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.

11 thoughts on “The Elephant in the Room”

  1. Thanks for sharing. You are very brave to explain everything to the world. I know Tsimanyane misses you! I’ll be thinking of you!

  2. Catherine, I want you to know that I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts and living your adventures through them. I look forward to them! It’s hard to ignore ignorance when it’s right in your face and I’m sorry you or anyone has to deal with it. But, I believe God uses the strong (you) to help the weak (ignorant) knowing we can withstand the hurt they cause us. Hold your head up, keep smiling and know that you are a perfect image of God. See these obstacles called depression & anxiety for what they are, tools to help you to learn & achieve things you did not know was needed in order to reach a goal that only God knows. For one day, you may see how they fit perfectly into your life. I’m a firm believer things happen for a reason and there are no coincidences. You had to come home for a reason you may not realize for years to come; this to me, was the way to get you home. I know good things are going to happen for you, because of you! Enjoy your time home and know I’m praying for you!! I look forward to your future posts!

  3. You are in my thoughts and prayers as you go through this very real struggle. Many of us know Christians and non Christian who struggle with mental illness which is just as debilitating as any physical disease. Through it all I pray that you can find healing, rest and peace as you enjoy this time with your family. Take one day at a time!

  4. I’m SO proud of you for having the courage to write this, and more importantly, to make the right choices for yourself. So many people in this world go through what your going through but never find the courage to deal with it like they should. Not sure if I ever told you this, but I had to leave college my first semester for the same reason. It ended up being a battle I fought over the next half decade as I struggled to find the right balance in life. Some people can fix it in a month, some take a few years or even decades, but everyone who’s been through it will say facing it and learning how to make yourself stronger against it is the best decision you can ever make in life. I remember wishing I had a “real” disease or injury, something physical that wasn’t my “fault” (as if mental illness isn’t real or is anyone’s fault). I remember wishing it were like other conditions, where you can take a pill or put a cast on it and it will heal itself in time. Now that I’ve been through it I’m honestly glad I did as strange as that is to say. Yes, it sucked when I was going through it and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but the things I learned and gained for myself during that time are invaluable. I know if I had just had a purely physical condition I wouldn’t be anywhere near the person I am today. I learned so much about what really matters in life by having to make myself stronger. I guess I didn’t “have” to make myself stronger, but given the alternative I’d take that fight on again any day. I know just how it is to feel like your fighting a battle against yourself every day, constantly wishing I could know what it’s like just to be “ok”, and could write a book of all the things not to say to someone who’s going through it. I never heard “You just need Jesus”, though I did hear “You just need a man”, “Just have a drink” and others I can’t say here… the wisdom of college freshen. Luckily I also had good people in my life who did know what to say and when to listen. If you ever need to talk to someone who’s been there, or just need someone to listen, I’m here for you. Your in my thoughts and prayers as you go through this. Love you and sending hugs your way!

  5. Thank you Maureen! Jill- I appreciate your kind words and your positive thoughts, and I feel frustrated when anyone says my depression and anxiety are part of God’s greater plan that I don’t understand because that seems invalidating to me and makes me wonder if they would say the same thing to someone about their diabetes or broken bone symptoms. What I need right now is for people to be willing to acknowledge that regardless of belief systems, anxiety and depression are symptoms of a chemical imbalance in the brain and are a medical issue rather than a spiritual one, though spiritualism and religion can play a great part in the healing and recovery process for some people.

    1. I don’t believe they are a part of God’s plan for you nor did I intend for it to come out that way; but as I reread, I can see where it could be taken that way. I could have said things differently. I don’t believe a medical condition of anyone or mean things happening to good people was designed to happen or created by God. I do believe he uses these things that are either a part of us or that happen to us for his greater good as we allow him to. And yes, I say the same thing to someone with diabetes, someone with broken bones, someone who’s mother abandons them and even to someone with a brain tumor. We don’t ask for these things to happen to us, we don’t understand them, probably never will and we will always question why. I do believe that the imperfect parts of us can be used to play a perfect part of our life; if we allow it. And most times, that’s not easy to do. I’ve seen horrible things happen to good people and mean things happen to same good people over and over again; neither of which I will ever understand. Yet these people march on and use these situations to do the best way they can. I don’t really know you, but you remind me of these people; you don’t let these symptoms get the best of who you really are, at least from as I can see you. Sharing this part of you, opening yourself up could allow others to build their own strength to fight this illness by seeing your strength. That is an example of how God uses your illness to help others all for his greater good! There’s so much more I could say, but I think you get my point. I look forward to your posts as they touch me in a way that’s hard to explain. I know you will enjoy your time at home and I know whatever you decide to do, will be the right choice even if it’s only for a moment.

      1. Jill- I felt relieved when I read your comment because it seemed like I wasn’t quite understanding. Thank you for clarifying and for having so much faith in me!

  6. You’re a strong woman. Anxiety and depression is a very serious thing, and sadly, I can believe people would say rude things like that to you. You’re such a caring, loving, freaking awesome person. I hope you do get to go back, you were so happy in the pictures, and doing amazing things. I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts.

  7. Good for you to be strong enough to put it out there.I think you are exactly right- keeping quiet only perpetuates the misunderstanding behind mental health issues. It is important to take care of yourself first, as you can’t help others until you help yourself. Take care and enjoy being surrounded by the ones you love. When the time comes, you will know what is best for you and make the right decision. Stay in touch! (ps Onesmus is doing amazing! You really should take a moment to reflect on how many lives are changing because of what you did for him. Asante sana:)

  8. Life has a funny way of pushing us in unexpected directions. Sometimes no matter how well we prepare or plan, we have to regroup and consider our options. I am so happy that you had the courage and maturity to seek medical attention. Depression and anxiety are primary or underlying causes of at least 50% of patient visits in our primary care practice. You are definitely not alone. It is a serious, real health issue because it affects not just a person’s mental condition but her entire health. May you soon be well on your way to a full recovery.

    I am in awe of you, Catherine. You truly have a servant ‘s heart, and I know you have touched the lives of many South Africans. Good luck to you in all you do and may God bless you.
    Karen Moran

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s