Mid-Service Slump

It’s dark.

Warm under the covers, 

but the cold air of my room fills my lungs.

My limbs are bags of sand that I couldn’t possibly move.

What am I missing out on back at home?

I miss human connection.

Don’t open your eyes.

Why am I here?

I miss my me time.

Don’t open your eyes.

Okay, tomorrow I’ll get my work done.

Wow I miss my mom. 

Don’t open your eyes.

There’s a soft voice coming from somewhere.

That’s a nice accent.

“ ‘but yeh must know about yer mum and dad,’ he said, ‘I mean, they’re famous. You’re famous.’ ”

What is this? Am I asleep?

Don’t open your eyes.

“ ‘Yeh don’ know . . . yeh don’ know . . .’ Hagrid ran his fingers through his hair . . . ”

Ahh. It’s just the audio book. 

How long has it been playing?

Don’t open your eyes.

What do I need to get done tomorrow?

How can I be productive?

Don’t open your eyes.

When was the last time I talked to the girls?

I’ll text them tomorrow.

Don’t open your eyes.

When was the last time I talked to my parents?

I’ll text them tomorrow.

Don’t open your eyes.

When was the last time I really talked to anyone?

I’ll talk to people tomorrow.

Don’t open your eyes.

I hope they don’t ask me how I’m doing.

What would I say?

Don’t open your eyes.

I’ll do something for me tomorrow.

I’ll work out. Or read. Or walk after work.

Don’t open your eyes.

Maybe I’ll just get out of bed tomorrow.

Yeah, that will be my goal for the day.

Don’t open your eyes.

Damn it. I have to look.

The light from the screen burns.

4:17am

Almost an hour. Well, that’s more sleep than I got last night. 

Mid September is when I started to notice my sleeping patterns change. I couldn’t fall asleep. I couldn’t stay asleep. Audio books slowly stopped helping.

You see, the mid service slump doesn’t just hit you all at once. It creeps up on you gradually when you’re oh so unaware. 

They warned us about this though, The Peace Corps. We had trainings dedicated to mental health, and statistics to show that on average, Peace Corps Volunteers experience the lowest mental heath rates right around the middle of their service – hence the name mid service slump. 

Perhaps it hits a lot of volunteers around mid service because after a year, those rose colored glasses are beginning to look much more clear. You’re well out of the honeymoon phase, and you start to question if you’ve done anything truly impactful in the past year. Homesickness hits you, and then the reality that you still have half of your service ahead of you sinks in. Life hits you on top of it, and you’re torn between two worlds – your world back home and your world here.

No matter what the reason, the slump hits. We are well prepared for it. We had trainings.

My dad visited for 12 days at the end of August. It was an amazing trip. I made him drive us around all of Macedonia, and we got to go to Greece and dive together. The trip felt normal. It didn’t feel like dad was going to go 5,000 miles back home at the end and I wouldn’t see him again for another year and a half. It felt like I was visiting from university; we were going on a trip together. I’d see him next week, or next month, or at least for the next big holiday.

Him leaving sucked.

Peace Corps is hard. You’re away from your family and friends for over two years, and your contact really is minimal. I’m fortunate because I’m serving in a country with good access to wifi, so I get to communicate with home more than other volunteers around the world. It’s exhausting though, trying to keep up with people from back home. So you pick and choose, and then you end up not talking to your best friend for months… I promise I still love you.

By late September my sleeping patterns were non existent.

I started to isolate myself. I do that sometimes. I was trying to conceptualize the feelings in my head. I could fix them on my own. I didn’t want anyone to ask me what was wrong. I didn’t want to try to explain because I didn’t know how. I didn’t have the words.

Shortly after my dad went home, one of my best friends I had made here, another volunteer, had to go home for medical reasons and would not be returning to country. He was someone I talked to every day here. Having people who you connect with, and share this weird thing called Peace Corps with, is kind of magical. Not everyone understands. We were close and I didn’t know when, or if, I would get to see him again. I felt selfish for feeling sad that he went home. It was out of his control; he didn’t want to go home. So, I was hurting for him too.

Him leaving sucked.

Peace Corps is hard. You’re isolated, but you’re never alone. The feeling of lacking human connection is sometimes overwhelming. I think it hits because although I’m rarely alone, I’m also rarely with people who I can be completely candid with. I can only give my host mom and people in my community so much of my thoughts. Mainly because of language barrier, but also there’s just this underlying feeling of having to always be happy… always having to be OK… in the back of my head. If I spend too much time in my room, they will think I’m sad. If they think I’m sad, they will think they’ve done something wrong. How can I explain what I’m feeling in Macedonian when I can’t even do it in English?

I’m so lonely I just want to be alone.

Early October hit me like a brick.

A childhood friend of mine died. He was someone I had lost contact with. We ran in different circles towards the end of high school, and I just hadn’t kept in touch. I had reconnected with another childhood friend in September who was still really close with him. I had FaceTimed the two of them just days before he died. That was the first time we had talked in years, but it felt like we were still just as close. Like we were kids. He was like that. He had so much love in him. He always made people feel like they were important to him. I didn’t know how to feel. It all felt surreal. Me being here… having just talked to him… then him dying… I was sad, but mostly I was hurting for his family. For his close friends.

Him being gone was heartbreaking.

All of October hit me like a rock.

*New message from Momma* Call me

When was the last time I called my mom?

That letter she wrote me…

When was that?

Where was that?

Crap… Why couldn’t I remember to at least talk to my parents?

Peace Corps is hard. Being away from family is hard. Things happening in the family while I’m so far away have been terribly difficult. I don’t know exactly how to cope with it. I feel one step removed, but I’m still terrified. Still sad. Still worried. I feel selfish for not being at home to help, but I know if I was at home there would be nothing I could do to help. I’m right where I’m supposed to be – that is what I keep telling myself.

In late October, I started talking to people about my ~feelings. One hour of sleep became two. Two became three. Three became four or five here or there.

Peace Corps is hard, but the support I have here is amazing. I’ve been blessed with medical staff who support me and friends here who have taken my burdens and put them on their shoulders — letting me vent, forcing me out of isolation, and checking on me as life goes on. They get it. Even if they aren’t experiencing exactly what I am, they get it. They understand the weird mix of homesickness, isolation, confusion, and culture shock that is a part of Peace Corps .

It’s baby steps getting out of the mid service slump, but I did it. To anyone who is there right now, you can do it too.

I’m doing better now.

Tomorrow I will do something for me.

I will work out, and read, and walk after work.

Tonight I will sleep.