I took a little break from writing on here because, let’s be honest… Life in Peace Corps is tough. I’ve been meaning to write more on mental health and taking care of yourself, but being in the deepest of ruts, I couldn’t see myself writing anything worth the read. However, I have recovered quite a bit from what my friend and fellow PCV encapsulated perfectly on her blog, and feel that I can write something of substance.
Peace Corps is an entirely different ball game, and honestly very hard to relate to unless you’ve been through it. But, what I have come to experience and how I have been able to grow is relatable, especially to those of you reading experiencing true (young adult) hardship. Whether it is being fired from your first ‘real’ job, figuring out finances, navigating new types of relationships, facing higher education challenges—learning to adult is hard and filled with growing pains. It ain’t just Peace Corps that’s hard, babe. So is life.
I’ve never been much of a fan of the self-care stuff I’ve found on the internet. It doesn’t address coping with true depression and anxiety, and it is often just a way to distract and keep busy during times when you really should be addressing challenges you are facing. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t jam out for an hour or get your nails done to cool off before facing challenges again, but it is definitely to say that real self-care means dealing with stressors head- on… eventually. About 10 months ago, several difficult situations arose at the same time in my life, knocking me into a state of derealization, depression, and anxiety. Maybe living in a country with a Starbucks/Barnes and Noble combo store in it would’ve made me feel better, as self-care would say, but it wouldn’t fix the problems I was facing.
After a couple of months of recovering from initial shock, I realized that spending my time reading, writing, drawing, and escaping to the capital for chocolate and cheese was not going to fix my problems. While self-care things were giving me time to ‘cool off’, they weren’t addressing my problems, and by avoiding the problems, I was prolonging my mental health illnesses. Now, there are some basics to get down when starting to cope with challenges, and if you live in a developed country with an okay paycheck, there is no excuse. These basics? Stay hydrated, eat lots of veggies, exercise and go outside once in a while.
For me, these basics took a few months to master. We live in a very dry region, so sometimes there just isn’t enough water to drink, let alone shower. Timor also only produces enough food for its people to eat eight months out of the entire year, and it was a while before we were able to get more than two vegetables a week into our diet. Thankfully, we have solutions for our household that work 80% of the time, so my basics in health were now covered. Next came actually addressing the roots of the challenges I was dealing with and recovering from.
I’ve always valued my generally can-do attitude, and managing to find opportunity even if it seems like there are none. This is part of a trait we will call resilience. Basically, if you are resilient, you can bounce back from trauma, stress, and other difficulties, and are able to adapt to challenges with relative ease. I didn’t realize I was so good at bouncing back mostly because life before adulthood is pretty damn easy for most. Children and young people generally haven’t been knocked down too many times, so it hasn’t worn them out. This whole time, I thought I was Harry Potter kicking ass and traveling time in his third year at Hogwarts. All of the sudden, I’m Ron Weasley wearing one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes and going rogue out of anger and sadness. Now, I have to find a way to destroy this damn Horcrux, because it is much too heavy a weight to bear for much longer.
I’ve done some reading (though there is always more to do) on building resilience, and what resilience is made of. Generally speaking, resilient people possess confidence, a sense of purpose, a social network to rely on, and are able to adapt well (mindtools.com). Confidence is built by hard work, and can be gained through accomplishment. A sense of purpose is gained by evaluating your goals by comparing them to your personal values. It was in these two categories that I felt I was lacking, so about two months ago, I decided to tackle them using one of the best coping mechanisms out there: making goals. No frilly affirmations to inflate the ego; just pure hard work.
Back in the States, one of my favorite ways to stave off stress was to make my bedroom wall into a series of goals and different plans dependent on different decisions I could make. It always addressed the core of my stressors and came up with solutions that provided me with a sense of confidence and purpose. Don’t ask me how I forgot about this, because it is literally the most useful thing a gal can do. But I sat myself down for an afternoon and wrote down timelines and staggered goals. Being 16 months into my service, and only 10 months to go, it was easy to make goals wrapping up projects, because there was an actual deadline to work against. Here is what my wall looks like:
I’ve already accomplished all of my December goals, and am starting on my January ones. When I am feeling particularly down and stressed, I look at this wall and remind myself to hone it in and focus on the big picture. Peace Corps might be tough, but the experience helps me in my post-PC endeavors. So many days might feel so long, but I have a reason to be here, and I am actively working to accomplish something important to me. Every month is like another Horcrux down, and soon enough, the long journey will be over, until I move on to the next challenges life has to offer. After one month of this new approach, I feel myself healing even faster than before.
I hope this post helps some of you out there, and that there weren’t too many Harry Potter references. Reading those books is like, the second best coping mechanism on the planet #notbiasjustthetruth 😉 .