Peace Corps invited me to serve as a Primary Literacy Adviser in Jamaica from 2018 to 2020. The position involves helping elementary kids, namely those elementary kids that aren’t high achievers, learn how to read. I’ll be working with them one-on-one to develop not just reading comprehension but a desire to read. Or at least that’s the spiel that I was given when I applied 6 months ago. It sounds like a dream, but of course it does: it’s fucking ad copy. A salesman is a salesman regardless of that which he sells.
I don’t want to seem (much less be) caustic or irreverent. Rather, the point is I don’t want to go into the whole thing with any expectations. I especially don’t want to romanticize something that may never happened (if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my short time on this planet it’s that fantasy is pernicious). Whatever is, is.
If all goes as planned, I’ll fly from D.C. to Montego Bay on March 12. That’s a big if, though, because I still have to obtain legal and medical clearance. Legal clearance I’m not so worried about–my only brush with the law was getting popped for smoking weed by some narc RA sophomore year of college, and that incident was resolved solely through the university.
But there is a very real chance I get denied medical clearance. This is because of the various mental health diagnoses I’ve been bestowed: depression, alcohol dependency, substance abuse disorder. All by licensed medical professionals, all of which I disclosed in the medical history portion of my PC application. Additionally, the fact that I got invited to serve does not mean I’m in the clear with respect to my medical history; placement specialists, who review applications and invite/deny candidates, never see the medical history form. Shit is completely separate. And so my hirer was unaware of my mental health issues (cringe along with me at the phrase ‘mental health issues,’ please).
Despite the fact of 13 months of sobriety and despite the fact that I’m mentally healthier than I’ve ever been and despite the fact that I really truly don’t even have any spite for the facts (whatever was, was) mental health stigma is real. It’s nobody’s fault, I guess–it makes sense PC wants every volunteer to be stable and healthy so that they represent the U.S. well overseas. And I get that serving often is incredibly mentally taxing–the isolation, the loneliness, the culture shock, the fear: each of these is real. It matters that candidates be strong-willed with constitutions high enough to withstand any and all demons.
All I’m saying is this: I know my demons well. I’ve played chess with Death. And I’m ready to go to Jamaica.
I hope I get the chance.