Battling the Jelly Monster by Zainab Jamal

July 11, 2023
Zainab is an AmeriCorps College Coach serving with the Broader Impacts Group.

I was in the midst of a battle with the Jelly Monster. Side effects included staying in bed all day, playing Tetris, watching Twitch for the hours I was awake, and feeling complacent with where I was at the time. Why pursue my goals when the jelly was all-consuming—it didn’t matter what actions I took, I would eventually be engulfed by it. Why try?

For a brief moment, I was able to escape the putrid tentacles of the jelly by taking a trip to Pakistan. While its smell would loom behind at times, my trip there made me realize the importance of social programming and was a reminder of the vast world that I live in. I returned home with one goal in mind: I will defeat the Jelly Monster. 

Fearing that I would go back to a low-functioning state, I knew I had to escape my current situation and pursue a life aligned toward my goals, not settling for what others around me wanted. At that time, I received a recruitment email from Montana Campus Compact for an AmeriCorps position with the Broader Impacts Group. The position began in January and it was already late November. I took a deep breath, briefly fought another monster of emotions, and made my way to Missoula—ready to engage and learn facts related to educational equity and the value of service. 

Crossing the threshold, I arrived in Missoula! Ready for the adventures awaiting me, I was nervous but ready to trek into an unfamiliar land (somehow, the Jelly Monster managed to hitch a ride).

Currently, I have been in service for 6 months and this time has been transformational. I went from days where I would wake up at 4 pm and get nothing done, to waking up at 6 am and ready to drive a U-Haul and teach all day. I wouldn’t have it any other way and I am grateful for the experience I have gained and will continue to gain through August. However, the monsters have not disappeared and I battle with my emotions and mental health daily. 

My first few months of service were a grand experience. I fell in love with Montana, realized the facets that make it the Treasure State, and loved interacting with the kids I served and collaborating with my team members. However, it only took one small trigger for me to feel like the Jelly Monster had caught on to my trail and I yet again had to prepare for another battle.

Practiced driving a U-Haul for the first time! Given it was my first time driving in Missoula and driving a car bigger than a mid-sized sedan, I definitely was a bundle of nerves—and as such, the Jelly Monster had a grand time.

“U suck!” the Jelly Monster would whisper.

“Maybe you should sleep in and be late hehe,” it would jiggle.

“You’re not even doing a good job, they’re better off when you’re not serving, xoxo,” the monster would squeal. 

I would put the covers over my head, let out a sigh, and continue on with my day with the jelly spreading its tentacles and bickering behind my back. 

At times, the days would lack color as I would try to battle my intrusive thoughts; while other days I would be in a hyperactive state, agreeing to all tasks on hand. Only to regret it once the Jelly Monster came back from its bathroom break. 

If there is anything my service has taught me, it is the importance of embracing your inner child and being gentle with yourself. After interacting and mentoring a plethora of kids from different demographics, the element of joy and hope is not lost on them, so why do we lose that in our daily adult lives? 

It was a long week of outreach, teaching kids with our Problem Solvers exhibit. However, the students were amazing, hilarious, and had a great time with the Pixel Pegs—just enough to launch the Jelly Monster into a deep slumber.

Why would I let anxiety consume me, let my thoughts ruminate, and let insecurity envelop me when I would not wish even a drop of that on the people around me? As a result, I found a new technique to battle the Jelly Monster: emotional regulation through reparenting my thoughts and appreciating the world around me.

These past few months, even with the struggle of mental health by my side, I try to incorporate a childlike wonder to my daily life—an appreciation for the small, tiny tidbits of joy I see. At times, noticing those small pockets of light is enough to keep the Jelly Monster at bay. I’ve also gained a new appreciation for community building and the cultures around me. Everyone here was welcoming, and now I want to live my life as a Good Neighbor and be a point of service for those who are seeking community resources or advice.

It’s always a great day to serve and take selfies! This was during our NASA Science camp during Spring Break. A wonderful time with spectacular children.

When I make my return home from service, I want to take the elements of kindness, problem solving, and resilience that I have learned throughout my term. Wherever I go, I want to build community and provide a safe space to those longing for it. With the nervousness and anxiety a return brings, I look forward to seeing how I navigate the changes in myself that I have embraced here. When the Jelly Monster makes a grand return with new powers up its sleeves, I will have my sword raised up—ready to battle and conquer.