Checking in with myself

After three weeks of travelling in Myanmar, I am exhausted.
When people I meet briefly wish me “a nice remaining holiday”, I can only laugh – this certainly doesn’t feel like holidays to me. But why, I wonder? What is stressing me?

The past 21 days were packed from morning till evening: I was up each day no later than 8 and often before 6 to see a sunrise or catch a bus or a train, I travelled on endless bus or train rides without getting much sleep and still spent the following day walking around at the next destination, again staying up until late because I had to work or underestimated the time it would take me to go back to the hostel from wherever I was.

Even though there was no one making any rules or putting any pressure on me, I feel like I hardly had a single free minute – there was always something I ‘had’ to do, including my daily Instagram posts with which I didn’t want to ‘fall behind schedule’ or answering a text that I had been neglecting for more than a week already.

Isn’t it funny, how we manage to pressure ourselves no matter what?

While I was very much free flowing regarding my itinerary in Spain and also in Thailand, I had a more or less fixed plan for Myanmar – there was just so much to see and everything was just so amazing! I fell in love with every single place I visited, and again and again I was sad when I ‘had’ to leave after only two or three days.

A week into my travels, I was already unhappy with this situation of always having to move further even though I really enjoyed the place I was at. I knew I didn’t really have to move on, I knew that it was my decision to do so after all. I had made a plan and now I was following it. Unfortunately, this plan was so tight that I didn’t seem to have the time to check in with myself just for some hours and maybe try to rearrange the plan according to how I was feeling.

myanmar
The Myanmar Masterplan

Just now, after I have left Myanmar and am on the way to Koh Phangan, I realize that this was way too much – too many places, too many long and exhausting train and bus rides, too many different hostels, and too little time. I left pieces of my heart everywhere and could never experience one place fully.

I fell into the fear-of-missing-out-trap and only realized when it was already too late. It’s funny how it can come in so many different forms, this internalized and – at least for me – often subconscious pressure of always having to get the most out of everything.

sdr
Sunset in Yangon

Even though I knew before that I should take it slow, set aside specific relaxation times for doing nothing or reading a book (just to enjoy it, not to learn something again) and simply look after myself – I didn’t. Once again, I had to learn it the hard way and experience myself the effects that continuous sleep deprivation, spending too many days and nights in a row in a bus on a non-existent road, not drinking enough water and eating irregularly and unhealthily have on my body and mind. Along with headaches (something I didn’t experience for a long time), constipation and fatigue came a growing feeling of isolation – the worse I felt, the more I procrastinated answering my friend’s messages, making me feel even worse.

I guess I didn’t want to ruin this image that I have built up for myself and others:

The image of a Verena that is always and forever happy and solves all her problems and fears on her own and doesn’t need help from anyone. (That’s an old one actually, the not-needing-any-help.) Only in the last days, when everything became too much – I was eating crappy cakes and chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner and didn’t even want to get out of bed – I told some of my friends what I believe is happening:

I am scared to the bones of the Yoga Teacher Training Course that I signed up for. I feel unworthy and unprepared, I’m afraid I will make a fool of myself in front of everyone else who is much more advanced than I am, afraid that I will fail the course altogether, afraid that this was a completely stupid idea.

Nothing my friends told me was new to me intellectually – that I was just overthinking it, that probably all the participants felt the same, that I was going there to learn something and not show what I already know – but the mere act of sharing my fears and asking for help already lifted a heavy weight off my shoulders.

img_20190221_065716
Surise in Bagan

Another reason why I didn’t seem to have the time to breathe and reconsider my plans was that whenever I decided to sacrifice some precious sightseeing and exploring time, I spent it working. I just checked my notes, according to which I worked almost 40 hours in only 12 days – more than I would’ve worked back in Vienna in the same time period! On top of that comes my volunteer work for The Intimate Revolution (I don’t count the hours). This actually takes me by surprise and also explains to myself why I feel so worn out. The amount of money I earned happened to cover my expenses almost exactly (I made 60 € more than I spent), which is amazing – but I need to learn to distribute the working hours more evenly over the whole month.

So while I might be ‘living the dream’, I can tell you the dream is quite exhausting.

What do I learn from all of this?

It’s so easy to get lost in the rat race, even when you think you’ve escaped it already.

The recipe for living a happy and content life might be simple – eating healthy, exercising regularly, sleeping enough, spending time in nature, meditating, sharing intimate moments with close friends – but I experienced again that it’s a daily challenge to follow through with it.

The future isn’t the only thing that’s bothering me – I also carry some baggage from the past around: I speak of my ex less and less, but when I do, the pain and the anger come back even stronger. I suffer because of the unresolved issues and hostile silence between us and blame him for being so stubborn. And I miss him, even though I hate to admit it, and feel bad about it, because I think I shouldn’t be missing him at all. Yet there’s so many things I would like to tell him about the parallels between Myanmar and Turkish culture, and how “Mengalaba” (Hello in Burmese) sounds a bit like “Merhaba” (Hello in Turkish) and about details of Myanmar’s political history I know only he would find interesting.

We broke up almost one year ago – isn’t it crazy how close we can feel to a person we once had a romantic relationship with after such a long time?

The other person I think of a lot used to be my closest friend in the past months I spent in Vienna – until I slept with a guy she liked. She still didn’t forgive me and doesn’t answer my texts, although I see her looking at all my insta stories (which secretly gives me hope ;)). I still hate myself for what I did as soon as I think about it, and on bad days I ask myself why I “always have to ruin things” – which is just a bad story I’m telling myself about myself that doesn’t necessarily have to be true, but still. When I think about coming back to Vienna, she is the first person I think about visiting. It hurts to imagine that I might not be able to, because she still doesn’t want speak to me.

While it’s maybe better to be far away from my ex, it bugs me that I’m not able to speak to my friend in person, hopefully resolve the issue and give her a long hug.

sdr
Somewhere between Bagan and Yangon

Which brings me to the present: Especially in the last week in the more remote areas of Myanmar, people kept asking me if I am “only one”, followed by a surprised and slightly pitying “ooohh” when I said yes. Even worse was the phrasing “You have no friends?”. On one of my rougher days, I almost shouted back at the person who asked: “YES I DO HAVE FRIENDS BUT THEY ARE NOT HERE 😬”

The extent to which these questions trigger me shows that the fact that I am on my own is bothering me. Again, it’s hard to admit it also in front of myself, but I know I secretly wish I had a partner to share all these experiences with. A partner who’s also working remotely, who shares my interests and passions and who wants to travel the world with me. I don’t know how much this wish is shaped by external influences, but it’s there.

img_20190209_172256
Hpa-An

At the same time, I rarely socialized with other travellers – the topics are (almost) always the same (namely who visited which place when and for how long). I also noticed that ever since I became involved with feminism, it is hard for me to have conversations with men – being more aware of how much more and how much louder they tend to talk , how they explain things to me even though I didn’t ask and about which I know more than them, how they interrupt me and other women, how they usually cannot listen. The thing with awareness is that you cannot undo it – once it’s there, it’s there to stay 😅

I did socialize with the locals – the Bamar, the Shan, the Mon, the Karen, the Kachin, … – who, besides the incredible landscapes and rich culture, are the reason why I will go back to Myanmar after the one-month-long YTTC. The genuine kindness of these people literally made me cry more than once. It is hard to describe unless you’ve experienced it yourself: people just talking to you and being friendly, trying to help you wherever they can, sharing what they have and what they know – out of sheer kindness and without expecting anything in return.

This is something we’re not familiar with in the West and thus makes the tourists suspicious – they must want something from us in the end, right? But no, they don’t.

The best example for this was when I took a boat from Mandalay to Bagan, which made a stop in a small village for us to see how they make pottery there. “Oh, now they’ll probably try to sell us some crap and get a commission for it”, I heard some fellow passenger say. Our guide, who is a student of English literature, told us all about the pottery technique, while a woman was forming a water vessel with her hands and the grandmother was spinning the potter’s wheel with her leg. She told us for how much the villagers sell one of the vessels (1000 kyat, roughly 60 cents) and for how much they are sold by merchants in Mandalay or Yangon (4 times the amount). And then we went back on the ship and continued our journey. Just like that. All they did was sharing their culture with us.

When you think about it, it’s a tragedy that we grow up in a culture in which we (have to) presume that whenever someone approaches us, they do it with an agenda, sometimes more hidden and sometimes more obvious, and then struggle when people behave differently. It’s a tragedy that we feel like we always have to keep up our guards because people might want to take something from us or deceive us and are unable to trust that people are actually real and honest.

Luckily (especially in this case :D), I trust people easily. So when a woman around my age who had been sitting next to me in a local eatery repeatedly pointed at the seat behind her on her scooter, I just went along, even though she didn’t speak a word of English. She took me to a river and we went swimming there (fully dressed, following local custom). The next day, she showed me a nearby beach and we climbed up to a pagoda, where we tried communicating with google translate (worthless for Burmese) and an old phrasebook.

In the afternoon of the same day, I drove two hours by motorbike to another village by the sea, to which I had been invited by a woman who sat next to me on the train the day before. Because the ride was much longer than expected (as always…), we only had one or two hours until I had to return, but she showed me her home and her garden, explaining every single plant she was growing, and introduced me to her mother. In the end, she and her brother insisted I take three watermelons from her garden with me – there was no space for more than that in the trunk of my motorbike.

There were countless more beautiful encounters like this, which is why I’m having a hard time adapting to Koh Phangan right now. I’m finishing this article on the terrace of my bungalow after a tiring journey of more than 36 hours. I have a hard time being surrounded by Westerners again who don’t smile at me by default. It feels a bit surreal – to be on an island in Thailand and yet there are no Thai people around. I have a hard time not judging people for how they behave here and how they choose to spend their time. A part of me just wants to turn around and leave this island. When I compare the beach here with the one I just came from, I really wonder what everyone is doing here…

img_20190228_155349
Grandfather’s Beach in Dawei – not a single person for at least 2 km.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s