Sunday, January 30, 2011

Why I chose to leave Peace Corps

This has the potential to be the longest blog entry on the face of the earth, but I’m going to try to do this in a fashion that will not bore or annoy you.  Let me start with an analogy.  You know when you’re in a relationship that you know isn’t going anywhere?  Yet you keep hanging on because you don’t know what you would do otherwise and you’re clinging to the hope that one day you will wake up and it will be ‘better’?  Well I’ve been clinging to that hope for about 5 months now, and I still cannot shake this overarching feeling of unhappiness.  On the surface, my life here has sounded pretty great, and I know my blog didn’t usually convey much negativity, for many reasons.  I have awesome sitemates, fabulous friends at nearby sites, great colleagues at work, and I had some really exciting projects in the works.  GLOW, and the girls in my art class have been the number one highlight of this experience for me hands down.  It also has nothing to do with Peace Corps as a body.  I had wonderful personal experiences with almost every staff member, and was supported and taken care of from day one.  And despite all those positives, on a daily basis I question whether I am supposed to be here or not, whether this is the right decision for my life right now, what I should be doing otherwise, and how much longer I can stand for my sad days to outnumber my happy ones.   While everything was right on the outside, it was not right within.
I know many people will quickly assume that my engagement made me leave, which isn’t true.  Some will still presume as such, but they are irrelevant.  Of course I would rather be waking up next to him everyday than my cat, but we are used to long distance and it was not the deciding factor in this situation.  I have tried as many methods as I can to reach a point of contentedness, making sure there were things in my daily routine that had brought me joy back home.  I would feel good for a short period of time, but then descend even further down than I was before.  For awhile I thought it was just crazed PMS (see previous post) but it became apparent that it wasn’t going away. 
Even though they both told me its ok and they totally understand, I feel as though I owe massive apologies to the VAC committee, and especially GLOW.  I deeply care about these issues and was 100% committed at the time I was brought on, but they weren’t enough to outweigh all the other factors at the end of the day.  My guilt over this piece in particular had upped my stress level to the point of anxiety attack… which is no fun.  The whole thought process and struggle with the decision began to affect my health in various ways, which led to my closest friends back home becoming concerned about my being here as well. 
I know we’re in the ‘posh corps’, I know I could be living in a mud hut or freezing my ass off somewhere.  I appreciate that.  But I still can’t manage to get happy, even though everyone keeps telling me that it will get better, and that it may be too early to make the decision.  But when you’re unhappy for that long and it is affecting your health, a change needs to take place.  So that is what I’m doing.  This decision was horrifyingly difficult for me, the most difficult decision that I have ever made…and I shed a lot of tears over it and felt like the floor was falling out from underneath me on several occasions.  And if you are disappointed, don’t worry, I have enough disappointment for everyone combined.  Bottom Line: Life is too short.  If I was told that I was going to die tomorrow, would I regret having spent my last days here? Yes.  And asking myself that question is what pushed me to finally make my decision.
This experience has definitely been life changing for me, as short as it has been in comparison to what it could have been.  I have learned an immense amount about myself, others, this culture, and even more about my personal values and what is important to me moving forward in life.  Everyone in my life has provided endless, amazing and unconditional love and support from the day I decided to apply until now, and I know it will continue, because I have incredible people in my life like that.  I know I need to look at this as a learning experience and not a failure, but that piece is really hard to swallow as well.  The more days that go by since making the decision, the relief slowly overtakes the stress.  But I feel like there are other things that I should be doing with my work and my life right now that would be bringing me much more joy, and I don’t want to waste time that could be spent doing them.
I will be forever grateful for having gone through this experience, and for all the wonderful people that I met along the way.  For now, I’m headed back to Montana to decompress on my best friend’s couch for a few weeks, and then off to Phoenix to move in with my future husband and hopefully go back to working with old people all day, as that is where my heart truly lies.  Without trying to sound like an award speech, I want to specially express gratitude to Tracy, Austin, Deb, Lidija, Lolita, Ivana T., Matt, Nadica, Christine Moore, Sofija, Monika, Amanda, Aimee, Robert, Candy and Jasminka , and of course my host family for being particularly awesome, supportive, loving, rational and overall amazing humans for the past 5 months.  I hope to have you all in my lives for many many years to come. 
Leaving Negotino was a very bittersweet moment, and I was showered with love, tears, hugs and gifts…from my counterparts and friends… even my landlord was crying.  I did not expect to have made such an emotional impact in such a short period of time.  It was very humbling, and saddened me very much to be leaving everyone.  I spent my last three days in Macedonia in Skopje, going through all the exit meetings, doctor appointments, etc. that a volunteer must go through when departing the Peace Corps.  The incredible Tracy (who will be taking loving care of Captain as well as the art class for me, for those who are wondering) came with me to help me and be with me through the day, and I will never be able to thank her enough for the difference that made.  After all of my meetings for that day, we went and wandered around Skopje, and she showed me some things that I hadn’t seen yet.  Unfortunately, I failed to have my camera on me, otherwise I would share.  Just believe me that it was interesting :)  The highlight of the day was when we went to Mother Teresa’s memorial in the center of Skopje.  At the top of the building/museum, there is a small yet beautiful dedication chapel that is constructed almost completely of glass, complemented by intricate metal working and wood carving throughout.  The ceiling is very tall, and has a massive dome patterned skylight that I’m sure makes it even more epic inside when the sun is shining.  As I sat there absorbing the love that was put into the construction of this space, my mind quieted for the first time in a very long time, so much so that I was actually able to hear the voice in my head besides my own.  I came from that room with a sense of calm and assurance that I have not had since I arrived in Macedonia, and am very comforted in my decision to depart. I know that I am doing the right thing for me at this time, and once again my path is going in a different direction that I thought it was, but I am still only partway on that path and stopping is not an option… as usual. 
With so much love and gratitude,
Emily Jo