Teacher Teacher

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It’s been 7 months now since I started teaching English as a foreign language at one of the many cram schools in Taiwan. My boyfriend and I moved here in August 2016, and the experience thus far has been a rollercoaster.

Whenever you hear about people jetting off to Asia, or some other part of the world, to spend a year teaching English it always sounds like the best time of their lives. It’s advertised as being enjoyably life changing, an exciting way to party in another country while making money and traveling. Overall it’s made to seem rather carefree and easy. While it most certainly is some of these things, very rarely (in my experience) is the other, less appealing, side of the coin mentioned. Perhaps I’m just someone who struggles more than most, but this journey has been one of the hardest of my life.

Packing up and moving to a new place (where few speak your language) is downright terrifying. Being away from family and close friends is hard, and adapting to a completely different culture and way of life is beyond difficult. Adjusting to a full time work schedule, that runs late into the evenings, takes more time than I initially anticipated… and don’t even get me started on the job itself. Teaching can be one of the most exhausting and thankless jobs in the world. For someone with an already low self-esteem and inflated sense of self-doubt, it can be utterly torturous at times.

I had minimal practice with teaching before we made our big move. In my fourth year at university I tutored first year psychology students, but that was vastly different to what I’m doing now. One of the biggest differences is that I am now teaching children (ranging from 6 – 16), and holy shit is it challenging. They say that children are the best teachers and I would definitely have to agree. I’ve learnt so much from my students in less than a year, but above all else I’ve had to learn to have patience and perseverance like never before. I’ve also had to grow quite a thick skin (they aren’t afraid to tell you what they think of you).

The kids drive me completely batty at times, but I cannot deny that they work incredibly hard. Each day starts with normal school, then they head straight to us at the cram schools in the early afternoons. Sometimes English lessons run as late as 9pm here. After class they go home, do their homework, and go to bed, so that they can wake up and repeat the process. Some of the older students have extra lessons on Saturdays, and summer and winter schooling runs during vacation time.

I am both inspired and horrified by the standard upheld by these children. 100% on tests and exams is the norm. Less than that is met with disappointment, and scores that drop below 90% are considered bad. The expectations here are massive, and failure is just not an option. I question how healthy that kind of mentality is.

Despite all the challenges, and the many, many moments when I’ve been certain I can’t do it, these 7 months have been some of the most personally rewarding of my life. I battle quite a bit with my mental health, which in itself is a difficult hurdle to overcome, especially living in a part of the world where disorders of the mind are not fully recognized. I am lucky enough to have found a psychiatrist here who can provide me with my necessary medication, but finding a therapist has proven more difficult.

Nevertheless I have pushed on, something I am proud of myself for, and feel like I am on the path that I need to be. I have lived some dark days here in my new home, but I have gotten through them too. Ultimately I feel like this experience is helping me grow in ways that will greatly serve me later in life, and aid me in following my dream of becoming a clinical psychologist. It isn’t all partying and traveling and fun; it’s hard freaking work, but it certainly is life changing.

Courage, Dear Heart

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I wake up with panic perched on my chest. Rolling over I try to shake it off, try to dive back under the blanket of unconsciousness, but it’s done… I’m awake.

Instead of getting up I lie in bed for another hour, and as my anxiety mounts the beginning of a headache starts to scratch at the inside of my skull.

This is how a lot of my mornings start. The day stretches ahead of me like an insurmountable relay of endless tasks that I have neither the energy nor the desire to tackle.

I am now faced with a choice. I can stay in bed, call in sick, wallow in my misery and ultimately feel worse for it, or I can get up. I can eat breakfast and shower (and more than likely cry while doing so) and force myself out the door.

I can choose to try and fight this stupid thing inside my head, and yes it will be difficult and yes I will be in pain… but I am in pain anyway. Whether I stay in bed or not, everything sucks.

After fighting through the day (and having to hide the war that is raging inside my head from everyone I work with) I am overwhelmed by the fact that I have to do it all again tomorrow. What kind of life is this?

I walk home and an ambulance whizzes noisily past me. I’m ashamed to admit that my first thought is “I wish I were in it”. I’m so tired of fighting. I want to give up. I can’t though…

Something inside just won’t let me throw in the towel, and it’s what I cling to on days like this. It’s what I draw strength from (albeit, minimal) on days when I can’t seem to run out of tears, on days when my head won’t stop hurting or stay quiet.

I think this thing is called courage. It isn’t a loud or strong thing. It sits quietly in my heart; it is tiny and gasping for air… but there it sits all the same.

“You will not surrender!” it says. “Not today.”

Black

Poison black moods are burnt white hot

Into my senseless existence

My days are not lived, but merely endured,

Etched with my futile persistence

 

My smiles are not smiles, my words hold no worth,

And my laughter is not what you think

Happiness hovers as my soul fights to reach it

Trying but failing to link

 

I’m looking at you and watching you speak

But all I can hear is the silence

It pierces my veins and infects my whole life

And brings with it fine thoughts of violence

 

The hatred inside me bubbles with fire

Occupying all of my mind

Indifference flows freely and leaks through my pores

Until pain is all I can find

 

I will burn all my bridges and sever my ties

With all that I ever have known

As I drift through this world, helpless and bored,

I will undoubtedly do it alone

 

(Written in 2006)

Swimming through Syrup

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The comedown is officially here. The sun has set on my good vibes and I have crashed. I knew it was coming…

After about a week of living life in the clouds my brain has taken a nose dive into the sewers beneath the streets that I trudge up and down every day.

I feel like I have been hit by a train. Everything hurts. It’s as though the smog that hangs around the city has filled my head and I can’t see my way forward. I want to binge eat every sugary thing in sight. The simplest of tasks are massive challenges. Work is pure hell. Every sound is amplified and the pain in my head and face is almost blinding at times. I am constantly on the verge of tears.

How do I function like this? I don’t know. I have to though. I know it will pass, just like the high did (hopefully as quickly too). I just need to scrape together enough energy to get through the last few hours of this work week. Then I can crawl back into bed and wait it out.

Nature Nurtures

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I am fortunate enough to live in a place where the nearest hiking spot is a mere 20 minute bus ride away.

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Dakeng Forest Recreation Area (Taichung, Taiwan) is a place of spectacular beauty.

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With 10 different trails to choose from there is endless exploring to be done, and ample photo opportunities too…

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I have only ventured up and down trail 9 and 10 so far, the easiest of the lot (gotta start slow). I plan to tackle all of them this year though, and my goal is to get out into nature at least once a month.

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It makes such a refreshing change from the bustling and often smoggy city. Not to mention the exercise is great for my mind and body.

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The fresh air and stunning sights are healing in themselves.

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Maleficent vs Doug

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They say it can be beneficial to name the things in our heads that torment us; that to give them a name separates them from the true self and better allows us to tackle them. I have found this to be true.

Since I can remember there have always existed in me two very different people. Now I know what you’re thinking… everyone has a good and bad side don’t they? A darkness and a light? While this is true to an extent, for me it has always been more than that.

It was only when I was given my diagnosis that I started to finally understand why it is that I’ve felt and been the way I have my whole life. Bipolar Disorder is a complicated beast (and even that is an understatement). It can be difficult to recognize, and even more so to understand. It is often mistaken for something else at first and can take years to properly uncover. I was first diagnosed, as a child, with depression and anxiety. Indeed, those were my main and obvious symptoms. It was only later in my life, when I sought appropriate help in the form of a psychiatrist and clinical psychologist, that I slowly began to unravel what was inside me.

My depression’s name is Doug, and we have known each other a long time. Doug is all encompassing. When he is present he saturates my life, drowning me, and he is a fantastic liar. He tells me that I am a failure, unlovable and incapable. He makes me feel hopeless, guilty and, at the worst of times, like I am better off dead. When he is in my head every critical or unkind word that is said to me is magnified and pierces my mind and heart like glass. Doug brings with him panic and anxiety, and a helplessness that paralyses me.

My hypomanic self is called Maleficent, and I’ve spent considerably less time with her. She is a real sorceress. Confident, seductive and fun she utterly bewitches me, but can turn a corner and be a real bitch too. She is just as malicious as Doug because she often starts out as something good. Don’t get me wrong, she is usually a welcome relief. When she is in control I am motivated, passionate and tireless. I’m creative and inspired and unstoppable. However, if not channeled appropriately she can become a destructive force to be reckoned with. She can turn irritable, angry and vicious. She is the ultimate typhoon of emotion and if I’m not careful I am swept away completely.

It saddens me to admit that there haven’t been many prolonged times of stability in my life. Suffice to say I feel like I don’t really know who I am without my seemingly constant companions. I hope a day comes when I am able to think of both Maleficent and Doug as old friends, who don’t visit as often anymore. A day when I am just me.

Hypomania

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When I feel like this it’s like I’ve shot up with electricity. The colours are brighter and more beautiful, people are more interesting and my mind is working like a well oiled, magical machine. Perhaps a little too well.

Sleep becomes difficult in times of hypomania. Not impossible, but the truth is… I don’t want to sleep. I want to write. I want to draw. I want to dance. Things flow so effortlessly and it’s hard not to take advantage of my increased motivation and levels of productivity (especially after being in the depths of depression where nothing gets done).

I have never experienced mania, as I have Bipolar Disorder II (at least that’s what I’ve been told). I can only imagine how terrifyingly intense it must feel. Of course there is the difference between euphoric and dysphoric mania… an important distinction. One that applies to hypomania as well.

The sheer restlessness that comes with these highs can become rather destructive, not to mention physically unhealthy. In the end it comes down to self awareness, discipline and self care; things I am still cultivating. It’s all about channeling the high into constructive things, and not feeding the beast. God help me.

Sleeplessness

IMG_0890.JPGThe days cycle, without end. Blurring at the edges I play pretend at living as an adult. Some days I’m excellent at the game. Some days I lose.

There are so many things I want to be good at… I could be good at. I lack the will to put in the work and so… I… float. Like a jellyfish.

The lows turn into highs that I feverishly (and foolishly) climb… only to fall down the other side again. And on and on it goes…

I crave connection. I find it hiding in unlikely places, but it always burns out eventually.

Would that I could be a real jellyfish. Blissfully brainless, floating.

To sort through the mess of the mind requires motivation. I come up short. Always. What I lack in substance I make up for with words.

So. Many. Words.

Useless. Taking up space. More shit to sift through. Where do people find the energy to be over achievers?

Validation. Validation. Validation. 

I think I’m brilliant, but do you? Do you?

I think I’m nothing… do you?

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