The Mental Stress of Service

“The far darker side is the mental effects. For all intents and purposes, you will feel more alone than you have ever been, felt, or dreamt of being in your entire life. Sure, you will be a ‘member of your community,’ insofar as a 20-something foreigner with a very limited knowledge of their language and even less understanding of their cultural norms can integrate into a community which is physically and emotionally homogeneous. Let me say again: You Will Cry. You will cry, you will want to curl up in your empty bed and scream for the ‘simple’ things in life. You will want somebody to hold you, to just wrap their arms around you and pull you into them. There will be days when you feel like you are empty inside, there will be days when you feel like going nuclear and destroying anything you can get your hands on, including your neighbors, students, colleagues, and yourself.”

–Shawn (http://shawngrund.blogspot.com/2011/05/dark-side-of-peace-corps.html)

I’m starting to find that having a host family was a way to force us as volunteers into a routine.  In the week since I got my own place, my routine has broken down in a few places.  On top of that, I no longer have a reason to bottle up my emotions.  This weeks has had some of the highest highs and the lowest lows of my service thus far.  It’s hard to predict what will happen tomorrow–or this evening–and that makes everything either really entertaining or really annoying.

Like yesterday.  I had a difficult day in class and was supposed to follow it up with a second class.  As I walked to my Youth Center, however, I realized that would not be the case.  Instead, there were two armed guards at the two entrances   The governor for the region was inside, giving a speech to the educators of the regions.  I waited in an office nearby and ended up meeting with several of the educators afterwards.  Take my word for it: every day takes a severe turn from what you expected.  This is why all former volunteers tell you not to have any expectations.

The lonely part is terrifying.  I can visualize my best case scenario and worst case scenario back home….and I wouldn’t be as lonely as I am here.  I have friends nearby, yes, but my daily life is in this town.  This town where I don’t honestly understand 95% of what is being said.  Where I’m having trouble starting my work.  Where social interaction is important and it’s hard to be included if you are an outsider.  It’s all very frustrating.  In the end, I force myself to do things everyday.  Leave my apartment at least twice a day–at least one of those times should be long.  I force myself to buy something–something small so I have some interactions.

The thing is–it’s okay from there.  All you have to do is go out.  People who know you, want to talk to you.  People who don’t know you stare, and sometimes try to talk to you (in French .   But it gets you out of your head.  That’s the most important thing.  This has been a difficult week–and I think it will only get harder.  And better at the same time.  Only time will tell.

Gun Control & Mental Health

I sent my letter regarding the Connecticut shooting to ten of my elected officials.  In the hope of keeping them accountable, today I am going to let you know where each of them stand.  I will follow up on this as more details become available.

Colorado State Representative Dave Young: The only person who has responded to my letter thus far.  It was a beautiful response.  His focus is threefold: Better mental health help in Colorado; limit gun ownership for those with serious mental illnesses; close the gun show loophole.  Although he does not agree with me on banning semi-automatic weapons and extended clips, that is okay.  That needs to be done at the Federal level anyway.
Colorado State Representative Steve Humphrey [No Public Comment or Response Yet]
Colorado State Senator Scott Renfroe [No Public Comment or Response Yet]
Colorado State Senator Glenn Vaad  [No Public Comment or Response Yet]
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper: He helped put together a much needed mental health expansion in Colorado–which needs to be approved by our state congress.  He also called for closing the Gun Show Loophole.  Hickenlooper called for “a debate” to take place regarding gun control, but has yet to release any specifics.

U.S. Representative Cory Gardner [No Public Comment or Response Yet]
U.S. Representative Jared Polis: Polis has also focused on closing the gun show loophole.  He is also very outspoken about increasing mental health help in Colorado.  No word yet on Gun Control.
U.S. Senator Michael Bennet  [No Public Comment or Response Yet]
U.S. Senator Mark Udall [No Public Comment or Response Yet]
President Barack Obama: Obama has been solidly in the pro-gun column his entire presidency.  Fortunately, the events in Connecticut are forcing him to the left.  He appears to be actively pushing for an assault weapons ban.  He has also has talked at length about mental health.  For a President, however, I expect action–not just talk.

I will update this list again in a week or two.  In the meantime, i suggest you write a letter to your elected officials about what you want to see changed.

~Richard

How to Write Memories

Getting back into the swing of writing has helped me immensely.  I love these memories more than anything right now.  I am going to make a bit of a change to the Memory Challenge…although you will not notice.  I am starting to talk about private things.  Although I am okay sharing my private memories…I don’t want to share other people’s private memories.  As a result, I am now changing all names.  Unless you know me personally…and pretty well…you should not know who I am talking about.

I spent three and half hours today talking with my favorite teacher for high school.  My mind has erupted with activity from the intelligent conversation.  She also gave me a book to read.  As soon as I’m done reading Mockingjay, this will be my next challenge.  It is Stephen King’s alternative history book about the failed assassination attempt on JFK.  I can’t wait to read it.

Day Seventeen: Losing Your Mother, Again