Yesterday, I claimed the day in the name of unshakeable happiness.
I woke up in a good mood and decided that I wanted that for myself. Not just yesterday but everyday. I want to wake up and feel happy. Truthfully, it’s been hard for me to conjure up happiness on my own. I miss Korea. I miss my students. I miss my apartment and the low cost of living. I miss autonomy. I miss the friends I made. When I first got home, if you asked if I regretted leaving Korea, I would’ve said yes. But now I’m more certain in my decision to come back to the states. I think there were a lot of feelings I needed to process. Korea was my safety net. It was a safe place where I didn’t have to face things. If I stayed in Korea another year, it would have been because I was scared of coming back and making next moves. I would’ve been prolonging the inevitable.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting at home alone and it dawned on me that while it’s socially unacceptable to scream outside or in an apartment, it is perfectly fine for me to scream in my own house. And so I did. And it felt so good. It felt like purging myself of something ugly. It was an exercise in lettings things go. Since that day, I have been actively trying to combat my anxiety. To replace negative thoughts with positive ones. To make plans. To set goals. I go to the gym regularly now. I’m eating better than I did in Korea. I planned a regular doctor’s visit. I’m reading books I’ve wanted to read. I’m studying Korean again. I’m being honest about how I feel when asked. It’s hard.
But yesterday I claimed the day in the name of unshakeable happiness and I succeeded. The entire day, I refused to let myself worry, I refused to shoulder other’s burdens, I refused to be harsh on myself. I let myself hold on to excitement. I’m excited for my friends. I’m excited for the things happening in their life. I’m excited to be present, to celebrate birthdays, to show up to things. I’m excited to see my family’s faces on Christmas. I’m excited to wrap presents. I’m excited for ugly sweaters and spiked egg nog. I let myself hold on to these things. I went for a walk in the park. I went to the library. I did some Christmas shopping. I watched Brooklyn Nine-nine.
And today I’m dancing in my living room.
Because fuck you, anxiety
She is loud.
She is mean.
I thought that if I kept trying to counter my anxious thoughts, I’d be fine. I thought if I countered, “You’re useless,” “You’re a disappointment,” “You’ll never find a job” with “I’m trying really hard,” “It’s okay not to have my life totally figured out right now,” “Things take time,” that those thoughts would get less loud. I get out of the house. I try to stay active. I ride my bike 3-4 days out of the week. I take walks on days I don’t ride. I exercise. I read books. I talk to my friends. I try to stay connected.
Last night I had a panic attack. I was laying in bed and suddenly I realized my heart was beating really fast. My chest was hurting. I was shaking. I couldn’t breathe normally. And I was so irritated with myself. I had panic attacks frequently as a teen but I hadn’t had a fully fledged one in a while. I thought I had found ways of dealing with my anxiety. I thought I was okay.
Hopefully I’m just having a bad week.
Maybe I’ll watch some cute animal videos.
I will be sad when I leave Korea. That’s a given. But as the days slip by, a pit has been forming in my stomach. I realize I am leaving some place safe.
I don’t worry when I leave my house here. I don’t feel threatened. I walk alone at night. I travel alone. I wear revealing clothes without that tiny voice in the back of my head whispering at me. I don’t feel like I need to be as careful here. I’ve had the occasional incident of harassment but I rarely felt unsafe. Just annoyed.
But when I think about home, I think about the man across the street who catcalls me when I throw out trash. I think about how my own driveway doesn’t feel safe in those moments. I think about my grandfather’s rigorous security system. I think about all the cameras and all the extra locks and how all of that only makes the house feel safe. I think about how my sister and I had to learn the times it was okay to take walks during the day. If you wanted to avoid people, errands had to be done early. I think about having to drag my little sister with me when I wanted to go places because the chances of getting harassed were higher if I was walking alone. I remember walking from my grandmother’s house to my mom’s apartment (a 5 minute walk) and being street harassed. The man catcalled me from across the street and when I ignored him, he started screaming, “Fuck you,” at the top of his lungs at us. He wouldn’t stop. I think about how I used to take my dog, Navarre, with me on walks because he was big and scary looking. It felt like carrying a weapon, a warning, a large sign that said “Stay the fuck away from me”. I think about cars that have stopped, cars that have turned around, cars that have followed me. I think about the time I took a shortcut through the park to get home and ran into a pack of men playing basketball. I often think about how they thought it was funny to chase me. I think about their laughs and the sounds of their footsteps. I think about how I couldn’t stop running even when I knew they were no longer behind me. I think about fear and what it does to a body. I think about how men started seeing me as a woman when I was only twelve years old. I think about what years of street harassment can do to a woman’s sense of security.
I tell myself it will all be okay.
But I don’t think I believe me.
I believe my last post or maybe the post before that was about having no idea what I want to do with my life post Fulbright. While I still don’t know exactly what I want to do, I’ve finally made a decision. I am coming home. While I will probably touch down and immediately regret living in the same country as that orange assface, I’m realizing that Korea has given me all it can.
Living in Korea these last 2.5 years has helped me to feel more like an adult than any other experience in my life. I live alone. I pay my own bills. I handle bank, doctor and personal stuff in a foreign language. I budget. I save. I travel around the country. I make plans. Whenever something happens, I have had to step up to take care of it all while working a full time job. I’m proud of myself and I love living here. But I don’t think I’ve been working toward anything these last few years. Every day I wake up, go to school, teach and come home. This would be fine if teaching was what I wanted to do but I’ve known for some time it isn’t. While I love aspects of teaching, I know it is not something I want to do for the rest of my life. It drains me. I feel largely unqualified most of the time. Lesson planning causes me anxiety. I honestly have shitty classroom management skills and I am not good at planning ahead. But I love being a mentor to my students. I love being someone they can come talk to.
I was trying to convince myself to stay here because at least this environment is familiar. I know how to navigate this space, literally and figuratively. I know Korean work ethic. I’ve adapted to the “one-room” lifestyle. I can make basic conversation with my coworkers which makes my work environment an enjoyable one. Korean public transportation is so effective I don’t need to know how to drive. A lot of things are cheaper including dental and health care. But familiar doesn’t always mean it’s the right choice. If I stayed, I would have this same internal struggle another year from now. Should I stay? Should I go? What’s next?
I think I need a break. I need to stop teaching so I can clear my mind and think about what I actually want to do. Because when I ask myself now, I have no idea. All my mental energy goes towards teaching. It’s all I’ve done since I’ve graduated.
My plan for now is to go home and maybe try out a few things. See if there’s anything I like doing. Maybe go back to school once I know what I want to study. Find a way to get a masters for free.
And now a short list of things I’m excited for in no particular order:
- Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce
- My squad (I miss you guys. Yall out here doing big shit. I’m so proud T^T)
- Thrift stores in rich white neighborhoods
- Going shopping for work wear (I look so good in a suit istg)
- The fam (though def not looking forward to family functions)
- Payless (I just want cute, cheap shoes, okay?)
- My queen sized bed with a thick ass mattress pad on it
- The literal mountain of stuffed animals and pillows on said bed
- Having pets (dogs? cats? both???)
- Sweet potato pie
- Anything Gramma is willing to cook for me
- CHEESECAKE! REAL CHEESECAKE
- American malls and department stores
- Actual fucking Christmas
- Decorating a 6′ Christmas tree
- Holding Peanut like a baby even tho he’s like 10 years old
- No more Korean couple culture
- Bananas that don’t cost $5 or more
- Panera bread
- Buffets that don’t cost $30+
- Living with people again
- NORMAL FUCKING BANKS (NH you can kiss my ass)
- Having a name instead of being 원어민 쌤
- Not being stared at
- OMG… not being stared at
- I CAN MOVE THROUGH LIFE WITHOUT BEING STARED AT???
- Walking around outside w/o being assaulted by sudden, awful smells
- Public trash cans
- There (almost always) being toilet paper and soap in public bathrooms
- Wearing tank tops or low cut shirts
- Not feeling like I am legit twice the size of most people I encounter
- Beauty supply stores
- No longer having to pay international shipping prices
- No smoking laws (I’m asthmatic, I just want to live)
- Trying to live more minimally as I have lived the last 3 years in tiny rooms
- Being able to walk into a store and buy cute, inexpensive underwear/bras
- Libraries (and bookstores if they’re actually still even a thing)
- Easily finding ingredients in grocery stores
- Body wash and lotion that isn’t $10+ a bottle
- Cinnamon toast crunch
- Less humidity
And the things I will miss about Korea
- Feeling safe
- Paid vacations I can use to travel
- The food ㅠㅠ
- Cheap nightlife: clubs, booze, etc.
- Animal cafes (esp my fav cafe in Daegu)
- Cafes everywhere
- All the cute things
- Skincare for daysssss
- How beautiful this country is
- My home away from home, Daegu
- All the shit there is to do in Seoul
- The quiet, historical small towns
- CHEAP, RELIABLE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
- A (mostly) healthy work environment
- Having my rent paid for
- Free, fast internet (basically everywhere)
- Cheap phone plans
- Amazing students
- All the people I’ve met here
- My baby, Jeongwon
- All of it
Some days I like to watch videos about people with chronic pain because I feel like they’d understand my migraines.
Because I feel like I’m complaining. Because I’m tired of complaining. Because I feel like people don’t understand. Because I feel helpless and alone when I lay in my bed for 12 hours straight in the dark, feeling like my skull is going to crack open.
Because when I tell a friend I’m having a migraine, they expect me to just pop a painkiller and keep going. Because when I am in pain and sad, my friends say shit like,
“I’ve heard orgasms are a cure for migraines.”
Because when I tell a doctor about my migraines, there’s nothing they can do. Even the nice ones that smile and try their best. The ones who take your blood and run all sorts of tests will come back with nothing. Or, they will tell you it is stress. Or to drink more water. Or to sleep more. And the ones that don’t really give a shit will listen to you for exactly 1 minute and try to prescribe you drugs that could easily fuck you up.
“What is your job?”
“I’m a teacher.”
“Ah… not this one. One of the… side effects, amnesia.”
And this just isn’t Korea. I feel like at least Korea tries. At least they make an effort. Any doctor I saw in America said I’d grow out of it. They blamed puberty. They blamed genes. They told my family to give me painkillers and let me sleep if off. My family resulted to knocking me out with heavy medication when I was about 12 years old. They couldn’t stand hearing me cry for hours as I tried to sleep with a migraine. I went home so often from migraines in middle school that my teachers didn’t even make me go to the nurse anymore. I would just call my parents to come pick me up. When painkillers stopped working and my migraines would last for days, doctors just told my family to double the dosage or switch medication. I regularly took 1000mg of ibuprofen for my migraines and it didn’t work.
My aunt who had migraines growing up tries to comfort me by saying her’s stopped when she was 27.
What’s frustrating is that no one even knows what causes migraines. I once looked up what sort of money is being put to migraine research and it was minuscule. It’s not altogether shocking seeing that migraines largely affect more women then men (women are 3x more likely to have migraines). I sometimes wonder if more money would be put towards understanding and curing migraines if more men had them.