A Year In The Making

A year ago today I left Shenzhen for a 3 week holiday in India, never having even an inkling that I wouldn’t be able to go back to my home of 9 years.

So many things have happened since then – some good, some bad, and pretty much all of them emotional in some way, shape or form. Right now I’m feeling too many emotions to name and I don’t quite know what to do with myself.

It’s been months since I updated this blog (April last year was my last post) and I will probably write about everything that has happened since then in more detail – just not right now. I think I just want to write out everything that’s in my head to try and make sense of it all. Although that’s probably easier said than done!

Perhaps I should do a summary of my year…

21 January 2020: Left Shenzhen, China, where I’d lived since 2011, and went on holiday with 4 friends to India with only hand luggage.

February 2020: Told that my school was going to online teaching and my flight back to Shenzhen was cancelled. Instead flew to Kazakhstan (via Dubai and Bahrain) to stay with my then gf as there were no cases there at the time. School reopening dates kept getting moved back as cases escalated in China. Was also applying and having interviews for jobs for the next academic year.

March 2020: Had to leave Kazakhstan as my visa was only for 30 days, decided against going back to China as cases were still rising, instead went to Thailand to stay with friends. Was offered and accepted a job in Myanmar starting in August. Booked a flight back to Shenzhen for 1st April. Flight was cancelled. Booked a new flight for 27th March. Wasn’t allowed on it as the Chinese government closed the border to foreigners at midnight on 27th March, even though my flight was due to land at 11.20pm. Got stuck in Thailand. Still teaching online.

April 2020: Told by my school that I could no longer teach remotely and they would stop paying me when the children went back to school in May. Myanmar government closed their border. Couldn’t go back to China, couldn’t go forward to Myanmar. Still staying with the same (amazing) friends in Thailand. All on lockdown.

May 2020: Thailand still mostly locked down. Chinese border still closed. Students at my school in China went back into school and I stopped working after 9 years at the same place. Myanmar border still closed and the government keeps extending the closure by two weeks at a time.

June 2020: Used all my spare time as I was no longer working (or being paid) to study towards my masters in education. Chinese border still closed. Lease on my apartment in Shenzhen ended. Spent hours on video calls to my flatmate (who I’d never lived with add she moved in in March) going through everything I own to either get rid of or pack for me to be sent to Myanmar. The Myanmar government extended the border closure again, this time until the end of July which was when my Thai visa ran out. I couldn’t go back to China, I couldn’t go forward to Myanmar and on top of that I couldn’t stay in Thailand. Booked flight back to the UK.

July 2020: Arrived in the UK on 4th July. Got dumped a few days later. Went clothes shopping as I was fed up of the week’s worth of clothes I’d been wearing for the last 6 months. Decided to make the most of my time in the UK before starting my new job in Myanmar in August, and spent the time with friends and family I hadn’t seen for a year (and went on a couple of dates!). Met someone wonderful and completely unexpectedly fell head over heels. All my belongings arrived at my new school in Myanmar. Myanmar government extended the border closure.

August 2020: Started my new job in Myanmar remotely online. Because of the time difference started work at 3.15am. Went to Myanmar embassy in London and applied for my visa. Myanmar government extended the border closure.

September 2020: Spent lots of (socially distanced) time with friends and family (and my special someone). Still teaching remotely in Myanmar. Myanmar government extended the border closure.

October 2020: Still teaching remotely in Myanmar. Celebrated my Mum’s and my birthdays in the UK for the first time in 9 years. Myanmar government extended the border closure.

November 2020: Moved in with my new partner and so have a proper home of my own for the first time since January. Still teaching remotely in Myanmar. Myanmar government extended the border closure.

December 2020: Celebrated Christmas in the UK for the first time in 7 years, not quite with family as planned due to the restrictions, but lovely nonetheless. Still teaching remotely in Myanmar. School announced that we would be continuing to teach online until April. Myanmar government extended the border closure.

January 2021: Co-hosted an awesome online New Year’s Eve party celebrating New Year in every time zone in the world (I co-hosted Myanmar, Kazakhstan, Nepal and India; for anyone interested the party is still going here: thelong.party) Set up a new home office for me to teach from as I’m still teaching remotely in Myanmar, and will be until at least April. Currently trying to arrange for my belongings to be shipped from my school in Myanmar to the UK. It’s been a year since I’ve had my stuff and I’d rather not have to re-buy all the things I already own, however, it’s proving to be difficult and expensive and so is taking much longer than I’d hoped.

So that brings us all up to date. What started off as a Facebook status has turned into a bit of a long post, but evidently I needed to write it all out.

Despite – or perhaps because of – all the ups and downs, I am really happy to be at home in the UK. I’m also eternally grateful to everyone who has been there for me over the last year, in whatever form that has taken. I love you all very dearly and I know my life would be so much poorer without you in it.

Here’s to the next year and the surprises it may bring!

No Shopping Challenge Week 11

Another week has been and gone. Time certainly flies when you’re running around at work and hanging out with your friends!

Last week was a bit of an expensive one for Shenzhen (although still cheaper than most of my recent holiday! You can check out my musings on New Orleans here, Miami here and Costa Rica here.). This was mostly due to it being a good friend’s birthday and St Patrick’s Day all rolled into one. My spending for Saturday ended up being 963rmb (£110), although this included laser tag, food, taxis to Shekou and back (about 70rmb/£8 each way), a food shop which I haven’t done for ages (muesli, yoghurt, veg and the like), and of course, lots of drinks on the pub crawl in the evening!

My total spending for the week including that was 2419rmb (£275), so 1456rmb (£165) on all food and transport the rest of the week, including eating out with friends three out of five nights (one meal, mala tang, was only 20rmb/£2.30 including a soft drink!).

One other item that hiked up my spending for the week was medication. Something I don’t talk about very often is that I suffer from depression and have done on and off for years. Currently I’m all good, which I expect is to do with the medication I’m on as much as how great my life is at the moment. This means I want to keep taking the antidepressants in order to maintain that oft-precarious balance. Of course, China doesn’t have the amazing NHS, so my work pays for health insurance for all staff. Luckily my medication is covered, but we’ve just changed insurance companies due to increased fees. Whereas before the full cost of visits to the doctor and medication were covered, now there’s a 20% co-pay, meaning I have to pay for 20% of the cost. For a one month supply of antidepressants I had to pay 399rmb (£45). Yes, £45 for 20%, meaning (in case you can’t be bothered to do the maths) £225 for the whole amount. For one month. That included seeing the doctor for about 2 minutes to get a repeat prescription, with a consultation fee of 300rmb (£34).

Some people complain about the 20p rise to £8.80 for a prescription charge on the NHS, with a free visit to the doctor included. If you didn’t appreciate the NHS before, you certainly do when living abroad! My advice would be to treasure the NHS and do whatever you can to make sure it doesn’t get privatised. Otherwise you might end up paying £225 every time you go to the doctors.

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Whilst I may have spent more than intended this week, I’ve still not bought any ‘stuff’, and my birthday presents to people are staying as treats, meals or activities, so I count that as a successful week.

If you have any thoughts or comments about anything I talk about, please let me know!

Feeling a Fool

I’ve lived in China for almost four years. At times I think I’ve got the hang of how this country works, what the people are like and generally how to get by. However, there are still occasional days that make me feel like a complete idiot who has been here four minutes rather than four years.

This week I had one of those days. Luckily for me, my friends are lovely and didn’t take the piss out of me at all (which I was slightly worried about, although that speaks more to my state of mind than what my friends are like).

I’ve been wanting to get a tablet with a keyboard for a while now, particularly before I go travelling in the summer, as it’ll be much easier to write on than my phone (as I’m doing now… It just takes so long!). I’d done a bit of research and decided what I wanted from looking at various online reviews and descriptions as well as talking to people. I was happy with my decision and ordered it (in case you’re interested, Lenovo Miix 2 8 with Windows 8) from Amazon China.

There were problems from the beginning. Again, luckily for me I have a Chinese Teaching Partner (TP) who is amazing and will often go above and beyond to help me out with things. She spoke to the seller about everything on my behalf. The first issue was that they didn’t have any in stock (private seller via amazon) and I had to wait two weeks until they got the next order in from the factory. Two weeks passed and nothing. My TP contacted the seller again. They still didn’t know when they would get more in, although they had a better model they could send straight away if I paid more. Ha! Nice try! My TP is good at holding her own so she told him that he shouldn’t have put on the website it was available if it wasn’t and he should send the model they have with no extra payment as it was his fault not ours.

It worked. My tablet arrived two days later. I was very excited. Until I turned it on…

When I discovered it was the Chinese language version of Windows.

You may think that’s not a problem, all electronic devices these days have the capacity to change the language. You’d be wrong.

Yes, there was an option for English (if you could read Chinese in the first place) but only a very few things were translated. The main menus and functions were all still in Chinese. My work IT department even looked at it and phoned Lenovo to find out if a language pack could be installed – to no avail. I cannot fault the Chinese staff who tried to help me with this.

Feeling like more and more of an idiot (I live in China, of course it’s in Chinese!) I asked my ever-suffering TP to find out from the seller if he had an English language version (no) or if I could send it back.

You may well be wondering why I hadn’t thought of that. When I was looking at all the descriptions of the various tablets on Amazon, the majority either had hardly any description or specs, or they had details which included ‘Chinese language version’. The one I ordered had details but didn’t say anything about the language. Foolishly, I assumed that that meant it was an English language version. This really drove home the adage: Never assume; it makes an ass out of u and me.

Although this whole situation was annoying (I was annoyed at myself) and a bit embarrassing, I was also lucky as the seller agreed to let me return it (although he offered me a free USB if I didn’t!). If he hadn’t, there’s no way I would be able to afford to buy another tablet before the summer. I was also lucky that I had some great people to help me sort it all out and friends that sympathised rather than making my embarrassment worse.

As it is, I will have to go to Hong Kong to get my tablet now as I don’t think I’ll be able to get an English language one here in China.

You live and learn, I guess…

Words versus Feelings

Having recently written a post about how compliments can have a really positive effect on a person, I now have the (kind of) opposite to write about.

Words, or sometimes even the lack of them, can make all the difference in how someone is feeling. I know it’s irrational, but when that same person who was complimenting you a couple of days ago suddenly stops replying to your messages with no explanation, you can’t help but wonder what you’ve done wrong. And unfortunately, especially for a person suffering from depression, that then leads to all kinds of negative thoughts and feelings.

Sometimes I really don’t understand people. People are weird, they do strange things for little or no reason, or really obscure ones. I’m not excluding myself from this statement. Quite frequently I don’t understand myself or my feelings or why I’m thinking what I’m thinking.

I find myself getting annoyed at what I’m thinking or how I’m feeling, because I don’t understand the hows or whys of it. If I can’t explain it to myself, how can I even begin to explain it to someone else?

I’ve managed so many years not having to rely on prescribed medication that I almost feel like I’ve given in to the depression by acknowledging that I need help and I can’t do it by myself anymore. I hate feeling like that. Even more than that, I hate the way even really small, insignificant actions/words/etc. from other people can change how I’m feeling so quickly and thoroughly. I feel like I have no control over my emotions anymore. I don’t like not having control. I think it scares me.

So now the question is, do I message this person again to try to find out why they’ve stopped contacting me and what I’ve done to piss them off, or do I leave it and just try to forget about them and move on?

Compliments

It’s amazing the effect a few compliments can have.

I recently had a conversation with someone during which they gave me some genuine compliments.  It made me feel so much happier about myself, made me think that actually maybe people do like me, maybe some people do find me attractive, maybe I do deserve good things.

You may think this is a bit of an extreme reaction just because of a few compliments, but when you suffer from depression you think all the worst things possible about yourself – that you don’t deserve to be loved, that no one really likes you, no one finds you attractive, you’re never going to find someone who loves you for you, etc. etc.

It has taken me a very long time (years) to be able to just accept a compliment with a ‘Thank you’ instead of a denial or explanation, and I still find it difficult sometimes.

This has made me think about how important kind words are.  We hear all the time about people being hurt by the nasty things people have said or written; maybe it’s about time we heard more of the opposite?

I’m going to try to make an effort to compliment at least one person every day. You never know what someone may be thinking or feeling; a few kind words cost nothing but could make all the difference to them.

Many Faces

Do you ever get that feeling where you don’t know what to do with yourself?

Every movement feels almost delicate, fragile, like you’re not sure that’s what you should be doing or if you’re doing it right – even if it’s something you’ve done every day for as long as you can remember.  What do you do with yourself when you feel like that?  When the world around you feels foreign, alien.  When you don’t feel like you’re part of anything.  Separate, isolated, in your own bubble of being.

Depression has many faces.  Some are easier to wear a mask over than others.

Make yourself do something, anything, to try to get past that feeling. Something small and manageable. Make yourself a drink. Have a shower. Get dressed. Take everything one step at a time, one straightforward action at a time. Try not to look beyond the task you’re doing right in that moment. You don’t want to freak yourself out by taking on or thinking about too much.

Having people around can help too. If you can’t face leaving the house, ask your friends to come to you. Don’t start thinking that you’re imposing or asking too much – if they’re busy they’ll tell you. They’re your friends and they care about you, otherwise they wouldn’t be your friends.

5ab4982b3ef2b82c5a5921f2e1039b95                                         2fFnkx9

And now I need to start taking some of my own advice (I’m always so good at giving advice to other people, but really bad at taking it myself).

I’ve made myself a drink, now it’s time for a shower.

Blocked

writers-block

I’ve been trying to finish my blog about Cape Town for three weeks now.  I’ve written about half of it so far, with notes for the second half, but every time I sit down at it I can’t seem to come up with anything to write.

Today I decided to write about not being able to write because then at least I’m writing something.  My New Year’s resolution to write a little every day, or at least twice a week, has been harder to keep than I thought it would be.

5ab4982b3ef2b82c5a5921f2e1039b95Part of this ‘writer’s block’, if that’s the appropriate name, is that I’ve been feeling quite stressed and down recently.  I’ve suffered from depression on and off for years, and it’s a subject I find really hard to talk about.  Although some of my close friends and family know that about me, there are still many people that don’t know, and at the moment I’d quite like to keep it that way.  2fFnkx9The stigma surrounding mental illness has improved greatly, however there’s still lots of prejudice and many misconceptions out there.  I don’t want people’s opinions of me to change because of something I can’t control (which I know I shouldn’t care about, but I do).  I also don’t want the inevitable comments from people: “But you’re always so cheerful and positive,”, “You’re never in a bad mood,”, “I’m sure you’ll feel better in a few days,”, “You just need to pull yourself together,”, “But you have such a good life/so much,”, “There’s so many other people worse off than you,”, etc, etc, etc. Having said that, this is (apparently – and it’s a surprise to me too) my attempt to talk about it. Feel free to weigh in with your opinion.

I think part of the reason I’m wary of telling people here and at work is that I live in China, where mental illness is even more of a taboo subject than in the Western world.  This makes it uphill3_ldifficult even to go to the doctor, especially as there are so few clinics or hospitals where the doctors speak English (and this is not something I want to have to have translated by a colleague) and the medical insurance I have from work covers only certain places. (There’s no NHS in China!  While I’m on the subject, if you’re in/from the UK and you haven’t signed the petition to stop the privatisation of the NHS please click here or here.)

In addition, we were just told at work (I’m a teacher in an international school) that our week’s holiday in May has been cancelled by the Education Bureau and we’re only allowed to have one day off in line with Chinese public schools (even though we’re not a Chinese public school).  I know there’s nothing the school can do about it, and they’re going to try and arrange for us to finish a week earlier for the summer holiday, but it means that we now have a ridiculously long stretch (15 or 16 weeks) Holiday-Cancellationswith only two 3 day weekends as a break – and it’s not me I’m concerned about as much as the kids who won’t be getting a break, especially when some of them have exams in May (I also feel for the people who had booked holidays for that week and may now lose their money). I’m so glad I hadn’t got around to booking anything for that week yet. I’m trying to stay positive about it as there’s nothing that can be done, so what’s the use in complaining?  It’s difficult though, when all you see is work stretching into the future with no break in sight to look forward to (again, I know we’ll have the summer holiday, but that’s loooong way off and at the moment feels like it’s almost unachievable).

Anyway, if anyone has any hints or tips on how to finish the blog entry I’m halfway through, or anything to do with dealing with depression, please let me know.  Or should I just publish what I’ve written so far and write the rest as a separate entry?