Today is my twenty-third birthday.
Today is my twenty-third birthday and I am not in Bali celebrating with TESOL friends as I had planned; I am not off having wonderful travel adventures after the close of a semester of teaching English, as most of my TESOL friends are by this point.
No. Today is my twenty-third birthday and I am in Nakhon Chaisi, my Thailand home, very much alone…taking time for myself.
Really taking time for myself.
Not thinking about classes or school–school finished last week; not worrying about the future–that will come in time; not investing so much time in what other people think of me and how I’m spending my time–because I’m so tired of that; not expecting so much of
myself–because I keep pushing myself to do things that won’t serve me…and that needs to stop.
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Last week, I was crying in a Thai hospital after a doctor had just diagnosed me with the early stages of pneumonia. I was crying because of the inconvenient timing–how I was supposed to administer exams the next day and how I was supposed to fly out of Bangkok to Bali on Monday. The doctor told me I could still go to Bali–as long as I didn’t spend any time in the water on beaches–but traveling is exhausting and I didn’t feel comfortable exerting myself in that way while sick (not to mention that spending time in the water on beaches was something I wanted to do…and I didn’t want to travel all the way to Bali if I couldn’t make the most of my experience because of illness). I was crying in this hospital because this was only the latest in what seemed to be a continuing list of physical maladies that have been plaguing me in Thailand and I was crying because I was angry at Thailand for doing this to me; more than being angry at Thailand, I was angry at my body for not holding up in the way I wanted it to in the face of adversity. I was crying because, dammit, life has been really hard these past couple months; when I’ve just wanted to make the most of my time here in Thailand–both on my own and with my TESOL friends and new friends along the way–my body and soul have consistently been telling me differently–that I need to withdraw and take
some time a lot of time for myself.
I’ve been trying to do this since the New Year began, mind you–but it hasn’t been successful. I recognized as 2015 was coming to a close that the almost constant weekends to Bangkok to spend time with TESOL friends had been serving me well in the beginning, as I was still adjusting to my town and living in Thailand on my own–but that the dependence I had started to place on them for my own well being needed to come to a close sooner than later. I was beginning to feel more and more stifled by those constant trips to see them…not because I don’t love spending time with them or enjoy their company (because I do), but because I began to see that I was using those consistent trips as a crutch; a crutch I kept holding because I was so afraid to fully immerse myself in Thailand by myself…because the thought of being self-sufficient in a completely foreign country scared me. Something within me understood that, while there was nothing inherently wrong with spending so much time with my TESOL friends, the real reason I came to Thailand was to grow and push myself as an individual–and to do that, I needed to allow myself a bit more solidarity.
With this in mind, I decided I needed to focus more on myself in 2016 and work towards more independence and a feeling of contentedness within myself. To accomplish this, I had the (in retrospect, not-so-brilliant) idea to isolate myself in my town for the month of January. I wasn’t going to talk to any TESOL friends and I was going to purposefully withdraw from the fellow foreign teachers at my school. I intended to talk to friends and family back home as little as possible. I was going to try to meet more Thai people, but mostly…spend a lot of time by myself.
It was a bit of a tall order to put on myself, to say the least…
…and, as you might imagine, it ended up being a major flop; it only ended up making me feel extremely lonely, extremely needy, and extremely vulnerable. I learned from this that no matter how valuable alone time can be, isolating oneself from the world is not the same as taking time for oneself. I couldn’t concentrate on trying to meet Thai people because I was so absorbed in trying to figure out what was best for me. As part of my plan to isolate myself, I had decided to go no further than Bangkok for weekend day trips during January…and that, too, was a bust; I was craving human interaction so much that I ended up taking the last weekend of the month to visit my friend Sarah in her town in Rayong Province, about three hours southeast of Bangkok.
It was the next weekend, that first week in February, when I had the break down that allowed me to realize I had to leave Thailand. It is that weekend when I realized that I am not happy here, that I do not see a future for myself here, and how that is mainly because I am fundamentally not happy with and confused with my own self right now. I firmly believe that I cannot succeed at living the best and healthiest life until I am happier and more content with myself–and I realized over the course of that weekend that the life I’m living in Thailand is not going to lead me to that.
These last few weeks have been a whirlwind of ups and downs. I took two weekends in February in my town trying to explore it and the surrounding area more before I leave. I took a long three day weekend a couple weeks ago to meet up with a group of TESOL friends in Buri Ram Province in eastern Thailand. The last time I had seen any of them was at various points in December and I took this trip with the full knowledge that it would be the last time I would see any of them in Thailand and most of them for who knows how long. It was a wonderful and much needed weekend filled with so many memories–and I am so grateful I allowed myself that.
Yes, there have been many ups and downs, and sitting there at the doctor’s office crying was certainly a major down. In fact, in that time, I decided that I was ready to cancel all of my travel plans and be home in Minnesota within a week. The first thing I did when I got back to school and into wifi (since I don’t have data here) before heading back to my apartment on doctor’s order to rest, was call my parents. Even though it was nearly midnight on a Monday night back home, my parents talked to me for a good half hour as I sat in a quiet area at school blubbering into the phone. I told them I just wanted to go home and they told me to sleep on it. “Maybe cancel Bali and concentrate on getting better, but don’t cancel anything else. We don’t want you to regret not going to these places because you made a rash decision…and Britta, we will be traveling to Thailand in April regardless of if you’re there or not. These tickets are not refundable.”
They say mom (and dad) knows best for a reason. My parents forced me to really consider–yes, I’m sick and yes, pneumonia can become very serious if not treated–but this is the twenty-first century…and I have six different medications because Thai doctors like to prescribe A LOT. My excuse to go home early was this pneumonia, but what an ill thought out and poor decision that would be when I had a month of travels ahead of me that I was really looking forward to. Maybe I should just cancel Bali and give myself this one last week in my Thai town to relax and
really take time for myself. Take that time I’ve been trying to take since the New Year and actually embrace it. Read books. Do some writing. Rest. Clean and pack. Do yoga. Frequent the multitude of cute coffee shops in town that I love so much. Maybe try a new restaurant or two for kicks instead of sticking to the ones I’ve grown accustomed to going to. Sit by the river. Cherish this last week in my town because one day I will miss it…one day I may regret not appreciating it for what it was when I had it–that beautiful little place I called home during my short time in Thailand.
Maybe…just maybe…this pneumonia is the universe’s way of telling me stop pushing myself when it’s not in my best interest. Maybe it is just what I needed to force myself to slow down and breathe–both of which I’ve become increasingly terrible at doing while here in Thailand.
Taking one week here for myself before I head to Europe for two weeks.
It really didn’t sound that bad when I thought more about it. Did I really want to cancel my Europe plans? No, I’m so excited to see my high school friend and explore two new cities. Did I really want to skip out on showing my parents around Thailand–absolutely not.
I do plan on coming back to Southeast Asia one day, so canceling Bali now doesn’t mean canceling it forever.
Really, canceling Bali is for the best because now…now needs to be wholly and fully devoted to me in this special space of time that I have in Thailand without any other responsibilities to attend to. In retrospect, not taking and embracing time for myself is the greatest disservice I have done for myself here in Thailand–and it’s what my body needs more than anything right now.
So, yes, I’m spending my twenty-third birthday by myself. I’m taking it slow today because I need it. I need to allow myself this. Maybe I’ll check out one of the massage places in town. I’ll most likely mosey on over to the cafe across the street for some coffee and cake. I’m taking it slow today on this birthday of mine in Thailand and I think…no, I’m positive…that this is the absolute best birthday present I could give myself right now.
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Twenty-two was a year of so much. My twenty-second year started off on a brisk and sunny day in Bozeman, Montana, road tripping to Seattle with two college friends…and was bound to be a year of adventure from that point on. Twenty-two was a year of constantly pushing myself. Of trying new things and going to new places and meeting new people and coming into myself so much more. It was the year of college graduation and moving to Thailand and experiencing both more joy and more sadness than I ever have before. Twenty-two was so much.
I think I want twenty-three to move at a slower place. I want to be kinder to myself. To nurture my body and accept my limits. To search for and go on those adventures that I crave so much–while also allowing myself space to breathe. I haven’t allowed myself room to just breathe for so long.
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I have so much hope for twenty-three and for the future in general.
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With that, happy birthday to me.
Happy birthday to this life that is wholly and completely mine; to this life that is so full, despite pneumonia and uncertainties and vulnerable moments.
Here’s to doing nothing but relaxing on my birthday…If anything, I owe this to myself.