no way I could make use of them. My body had betrayed me.
Several years passed, and I began to accept that I might never recover. I accepted that I might forever be a shadow of my former self. I applied for disability—the only substantive income I could hope for—but was denied. Only five people in this world know the true depth of what I went through. They were (and are) my angels.
After three and a half years of this, I was desperate. So I made a desperately reckless decision—I would go to law school. I knew that I was in no condition to do this, but my soul was dying. I needed to create a life. I showed up that first day in Philadelphia, terrified. I wasn’t sure if I would last the week. And my fears proved justified. In the coming months, the pain continued—I ended up in ER several times—as did the mind-numbing fatigue. More than once, on my walk to class, I sat on a bench and cried because I had no idea how I could make it there. How could I walk another half-mile, when each step felt like an impossible challenge? Several times, I approached the Dean to discuss dropping out.
But I couldn’t quit. The thought of returning home—with nothing to do but marinate in failure—was too much to bear. So I pushed on, day after day, month after month, just barely hanging on.
Eventually, though, my body began to rebalance itself. Things slowly started getting better. I graduated and moved to Vermont, and embraced two years of clean air, good friends, and nourishing food. In April 2012, I was offered this fellowship—a chance to work in India for ten months. A dream come true. My first thought, however, was not one of celebration, but of fear—can I really do this? I still didn’t trust my body.
I accepted the fellowship and came here on a prayer—a prayer that, instead of challenging my health, India would work its ancient magic and heal me. And this prayer has come true. India has given me back all that I had lost. My health—I’m stronger now than when I arrived in September. My purpose—I’ve begun my career in human rights. And my joy—the thrill of adventure, the passion of Salsa dancing, and the everyday silliness of life that I had once known so intimately. I am, once again, alive.
Thank you, India.