Now that I have been in Suriname for six weeks, and prior to that seven weeks in the U.S., I am able to, on a daily basis, reflect on who I was before my Peace Corps journey began, who I was during my service in Ukraine, and who I have become since that time.
Before the series of events that led me to join Peace Corps, I was depressed. For years. So depressed that I was in therapy and had, off and on, taken antidepressants. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but was indicative of a deeper problem. I was fundamentally unhappy with how I was living my life. I was doing what I thought I was “supposed” to do, rather than what I wanted to do. But I was making money, which in the U.S., is the main focus. But living someone else’s idea of life was not healthy for me.
I was not rich, but I was able to pay my bills. So I continued on in the same vein, thinking that eventually I would get to the point where I was happy because I either was making enough money or in a position where I was (finally) recognized for what I can do. Then I was laid off. Twice. My identity, which had been so wrapped up in what I did (think about it – in the U.S., when we meet someone, the first thing we ask that person is “what do you do?”) that I had, somewhere along the way, lost who I was. Who I really was. I was living in an inauthentic way, and often my reactions came from a place of fear.
Imagine what happened to me when I went through an extended period of unemployment. I was completely demoralized.
My decision to do Peace Corps came after I did some self-examination, and decided that I wanted to focus on doing something good for others, rather than focusing so much on myself (as we are taught to do in the U.S.). Something interesting is that I had always thought of myself as a generous person – and I was, with my possessions and money. But I was not so generous with me – the fundamental me – the me that I did not allow people to see, for fear of getting hurt.
So is it generosity when you are willing to give everything away except yourself?
Living in a post-Soviet country for 27 months affected me – I cannot pretend it did not. I started to realize some of the effects when I returned to the U.S., and the more time I spend in a different country, the more I realize it affected me, and the more I realize I have changed. Sometimes it is interactions with other people that help me to realize just how much. I see things differently than I used to, and react differently than I used to. Things that used to bother me a lot bother me less, or don’t bother me at all. Some things bother me more, when they were put into a different light or different context.
I also realize how far I have to go to continue to change, to evolve, to be the person I want to be – at peace, generous with myself, kind, and patient. I live more in the moment (I’ve mentioned this before). I have a different perspective on things.
Trying to live as a better, kinder person does not mean I give up my strength – it is merely redefining it, and accepting others’ weaknesses more readily. It also means accepting my own areas of development.
For example, when I get to know people who are selfish. Merely saying that they are selfish is, I realize, a judgment call, but it is from observation on how they treat other people, what their motivations are – what they actually are, versus what they say they are. Do I change who I am or how I behave when interacting with these people? Maybe, maybe not. I am willing to give of myself to a certain point, but I also realize what is perhaps a weakness – I cannot just give forever – I need to receive at some point too, or I walk away from the people. It’s simply not healthy for me to give of myself so generously – Ghandi or Mother Teresa, I am not. Though I am finding more fulfillment in being generous with myself, I am not yet evolved enough to give and never receive.
But I have also come to some realizations, and will have to make some choices when my service in Suriname is complete. I would like to continue to grow after all of this, but realize that overall, our own U.S. society has much toxicity in it, and finding a way to avoid that toxicity is essential. Finding a way to live, and love, will be important because when you start down a path of self-development, and feel as if you are making progress, you don’t really want to turn back and return to who you were, and the way you lived before.
However uncertain my future, I am finally at a point where overall, I enjoy my present. Frustrations and all.