Peace Corps Mood Swings

4 Aug

I believe I’m right about where I should be. Wait, let me check…yup, feeling low. Today was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for a no good, no apparent reason. The sun was shining, and it’s wasn’t nearly as wearyingly hot as it is most days. That was a definite plus.

During pre-service training, Peace Corps gave us a handy visual that charts the mental and emotional ups and downs we would face throughout our Peace Corps service. I’m no Dr. Leo (the staff doctor here), but I’d venture to say that our mental and emotional health is just as important as avoiding malaria or some other physical ailment induced by a nipping mosquito. During training we talked about these various phases of adjustment and that we should anticipate this.

This is a handout provided by the Peace Corps illustrating the craziness of our lives.

Apparently, this is the case no matter which country you serve in. There are waves of excitement, fulfillment, discovery and joy, spotted with times of extreme loneliness, sadness, irritation, frustration, etc. We were also provided with a more detailed version. So far they are all pretty spot on.  Sometimes I can’t tell if the low points feel so low because the high points are so high or vice versa.

For instance, the other day I was giddy after introducing my host family to the joy that is eating a chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven atop a small mound of ice cream. Absolutely giddy, I tell you. I felt like a proud parent watching their child’s first steps as they took their first bites. I tried to imagine what is must be like to never have experienced this, and I was glad I could share that tiny morsel (pun fully intended) of American culture with them. It was an amazing moment. And now here I am four days later, succumbing to the peer pressure’s of our good friend Negative Nancy.

Now I don’t mean to alarm anyone who may be reading this…family, friends, Peace Corps applicants, fellow PCs, staff, etc. Most days I’m generally happy here. This is where I want to be and what I want to be doing. So I grin and bear my way through the small frustrations and annoyances. I laugh at myself along with everyone else (see last post ). This isn’t the first time I’ve felt down, and it won’t be the last. Typically, I try and avoid any negativity in my posts. But then again, this is all part of the “Peace Corps experience,” and it shouldn’t be omitted.

I call all of this Peace Corps Mood Swings. Though,  I have no authority, I’m going to go ahead and deem this as a medical condition. It shall thus forth (in this blog post) be referred to as PCMS.  In case you are unaware of the severity of PCMS, then by all means, let me educate you:

PCMS is a serious but treatable condition and includes the following symptoms: extreme cheerfulness, irritability, increased energy, lethargy and generally wavering between extremes in moods. The onset of PCMS is subtle and is oftentimes preceded by DPCMS (Daily Peace Corps Mood Swings.) While it may not be entirely preventable, regular exercise, rest, and a healthy diet can lessen the effects of PCMS.  If you haven’t been prescribed it, talk to someone about getting a good attitude. Positivity is said to also greatly reduce the effects of PCMS.
When seeking treatment for PCMS, results may vary. Putting forth a consistent effort greatly reduces the chances of relapse.  If left untreated it could lead to ET, also known as Early Termination. The chart below suggests the typical course of treatment and recovery of those suffering from PCMS.

This is another chart provided by Peace Corps that shows more ups and downs over the course of service as well as when people typically Early Terminate, or go home before finishing their service. Areas shaded in Green = higher levels of anxiety; Black = periods of greater depression; Red = frustration and anger.

It should be noted that DPCMS is a less severe condition with many of the same symptoms but encountered during a shorter duration. Mood swings and temperament will waver throughout A 24-hour period. To treat DPCMS go to your local Indomart or neighborhood kios  (store) and indulge in ice cream and/or cookies which have been known to relieve the symptoms of DCPMS.

Transition times have always been tough for me and met with resistance. I cried after attending my jr. high school orientation because I wanted to stay in grade school forever. (Who doesn’t?  I miss painting with my fingers and mommy calling it a masterpiece.) High school was, well, high school. College was scary at first, but ultimately liberating and really fun. Then there was a brief period of limbo known as post-graduation life in which I pretended I was still in college  while waiting to leave for the Peace Corps. And now here I am, going through another life transition sans the comforts of home, like my wonderful, wonderful bed.

I once heard, there’s beauty in breakdown…hey isn’t there a song about that?  And according to my guilty pleasure, Psychology Today,  big breakdowns lead to big breakthroughs.

I know I’m not the only one having breakdowns and breakthroughs. My fellow volunteers are having revelations on a daily basis. Then there’s my friends back home who are also transitioning from college and facing the big, bad real world. I take comfort and look forward to the breakthroughs that will inevitably come and the days when I’ll look back and wish I was positioned exactly where I am now.

Bonus Material to this, probably my longest, post:

Here’s a few posts from a few friends and fellow volunteers, giving some reflections on experiences so far…they pretty adequately dsecribe a lot of the same things I’m feeling:

Also during training we were introduced to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. It looks at a variety of stressing factors a person can go through within a year and rates them with the higher the number being, the more stressful the factor. The scale shows how likely a person is to be in danger of developing a mental ailment. The directions are self-explanatory on the scale but I’ll reiterate: to see where you fall on the scale multiply the number of times in the past year you have dealt with one of these life changes and multiply it by the rating given by Holmes and Rahe. Add everything up and If your total adds up to more than a 150 you have a 50-50 chance or higher of developing a mental illness or having some kind of “blow up.”

  • Interestingly enough, a typical Peace Corps volunteer will encounter changes in social activity, family gatherings, line of work, residence, school and work responsibilities, living conditions, personal habits etc. which clearly sends them over the 150 mark.
  • Also interesting, per Peace Corps staff via training materials “Depression, stress and anxiety are the third most common reason for visits to the PCMO; 70% of office visits have a psychosomatic complaint.” Awesome.

6 Responses to “Peace Corps Mood Swings”

  1. Cody Snow August 4, 2011 at 11:11 pm #

    I really like this entry, Nicole :)

  2. Keith Ritchie August 4, 2011 at 11:51 pm #

    Hay you…sorry to hear about your funk however great to read that you have some information that can help you through this hard time. I am sure with the support of fellow team members you will make it…and the fact that you still know that you are in the right place for now is good as well.
    Thanks for the insight and know you have the support of caring friends thinking of you. Hang in ther!

  3. Bgansar August 5, 2011 at 4:12 am #

    Just wanted to pop in and say hello! I move to Brooklyn next week and I am sure to be going through the same ups and downs that most people experience during big changes. Keep your beautiful smile on and remember we are all still here facing the big ugly adult world that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon, so stay where you are and keep making a change. love you!!

  4. nickmacchiaroli August 11, 2011 at 5:37 am #

    aww stick with it Cole…


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