it’s new years eve so naturally I am feeling reflective.
in april, a group of volunteers and I were robbed. luckily, none of us were home at the time, but it was still a shocking experience seeing 10-15 backpacks ransacked and ripped apart on the floor. I headed into that weekend with already high levels of stress having just said goodbye to someone I love and hearing bad news from home. the robbery was the cherry on top of my impending panic attack.
it seemed clear to me in that moment that I needed to go home. whether for good or for a short period of time, that much I wasn’t sure of yet, but I needed to leave. sometimes perseverance isn’t a matter of pushing any further.
I replayed the events in my head and concluded that my mental health was suffering long before the robbery even happened. we brush on the subject of mental health during training sessions and sometimes in casual conversations, but we don’t often talk about what we do about these conditions during service.
coping strategies are obviously limited on different degrees depending on where your site it, but limited in some way for all volunteers. for example, I can’t indulge in mint ice cream or go on a run outside in my community when I’m feeling stressed. so what did I do?
I boarded my flight back to guyana with a greater focus on making changes in the things that I could control in my life and becoming more aware of what makes me feel good and what doesn’t. It was a learn as you go process, but this is how i dealt with depression and anxiety during my peace corps service.
GOODBYE COFFEE–I love coffee. the smell, the energy, the life and light it brings to people in the morning. coffee was my love language until I realized it was causing unnecessary stress in my life. I listened to a podcast from Simple Roots Radio called Is Caffeine Harming Your Hormones? (give it a listen!) and started wondering if coffee, my sweet sweet coffee, was impacting my mental health. i’ve gone cold-turkey before on a coffee detox and ended up miserable, so don’t do it. I started the process with black tea and after a couple weeks I transitioned to green tea. truthfully, neither of these options were helpful in the morning, but taking coffee out of my diet helped me get more sleep at night and I started noticing that my body was producing more energy on it’s own. which is crazy bc even with coffee, some days I didn’t want to leave my bed. It made me realize that depression isn’t just caused by trauma. You’re not just sad bc of hurt feelings. Food/drinks effects your hormone balance and your hormone balance effects your mental/emotional health too.
SHAUN T–I can’t remember where I read this or heard it, but I learned about a doctor who prescribed his/her patients with an exercise routine before considering any medicine to support their mental health. I gave it a try and committed to shaun t’s max 30 (thanks jami for sharing these videos and mutual feelings for this man). my goal wasn’t to lose weight or get those abs I’ve been wanting since 2010–those reasons weren’t enough for me anymore. my mantra became “any exercise is enough exercise” and it worked. I no longer worried about working out my hardest as long as I was making the effort to work out at all. and with it, I gained a greater acceptance for my physical limitations. it was two months of my life that I sweated in the middle of my living room and laughed and screamed at my laptop every time my arms gave out. i can’t say I get a high in life from exercise like he does, but i do have a clearer mind and more consistent moods these days thanks to those god-awful power jacks.
BREATHING–I learned more about the benefits of breathing through simple yoga and meditation at home thanks to yoga with adrienne videos. I started with her TRUE 30 DAY Yoga Journey and was completely transformed. mindfully connecting to my breath helped me understand my emotions better. I learned that none are final and that the goal is never to stop myself from feeling them. breathing in is an acceptance of what I’m feeling and breathing it out allows them to pass. I became better at liking where I am in life, whether high or low, and being kind. a strength within rose out of me.
COUNSELING–i’m not ashamed to admit that i’ve been in and out of counseling throughout my peace corps service. unfortunately, there are limitations to what peace corps can provide you in terms of supporting your mental health, but don’t hesitate to advocate yourself for this service when you need it. i’ve been through multiple incidents throughout my peace corps service and each time, i asked for counseling to help cope with PTSD. it didn’t solve all my problems, but it did help some. i’ll be the first to say peace corps is not some hippy dippy experience. some serious shit happens, but as volunteers, we can all mutually agree that our tolerance for it is abnormally above average. that being said, you always… you must… do what’s best for you.
UNPLUGGED–i was off of social for about eight months. i recognized how it shaped what I thought of myself, others, and the world. and while i still believe that it has it’s benefits, it wasn’t serving me well. i didn’t like how i branded myself and my life to be something it wasn’t. i didn’t like comparing myself to my friends and family who are getting married, having kids, traveling, eating, and doing. i didn’t like the amount of time i spent coming up with a clever caption for a photo i took a millions time just to get the right angle. it was exhausting and toxic, so I quit. though I am back from my hiatus, I do feel less concerned with the person i want people to think i am and more okay with the person i am already. i take less pictures of the things i do after learning more about the valuable art of being present. It’s made my time in guyana, my relationships, my experiences, my love for myself and others all richer without a number of likes to measure their worth.
though i think the conversation about depression and anxiety has a long way to go, it is changing and i’m incredibly thankful for it. i’m glad people are being more transparent about their story and opening spaces for others like me to share theirs.
my revelation on depression and anxiety is that the condition is caused by many things out of a person’s control–have it be genetics, changes in hormones, grief, chronic stress, abuse, or any combination of sorts. it doesn’t help to blame ourselves for something we didn’t ask for. but what we can do is recognize what we can control. things like what we eat and drink, the people we are surrounded by, the information we fill our minds with, our daily habits, and what we feel and think and say to ourselves. took me a long time to understand that things don’t get better when you wait on circumstances to change. They get better when we make the changes.
there is no perfect recipe of how to deal with depression or anxiety, whether you are a peace corps volunteer or not. these are just a handful of changes I’ve made lately in my life that have made a significant difference in my well-being. feel free to try them and let me know how they work out for you.
we’re all just a work in progress.
anyway, i’ve got less than 100 days left in peace corps.
cheers to that, everyone!!!!!!!!!!!!