#15: Days that Try a Man’s Soul

Since I last wrote in my blog I had a lot of deep thought about what brought me to Taiwan. Yes, I’m here for the experience in and of itself and to work as an English teacher, but why am I really here? Simple, I’m here to travel and gain firsthand experience of a culture much different from my own. Such a simple missive can and was initially forgotten.

When I first arrived I spent a lot of time touring the city and then travelling throughout Japan. Then I got burnt out from constantly pushing myself to explore for 12-16 hours a day and lost sight of things. I settled into a seemingly cozy and secure job and got used to everyday life.

Days became weeks and weeks became months, and soon I found myself questioning why I came here and wondering whether I had made a terrible mistake. Thoughts of returning to Canada to continue my education or to work (under the jurisdiction of Canadian labour laws) flooded my mind and I spent several nights unable to sleep.

Without getting into too much detail (out of respect for some of the people it involves): I was in a bad situation, through little fault of my own, and needed to get out.

Every nerve in my body pushed me toward the exit sign.

In the daze of everything I reached out to some close friends and family and was given guidance. The biggest question of all became “Is it sustainable?”. A few questionable encounters followed by one final “boulder that broke the camel’s back” later, I had my answer.

Now days are much less stressful. Though I currently lack a certain measure of security, the feeling of liberation from a horrible situation is immense. I find renewed purpose in my presence here and have my eye keenly focused on why I’m really here.

Tomorrow I’m off to Hong Kong for five days for a visa run and to get some much needed R&R. The trip is mostly free thanks to AsiaMiles and credit, so I’ll be able to enjoy myself despite the city’s high costs.

Bon Voyage!

Be sure to check out my Instagram for more frequent posts and pictures.

Travel Blog #12: Lifting the Veil

I haven’t been able to bring myself to write in this blog for over a month. I keep wanting to, but ever present is the desire to keep my travel blog a tale of great adventures – one that reflects everything I had hoped this trip would be. When things no longer fit that fairy tale illusion it became difficult to bring myself to write.

People back home like to remind me that I can always return. This is a reality that I am very grateful for. I know how fortunate I am for having a home to go back to filled with loving family and friends.

That reminder stays in the back of my mind always, but the reality is I need to face these issues here, head on, before they follow me back home. There are lessons in these tough experiences that I need to learn; hard lessons I’ve avoided for years, always being far too used to having a safety net to rely on.

So, without further ado, here is what has been going on since I returned from Japan. No filtering the gory details or embellishing for matters of a fairy tale illusion.

Week 1 ~Sept. 9-16

I slept.

Japan took a lot out of me – financially, emotionally and physically.

For the most part, the trip was amazing. I truly did love seeing the sights and exploring nature.

What I didn’t love was the occasional foreigner price discrimination and complete lack of English/Chinese/Korean-friendliness. Hardly anything was in any language but Japanese. Even people working at the airport didn’t speak more than a few words of English. For parts of my trip I didn’t feel welcomed by the locals, which didn’t help the loneliness and depression that was creeping up on me at that point in time.

Japan was also more expensive than I had anticipated. A word of warning to those planning to travel there, consider bringing twice your budget. Thankfully by staying at cheap accommodation I ended up not too far in the red.

Week 2 ~Sept 17-24

After my week of sleep I met up with someone who would go on to become one of few friends I currently have in Asia. It was a great change of pace and really helped me break through my cyclical depression and emotional drainage.

Soon thereafter I decided it was time to actually get a job teaching English at a bushiban (Taiwanese cram school); you know, the thing I came overseas to do. One late night of many applications later I woke up to the sound of my phone ringing. Then ringing again and again. Followed by buzzing with emails throughout the day. Immediately I had interviews lined up and people asking me to demo. A few days later I signed the contract for my first teaching job and had some very fast paced training.

Week 3 ~Sept 25-Oct 2

The school I’m working at has a few weeks all year with work on Saturday. Naturally, my first week had one of them. So my life went from 0 to 100 real fast. If you noticed me completely drop off the social media planet, this is when it started. And I’ve basically been off-planet since.

I don’t exactly remember when it was, but I went to a language exchange that my Texan friend told me about.  Despite being privy to the terrible watered down frat house beer served at the foreigner hub of a bar, I did enjoy the night quite a lot. I basically sat down with a beer and was bombarded with conversations. There were other foreigners who’ve come here for the same reason as me and a plethora of local Taiwanese girls and guys who wanted to practice their English and make friends. Though I haven’t yet returned, I have made some friends from the experience.

October

One thing I never appreciated as a student: Teaching is hard.

It takes planning, organization, planning, scheduling, and more planning. And once you have your plan all hammered out, you have to deal with problems on the fly. Every day as I teach I am learning more and more. I am growing as an instructor and being tested against expectations from all sides. Some days go great and other days make me want to give up. But it’s a test of perseverance and the show must go on.

So here I am, writing these words, with several big successes and failures under my belt and a path in front of me with many hurdles. Each day gets easier but the road is a long one and I’ve only just begun.

Breaking the Cycle

When I last publicly spoke of depression, it was to tell the story of how I got through my darkest days so far – days where I questioned the purpose and reason for continuing my life and the days that followed.

Now, for the benefit of those who experience depression, it is time to address what I said at the end of that article:

“These days I occasionally suffer bouts of depression, but what would have once taken weeks to overcome now takes less than a day.

I cannot stress enough how much therapy, friends and family can make all the difference.

Talking to someone is everything. It means the world.

Today, life keeps going. I keep going.”

This is all true. Most of the time. Sometimes there are events in our lives that last anywhere between a few days and a few months that can drastically change our mood: being overworked, upcoming exams, death, loss of love or friendship, etc. In those times we can find ourselves reverting to old habits of cyclical thinking as the darkness of depression takes hold once more.

Again we find ourselves at a party unable to tear our mind from our worries, forcing ourselves to play our favourite game, or just generally looking at things without truly seeing them. We space out into our own world of “what ifs” and (seemingly justified) predictions of the future that closes like a bubble around our ambitions and normal lives.

“I wish I could end the article here, but I can’t.

In third year, I pushed away friends and instead embraced a relationship destined to fail. Over its course I came to feel unwanted, lost my sense of autonomy and the river of emotions that I had walked away from the previous year came rushing back.”

What I found that worked back then and what I find to work best today – though admittedly much more difficult than it sounds – is breaking the cycle of negative thoughts and the actions/activities that help reinforce them.

Breaking the cycle doesn’t have to mean making an ideological or lifestyle change. In fact, doing so will likely increase the depression as such a task to anyone would seem large and even insurmountable. A break in a cycle need not be drastic.

When I stopped dating my ex I broke the cycle by going out exploring. And no I don’t mean taking out the old bicycle to a trail and then hiking all day. I mean going to a café I had been meaning to try for ages. Yes, there were the friends who were there for me and sympathetic family members, but what always stays in my mind as the turning point out of that period of darkness was sitting down in that café for a waffle and just enjoying it. My mind on nothing else. If you have to pull your mind out of other thoughts then do so. If it happens again then pull your mind out again, and again, as many times as is necessary. Stay focused on what is in front of you – whether that thing is a delicious waffle, something you’re crocheting, or a friend with whom you’re chatting.

Do this once and you’ll feel a change. Perhaps it will be major, perhaps it will be minor, but it will be a change nonetheless. In some small seemingly meaningless way, you’ll have broken the cycle. Maybe just a bit, but it will act as a thread that you can pull little by little to get out of the darkness.

In time and with a little luck you’ll work your way up to enough breaks in the cycle that depression no longer acts as such a large buffer to your enjoyment of life. The light will be able to shine again even in the darkest corners.

But you have to start. Today. Now. Right this second. You’re already reading this article so maybe your way of breaking the cycle is reading, maybe it’s something else.

It can be simple. It should be simple, by your standards. Simple is easy, it isn’t insurmountable. Like the start to anything it has the potential to lead to something big. And in this case that big thing is a reliable method for you to break the cycle of depression; whenever, wherever and however it may take hold.

Disclaimer: while this is what worked for me and many others I have spoken to there is always a chance it may not work for you. If the problem of depression persists or worsens you should contact professional help.

Good2Talk (students) – 1-866-925-5454

Suicide Hotline (Canada) – 1-800-784-2433

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA) – 1-800-273-8255

Feature image: Pexels

Apathy, ADHD, Appetite

Disclaimer: This is going to be a bit different as far as foodie memoirs go, it’s mostly about how ADHD contributed to me becoming a foodie.

Focus is Impossible

Throughout my grade school experience I constantly struggled to stay focused.

I can’t say I remember a single class in grade 6 where I wasn’t constantly on the verge of dozing off, or zoning out. This was caused by a mix of apathy, poor sleeping habits and the profoundly difficult task of staying focused.

One day in drama class we were performing our little three-minute fight scenes and, as I was in the midst of reacting to a slow-motion punch, I completely zoned out. Luckily it was the end of the scene. Unluckily, the teacher then proceeded to ask us questions about the scene in front of the class. I didn’t hear or react to a single word that came out of his mouth. Needless to say it was painstakingly embarrassing.

School days were filled to the brim with day dreams and once I got home my parents – who deeply value education – would question my apathetic self about every little detail of my day.

Each night during the week I was restricted from playing video games – that’s not to say I didn’t play anyway while my parents backs were turned (sorry, Mom and Dad) – and watching TV was only for after my work was done.

Only through constant intervention from my father who oh so patiently dealt with my inability to focus did I actually get work done during much of high school.

When he wasn’t in the room watching that I was actually doing my work (while he did his paperwork beside me) I was either playing games on my computer, zoning out, or making up fantasies about being in some far away place (the birth of the writer in me I suppose). It was impossible to motivate myself to get started on a task and even if I miraculously did I would frequently get side-tracked.

I should note here that I didn’t do poorly in school for the most part – when I did do the work I’d do a damn good job, but getting me to actually do it was like pulling teeth. I never really had problems with my grades until the start of high school.

You may be thinking, “Doesn’t mean there’s something wrong, tons of kids don’t care about school and zone out all the time.” You’re right, which in part was what made it so hard to see there was a greater problem until later on.

Hidden Troubles

Up until late in my high school experience mental health wasn’t really addressed as being a serious problem that affected the learning experience. ADHD, anxiety, depression and more were all misunderstood by the student body who stigmatized individuals who had them. After a good friend of mine was diagnosed with ADHD he was explaining the struggle of staying focused and someone repeatedly argued that he was simply being lazy and needed to just get the work done. Yeah, high school kids are assholes.

Before entering grade 11 many students in my year were getting academic testing done. I’m not entirely sure what sparked this sudden acknowledgement en-masse of the effects of mental health; it was probably the result of a diagnosis of a kid of an influential parent or my school following a trend among other private high schools in the area. I went from being entirely in the dark about mental health to suddenly seeing it all around me – people getting extra time for ADHD, writing in different rooms for anxiety.

Awareness doesn’t equal understanding though, so the stigma continued.

I was not among the vast number of people who underwent academic testing that summer – people would look at me differently! And so, throughout grade 11 I again struggled to stay focused – leading to many arguments with my parents, sleepless nights and a feeling of utter helplessness.

Thankfully, in the summer before grade 12 I finally did get academic testing done and was diagnosed with a form of ADHD. This was done by a rather judgemental psychiatrist who made me feel awful about it, telling my parents about my potential for failure and inability to focus like I was some dimwit unable to grasp her words and therefore not worthy of being a part of the conversation. I was left with an even greater feeling of stigma, which only furthered my inner-need to hide my mental health problem from as many people as possible.

No Appetite

Hiding my ADHD continued into first year university. I was struggling to cope with the shock of living alone in residence. I was hours away from home and from home cooked meals.

At this point I medicated with prescribed Concerta (similar to Adderal/Ritalin) to manage my ADHD.

One of the biggest side effects of this drug is complete lack of appetite. On top of learning how to feed myself, I was also constantly forgetting to do so. The pangs of hunger that come when you skip four meals in a row? They didn’t come. Even when I realized my lack of eating I had to force myself to consume food. Eating more than a few bites when I should have been starving felt like being brought a personal chocolate cake after a large feast – a part of you wants it, but you cannot bring yourself to take a single bite.

Needless to say, I lost a ton of weight in that first semester of university.

Remedy

Winter break rolled around and I went to my doctor for a check-up. Skipping most meals and eating very little food took its toll on my body. ‘You’re borderline underweight,’ my doctor said. No surprise there.

I stopped taking Concerta and later began alternative treatment through the Listening Centre in Toronto. Paul Madaule is a miracle worker. (After the several-month-long weekly treatment I received there my ADHD was, and still is, about 80-90% better).

But there was still the problem of my weight.

Those of you who have been to Toronto may be familiar with the burger joint ‘The Burger’s Priest’, arguably the best burgers in the city. You may also be familiar with their secret menu, which among other interesting creations contains a burger called ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse‘ – two cheeseburger patties, two vegetarian patties (two portobello mushroom caps stuffed with a blend of cheeses and deep fried) and grilled cheese buns. Yes, it’s insane. Well, that’s what I ate on the way home from the doctor’s office that day. I’m sure it’s not what he had in mind, but hell, I was finally eating something.

This was the first time I purposely sought out and ate an interesting food item I had heard about from the Toronto foodie community. The first of many I should say.

From that point onward, throughout my winter break, I visited several other restaurants with rich and filling foods, eating to my heart’s content both at home and at The Burger’s Priest. This jump-started my drive to seek out the best and most interesting foods that Toronto had to offer. As I regained the weight I lost, a new part of me started to stir.

Finally, I was a foodie.