I write in my head, all the time.
A thought will come to me, usually in the moments before sleep and it’s perfect.
No, not perfect but it has potential and truth, and i’ll lie awake perfecting it until it’s just right, and conveys everything i’ve been needing to express.
And i fall asleep and in the morning it’s gone.
I've been having a lot of those moments recently, since arriving in Thailand. Maybe it's the heat, maybe it's all the impressions. I didn't experience culture shock, though. I never even planned to go here.
So to tie together everything that happened since my last blog post, when was that even, October? up until now where i'm sitting on the little Sri Thanu peninsula in the town bearing the same name on the island of Koh Phangan, while an 11 year old kid burns palo santo while his mom is explaining something in Thai to a guest who's dressed like a sadhu and appears to have been here forever.
We're surrounded by three dogs, two of whom are playing on the messy beach which is mostly sand and rocks and garbage due to the low tide, and oh, about sixty ducks.
Ok, clearly that's impossible, so instead of doing that, i'll start by saying what i didn't say in the last post. Not because i didn't want to but because i couldn't.
I was in the Third Great Period of Needing to Escape in my adult life. At least i think it was the third, there could have been more, but i actually usually just count the two in Berlin, in my New Life.
When i say needing to escape i mean being so fundamentally unhappy in your current living situation that you can't fully live in, or enjoy, the present. The whole concept of home, having a safe space to return to, somewhere to be your authentic self, without fear, is for some reason threatened or nonexistent. That kind of escape.
The first one in Berlin i never really truly described here either. At the time i was still trying to protect people who never deserved my protection or consideration in the first place, but none of that is important now.
It was while i was living in a big, but nowhere near big enough, house with my not-even-ex-husband-yet and his not-quite-as-new-as-she-should-have-been girlfriend right downstairs. I was blogging at the time so you probably know how long i was there for before i was presented with a way out.
A year. More than a year, which had its fun moments and was an extreme time of change and transition for me in many ways. And blackouts, but that's another story.
But towards the end all i could think about was getting out of there. I remember my mantra at the time; "an apartment and a ticket to Mexico City. An apartment and a ticket to Mexico City". Repeat.
That was all i cared about, all i was trying to move towards, and i was almost unable to live in the present, that's how much the future was pulling at me.
You know what happened, so i don't need to get too far into it, but the option i got was a beautiful apartment, big enough for me and my best friend, and a eventually another friend.
I had found the peace i'd been craving, a home, safety at last.
But it didn't last.
One year later, i was living with a completely different set of people. Two years later, actual strangers. Three years in, i'd lived with... countless people, double digits, and the stress of always having to find a new roommate, a new stranger, to literally share my home with and trust with my things, even my dog, was killing me.
It had long since stopped being a home, but i was stuck there, being the one on the contract i didn't have the luxury of leaving with a weeks notice and leaving the mess to someone else, like so many of them did. It didn't matter who was living there anymore, i wanted no one around. I talked to Lucifer on our walks, i would tell him i was gonna find us a great place and it was gonna be just ours.
Almost every day i dreaded coming home, what was i coming home to? Always a situation, feeling more like their janitor than a flatmate. I dreaded even leaving my room at times, and i would stand by the door listening for footsteps before entering the common areas. Some of the people there wouldn't treat me very nice. There was passive aggressiveness and there was straight up bullying at times.
That's when i decided to start looking. And at some point the dream of having a place of my own became so pertinent that i fell back into the pattern.
I didn't live in the moment, the stronger the pull, the more nightmarish my present situation felt.
I knew it was unhealthy and i knew i was making it worse, but i couldn't help it. A Great Period of Needing to Escape was happening and it was too late to turn it off or even slow it down.
I looked at apartments, sometimes several a week. I worked on my portfolio, trying to prove what an excellent tenant i was. This time i was prepared, and i was laughing at 2015 me, thinking she could have ever found a place to live through the usual channels with the sorry excuse for paperwork she had back then. But now i had everything ready, i was legit, a respectable person with a work history in Germany, an employer, references, all the required documents and then some, and i wanted a home for myself so, so bad. I started to remembering wanting it at 16, at 18, having it so briefly and then marriage, cohabitation, codependency, letting go of dreams that weren't his.
I worked so hard to find somewhere safe, and still it took a year.
It was just another viewing, i think i even had two that day. I would work from home on viewing days, apartments were usually easier to reach from the apartment in Neukölln, and this one was no exception, although i found it to be a little too far out and once i'd seen it, and i wasn't that impressed to be honest, i found myself on a one way street with no easy way to get back to where i came from.
But i still presented the agent with my portfolio, and unlike many other times, he accepted it, and we had a brief chat. And even though i didn't think the apartment was all that nice, i still applied.
I'll never know what made this time different, but a few days later i got the email. They'd picked me, a contract with my name on it was already attached to the mail. I google translated it, then again, then again. I looked at the few photos i'd taken, was it maybe not so bad? Why hadn't i taken more?
Was the street not so loud, did it really matter that it was north facing and on the ground floor?
I asked my best friend and the guy i was dating at the time, or more accurately, the only guy i had dated in the entire time since the breakup more than a year before, if they'd come visit, or if it was too far? In the end none of it mattered, and before asking all these questions i already knew damn well that i was about to say yes please and thank you.
The move was a nightmare and the only way i survived it was by taking it not one day at a time, because everyday had innumerable tasks, but one minute. One minute at a time.
For the longest time i was still mildly traumatized by the events, even months later.
Has it been that long? I guess i've just passed my three month anniversary as a person who found their own damn apartment without any help, within an impossible system that doesn't exactly favor single female foreigners who don't come with a shit ton of money, but do come with a dog.
I'm not even gonna downplay this, it was one of the biggest accomplishments of my life, and one that makes my little apartment even more precious than any of my previous homes.
All of this was a huge step towards a life i've been almost chasing, trying to make happen, for years.
After the move i was done, physically destroyed. What followed was referrals, treatments, MRI scans, injections, endless doctors appointments, sick leave, and in the end, a physiotherapist named Lilli, spelled like my grandmothers name, who told me that if it was up to her, i would go on sick leave for a month rather than the prescribed two weeks, followed by a nice long holiday somewhere warm.
I had already taken time off from work that i'd planned on spending in my spiritual hometown of Tokyo, but as soon as she said that, a more rational plan started forming.
Well, rational would have been doing proper research in good time, buying tickets when they were cheap, and maybe knowing where the hell i was going, but i'm me, so instead it was a mess of looking at flights every night, trying all possible combinations of airports and dates and times to find something even remotely affordable and suitable for a solo female traveler, all the while not having a passport because even though i had ten years to prepare for its renewal, i of course had to wait until the last minute to have it renewed at the Danish Embassy in Berlin (which by the way seems to consist of nothing more than a glass window and a lovely man named Dennis, and his one coworker who answers the phone).
What i ended up with was a plane ticket to one airport in Thailand, leaving from another two weeks later, and in between, i would stay on an almost randomly chosen island.
I'd never wanted to go to Thailand, it was never on my list of places i wasn't going to miss, and yet there i was, at the airport in Phuket alone, fully unprepared, trying to find out which bus out of all the buses i was being offered passage on, was the bus to town.
It was scorching hot and once i finally made it into town, the hostel i had booked was awful. I didn't care.
I spent the next two days sightseeing, riding a motorbike up a mountain, walking too far in uncomfortable Nike slippers, failing at finding anything resembling vegetarian food, and avoiding elephants. Taking pictures, instagram stories. Occasionally freaking out, as i do. Eating sticky rice, drinking ice coffee in cute cafes. I didn't really talk to anyone.
I got up early on the third day, caught a songthaew to the other bus station across town where a lady slapped a sticker on me with the name of my destination. I was mortified at the time, i wasn't allowed to remove this very visitble embarrassment, but i came to appreciate it later on, when i was able to confirm that i was indeed in the right place by looking at the matching stickers on my fellow tourist cattle.
"Koh Phangan" it said, and i only had the vaguest idea what that meant.
Pausing to tell you that it's ok to scroll down to the pictures. There's some nice ones and this just seems to keep going on forever.
I'm writing this from my living room in Berlin, Treptow.
I'd brought my laptop to Thailand, thinking i was gonna not only blog, but even work, catch up on emails, do some freelancing.
The universe had other plans. One day as i was sitting in the yard/kitchen/same thing at my airbnb with the family, writing, and the screen started flickering, then it died. I thought maybe it was the humidity, but friends i met on the island had no such problems, and despite placing the mac in front of my one fan for the rest of the trip, it didn't recover.
Until i came back to Berlin where it was magically fine, if not better than before.
At first frustrated because i had so much to say, so much to write, i concluded that i wasn't meant to be spending my time there in front of yet another screen, and i instead spent time with the people i met, i did yoga almost every day. I sat in my hammock on my small porch at night when everyone was asleep, and listened to the geckos and the crickets and the ducks and the slow rolling waves of the beach, and i read books. A cat came to hang out with me. Then one of the dogs, even though i still don't know how he even managed to climb the stairs to my hut.
The first few days i was in a bungalow at a resort, though, and it was a place i never wanted to leave.
I had arrived from the ferry just in time for sunset, and my first impression was that i was home.
The resort, however basic, was everything i'd never even imagined. I sat by the beach every morning with the puppies, i meditated, felt my feet connect with the earth in a way i hadn't experienced since living in India over a decade earlier.
I found a free yoga class up the beach and made it part of my time there. I made friends on the first night there, and while i had expected a certain amount of solitude, that only occurred when i chose it. I never felt lonely or even alone.
I noticed how no one questioned my status, and i can't recall ever being asked about a significant other, whereas here, in Europe, i often feel like part of me is missing in the eyes of others because i am single. Alone. Whatever. In Thailand i felt whole for the first time in years. No part of me was missing because i go through life on my own. I was enough, for myself and for others.
I had booked the resort for only a few days. My stress and health issues and general poor planning meant i'd already spent all my money on the tickets, so accommodation needed to be cheap. Cheaper. The resort wasn't, but i'd fallen in love with the pictures and so i had booked it for a few days anyway, and even though i had very little previous knowledge of the island, it appeared i'd arrived exactly where i was supposed to be.
On my last morning, before moving to the airbnb, i was anxious. I like to sometimes pretend that i've recovered from my anxiety disorder, but the truth is, that's not possible. I've just learned to cope and live with it, recognize anxiety for what it is, and do things even though they terrify me, but sometimes... sometimes it's still not easy.
Anyway that morning i had gotten up early to enjoy the place for as many hours as i could before checkout. I wasn't excited about the next location, a place i had visited the previous day to get an idea of where it was, and gotten a very bad first impression from. Not the cause of my anxiety, but certainly adding to it, was the idea that i had to live there for the next nine days without the possibility of a refund, among ducks, flies, dirt, a beach that wasn't suitable for swimming, and some dude doing tattoos in the kitchen without wearing gloves. Basically a germophobes worst nightmare come to life, and no matter how nice the people seemed, i was pretty sure i'd fucked up my vacation by booking it.
But the reason i was anxious to begin with, was the scooter i was about to go rent. Or the process of renting it. As many of those struggling with anxiety knows, it's not the action, but the amount of overthinking you do before said action. The anticipatory anxiety, the what-if'ing. I was worried about leaving my passport as a deposit, i was worried about not being able to ride a friggin motorbike, worried about people seeing me not being able to, basically any scenario you could think of, i'd already imagined it, including of course crashing, which i had spent the entire previous day having vivid and gory fantasies about, while riding on the back of a motorbike at what i deemed a questionable speed with two other people i had just met, but whom i now think of as great friends.
The rental place was across the street and i went there as soon as they opened, hoping there wouldn't be too many people in the street.
The owner helped ease my worries, while at the same time yelling at me about the dangers of riding a motorbike. "It looks easy, but it isn't!"
I didn't think it looked easy, we were on the same page.
I went for a test ride down the road that was less mountainous, and slowly got the hang of it, and in the end it would become the part of my trip that i enjoyed the most.
The freedom! Being on my bike, stopping where i wanted to, going for a swim, riding with Sarah or Fino or Alex in the back. Hair wet, big smile, sunscreen in my bag. I was that free spirit he told me i was not.
I was wrong about the aibnb. My first impressions aren't always correct, and this one wasn't even close.
The family there made me feel like actual family. They shared meals with me, i would wake up early just to have morning coffee with Alex while looking out over the beach. I would sometimes forget to go see things, because i enjoyed being home so much.
The things that initially triggered all of my phobias and fears, became what saved me, from me.
Being alone in Berlin, i hadn't had anyone there there to notice how out of hand my compulsive behavior had gotten.
I seemed fine, because no one saw me wash my hands three, five, ten times in a row, never quite getting clean enough. They all knew of course, Flora with her hand sanitizer, we laughed about it, it was fine, but of course it wasn't.
But the house reset me.
I had no choice but to accept the situation, the animals, the outdoor kitchen, the gloveless tattooing, the bird that bit me. It was like i was sent there to heal, not only physically.
I came back a different person. Someone who had reconnected with both nature and themselves.
I was full of gratitude all of a sudden.
The island itself was somewhat harder to connect with. Although beautiful in every way, it seemed to attract a certain kind of tourist. Someone who, like myself, was in search of something, but who had little regard for, or interest in, the local community, and who had a near sanctimonious attitude. And they were everywhere.
I don't know if i would have come there, had i known.
But i assimilated. I bought the tie dye dresses and the pants with the elephants, and i went to the hippie stores and the vegan restaurants, same as everyone else, all while observing, and remaining critical of, this beautiful place, that had somehow been taken over by white europeans to such a degree that the entire shoreline had become resorts, and the only way to reach the beach was through a hotel.
I don’t know if the fact that i was observing the tourists behavior made me any different than them.
I wasn't making fun of the local customs, or the local currency, like that British father who laughed when his kid found 20 baht on the beach, mocking his excitement and going "that's like 2p, that won't even buy you anything back home" as if that didn't actually make his country seem even more ridiculous.
I wasn't teaching experimental dance classes while having white girl dreads, and talking about how my privileged life back home was so fake, but i was there and that made me no different than them.
I did yoga, and during practice i would have realizations about myself.
I'd notice that it's the inner conversations that are keeping my mind busy.
The anxiety brain is always playing out scenarios, big or small, with friends and with strangers, related to what to do next or that stressful thing i have to do tomorrow, or that thing that happened in the past that should have turned out differently.
What i noticed while doing yin yoga is that many of these scenarios are confrontational in nature but in a subtle way i hadn’t recognized before. In these scenarios i often have to defend myself, or i have to explain something. Maybe my position, or how something occurred, and then someone challenges that and i have to defend it.
I started going deeper and noticed that this obviously doesn’t come out of nowhere, that many of my interactions in real life and online are actually like this. And maybe everyone else’s interactions are too, but to me it’s apparently damaging since i am unable to just let them go.
So then i started wondering, how does one communicate without micro confrontations. If that’s even a word. How do you keep a conversation going, without having to defend. Anyway that’s something i kind of enjoyed looking into, and maybe i can steer my imaginary conversations in a less anxiety inducing direction. Not a huge epiphany, i know, but rather many little ones that helped me see myself a little better.
While meditating on the beach i would try to just recognize them and let them go. The negative patterns, the fears, the stress factors that kept me up at night when the geckos didn't.
And sometimes i would open my eyes after finishing my practice, and Damm, the big black dog i shared a home with, would be sitting right in front of me, inches from my face, waiting for me to come out of it, so we could play or go for a walk on the beach together.
And in those moments, and this was a trip made up almost entirely of those moments, i would feel whole and beautiful and almost able to see what i want my life to be like.
And for a while after coming back to Berlin, i was able to take the beach with me, and recreate that peace right there in my living room.
It's gone now, you can't keep the beach confined within you forever.
But at least now i know where to find it.