Mental Health

I want to focus on something that can be a little bit hard to talk about sometimes but is something that has been important to me during my service.

Now that I am coming to the end of my service, I’m doing a lot of reflection on my time here. It has been an incredible adventure, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t come with a fair share of challenges as well.

When I left for Peace Corps, it was the first big step away from my family and my people. I went to college in Spokane, which is on the other side of the state, but was also only a 4-hour drive away from home. Besides being at least two trains and two planes away from home, Ukraine is a 14-hour time difference from Seattle, which makes communication a challenge.

That was one of the most challenging aspects of leaving for my service. I have a tribe of people at home. They’ve started to spread out since I’ve been here and we’re not in college anymore, but they supported me leading up to my service and they check in occasionally since I’ve been here.

That being said, during my Peace Corps service, I have had some of the most isolating periods in my life.

Training was difficult just because everything is so new and overwhelming. They kept us incredibly busy during training with language classes, teaching practice lessons, culture training and English clubs. We were with a cluster and many other volunteers, so there were plenty of people that understood what I was going through.

I moved to site and adjusted quickly to a new pace, a much slower pace, and got to know my students, my host family and got into a routine with working out, eating way too much (thank you to my host mom), and making sure to keep in touch with friends and family back home.

The hardest and lowest time of my service, came last fall. I thought Seattle had prepared me for the many days of grey, but I had the hardest time transitioning to a healthy routine in the fall. I was living by myself for the first time (IN MY LIFE!), which has been an adventure in itself, but I struggled finding a new routine. I would go to school, have lessons and English club and the sun would be setting as I walked home and that was rough. I couldn’t run, which was a major struggle for me.

I also hit this point where I realized I was more than halfway through my service and realizing I had a limited time to be able to do all of the things I wanted to do. Peace Corps has a term for this, they call it the “mid-service slump,” but it was something that hit me particularly hard.

I was worried I hadn’t done enough for my community and that I wouldn’t have time to make an impact. I was worried that I wasn’t integrating or fitting in in my village. All of these things and I had a constant knot in my stomach. I reached out to a few friends and my parents and they encouraged me to reach out to Peace Corps. I was super intimidated by that prospect.

Peace corps had informed us that we were able to have counseling, but I had no idea where to even start with the prospect. I asked a friend who told me they had done it and they told me to start with an email to PCMO, which stands for Peace Corps Medical Office. They sent me a questionnaire asking about my feelings and thoughts. I filled it out and waited. They called me and let me know that I would be able to schedule a counseling appointment. The counselor was in Thailand and we talked on the phone.

I was very nervous for my first appointment, but it went very well. We just talked about my service and what I was feeling and tried to figure out where my feelings were coming from. I mentioned that I felt this insane level of anxiety over the lunch line at school. The cost is different each day and I try to have exact change, but I never knew what the price would be and I would literally dread going to lunch to deal with it. We unpacked that a little and I realized it came from a place of being worried I wasn’t integrating into my village, even though it was clear they were more than happy to be there.

I knew it would be hard for me to just talk to a stranger on the phone, so I would color in a coloring book a friend gave me while we talked. It gave me a place to jot down notes and kept my hands busy.

I learned a lot about myself through these sessions. We worked together to figure out some methods for me to be able to deal with some of my anxiety on my own. Some things included: writing things down, planning for things. I was working on my grant at the time and a lot of things felt out of my control, but I can plan when I’m going to work on things and stick to that with my students and counterparts.

I’ve also started to do something called morning pages. We have a limited number of sessions and I knew I was doing better, but it was my responsibility to maintain my mental health. In a pinterest browsing session, I stumbled on to morning pages and it piqued my interest.

Basically, morning pages are this thing where you wake up in the morning, get some tea or coffee and breakfast and the first thing you do is write three full pages, stream of consciousness, whatever you want, but not about your dreams. For me, it’s been a place where I can take note of things that are making me anxious or upset, acknowledge and respect that those feelings are valid, but I don’t have to carry them with me all day like I was before. I’ve also turned in to a bit of a morning person because of this and I regularly get up at 6:30, long before I have to get ready for school, to drink some tea, eat breakfast and get my pages done.

One of the most important things I’ve learned during my service is how to listen to myself. I think it has a lot to do with living in a village, by myself, without any English speakers. I have become far more attuned to my body, my brain and my heart. That is a skill I will be taking forward as I finish this journey.

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