The Anxious Foreigner

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June 15, 2017 by adbesserer

I took 3 years off work to deal with my depression. If i could go back, I wouldn’t have. I’m not sure it helped address any of my problems, and in a life with no stressors, one has the way of creating arbitrary ones. It’s useless. I was a recluse, and now as I deal with culture shock in Taiwan, I think of all the things in Ottawa that I wish I would’ve done. I wish I would’ve gone to more events with my fellow writers. I wish I would’ve gone for tea with my friends more. I wish I wish I wish. Useless, I know.

But that’s not the point of this entry. The point is that now I’m in a situation where I’m faced with many stressors, and I went from not working to working six days a week. I’m realizing all of the ways that I learned to neglect self-care during my “time off”, and now I’m forced to deal with the fallout.

I’ve been sick twice in the 2.5 months that I’ve been here. Actually, I feel sick most of the time, and I think it’s my depression/anxiety; my mental fragility has always manifested in physical symptoms: headaches, IBS, puking, muscle and joint pain etc. The only thing is, now I don’t have the option to easily hide for a week to deal with it, so with research, and the little experience I have, I’ve come up with things that have helped.

For instance, today I just walked into a pet store to pet some cats and dogs. I’m not sure the owners were overly impressed, but Taiwanese people are generally too polite to say anything. It felt so good to just hold a cat for a while. I totally get animal therapy.

Another thing that’s helped is finding the few people who’ll recognize your anxiety and not judge you for not being positive enough. They really do exist. They may be hard to find without being willing to toss out some vulnerability, but it’s worth it.

Okay, my weight. It’s not easy being my size in Asia. I’m curvy. I’m losing weight, but I don’t have the dainty ankles, and the bone structure of the average Taiwanese woman. There are stores that carry shirts that fit me. Trial and error is necessary. After a comment from a friend who’s been living here for a while left me feeling depressed about my weight, I started to obsessively count calories. I was eating at least 560 calories below the requisite amount for a woman my age. It was affecting my mood, my work, and my sleep. I also started comforting myself with fatty American food after that unsustainable period of starvation, and losing a lot of weight in 3-4 weeks. I made sure to stay within the requisite calorie range, but I’ve started lacking the nutrition my body needs to function. I started reading up about the pressure I felt to be thin in Asia. What I found out was really useful.

It turns out that the pressure I feel to be thin isn’t specific to my race. That’s right, the women who live here feel that pressure too, maybe even more. The average size that clothing stores carry is between a 4 and a 6. Even when I weigh 100 pounds, which HAS happened as a result of my intermittent depressive states, or my straight up issues with food, I still can’t get to a size 6 anymore. My point is that the idea that Asian women are just naturally thin is a dangerous myth. They are under immense pressure to meet weight standards from their families and from their doctors. Guys too. My goal is to find balance through fitness, time management, and cooking my own food. It’s easier said than done when you work 6 days a week, but I have to remember that exercise will give me energy, eventually. Luckily, exercise is something with which I’m very familiar.

I read another article about stress in the workplace that I found very useful. I wish I could link to it, but I can’t find it. Okay, I like to do well. I’ve met people who are far more adept at perfectionism than I am, but I would still consider myself a perfectionist. I show up to work 2 hours early every day. I take way more time than most people to plan lessons that I know will be subject to change. I don’t take criticism well. What was so useful about the article was that it made me change my focus. Now, this is hard because I’m working with kids, and I want to give them 100% of everything I’ve got, but the reality is that I can’t do that everyday. I need to think of work more as a means to an end. That sounds incredibly selfish, but it’s a measure of self-preservation. At the end of the day, I work to live a comfortable, and hopefully, debt free life someday. I work so that I can enjoy my free time and explore the beautiful place that I’m lucky enough to be. If I take my job too seriously, like I have been, I will be of no use to anyone. It’s cram school. Foreign teachers change all the time.

Another thing that has been difficult is that some people who I considered to be very close friends have written me off. I try to contact them any way that I can. I try to validate their feelings of abandonment, but really there’s nothing I can do about it. Luckily, I have good friends who I talk to everyday, especially my very supportive sweet unicorn, Amber. I have friends who send me messages when they can, and answer my calls when they have the time. I appreciate them. I think there’s this myth that everything here is perfect. I think that people believe my life now is like an endless tropical vacation. I live on an island and I’ve never been to the beach. I work, sleep, and occasionally, but rarely, do social things as not to go insane. I’m not all of a sudden “all better”. My life is not nearly a vacation. I’m still dealing with culture shock and mad anxiety. I will do my best to keep in contact with those I care about, but I cannot expend too much energy talking to people who will not make the effort to check in on me.

I think those are all the things. Thanks for reading this. I hope it helps someone somewhere. All my love.


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