The Elephant in the Room

For the past 18 days, I have been struggling with how to write this post.  I finally decided that it is time to buckle down and write it.  On Thursday, November 21, 2013, I arrived back in Asheville.  Peace Corps decided to medevac me to my home of record so I could get the medical help I need.  It is interesting to me that my friend and fellow PCV, Jen, has been writing about her experience being medevaced for her broken arm.  While possible, it seems to me that it is unlikely she had to worry about other people saying any of the following:  “Oh, something is really wrong with her.”  “She chooses to have a broken arm.  She just needs to decide it isn’t broken anymore.”  “She’s taking medicine for her broken arm?  Why can’t she just handle it like a normal person?”  “It’s her own fault she broke her arm.”  “She broke her arm?  So what?  She should just suck it up.”  “She should just snap out of it”  “She broke her arm because she doesn’t know Jesus.”  (That last one they wouldn’t say about her anyway, but it is something that was said to me recently, so you get the point).

I have been struggling with depression and anxiety for over a decade now.  While the stigma has decreased over that period of time, there is still an enormous amount of stigma surrounding mental illness in our country (and in others)!  Mental health diagnoses are medical diagnoses, just like having a broken arm or diabetes or cancer is a medical diagnosis.  Sometimes people break a bone and they have to go to the hospital.  Sometimes people have brain chemistry that is unbalanced and they have to go to the hospital.  Thankfully, I haven’t been admitted to a hospital for any type of medical problem, but my point is that mental health struggles are just like any other medical diagnosis, yet there is an enormous stigma around them.  If I had broken my arm or been diagnosed with diabetes, no one would think twice about the need for me to seek the proper medical care.  The Peace Corps screened me extensively and I had to fill out (or get doctors to fill out) several extra forms about my mental health.  At the time I applied, I was deemed medically cleared for service.  I started struggling with depression shortly after I arrived in country.  It took me quite a while to reach out to Peace Corps for help, but once I did they were wonderful about getting me the care I needed.  I had an unexpected reaction to a medication they switched me to, so they brought me home to get the medical help I need.

The way that medevac works with the Peace Corps is that I get 45 days to get the medical help I need.  If I can get well enough to go back to South Africa and thrive for the next two years by January 3rd, they will send me back.  If not, I will be medically separated from the Peace Corps.  

“If a Volunteer/Trainee has or develops a medical condition that Peace Corps cannot medically accommodate or resolve within forty-five (45) days, the V/T will be medically separated. This decision is made by the Office of Medical Services (OMS) in consultation with the Peace Corps Medical Officer and, if needed, appropriate medical consultants.”  


So there you have it folks.  I’m home and I’m not sure how long I will be here for, but we shall see.  I am definitely enjoying the time with friends and family, the chick fil a, my car, and my comfy bed, but I miss my host family back in South Africa.