Coming up in the next few weeks on this blog: all of the trainings I’ve had this year (which will probably be posted at the beginning of June, as I have another training at the end of May), the grieving process and how it’s been different than the last time I experienced a death, and the details of when I had two friends come (on separate occasions).
Two weeks ago, I had a friend visit. This is my second friend who has come to visit, and it was a lot of fun, but that is not what this entry is about. One of the main topics of conversation throughout the week and a half that my friend and I spent together had to do with Facebook and how we, as people, present ourselves to the world through our various forms of social media. We both agreed on one thing: people try to make their lives look shiny and enviable on the internet, always posting the good things and leaving out the bad. Personally, I try not to do that, but everyone does it to an extent, even if we don’t try to.
What does that have to do with this blog post? Everything. I’m about to get extremely honest right now, and it’s not pretty.
Being in the Peace Corps is HARD… It has moments that are terrifying, life-changing (for the worse), exhausting, and hurtful. It is filled with experiences that are hard to relate to anyone who isn’t a fellow PCV. It is tiring. It changes you, mentally and physically, sometimes for the worse. Your English starts getting worse, and if you binge on TV rather than books, you could have trouble concentrating when trying to get back into reading. You have to speak in a language that you just learned with enough fluency to get your needs met, day in and day out. Sometimes, you want to stay in your room and not speak to people, but you need sustenance. Depending on your country, your physical needs may not be met at all (think hugs/cuddles/etc), and your emotional needs can only be met by telephone, because learning how to express emotion appropriately in a completely different culture takes more than just a few months, and if you are more than a bike ride away from a fellow volunteer, it can be weeks before you can accurately express everything you are feeling in person to another person who will actually understand what you are saying.
On the job front, weeks can go by where you feel like you are not accomplishing anything at your site. Some days may feel like a success, and then you want to review what you thought was successful, only to find that nobody remembers. It is hard to motivate people. You can learn everything about Behavior Change Communication and still be unable to get people to listen. You want to help but you feel helpless yourself.
Sometimes, things happen suddenly that can completely change or destroy your service. At home, a family member may fall extremely ill or may pass away suddenly. At site, a host country national that you are close to may suffer a similar fate. You could get hit by a moving vehicle and have a serious enough injury to be sent home. You could be assaulted and decide that you no longer feel safe in country. Your body could decide that it just cannot handle something in country, and go berserk on you until you have to leave. Your brain could do the same.
You could want this with every fiber of your being, and still want to ET. Peace Corps loves acronyms… ET stands for Early Termination. There is no judgment in ET-ing; sometimes, what you thought you wanted just ends up being completely wrong for you in practice. We recently had a K7 ET. But this isn’t about that person, this is about me.
For the past month, I have gone through moments where I am seriously ready to pack up and go home. I miss my family. I miss the way things used to be at my site before my host mom passed away. I feel lonely and dissatisfied, and I find myself with some really not awesome thoughts that I haven’t had in a really, really long time, and that scares me. That’s the big stuff.
And then there’s the little stuff: I miss refrigeration, air conditioning, “modern” amenities. I’ve lived without them fine for the past 9 months, but when you are down, all you want is a little comfort from home. I miss 7-11s and Starbucks and Trader Joe’s. I miss cheese and fresh salad whenever I want. I miss being able to drive. I miss speaking English and not having to rephrase things until people understand what I am trying to say. I miss being in control of my life…
I knew becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer would be hard. It took me two years to get my invite and, if you know my personality, you know I’m the kind of person who researches everything about what I want to do. I read histories of the Peace Corps, books by RPCVs, blogs by current PCVs. I kept up with any and all news having to do with PC: deaths, rape statistics, current legislation (this included keeping an eye on what was happening with the Kate Puzey Act). Everyone says that it is hard. Heck, during training, we were given a rough graph on what our emotions would be like during service and told that “the highs will be the highest, but the lows will be the lowest.” Truer words were never spoken.
I have had some pretty ridiculously low points in my relatively short life, but nothing, NOTHING, compares to the lows you feel when you feel low in Peace Corps. Luckily, I am surrounded by amazing, wonderful fellow PCVs who are on the ride with me and we have been so supportive on the days were I’m 2 seconds away from saying “F- it” and going home.
I know I would absolutely hate myself if I voluntarily went home from service early. But some days, it just seems so easy. It’s a strangely comforting thing to be able to think to myself that I could be on a plane home in less than a week if this gets too hard. That I could never have to speak another word of Khmer. That I can escape the staring, the comments on my body and skin color, the 30 people crammed into an 11-person van, the constant price-jacking because of what I look like. That I would never again have to deal with the torrential downpours, the heat, the mosquitos.
I want to end this on a high note but I want to stay true to my feelings right now, so here are two tips I’ve heard on getting through the rough times if you are a current or future PCV:
1) Think to yourself: what would I be doing if I was at home? And not just the good stuff… what job would you be doing? Would you be going to school? Where would you live and with whom? If you are seriously considering leaving, start to set these things up. By the time you finish, you might find your funk has finished as well. (My note on this: I’m a control freak, so it calms me down to feel like I’ve regained control, even if it is just a little control. When I’m feeling ready to ET, I browse LinkedIn on my phone. I can’t tell you why, but it is comforting to look at all the jobs and realize nothing is going to have the impact I hope to have by the end of my service.)
2) The One Week Rule. If you find yourself in a constant funk, try this: Count each day as it goes by. If nothing makes you happy or nothing gives you even the smallest smile, that day becomes 1. If it happens the next day, that day becomes 2. And so on… If you make it to 7, then perhaps ET-ing will be good for your mental health. BUT, if even one thing makes you crack a smile, something as small as a child that smiles at you that causes you to smile back, then that day becomes 0 and you have to start all over again. Eventually, you’ll find you can’t even make it one day without finding something good that happened.
Have any other tips? Leave them in the comments!