A Lost Month, and Beautiful Things

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 11.13.05 AM

Floor at Wat Pha Sorn Kaew, Buddhist Temple in Khao Koh, Thailand

Okay. We have some catching up to do.

First of all, culture shock is real, and I lost August. Not entirely lost—I traveled to Chiang Mai and Bangkok, I wrote some, and planned and organized thoughts for the rest of my novel. I went to school every day, and joined my friends for dinner and lunch and afternoons at coffee shops. When I wasn’t with people or fulfilling a work obligation, though, I was lying on my bed watching Gilmore Girls, and even when I was with people I mostly felt really, really bad. I identified with many of the things on this “13 Lies Your Depression is Telling You” list, I felt like a terrible teacher, and I wanted to go home.

I don’t know how much of this was the isolating effects of culture shock, and how much was mild depression. I’ve always struggled with ups and downs and probably always will, and going to Thailand in the first place was a response to some pretty serious negative feelings about my self-worth. I didn’t feel like I was capable of anything, so I went to the other side of the world to prove myself wrong. I’m not necessarily knocking this as a solution, but… you’re still you, even in Thailand, and all those bad feelings won’t instantly go away.

I’m doing amazing now, though, and I’m really grateful to everyone who sent me emails and skyped and chatted on facebook and talked and ate meals with me during my bad month. The human contact was so needed and appreciated. Somewhere along the line I got really cynical about a lot of things, and I made a decision a few weeks ago to be more grateful and less self-defeating. To believe that things can be done when I start them, instead of assuming laziness and failure from the outset.

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Running. Thursday will mark three weeks successful completion of my 5-runs-a-week routine. I run around our school building (.4 miles a lap!) and the students laugh and smile at me. They wave and shout “Hello teacher!” when they see me, every time they see me, which is sometimes three or four or even six times per run! This is a good system because I always run a little faster after a student makes me smile. My favorite was when a group of M1 girls (seventh graders) said, “Teacher, fighting!” as I went by. That’s my new mantra, whenever I’m out of breath and want to stop: Teacher, fighting!

Strength training. Three days a week, I’m doing push ups and squats and crunches. Like, more than I knew I could do. I’ve flirted with pushups in the past, and exercise machines and stuff like that, but this is the first time I’ve realized how it works. You do this. It feels like this. This is uncomfortable, but instead of stopping you do a few more, or a lot more. Sweat drips onto your yoga mat, your muscles surprise you, and you feel fierce. In a few days, you come back and do even more.

[Reality check: I still can’t do more than three full push-ups in a row. Instead of letting that discourage me, I’m killing it with the modified ones and I’ll work my way up to full ones very soon.]

Other stuff. Stretches and yoga, which get mixed in with the running and strength training. While on a school trip, I got up early to do yoga on the balcony while the sun rose over a misty sea. My yoga instruction is entirely from youtube videos, but maybe all these people who are talking about yoga all the time are actually onto something.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 11.18.52 AM

Environment. My brother told me a while ago that a clean house fights depression, so I’m trying to do things to make my surroundings feel nice—even though I’ll only be here for six more months. It’s difficult because my house is dirty and desperately needs a coat of paint, but I’ve been putting things on the walls and investing in cleaning supplies. I haven’t kept up with the cleaning quite as well as the exercise, but I’m picking things up more often and working on some projects. I’m sewing fabric curtains for an ugly piece of furniture, and I bought a new bed set and a folding table to go by my bed. Little things, but worth it for the happiness I get when I use them, and the happiness that comes from feeling at peace with my surroundings.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 11.22.28 AM

I’ve also done some traveling these last few weeks to the ocean and the mountains. The ocean, man. I lived a ten-minute walk from the ocean for last past two years, and didn’t realize how much I missed it until I saw it again. And yesterday’s ride on a mountain highway to a stunning temple 117 km (70 miles away) was awesome, and now I’m remembering my plans for longer bike trips. Things feel possible again, and it feels especially amazing because nothing felt possible in August.

There’s a lot more to say, always is, but for now enjoy some pictures from yesterday’s road trip!

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 11.24.25 AM

The five sitting Buddha statue at Wat Pha Sorn Kaew

Me and Anna, my friend from Germany who has been teaching at the school and sharing my house for the last two months. It was her last weekend in Phitsanulok, and I'm so glad we got to do something fun together!

Me and Anna, my friend from Germany who has been teaching at the school and sharing my house for the last two months. It was her last weekend in Phitsanulok, and I’m so glad we got to do something fun together!

Stairs!

Stairs!

Mountains!

And mountains!

Advertisements

My Running Revolution

I started running again last week, and it’s changing my life.

The other day, my dear friend and email correspondent Constable Maelstrom and I discussed the concept of agency. How it’s easy to let things happen to you in life, and it’s easy to just float along and assume you can’t really control the stuff that makes you feel good, or the stuff that makes you feel bad. Well, as Constable Maelstrom said, to hell with that. When I went for a run last tuesday, I took agency in my life and my health. I said, to hell with not feeling good, and to hell with worrying about things I can’t control. What I can do, right now, today, is go running. I can do this good thing and choose to feel incredible, rather than letting the days pass me by.

Did I mention it was raining last Tuesday, when I took that first run of the year? I’m a warm weather person, and while I know that running is something I enjoy and something that enriches and improves my life, I have always allowed my running routine to be controlled by the weather. Tuesday was pretty daring for me, going running in the rain and the barely forty degrees. I went again Wednesday, when it was 37˚ and sunny. Lower than my ideal temperature, but I bundled up and did okay. Then, on Thursday and Friday, a cold wind blew. “It’s winter again,” I moaned. So much for my healthy routine! But it was sunny again on Saturday, so I did the thing and jogged around the block. On Sunday, it was cold. I sang in church, I joined my parents and their church group for corned beef and cabbage (and roasted carrots and Irish soda bread), I wrote most of a blog post, and we all finished Argo (which we’d started the night before. Good movie). At the end of the day, I felt kind of antsy and desperate. At dusk, and in just under 20˚ Fahrenheit, I went for a run.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but for me it was huge. Prior to this week, I’ve never gone running in temperatures under 40˚, and under 50˚ only on very rare occasions. On Sunday, I took agency away from the outdoor thermometer. I stood up and said, I’m the one who gets to control whether or not I run on any given day. Me. I get to choose.

Since then, it’s been awesome. On Tuesday, I ran in a snowstorm. On Wednesday, I ran through the post-snowstorm slush. Yesterday, even though I’d given myself permission to take the day off, I ran because I ate deep-fried seafood for lunch (so yummy) and I needed to do something healthy to counteract the sugar-sauce and the grease. I’ve been for eight runs in the past ten days, and I feel incredible. I have so much more energy for every aspect of my life. My tummy is shrinking at an alarming rate (anyone else excited for bikini season this year?), and I’ve had the courage to take agency in other things, like correspondence, creative work, and employment. Good things just keep happening. We had a great set at the pub last friday in which I barely messed up my harp solo at all, and then we left early to jam with old and new friends until midnight. I’m making exciting new friends, and I’m having exciting new conversations with some of the old and dear ones. I even found a job to apply for (read my last post on Writing with a Day Job!), and it’s valuable work for which I feel well-qualified. I can’t tell you how excited I am about everything—and I think it’s all happening because of the running, and because of my choice to feel great.

All good blog posts need a visual, so here is a photograph of me.

DayoftheRun01

It was taken in Thailand, looking across the river into Laos. Here’s what the photo doesn’t tell you:

On the day this was taken, I’d had a terrible morning. Imagine being stuck on a bus for two hours with the radio set on the sappiest, most saccharine english-language love songs you can imagine—within a month from the worst break up of your life. Plus, my legs were absolutely covered with bites from monster mosquitoes that itched with a persistance American mosquito bites can only dream of. It was was also getting to that point in the three-week trip where we’d had so many new and incredible experiences, almost more than I could take, with relatively little time to recharge. It’s also possible that I was hungover. We finally piled out of the bus into at least ninety-degree weather onto a rocky plateau, the sun a hard orb above, and went for a hike just below the cliffs where we could look across the river and see some cave paintings. I was cranky, antsy, upset, and full of that bad sort of energy that boils around inside and makes your skin crawl. Even though it was the sort of weather where you’d sweat your brains out just standing still, I needed to run. When we hit the the part of the trail that headed back over land to the bus, I cajoled one of the guys on the trip to join me in a run. And then, I ran my heart out. I sweated and huffed and barely kept up, but I set my feet against the hard rock and pounded forward into the blazing sun and the still air and ran out all my anger and frustration and heartache. This picture was taken that afternoon, and you have no idea how much sweat had drenched and dried into my clothing and hair, but I think it’s one of the most beautiful pictures of me from the whole trip.