The San Xavier Mission – Tucson

Going through my old posts about my time in States, I realised I’d neglected to write about one of my favourite experiences – visiting the San Xavier Mission.

Located just 10 miles south of downtown Tucson, the mission is a world away from the colourful, student-filled streets of the city centre and campus surroundings. In fact, it was one of the only times I felt I experienced the ‘real Tucson’, and understood that it is actually a complex city rooted with many (seemingly forgotten) socioeconomic problems.

We took a bus from the main bus station, still in the downtown area, and traveled just 20 minutes or so to another bus terminal where we would need to change buses. Just this short drive made me aware of the college bubble I had been living in for the past few months. The roads were less looked after, many stores looked closed or failing, and the people had changed too; instead of being mainly white and college-aged, they looked older and of Mexican or Native American heritage.

Being at the bus stop definitely cemented this idea; me and my boyfriend were by far the ‘whitest’ people there, not just in terms of skin tone, but the way we dressed, acted, spoke…we felt uncomfortable and like outsiders. This was new to me. I had been living in Tucson for a little over three months and had begun to feel comfortable with my surroundings, the people there, and the way of life. Waiting just 30 minutes or so in that bus stop made me realise that I’d merely scratched the surface on some of the complex issues embedded in Tucson’s core.

Even when the bus came, we were shocked. It wasn’t a bus: it was mini-van, and many of the locals used this transport everyday, as a way of getting around the mission. They knew one another, and the driver. Again, our tourist status was exemplified. The drive round the mission was also eye-opening. Tucson itself has a relatively modern looking downtown area, complete with skyscrapers and a tram. This was the complete opposite. Roads were dirt-tracks, houses were shack-like, and it looked as though the government had simply given up trying to improve it.

The church itself is beautiful, filled with stunning figures of Christ, amazing architecture, and if you climb the neighboring hill as we did, some amazing views of the area surrounding Tucson. You feel like you have stepped out of the mainstream, white America, and into a rural Mexican village of sorts. What I liked in particular was the way in which the brilliant white of the church contrasted against the sky – which is always bright blue in Tucson – and the orange of the sand.

Whilst you definitely won’t get a days visit out of the church, the whole experience of being in the mission and getting to the mission, will stay with you. Especially, if like me, you had previously only experienced Tucson’s relatively college-focused centre.

To this day, I still don’t fully know how to talk about my snippet of ‘true Tucson’. When I tell Americans that I spent time living in Tucson, I am either told that the school is really party-focused (which it is!) or that the city is a dump outside the campus. It’s sad to think that what Tucson was originally noted for is slowly fading away, and becoming less favourable. Sadly, this kind of reaction to missions in America is not unique. They are often surrounded by negative stereotypes and a general fear by outsiders.

However, the only way to ‘conquer that fear’ and prove the stereotypes wrong, is to visit one, and spend some time around the people who reside there. San Xavier is a great starting point, and it did really help me to appreciate the diverse society I lived in. I hope in the future to explore more places like this, and to create a conversation where people really know and understand these kind of areas.

For more information about San Xavier Mission, click here.

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Holocaust Memorial Day: Why it’s Important to Keep on Remembering

Today, January 27th, is International Holocaust Memorial Day. Chosen specifically on the day that the death camp Auschwitz was liberated many years ago, the day is a time of remembrance for all genocides, throughout our recent history.

It is scary to think that the concept of a ‘holocaust’ or the act of genocide did not end with the liberation of Nazi-run death camps, and the consequent persecution of many of the perpetrators. A lot of intelligent, well-read people, still do not understand the horrors that later occurred in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Cambodia, for example.

Genocide has devastated millions of people throughout history, and continues to affect the lives of relatives and friends, of the loved ones they lost. We might pride ourselves as a society now capable of spotting the ‘warning signs’ of a genocidal regime. How can such acts go amiss and ignored, with things like social media and the news covering every corner of the globe? The sad thing is, it does.

During my first year of university, I took a class called ‘The Holocaust in History’. While most of the module was focused on the Nazi persecution of European Jews, and other alleged ‘undesirables’, the last class focused on the question ‘is the Holocaust unique?’ Of course, every death is unique. Every life touches different people in a different way, and their death cannot be compared in this respect. However, we then preceded to look at more recent genocides, those that Western society has either ignored, or not given much attention to. This idea of pigeon-holing a group of people, and preying upon them from a position of power, is not new. When things get tough, society needs a scapegoat.

This brings me to my main point, and title: why it’s important to keep on remembering. Genocide is current: it is now, and it has not been eradicated. I’m sure we’re all aware of the Trump/Hitler comparisons that have been dominating the media since his arrival into the mainstream. In just a week of being in office, and in control of one of the most powerful nations on the planet, the bills, policies, and even just verbal statements he has made are ludicrously scary. Hitler didn’t marginalise the Jews overnight; it took years of propaganda and conditioning his people to make them feel like it was a valid thing to do, to place them in ghettos, and then later work and death camps. Already Trump is calling for immigrants to be ‘registered’ separately if that have committed a crime, saying that millions voted illegally, and has guaranteed his promise of a wall along the Mexican border. Sound familiar?

Today, perhaps more than ever, it is especially important to take this time to remember the victims of the Holocaust. Whilst it may be uncomfortable and upsetting, it is essential to realise that this is unfortunately something that humanity as a whole is capable of, not just one person acting alone.

For more information visit hmd.org.uk

 

Living with ‘Itchy Feet Syndrome’

I’ve recently realised that, although I write a lot about suffering with anxiety, depression, and other mental health related issues, thing I struggle the most with day-to-day is actually something much, much worse. Itchy feet syndrome.

For those not aware, itchy feet syndrome is the niggling feeling in the back of your brain that you need to go somewhere. It’s the excitement you get whenever Ryanair, Easyjet, or any other airline announce a sale. It’s the pure jealousy you have whenever someone on Facebook ‘checks in’ to an airport or hotel. It’s calculating how much of your weekly earnings (or student loan, in my case!) you can afford to spend on a trip abroad, even though ‘you’ve only just come back from [insert exotic destination here]’.

Basically, it’s just always wanting to be somewhere. Anywhere. Now.

It plagues even the most rookie travellers – as once the travel-bug bites, there’s no going back. Once you’ve experienced your first true taste of freedom, you’re immediately eager to get back, to explore another place, to be rid of the daily grind.

I’d say I spend at least 20 minutes a day checking holiday sites, looking up things to do in planned trips, and just generally daydreaming about a tropical beach. Honestly, this illness really is quite constrictive! Sufferers may also find themselves in a momentary time-lapse, realising that after what they thought was just a few minutes flicking through said sites, it’s really been three hours…or more.

Sadly, there is no cure for this tragic disease. Even when itchy-feet sufferers do go ahead and book that holiday and take the trip, they find that even after a few days (hours in some cases) the telltale symptoms of wistfully wishing you were transported back, yet again arise. Unlike the ‘holiday blues’, these feelings continue indefinitely, until said user takes flight again…or at least books another flight.

Ultimately though, itchy feet syndrome is one of those things that keeps travellers going. It’s what makes someone into a true, seasoned traveller, and creates the magical feeling that is ‘wanderlust’. I don’t know about you guys, but it’s definitely a feeling that I couldn’t live without.

 

Should you Travel with Anxiety? And if so, how?!

Suffering with anxiety is hard enough when you have a stable, permanent environment; if you choose to travel, you then face a ton of obstacles that the ‘regular’ traveler may not encounter, or even consider. However, many people nowadays are recognizing the importance of not letting their mental illness control their decisions, opting to take the difficult path and venture on out into the world…with a few trusted tips, of course.

Whilst I’m no medical expert, I’ve suffered enough with anxiety, depression, and other related issues, whilst on the road and at home, to form an understanding of what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t. However, this is purely down to my own experiences, and it is important to discover for yourselves how best to integrate your own love of traveling with your anxiety, making sure you are safe and well.

Sometimes, the hardest thing I’ve had to do is to admit that I can’t do something. I just can’t go on this trip, can’t do that activity, etc. Whilst everyone else around you encourages you not to let it ‘beat’ you, sometimes it is just safer and more beneficial to your health to take it easy, and say no. There have been a couple of times where I have listened to this advice and been better for it, but there have also been times when I have succumbed to peer pressure and ending up feeling so much worse. Only you know your own state of mind and well-being. Deep down, you will now exactly when it is time to sit something out, take some time to focus on yourself, and save yourself the stress that often comes with planning a trip, being away, and undertaking a new experience.

Hopefully though, there will be many more times when you feel you are well enough to say ‘screw you anxiety!’ and take the plunge. Nerves hit everyone before they go off on an adventure, whether it be in the form of excitement or genuine worry, so you’re definitely not alone in those feelings anyway.

Deciding what type of travel style is best for you really helps if you have decided to go away. There are pros and cons to both, it really is just a case of personal taste. Myself, I prefer to travel slowly, focusing on a country or area for a longer period of time and settling into some sort of routine, getting to know the area/people around me. I feel that it puts me at ease, allows me to calm down, and I feel secure knowing I have a bed or place to go back to, if my anxiety or depression does get the better of me one day.

However, lots of people prefer to travel much quicker, often due to lack of money and/or time. Besides these two reasons, spending just a few days in each place may also have mental health and anxiety benefits; you are always active, keeping your mind and body occupied. This type of traveling is usually seen on group tours too, which can also help with the planning side of trip, or if you’re a first time traveler. I’ve been on a couple of organised tours, and whilst they are fast-paced and you are often exhausted at the end, the ease of undertaking the trip largely outweighs this. On the other hand, they are not great if you just need a day to yourself to relax, or if you do begin to feel anxious/down and need some time to recover, as there usually isn’t any.

No matter what type of travel style you opt for, anxiety attacks and low moods can strike at any time, as fellow sufferers will know. Having a plan of action in place if this does happen is therefore a great thing to organize before you embark. Again, what you do will vary person to person, but if you really are stuck for ideas and can’t pinpoint what makes your anxiety/depression better, a friend recently told me about her use of a ‘mental health first aid kit’. She takes this on every trip she goes on, carrying it in her rucksack in case of emergencies. In it, she has pictures and letters from home, coloring books and pens, and calming herbal teas. Something like this is a great idea, and again can be personalized and altered to you. I usually carry a sketchpad and pencils in my bag, as I find drawing distracts me and calms me down, if I do need to take a minute for myself during a trip.

The main thing to take from this is to listen to your mind and body. If you don’t feel ready for a trip, don’t do it, or scale it back somehow. Decide on a traveling style that is right for you, not just what your friends are into. And finally, have in a place some sort of back-up if you do begin to feel yourself getting anxious. Anxiety and travel can actually go hand-in-hand quite harmoniously, if you are careful, kind to yourself, and (most importantly) remember to enjoy it!

Later this year, I will be moving to Vietnam to teach English, something that this time last year I could not have imagined myself doing. However, I’ve taken some time recovering and focusing on myself getting better, and am pleased to say that I’m looking forward to the trip with (mostly!) minimal worry. Of course I am aware that I’ll most likely get anxious or sad or at least something during the move and transition (and will definitely make sure I am prepared for that!)…but it just goes to show, that you don’t need to let your anxiety stop you from traveling, taking new jobs, and doing something outrageous!