Expat Confessions: Dealing with Social Anxiety and Depression

It has been years since I updated this blog. Why? Because once I got married, moved home and had children I stopped traveling. That chapter of my life ended I was glad. I closed the chapter, sealed the book and buried it deep in my heart. I was ready to live in America again, start my family and settle down. And it has been been beautiful and amazing and I can honestly say I do not regret a single thing. I am so grateful to have had my experiences abroad, living in China and Malaysia and traveling the world, developing my photography skills and documenting everything on this little blog.

But today I found this draft I had written years ago. Reading it again brought me to tears and I feel that it’s too important to not share. So I am publishing my updated thoughts because my life is beautiful and joyful now and I am so grateful for the challenges I faced. Travel is amazing but it is also a process of self-discovery and a journey of self-love. I share this with you now to help you understand that pretty pictures people share online do not reveal the entire story. And that out of the darkness there can be an incredible light. 

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Back when I was living in Asia, writing was my outlet. Writing was how I dealt with my bizarre experiences that often left me feeling so empty and broken. Writing was often my only escape, the only thing on my to-do list that mattered at the time. I felt like a balloon, aimlessly floating by the varying currents of the wind. Hoping to pop as soon as possible because then at least something would happen. Something was better than nothing and I often felt the weight of nothingness pulling me down.

Living in Asia was a challenge of the spirit. I would wake up everyday in a dark and dreary apartment in one of the biggest and most polluted cities in the world. I would kiss my boyfriend (now husband) goodbye as he left for long days at work and often fall back asleep for 3 or even 4 hours more. What was the point of waking up? By mid-morning there was still no sun to be seen beyond the grey clouds of pollution filtering through the window and clogging the air. There was nothing to look forward to, nothing to accomplish besides one lonely activity to another. From cooking to checking emails to trying to gather enough strength to maybe go outside today. I hated the pollution and I hated the crowds of people I could never escape. It was my concrete prison.

I was suffering and didn’t even know it. It came on slowly like a warm blanket till I was suffocating from the weight of my anxiety.

Most mornings I would wake up and try to get the energy to call my family on Skype. Even that was too hard most days. There was some sort of mental block preventing me from opening the computer and dialing a number. It’s not that I didn’t want to talk to them. I wanted to talk to them so badly it hurt. But I was hiding from the people I love because how could they understand my loneliness and my fear? How could they understand the challenges of living in the most foreign of countries? Most conversations revolved around how I should get into a routine, write a to-do list for the day, and go explore the city and be a tourist! But I didn’t want to be a tourist. I didn’t even want to go outside.

Many times I could not make myself get dressed to leave the apartment. Preparing to go outside took such a tremendous effort of willpower, energy and strength of mind. Where was I going? Did I have pictures of the Chinese address in my phone to show the cab driver? Did I remember how to say “left” “right” “go one” and “stop” in Chinese? If I was taking the subway did I have the route planned out? What would I wear that would be the most comfortable and the least revealing? The least likely to draw attention to myself? The least likely to cause me to overheat and be that enormous blonde American sweating her butt off as she walked down the street? Less was the theme of my life.

Often I would give up on going outside and retreat to the couch, reading for hours upon end, tipping over and drowning in stories because I hated my own story. If I did make it outside to walk to the supermarket or the gym, I was immediately embarrassed when every single person on the street would stare at me. As I passed by, they would look look at me with an unwavering gaze, reminding me that I was different. I would try to shrink as much as possible, to be invisible. I wanted to disappear so that maybe I could be myself. I would put in my headphones and drown myself in music. I would hold an umbrella to hide my face.

I cried multiple times a week. Multiple times a day. I was afraid to go outside. To be seen and unseen. To be alive. Because what was the point? The worst part of it all was that I was in pain. A physical pain that started in my back as an unwelcome twinge and after a few months and years grew to an incapacitating throbbing down my neck and spine with no relief. At the end of the day  I had to lie down on the floor because standing upright was too much of a struggle.

Thinking back on it now, I am amazed that I stayed, that I thought this was normal. Because IT WAS NOT NORMAL. I had been suffering from intense social anxiety and depression and didn’t even know it. I continued to suffer because I thought I deserved it, that I had moved abroad to have these experiences and follow my heart so I should just deal with it. What I never realized is that I was extremely isolated, that I lacked support from friends and family who lived on the other side of the world, that I do not do thrive without regular sunshine, nature and quiet. I was a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) in one of the largest most polluted cities in the world. Of course I did not thrive! I also need to add that my husband was always so supportive and amazing but we were both young, living together for the first time and trying to survive in this strange land.

Once I moved back home I began my process of healing from the inside out. I visited doctor after doctor, had MRIs, did hours of physical therapy and hours of chiropractic care to try and find relief from my back pain. Because how could I give birth and hold my children if standing up was unbearable? Eventually I found my amazing doctor at Peak Injury Solutions who, not even kidding, changed my life. Then I found my fertility acupuncturist at Art of Acupuncture and began to heal my body with acupuncture and herbs. And finally I found my amazing therapist Erin Gray who helped me reread the chapter I had buried away and unpack the emotional trauma I experienced living abroad. It took a lot of work, but I was determined to integrate my experiences into my life and heal. When I gave birth and started to feel that depression creep back into my head I started anti-depressants which I still take to this day. I do acupuncture, take herbs, have regular therapy sessions, and exercise because it helps my mind and spirit.

Today I have two beautiful children, a crazy dog, and a husband who loves me and his family so much even during a pandemic. He continues to test me by asking if we can move again to another state… another country. Although I might not be ready just yet, I know I am healed enough to travel and live abroad again with an open heart and mind. I hope to share my experience with my children one day so that they know that challenges and trauma are sometimes a part of life, it is how we persevere and ASK FOR HELP that matters.

We are never meant to be alone for long.

 

 

 

 


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