Unbrave Girl Gets Happy: Perfectly Pleasant in Chiang Mai

October 2, 2010

Last week, shortly after posting my last blog entry, I received an email from a good friend in the States.

To be honest, it wasn’t an email.

It was an intervention.

My friend wrote that he was worried about me — and he wasn’t alone. According to his email, many of our mutual friends were concerned. After having read my recent blog posts, they were all convinced that I was “absolutely miserable” (These words were typed in bold, red, 18-point-font letters. And people say I’m prone to dramatics!). He went on to urge me to come home and stop “torturing myself.” He suggested that I’d be a lot happier with ready access to a couch, pizza delivery and the new season of Glee.



Sure, I’d been in something of a funk lately, but I figured that was to be expected after seven months of travel. I was just experiencing some travel burn-out… and maybe a bit of solo traveler loneliness… and possibly a small smidgen of homesickness…. and, you know, a little tiny dollop of Couch Separation Anxiety Disorder. But was I miserable? Miserable seemed like such a strong word — a word reserved for Holocaust victims and lepers… and Lindsay Lohan.

I emailed him back to assure him that I wasn’t miserable. I was just being… well… me. You see, I’ve never exactly been one of those glass-half-full type of people especially in my writing (I’m more like a who-needs-a-glass-when-I-can-drink-directly-from-the-bottle-of-tequila type person). I try to be a reasonably cheerful person in real-life (you know, so people will share their tequila with me), but I do tend to focus a bit more on the negative in my writing.

What can I say? Snark, sarcasm and self-deprecation are just my style! It’s not that only bad things happen to me — it’s just that bad things are that much more entertaining. Right? After all, which would you rather read about: the time I ripped open the seat of my pants while hiking the Cameron Highlands and was forced to climb up a mountain with my raincoat tied around my lower-half like a make-shift, GoreTex diaper or the time I had a perfectly pleasant evening hanging out with some new friends… and didn’t once have to worry about exposing myself… or changing my diaper? (If you fell asleep while reading the second option, than you’re not alone… I fell asleep while typing the second option.)

I tried to convince my friend that I wasn’t, in fact, miserable and that maybe he shouldn’t take my blog quite so seriously.

I’m pretty sure he didn’t buy it.

I wasn’t even sure I was buying it.

You see, maybe I have been a bit… well… miserable. Maybe what I’ve been feeling over the past month or so hasn’t been a simple case of burn-out or loneliness or homesickness or CSAD (Couch Separation Anxiety Disorder), but actual depression.

Like many people, I’ve suffered from bouts of mild depression before. Luckily, it’s never been anything terribly serious — nothing that time and repeated applications of chocolate, tequila and episodes of Glee can’t fix. I wouldn’t even say my current bout of depression is all that severe compared to previous episodes.
It’s just that it’s surprising.

After all, how can I be depressed? I’m on vacation! (Well, inasmuch as weeding rice paddies and sanding sailboats can be considered a “vacation”). Before, I could always blame my job or the place I was living in or my dreary daily routine for my depression. Well, I haven’t had a real job in over half a year. In the past two months, I haven’t been stuck in one place longer than a week. And, the only thing routine about my day is my regular application of insect repellent. How can I be depressed? I’m living the life! (Well, inasmuch as weeding rice paddies and sanding sailboats can be considered “the life.”).

Besides, how did depression even find me? Sheez, my parents have no clue where I am any more. My friends regularly email me to ask me where the heck I am (and then once I tell them, they email me back to ask me where the heck that is). Thanks to my very spotty understanding of world geography, I can barely locate myself on a map. So how did depression get my mailing address?

I can’t say I wasn’t tempted to pack up my bags and head home after my friend mentioned the new season of Glee. But, there’s one thing I’ve learned from my past ten years of suffering from depression and my past ten years of moving house: changing your location won’t “fix” you. If you’re prone to depression, it will eventually find you whether you’re hanging out in a thatched roof hut in Borneo or curled up on your couch in Buffalo eating double-stuff Oreos. It’s freaking annoying. It’s like depression has some kind of GPS tracking device or something.

As much as I knew going home wouldn’t help me in the long run, I figured having a home couldn’t hurt. After living in a dormitory on a rice farm, a Malaysian sailboat and countless budget guesthouses across Malaysia and Laos, I missed having my own place. I didn’t need anything fancy — just a quiet, little place of my own where I could come and go as I pleased. (Or just come… and never go. Maybe it could be in a country with pizza delivery. Or maybe I could fashion a bucket and pulley system off of my balcony in order to raise up all my meals and lower down all my trash.) And, hey, if I got my own place and depression did decide to show up, at least I could charge it some rent… or ask it to run to the store and get me some more double-stuff Oreos.

When I found out about a volunteer English teaching program in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand that would give me a stipend and allow me to rent my own place, I instantly applied. I hadn’t planned to return to Thailand. But, then again, you know what they say about best laid plans… and seeing as my plan was haphazardly laid at best, I figured it could do with a little revision. Plus, by moving to Chaing Mai, I’d also be able to meet up with some people I’d met on Twitter who are also in the area. I figured it would do me some good to get out and meet people… you know, when I wasn’t too busy snarling from my balcony and eating dinner out of a bucket. And, there was the added bonus of doing some English teaching — a job I actually know how to do and one that, most likely, won’t be putting me in close contact with any pythons.
Since arriving in Chiang Mai last weekend, I’ve been having a good time settling in. I’ve met up with my new friends for night market dinners and long lunches. I found a studio apartment not far from work (It’s nothing fancy, but there’s a balcony… and I’ve already bought a bucket.) I’ve enjoyed meeting my new coworkers and learning about the program I’m working for. I had my first day of classes today, and the students were friendly, active and eager to learn. It’s been a perfectly pleasant week.

And, yes, dear friends, I’m happy… for now.

(I’m sorry… did you just fall asleep while reading that last paragraph? Because I’m pretty sure I fell asleep while typing it.)


I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On October 26, 2013 at 2:44 pm Mike Lynn (Mike_in_Kyiv) said:

    Hi Sally:

    Reading up on Chaing Mai as a potential destination and maybe you can give me some insights as to how you see my family’s situation and if we might fit in CM.

    First we are a family of 5. Older dad (that’s me age 63) mom 35 and three kids ages 11, 5 and 9 months. We all travel on US passports but everyone in the family but me also has Russian passports.

    We are already expats. We’ve been away from the States nearly 8 years and don’t look back. We’ve lived in Kazakhstan, Yekaterinburg (west-central Russia – my wife’s home city) and now Kyiv for the past 4 years. My wife’s in development work.

    Bottom line: My wife is wanting a big change – to give up her job and just be a mom. I already teach English for a corporate concern 40 yours a week and am in some state of “retirement” though you wouldn’t know it. I love what I do.

    How do you see a bigger family coming to Chaing Mai? Is teaching English something that’s in demand there? Would you email me and give me your insights please?

    Mike Lynn
    Kyiv, Ukraine


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