How to Take Care of Yourself in Peace Corps

Today, I pondered what I should write to my audience, knowing full well that I had nothing in mind and that this month there were many new and beautiful additions to the Peace Corps family. Eventually, I stopped thinking so much about it, finished my day at my full-time job, and then came home. After a light dinner and a little social media play, I sat down on my couch listening to the thunder pounding outside my window. My blinds were closed, but brilliant blue flashes illuminated between the cracks of the blinds to reveal nature hard at work.

As I sat on my couch, my 9-month-old kitten, Sugar hopped up on the armrest and padded her way over to my lap. Sugar is a black Manx (has no tail) and because of her breed, and other complications, she is incontinent. She is often soiled on her back end and needs cleaning. The top half of her body always smells like a meadow but she will never clean up her own backside like most other cats. And yet, my sweet little Sugar always manages to lick my face, hands, arms, legs, and any other patch of my skin that is showing. I always thought it odd that she was so good at taking care of me and not entirely good at taking care of herself.

I sat there with Sugar’s wet butt in my lap holding her close while she drifted off into the spirit realm before having my open-eyed vision, or epiphany. I remembered reading that domestic animals are known to take on characteristics of their owners, and as I held my little kitty, I thought of how often it is I take care of people and never myself. I thought of how Sugar was a perfect reflection of who I was, how I complete more projects for other people and fewer projects for myself, and how I put other people’s time before my own time…

It was then I realized what it would take for me to heal that within myself, and perhaps within my darling furry co-pilot, Sugar. It meant letting go of the things I was doing for everyone else and focusing on the things I should do for me (things that are often placed on the furthest back burner). And that would include writing my books, selling my skills, exercising, eating well, enjoying my own personal time, enjoying the outdoors, and in general being happy and loving myself.

So How Does This Relate to Peace Corps?

You join Peace Corps with the intention of helping others, this is truer than true. But one cannot help others unless they help themselves first. Do you think people will respond to your volunteer efforts if they are more positive or more negative? More balanced or more off-center? When your plane is in crash mode, you are instructed to put your mask on first. Why? Because if you do not, you will not be able to help the person next to you. Remember this as you learn to integrate.

It is for this reason that you must first take care of yourself. Once you do that, everything else will fall into place.

In the first few months of Peace Corps, you will be asked to step outside of everything in your comfort zone in order to acclimate to your new home, your new family, your new friends, and your new lifestyle. You will be asked to try new things you otherwise wouldn’t, say yes to literally every project even if you know you don’t have time, and accept every invitation to dinner out of respect.

It is a good practice, exposing yourself to new and unfamiliar territories, but it can also be a dangerous practice if you don’t learn to set boundaries for yourself or create a balance between your personal life and your Peace Corps life. If you spend too much time taking care or worrying about the stresses happening in Peace Corps, you may forget to take care of yourself and do things for you. It’s why (I suspect) many volunteers report problems with depression, stress, and anxiety during service.

It can be really easy to spend 8 hours building a syllabus for your class only to realize you hadn’t eaten all day, or let alone moved from the spot you were sitting in. You have to play as hard as you work. Taking care of your physical, mental, and spiritual being during this special Peace Corps Journey is the ultimate positive path to greatness. Staying balanced will reap the benefits, and sometimes, we aren’t always good at doing that, let alone remembering it.

My advice to you in keeping great care of yourself, is to do the things that make your heart sing, make you feel warm inside, and create a light in you that’s impossible to resist to those among you. This could be anything! Sometimes, it’s just getting out of bed or getting out of your house and into the sunlight. It could be performing song and dance, writing, going for walks, meditation, cooking, cleaning, yoga, exercise, learning a language, playing video games, painting, shopping, or essentially anything!

Dedicating time to yourself is just as rewarding as the time you dedicate to your service. It is all about balance. When you can learn to take care of yourself first, love yourself and your life, things will really come together.