Going Easy On Yourself During Peace Corps Service

Peace Corps is a challenge every day. It was just this last Saturday that my world came falling down with just the smallest little trigger.

You know, Peace Corps China isn’t always a perfect little scenario. Just like anywhere in the world, you have your good days and bad days. Fortunately for me, this last leg of Peace Corps has been a dream.

I’m always meeting new people here. People who just met me have not seen to the extent I have changed and to what degree I climbed and conquered the massive mountain of garbage I had created for myself in past months and past years.

  • They don’t know I learned Chinese in a little over a year.
  • They don’t know I lost 52 pounds in a little over a year.
  • They didn’t know that I had been on the verge of quitting several times.
  • They didn’t see me mature from a whiny, complaining, little girl I was into the confident, driven woman I am now.

That is all ok. Scouts honor. But as I continue to grow, I am met with people who have no knowledge of me, who I was, and who I am now, so they make very quick judgments. Things like: “you’re a little fat,” or “your Chinese is just ok, but don’t worry, I’ll teach you.”

I was practicing Chinese Kungfu with a young coach at my gym a few days before Saturday, sweating my butt off, and while I was taking a break, he bluntly admitted that my Chinese was very broken and strange.

With Chinese, I went from zero to studying for the 4th hardest Chinese proficiency test in just 18 months. I speak, write and read Chinese every single day, however broken or imperfect it is. That’s effing incredible and I have Peace Corps to thank. Regardless, there are still days that I struggle to communicate and be fully understood. Things get lost in translation a lot. And there are days when the thought of communicating with another Chinese person excites an extreme level of anxiety in me. It gets very tiring at times.

After the boxing, I went home feeling like the things I had been doing wasn’t up to par. On top of that, I was teaching, on average, 3 classes a day, exercising like crazy, putting so much energy into the things I want to accomplish in the next months, planning for my future after Peace Corps. You get the picture.

The few days after the boxing coach told me this, all of the Chongqing volunteers had to meet up at a hotel in Chongqing to get a mandatory flu shot.

I wasn’t thrilled of course. Having grown up in a holistic household and practiced holism even after I left my parents’ house, I was incredibly against western medicine, but I sacrificed the honoring of my own vessel for the sake of traveling across the world to make this 2-year commitment.

I arrived at the hotel very early, hoping to see some of my favorite people. I wanted to invite everyone to have breakfast at the only place I knew of that served Western style breakfast.

When I found the hotel room everyone was getting shot up in, there were already a few people there. I sat down after a new volunteer had finished getting stuck and then started making jokes.

“Shots are my favorite,” I said very sarcastically. The Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO) smiled and responded.
“Well, that’s wonderful to hear.” She said. Then I looked at her very seriously again.

“I’m not being serious.” She frowned as she pulled on a different pair of rubber gloves. “I haven’t had a shot since I was 5 years old until I joined Peace Corps.” The two PCMOs jerk their heads to look at me.

“You’re not serious.” Said the man.

“Yeah. Never had the flu, strep, mono, nothing.” Their jaws dropped. The lady PCMO pulled out a small syringe equipped with the toxins about to infiltrate my healthy immune system.

“That’s incredible.” Then another word wasn’t said. I sat in the chair, looking away from the syringe in an attempt to not give it any energy. Another volunteer, Carl, stood in the room waiting and offered to hold my hand as I anticipated the shot.

When she stuck me, I felt the chemicals swirl around the inside of my left arm like a cold parasitic alien trying to possess me. Why couldn’t they just let those who don’t want shots sign a damn waiver? I would rather sign a waiver than go through this crap.

I met up with a few of the other volunteers afterward and they agreed to eat breakfast with us. Amongst them were Damien and Cameron. We were all in the same training center together and had remained fairly close in the last two years. These two men were my big brothers and anytime we are in close vicinity, we are constantly hugging each other tightly like a family would.

After breakfast, I said goodbye to my Peace Corps family and made my way home. I felt this little bit of emptiness in me, the kind you feel when you leave the comfort of someone you really love. You know you will be back, but you enjoyed the company so much, being without them just kind of stings? It is like that.

I went back home, feeling the language struggles, the shot, the separation. I decided to go to the one place that had never failed to make me feel better. The gym.

I arrived there fully clothed planning to change into my gym clothes. I saw Sam and my friend Grey hanging out. The gym was completely empty, it being Saturday and all.

I went into the locker room, changed and was about to throw my hair into a ponytail when I noticed someone had left their credit card on the counter. Realizing that this person would probably panic at some point, I ran to the front lobby, shoeless, to hand in the card.

When I got there, I looked to hand it to the young girl at the front desk, but she couldn’t seem to understand why I was handing her the card. So I turned to Sam. He also didn’t understand what I was looking to do.

“It’s not my card,” I said.

“Whatever. Just give me.” He said. I just suddenly felt irritated. I shoved the card in his hand and then made my way back to the gym to put my shoes on. When I sat down, Grey approached me to chat, but he kept a distance, feeling that my mood was a little shaky.

I must’ve been staring off into the distance while I was putting my shoes on, because when I looked up, Grey was studying me. He waited a few seconds and then asked me what was wrong. I just shook my head and said nothing. Then Sam came over.

“Why are you always mad at me?” He said. Then the emotions hit. I wasn’t mad at him at all.

“I’m not mad at you.” Then I burst into tears, quickly leaving to the VIP room.

The VIP room had huge windows that overlooked the square below. I stared outside at the bright gray day and watch the people walk around, crying until I felt I was finished. When I walked back out, Sam approached me again, this time pinning me to the wall with his big arms.

“What’s wrong with you? Do you miss your home?” He said laughing. I just cried again and he pulled me into a half hug and told me it would all be ok. He then pushed me off, ordering me to start my work out.

That day, I didn’t work out. I went home. Then for the next three days, I went on a food binge, I didn’t go to the gym for four days, and I spent time at home sleeping and being lazy. I had been pushing myself for so long, holding in all emotion, trying so damn hard to be strong, that I forgot to honor that I am a human. I needed rest. So I took it.
Then a few days later I had a talk with my father about what would be next for me in my life.

Then things came back into perspective and into balance

It’s not healthy, to hold things in, to spend time worrying. It’s easy to get caught up in those things when you don’t have a good outlet, especially when you are so far from everything you used to help you cope with normal things and if you don’t shift to something different if you stay in the place, it gets worse. I did a little bit of grieving and resting as I tried to find balance, but not for too long.

I got back up, went back to the gym, started eating healthy, writing, studying hard, working hard with my kids, and making positive decisions and thoughts in relation to my future.

If you don’t make a difference in your life, you can’t make a difference in others’ lives. Go easy on yourself. You are divine, worthy, and incredible. All struggles are temporary if you choose for them to be.