Yuh love Jamaica, doan? Yes suh, of course.
I’ve always thought that with a greater sense of understanding, it’s easier to like a place or person. In this way, I have come to love my country of service. I talk to myself in – albeit, spotty – patwa in my head. I never get sick of watching the scenery as my taxis dash through the hills of Trelawny and St. Ann. My host mom and I go on Pinterest and subsequently go craft-crazy together (we’re currently working on some crochet projects using discarded plastic bags and old bottles, to be shared later!). Thanks to my school’s cook Miss Marcia, fried chicken has slowly crept its way to the top of my favorite foods list.
Despite all of the good, the not-so-good is also present. Stress builds up onto itself. Friends start to close service. Everything – long lines at the ATM, rude catcallers, overfull bus rides – starts to get to you. We have lows. I’d like to direct your attention back to the good ‘ol (grrsh damned) cycle of vulnerability and adjustment – or as some of us PCVs like to call it, that up and down graph that’s freakishly accurate:
I arrived in Jamaica on March 11, 2014. Well look-y here, this graph tells me that I should be feeling miserable right about now! This period of time is often referred to as the “mid-service crisis.” While everyone does go through their own emotional cycle and react to circumstances in different ways, it’s generally held that after being in-country for a year, PCVs come to terms with the fact that two years really isn’t that long; the clock keeps running!
I asked volunteers in Jamaica to share with me their tried-and-true methods for getting through the emotional lows that come with service. Here you have it folks, hot tips fresh from the field:
Milestones: Whether you’re looking forward to mid-service conference (IST), the arrival of the next group of PCVs, or just the next school holiday (Easter break wut wut), looking forward to shorter-term milestones can help you to keep sight of what’s on the horizon and keep you from worrying about all of the uncharted territory ahead.
Revisit de-stressors: Hobbies are amazing. Exercise, reading, watching movies, playing games, learning a new craft, anything that takes your mind off of stress and allows you to feel productive will help!
Talk to other PCVs: Because you’re human, venting feels really good and is necessary from time to time. Talking with other people who are going through a similar situation (helloooo gov’t issued friends!) can be extraordinarily comforting. So vent away, my fellow humans!
Play with your dog/cat/friend’s baby/children in the street: Don’t underestimate the power of playtime; positive interactions with small children or animals can really help you to take your mind off of whatever is irking you. Take pleasure in the simple things and the rest will fade away for a while.
Be of service to others: This one might feel like a given, but it’s easy to lose track of what exactly it is we’re doing here (especially because it’s never really all that clear…). So go ahead, help your host mom post photos to her Facebook; help your host sister with her homework; talk to the lonely elderly man while you both wait pon a taxi. Help someone in some way and I guarantee that you’ll feel emotionally lifted.
Journaling: Consistency isn’t one of those things you can generally count on in service. Journaling can help you to find a constant, even when it feels like everything else lets yuh down. Vent, process anger, transcribe all of your sadness, and write about all of the good things.
Reflect in gratitude: Gratitude is the antidote to anger. I like to end each day by writing down 5 things that happened that I feel grateful for. It’s helpful to fall asleep thinking about something positive because I tend to wake up the next day with a more positive outlook.
Plan a trip: Being so close to the USA, PC/Jamaica volunteers tend to stockpile their vacation days for visits to the home country. That being said, taking a couple of days out to treat yo’self for an in-country vacation is a really fantastic way to rejuvenate your spirit. So go ahead and plan that Blue Mountains hiking trip, stay at that fancy all-inclusive, or just head to Kingston and feel invisible for a while.
Be silly: Laughter isn’t just good for escaping awkward cultural misunderstandings. It can also help to boost your spirits during that year-mark-funk! Be completely ridiculous. Have a solo dance party in your bedroom. Watch every comedy on your external hard drive. Make a totally stupid video with your friends just because it’s Saturday night and it’s the end of the month and you don’t have any money left.
Practice Self-Validation: You might have had grand plans for what you’d accomplish during your service. Those plans don’t always pan out in the way you’d planned (ok…almost never). Look back at your notes, journals, pictures and reflect on how much you have accomplished. It’s not all about Goal 1; think about how much you’ve learned about the culture, how many friends you’ve made. All of the little things really do add up and amount to a lot. Focus on what you have done and what you still hope to do. You’ve only failed if you’ve failed to try. And other clichés. You’re amazing.
“A bottle of wine and the fetal position. (kidding! mostly.)” Ok, I’m certainly not suggesting that you drink away your sorrows (unhealthy coping strategy!), but sometimes, it’s really nice to take a day to relax or allow yourself to really feel all of those feelings.
And here are a few great tips from the friendly folks over at TED:
Practice emotional first aid: Much in the way that we practice first aid for our physical injuries, Dr. Guy Winch encourages us to treat our emotional wounds. Check out his tips here and stay proactive with your personal mental health check-ins.
Seek intellectually stimulating content: When you live in a rural area of a developing country (especially if you’re still learning the language!), it can be tough to find someone to talk to about the things that interest you. Listen to TED talks, podcasts, your stateside-local NPR station, whatever sparks your interest. Check out these TED talks for help getting through a rough patch.
Reinvest yourself in your service. Find solace in your friendships with host country nationals. Have lunch with your counterpart and make a rule to not talk about anything work-related. Your energy will come back, the weirdness will soon be gone, and you can skip your merry way into year 2 of your service! Hush, yuh soon feel better mon. Nuh worry yuh head top.