Living in Cambodia for 14 years has had its fair share of ups and downs. My struggles with rejection, alienation and separation from the people I love and care about can sometimes drive me insane and I tend to over think everything. I sometimes retreat into myself with a weight of depression descending and playing mind games inside my head. Why? Because sometimes it feels like one is never really appreciated here in Cambodia but I know that’s not true much of the time. It is clear that although my language skills has improved there is still a lot for me to learn and understand about Khmer people and Cambodia in general and maybe my sense of not being appreciated is because I expect too much in return. Maybe I’m right or maybe I’m wrong?
A couple of weeks ago my adopted Khmer Father was talking to a relative. I couldn’t help but notice that throughout their conversation there was a subliminal message going on with the two of them and I was conscious that I was also detached from their discussion at the same time. It was distinctly masculine, friendly, funny and yet very locally Khmer in context. During another instance I went for a walk on the riverside with someone very close to me and his friends. Again I felt that I wasn’t really part of them as if I was looking through the window observing them but not really being present with them. It felt like I was just a prop in the background of other people’s narratives. It’s like I’m part of these peoples lives, fluid, stagnant and yet alone and isolated at the same time. My sense of self constantly goes into self-conscious mode and paranoia and I’m not sure if my yes means yes or my no means no. Its a horrible feeling.
Why do I feel like this? I’ve been asking myself this question these past weeks and I’ve never quite resolved these feelings. In the year 2001 I was diagnosed with depression and in 2003 all of my mental illnesses came with me to Cambodia. I remember going out with friends and getting drunk several times just to help me cope with trying to adjust and find acceptance in Cambodia in my first year here. I’m glad to say I stopped drinking. Everything has changed now I’m a lot more settled here and very much integrated but there are times when my depression comes back and looms over my head and heart and my insecurities come back tenfold.
Depression is entwined in everything I read, write, see, speak, hear and do and I can’t divorce myself from it even though I try. Sometime’s it feels like my depression is an invisible demon creeping up on me ready to swallow me up and rip out what sense I have of myself. So what do I hold on to here in Cambodia? What fuels my depression and what calms it? All I want to say is that my depression is temperamental, detached and attached at the same time and it pulls on my heart strings rendering me lifeless and dying.
But I don’t want your sympathy or empathy this is not what this blog post is about. It is about me learning to let go of my anger and insecurities and transitioning from being the person who left his job to someone with an uncertain future ahead of himself. Am I crazy for doing this, for leaving my job? In the past year (actually two years) I lost a great deal of faith in what I was doing and I became too cynical of anything and everything around me especially in my work. Work to me was my life and I once believed in what I was doing, but over time that sense of passion in my work dwindled and faded away. I became lifeless and aloof in what I was doing.
My goal now is to rebuild my life again. Find a new meaning in myself and build a life where I can actually start a family, and hopefully one day buy my own home here in Cambodia. Of course gaols are always a step by step process and gradual. My health is first and foremost as I can’t afford to be getting sick in Cambodia or in New Zealand even though the health care is different but I would rather be healthy and alive. A big part of reconciling with my fears and discomfort here when suffering from depression is learning to understand who I am among Khmer people. I’ve had to let go of everything and learn to survive among a people I love even when that love pulls me under the water drowning me and suffocating me testing my sense of faith and trust. Of course life is always full of challenges this is but one of many for me. Here’s to another new journey in life. Peace.