Tag Archives: Limits

Joiwyn 2.0

The other day, I was standing in Bethany’s living room putting moisturizer on my face at 1:30 in the morning. Bethany was just sitting there staring at me for like ten minutes while I did my evening routine and finally she just blurts out “Do you ever think you’re a completely different person than you were two years ago?” Of course, as the crazy detail oriented person I am, I replied “You haven’t even known me two years.” I got the point though. I clarified that she was talking directly about me and not using a universal you to apply to all PCVs or something. But when she told me she meant me specifically, it sent me into a bit of a tail spin. And my answer is, yeah, I guess I am a very different person.

Of course, I don’t think I’ve lost my core values or anything. I don’t look like a completely different person. I still have many of the same mannerisms and ideals, but overall, more has changed than stayed the same.

At first that scared me. I thought I was losing parts of myself, but then I embraced the change and realized that I was just letting myself actually be myself. I was dropping my defense mechanisms, fears, and insecurities and realizing my potential. I’ll never be done learning, growing, changing, or evolving, but I’ve made an exponential amount of progress from that Joiwyn that moved to Botswana 17 long months ago.

I think I can attribute a lot of this to a big growth spurt in my prefrontal cortex, but I also can attribute a ton of it to my hard work and effort. I came here with a huge focus on wanting to change and learn about myself and I’m so glad I’ve done that.

I turn 23 in an hour and a half (yeah, I still have no chill about my birthday) and as usual, my birthday makes me think of all I want to accomplish this year. But there is something that’s different, I’m not anxious or stressed about these goals. I’m not worried about them not happening or something massive getting in the way, because I’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter. I shoot for the moon and land in the stars (Is that accurate? Isn’t the moon closer than the stars? This makes me feel a little stupid, but hey, I don’t know everything). If I only accomplish half my goals, I’ll still accomplish a whole hell of a lot. And I’ve learned that I can’t control everything.

This year was filled with things out of my control. I couldn’t control having to move to a new village. I couldn’t control my weight loss plateau. I couldn’t control my work situation. I couldn’t control my gallstones. I couldn’t control my depression that came with that isolation. I couldn’t control the things that happened back home that made me wish I was there. But I learned that when I release that need to control, I also release so much of my anxiety and stress. Life happens TO us a lot of the time and yes, we play a part in that, but in the end, we don’t control it.

On the other hand, I learned that there’s a lot I can control when I’m not a giant ball of anxiety and stress trying to juggle more than I should have ever tried to juggle. I learned to stop focusing on the reasons and excuses I had made in the past and to start focusing on the now and the how. I made so many healthy changes this year that I thought were impossible for me to figure out in the past. I learned to enjoy the things I couldn’t change and make the most out of experiences. I learned that my challenges don’t make me that much more interesting than my triumphs. I still need to work through them, but I don’t need to devote so much energy to them. I’ve learned that I can handle so much and that I should give myself a lot more credit, respect, and trust. I learned that even though I can handle a giant plate full of things, it’s OK to not fill that plate full and it’s OK to take downtime or time for myself. I learned that I will never be perfect, and no one is. I learned that fear can be helpful, but also harmful. And I learned that I really like who I am and I love who I’m becoming.

I’ve changed the way I think about myself, the way I treat myself, the way I think about others, my career plans, my attitude, and view of the world around me. I’m still recognizable, don’t worry. But I’m not as likely to take people’s shit. I’m not as focused on what other people think of me. I no longer feel like everyone’s feelings or opinions are more important than my own. I’m not willing to suppress my feelings anymore. I’m not willing to keep a wall around myself for protection anymore. I’m not willing to focus all my thoughts on the negatives and the things getting in the way. I still love to plan and think about the future, but now I recognize the importance of the present as well. I’m no longer tired and anxious all the time. I’m no longer worried about letting people in. I’m not as scared that I’m going to have a debilitating mental illness. I recognize that I’m enough in most cases, more than enough in many, and a little too much in a few. I’m not going to try to take up less space anymore or remain neutral to make everyone around me happy. I’m more comfortable in my own skin, less focused on the number on the scale, and more focused on being healthy and respectful toward my body. And Bethany says that I used to have a resting bitch face, but now I seem much more open and happy.

One of my biggest fears is that I will lose all this progress and growth when I get back to the states, but I’m learning that that would take a lot of work. I don’t think I can ever go back to the old Joiwyn; too much has changed in too many good ways. I love myself in a way that I was never able to find before from myself or others. I respect myself in a way that I’ve never felt before. I am learning to trust myself (that one is hard for me from years of gaslighting, but I’m getting there). I’m learning to stand up for myself and say no, in the big situations and small. I’m learning that I can be a good person, a thoughtful and kind friend, and a dedicated worker without treating myself poorly. I’ve learned that often times what I think others are thinking about me is my insecurities projecting on them and no where near their actual thoughts. Most of all, I’ve learned to be proud of myself. I’m proud of all that I’ve accomplished and all that I know I will accomplish. And I’ve learned that my pride and acknowledgement is the only one I really need. I’m tired of trying to prove myself to others. If they can’t see the great things about me, that’s their loss.

In the past, I would have joked about how arrogant I sound in this post. But now I recognize this as confidence and self-love. I hope we all can find that, because life is way too hard when you don’t like yourself. Trust me, I spent the first 21.5 years of my life there. It’s a pretty short time period compared to some others, and I know that I still have a long way to go and am still extremely young, but it’s never too early or late to recognize who you really are. I’m excited to see all the ways I learn, change, grow, evolve etc in this next chapter of my life. Here’s to a great year as a 23 year old.

F.L.Y. (First Love Yourself)

Since finally writing openly and honestly about my struggles with weight, I’ve opened the flood gates to my emotion and vulnerability and I really hope that there is no going back. I never really realized the wall I had up until I got to the Peace Corps and finally discovered that I had built this giant barrier to keep myself from becoming vulnerable. Maybe this seems like a surprise to people because I’ve often been told that I seem very open and honest, but I haven’t been. I’ve thought about emotional issues until they’ve turned into unrecognizable mush that no longer contains the emotional vulnerability which allowed me to talk about them impassively. I went through the skeletons in my closet and sucked the emotional marrow out of the bones so that I didn’t feel like I needed to hide them anymore. I didn’t need a closet, I could just leave the skeletons laying out for all to see because I could no longer be affected by them. And on the outside they still look like these crazy situations, but all the vulnerability was gone. I wrongfully thought that I was empowering myself by being emotionally disconnected. I was repressing who I was to fit the bill of what others wanted me to be. The opposite of empowerment. I did this because I was taught that vulnerability was weakness. Emotion was weakness. Sensitivity was weakness.

It wasn’t just the people around me telling me this, although, that often hurt the worst. It was society. To be a girl is weak because we’re emotional. “Oh, it must be that time of the month because you’re being an emotional bitch.” “You’re taking everything so personally.” “You’ll never be taken seriously if you’re so emotional.” We’re taught that emotions are to be kept private. I kept them private and I stuck them behind a wall to fester and grow until I realized that I was hurting myself trying to tuck them all away. I hid the hurt and insecurities that stemmed from years of being told that I was selfish, needy, attention-seeking, fat, emotional, sensitive, a bitch, controlling, loud, and annoying. I hid the hurt and insecurities of constantly feeling like I wasn’t good enough. I thought that there must be something terribly wrong with me to have this many faults. There couldn’t be anyone to love me because I was so flawed and also so fat (because only skinny women are attractive, of course). I was so caught up in all of these negative ideas about myself that I let them shape who I was. I let them seep into my very core and change how I perceived myself and the world. I stopped trusting myself because I didn’t think I was selfish, needy, attention-seeking, fat, emotional, sensitive, a bitch, controlling, loud, or annoying, but the people around me did, so I must not be able to see it in myself. I have trouble making the smallest decisions because I’m so worried about what other people would think of those decisions. Sometimes, I’ll even reach out to get input about a decision and then feel like I must be annoying someone with such a trivial concern and then I’m riddled with guilt for being such a selfish pest. It didn’t matter that most of these things were told to me by the same 2 or 3 people. What mattered is how much influence those people had and how often they would say negative things with very rare positives.

I didn’t want to share how I felt about it because it would confirm that I was selfish, needy, attention-seeking, emotional, sensitive, and annoying. I also never wanted to put anyone else in an openly bad light. I didn’t want the people that hurt me to know that they had hurt me because that vulnerability would be a weakness with them and they would poke and prod that soft spot in my armor until I bled out. They wouldn’t reevaluate themselves and see where they hurt me or were insensitive, they would just react defensively and I would be in an even worse place. I have tried to just learn how to roll with it when I get a fat shaming comment on Facebook or a message that picks at those old scabs. I try to just ignore the new hurt that they inflict because I honestly don’t think that they see what they’re doing. I don’t think they see that what they’ve said and how they’ve acted has affected me and I don’t think that they would be open to reevaluating themselves. Change can only happen if you accept it and want it.

So I’ll keep trying to ignore the comments. I’ll keep reminding myself that their actions reflect them and not me. They often come from a place of insecurity in themselves when they make these insensitive and judgmental remarks and I am sure that I have also been guilty of doing that on occasion. It’s hard to not lash out at others when we’re not feeling safe in ourselves. I’ll keep ignoring the comments and I’ll keep working on breaking apart my wall and not letting myself retreat back into a shell when I feel vulnerable. That’s only hurting me.

It’s no longer about the comments that other people make, now it’s about the comments I make. As they say, you’re your own worst enemy. There is nothing that anyone else can say to me that will be worse than what I’ve told myself. I have beaten myself down countless times and I’m done. I’ve grown, learned, and worked fucking hard. I now can look at all of those negative comments and see the amazing positives in them. I’m selfish because I recognize that the only person who will be with me my entire life is me and I have to be happy with the decisions I make. I’m needy because I recognize that I have needs and I go out to try to fulfill them. I’m not sitting around waiting for a shining white knight to save me, I’m taking care of myself. I seek attention when I need companionship. I’m fat, so what? When did the size of my pants become anyone’s business? All it measures is the vessel I’m living in, not who I am or my self worth. It’s a fucking number for god’s sake. I’m emotional and sensitive because I’m human and I have empathy and I care. I think that is a beautiful thing and I wish everyone could say that. I’m a bitch, controlling, and annoying because I’m a strong, opinionated female who isn’t willing to crumble to societal norms. I think that being motivated, driven, and knowledgeable of what’s needed in a situation should be praised, not belittled. I’m loud because I know that my voice deserves to be heard as much as any other. I also know that I am not alone in this. I’m not the only human trying to figure this whole life thing out and I take comfort in that. I never wish bad experiences on people, but if you’re trying to work through negative experiences, remember you aren’t alone. There are people all around you trying to find themselves as well and we can and should all support each other.

I’m angry that I have had to fight for this. I’m angry that we still have such discrimination and negative judgments towards others. I’m angry that we haven’t figured out how to live in a world of authenticity and acceptance of all. But more than that, I’m happy and proud. Despite all of the negative things life has thrown at me I can finally say that I love myself. I love my body for all the beautiful things it can do even if it’s not a size 2. I love my mind because I have been able to learn and grow in such amazing ways and I know that that will never stop. I love my personality because it makes me someone that I want to interact with and it attracts some of the most beautiful people in this world. I love me because I am a person deserving and worthy of love. I am enough.

What I’ve Gained So Far

Seven months ago, I wrote a blog post in a sleepy stupor of the things I felt I was losing being here. I talked about how I felt like I was losing valuable parts of my identity and I wasn’t sure at the time what I was gaining, or how to cope with that. That was very valid at the time and having only been here two months, I understand where my head was at, but I’ve been here nine months now and I feel very differently. So I wanted to write a post about the things that I feel like I have gained.

The biggest thing is knowledge of myself. I would have never known how resilient I am if it weren’t for this experience. I have had many very bad days with the death of my friend, being evicted, family drama, and other crazy experiences, but I have barely wavered in my conviction to stay here. I knew I could handle a lot, but I didn’t know the full extent of that. Not that I actually know the full extent of it now, but I definitely have a broader picture of it. This also is not saying that I handle all situations perfectly and without throwing my version of a hissy fit, but I still handle the situations in some way and that’s resilience.

I also never realized how introverted I really am. I think that introversion has acquired this negative connotation that it is equal to being asocial and a loner. I was always so busy in the states that I could equate my moods to being stressed, anxious, and overworked, but here I’ve discovered that there are just times that I need to be alone and have control of my own space. It refuels me and re-balances me. Of course, you all know that I am a very social person and that hasn’t changed. I just need to take more time for myself than I’ve ever allowed before. I always thought I would hate living alone, but I love it. Not sure how I am going to go back to co-habitating.

I’m also learning to cut myself more slack and stop being so self-critical. I’m learning to trust myself and not dwell on and over think everything. Notice that I use the present tense here. I’m still learning things. It’s not in my nature to let myself off easy.

I’m learning more about my passions and what I really want to spend my time doing. Yes, sometimes that is binge watching Veronica Mars in a week and then wallowing because I finished it and there isn’t more to watch. But sometimes it’s working on an idea for a novel, helping students who are oppressed for a part of their identity, learning to play the harmonica, challenging myself with crazy puzzle challenges, exercising, teaching myself French, or cooking awesome meals. I was always so busy in the states that I never took time to do many things that were for me; everything was about school, work, or the people around me. There are also things that I’ve realized I want to start doing with my time, but don’t have the resources for yet. I have the green light to use the schools ceramics wheel and kiln, I just have to figure out a time I can go in to do that. I am also trying to see if I can use the school sewing machines to alter my clothes and get more creative with that. I have all these clothes that are too big now and I need to find a way to keep them useful.

Budgeting has never been a strong suit of mine, but I’ve been kind of forced to get better with that since I make so little. So that’s a great skill to acquire.

I’ve also acquired a lot more confidence. A big part of that is because I have lost 65 pounds. I hate that my confidence and self-worth has been tied to that, but when you are bullied and ridiculed you’re entire life for something and then you start to find a way to get rid of that offending part of yourself, it’s a big confidence booster. I honestly can look at a picture of myself from before I got here and see that I was beautiful the way I was, but also be really glad that I’m no longer there. I could go on about my weight loss for a whole blog post, and honestly probably will in the near future, but that isn’t what this one is about.

In America, I was a total night owl and usually didn’t even get into bed until 10 or 11 pm. Here, I have to force myself to stay up. It’s 5:30 here and all I’ve wanted to do for the last hour and half was to get into bed. Honestly, as soon I am finished writing this, that’s where I’m headed. Most of the time I just lay there for four or five hours because I have intense insomnia, but hey, there’s still something nice about getting into bed before it’s even dark out.

I’ve also always been terrible about keeping a routine. Even something as simple as brushing my teeth was a challenge. I was the type to just wake up and leave, no need to spend time getting ready. I’ve always wanted to be better about routines though and luckily, I’ve been managing those very well here. My dentist will be proud. 😉

I never thought that I would enjoy teaching. I’ve always been told that I would be a good teacher, but have revolted against that because I’ve felt like I could do many great things and teaching isn’t my passion. I fully respect teachers and have many friends who are teachers or going into teaching, but I also feel like teaching is one of the professions that women are often pushed into. Anyway, I’m not interested in teaching grade school, but I have been considering becoming a professor (not until I’m like 50 or 60 and have traveled the world and worked for amazing organizations like the U.N.). I also wasn’t sure that I would enjoy teaching since I have massive stage fright. I’ve discovered that I really do enjoy it, though. My classes are going really well and I’m happy to have this experience.

Honestly, I think I’ve gained a lot more than this, but it just got dark outside and my bed is calling my name. So that’s all I’ll say for now. Thanks for reading!

P.S. I’m super proud of the fact that this is three weeks in a row of actual blogging. I think I can keep this up 🙂


This post was written on September 17th. There are some delays with editing and getting them posted on this site.

Today was my first hard day that wasn’t because of grief. It was hard for multiple reasons. I felt really sick for the first time since getting here, started feeling slightly ill equipped to help, started missing home (especially food and my loved ones), and started feeling like I was being confined in my site. And if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I don’t like being put in a box of preconceived notions and expectations. This site placement is definitely going to be a challenge, but through my homesickness and stress today, I realized that I need to own my service and set boundaries now.

When I first got here, my supervisor made it a point to tell all the teachers and staff at a staff meeting at my school, as well as the chief and community during a Kgotla meeting, the things that I shouldn’t be seen doing. He made a point to say that I shouldn’t be driving, doing drugs, drinking too much, sleeping with married men, or having other inappropriate sexual relationships (in the staff meeting, he even turned to me and asked if I was allowed to mate). He made sure to tell my counterpart that he was in charge of knowing where I was at all times and if I was gone too long on the weekends or went somewhere without telling him, he was in charge of handling that. Now I understand that they’ve never had a Peace Corps Volunteer or even an American in the village, but for me, this is really challenging having everyone watching me like I’m an unruly teenager. I came here to work, not to break rules that could get me kicked out of Peace Corps. I try to always remember that everyone has the best intentions. He wants to make sure that I’m safe, that the village cares about me, and that I’m going to actually help them instead of just sitting on my ass. I’m just not used to having so many people in my business. This is one of those cultural things I need to work with though. The other thing that concerns me is the way my village talks about my home here. It’s on a family compound and my supervisor and others have referred to that family as my new host family, and told people that my new surname will be Phoro when I move there. For me, this feels like another confining situation. I don’t feel like I’m my own person here, I feel like I’m the village trophy. I know that in a collectivist society, like this, I have to get used to losing some of my individuality, but on the other hand, I’m supposed to also be sharing my culture and a huge part of that is my independence and individualism. After talking to a few volunteers (so many have checked in with me today, I’m definitely acquiring a peace corps family ☺), I realized that now is the time I need to set boundaries and plans for how to handle these situations. I already spoke to my counterpart. I told him that I understand they want me to be safe, but he doesn’t have to watch me like a hawk because I have a great track record for taking care of myself and I’ll reach out if I need help. He’s awesome. He told me that he thought I was perfect for this placement. I talked to my tutor who is a woman around my age and she told me to be who I am and not let others opinions matter too much. She’s awesome. Now I just have to get over my fear of conflict and authority anxiety and sit down with my supervisor. I know it will be so much better after I do, it’s just hard for me to stand up for myself in situations like this because I want to make the best impression I can. I know though, that it will be worse for me to make an impression that I am extremely flexible and end up breaking under the pressure. I’m still excited about my site, and I still feel so lucky to be here. I just want the small village family to come naturally, not be forced on me from the start.

I’ll write more soon. I am just trying to let myself process all of the change first.

P.S. Send me food 😉 haha

Stop Limiting Your Life

With the enormity of this move, comes a lot of introspection for me. I keep thinking of how long two years is and how much change comes in those years. I feel so different than the person I was two years ago. Around that time, I was 19, just becoming a manager at the movie theater (working more than 40 hours a week), had just gotten a part time job as a teacher’s assistant, was taking 20 credits, renting out the top floor of an amazing house (best roommate situation that I’ve ever had), trying to apply to grad school and decide what I for sure wanted to pursue in my life, and deciding to leave the place that I had made my home (Olympia). I was anxious and stressed all the time, and feeling so unsure of what I wanted, which was extremely out of character for me. I had gained the 40 pounds that I had lost back and then some. I was feeling uncomfortable in most aspects of my life and it was really time for a change, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for it. I didn’t think that I could leave everything I knew behind and go to a place that I knew nothing about or no one around me. But when I made the decision to pursue the Peace Corps, I knew I had to make that leap and live completely on my own.

Since then, I have moved to a new state for the first time, lived with people I had never met before, navigated a city I had only been to once before, took my first graduate school classes, received grades for the first time in two years, took tests for the first time in two years, learned to not take myself or those around me so seriously, learned how to battle my depression and homesickness, made new and amazing friends, turned 21, had major oral surgery, and handled a lot of personal stuff relatively well. My biggest lesson though, was that you can’t control everything in your life. Your family goes through shit that you can’t always help them with, you get a bad teacher and lose your 4.0, you don’t jive well with your co-workers, but still have to make it work. You can’t plan life and you can’t control it. It just happens. You have to do the best you can with the cards you’re dealt and not stress because your life hasn’t gone exactly how you think it should or you haven’t changed in the exact ways you thought you would. You really never know what is going to be a catalyst for change in your life. It could be something as simple as a bike ride to the farmers market, or as profound as an amazing professor. You just have to be open to every experience and stop trying to control it. Controlling life just limits it.

There are so many events in my life that have changed me and molded me into who I am today and so many more to come. I wouldn’t be as sure as I am about this decision today if I hadn’t fallen into depression in Montana and realized that I could pull myself out. I wouldn’t be as independent and self-sufficient as I am if it weren’t for my best friend and mom who have so much belief in me and are there when I really need them, but also know what situations I need to handle on my own (sometimes before I know it). I wouldn’t have gotten into grad school by twenty if it weren’t for my brother and sisters who were so convinced I could succeed in college that they helped me test into it at fourteen. The people around me and the situations that I’ve been in have drastically and dramatically changed my life forever. I am constantly changing and evolving and I don’t want that to ever stop. I have no doubt that the Peace Corps will lead to even more dramatic change in my life, but I can’t wait for it! I can’t wait to see what my life looks like and what my values are after this experience. Like many people say, this is going to be a life changing experience. I’m not afraid of change, I’m euphoric for it.

The things that I currently find challenging are the outside expectations of what my life should look like at the end of my service, or the changes I should go through. It seems like I’ve hit that spot in life where society expects me to start thinking of settling down. Yes, I’m only twenty-one, but I’ve already had people start asking me when I’m going to get married. It isn’t anyone close to me, they all know that that is barely on my radar, but just the other day, I had a client who I’ve known for probably close to six or seven years ask if I was going to get married right after my service. How the hell do I know? But this question is not just coming from the outside, I’m thinking it too (I said it was barely on my radar, OK? Not non-existent.) I have a really strong desire to do more than one Peace Corps service for multiple reasons, one of which is that I feel that I will want to settle down when I return. Whether that is settling into a career or with another person, I don’t know, but I don’t think I’ll want to do something else like the Peace Corps after being back in the states for a few years (Unless something similar to the Peace Corps ends up being my career). So I have been thinking a lot about whether I even want to get married and have kids or what I think my life will look like in the future. But what is the point in wondering about all of these things that I can’t control. So what if I don’t get married and have kids, or so what if I have a giant wedding and pop out 20 of the little buggers? It doesn’t really matter right now because I am absolutely not in a place to do it. I could try to control what my future looks like, but there are way too many variables. I really can’t predict what is to come, so I have to just let life take me down all the intricate paths it has in store for me. Like Queen Elsa says, “Let it go!” Or as the Beatles said, “Let it be.” Either way, the message is the same, stop being a control freak.