People often ask me, why Beijing? I never have a good answer that fits well into that particular politely interested slot of the conversation. Here is the impolite, outsized answer.
I turned 25 in Beijing. Unlike some other more organized, successful people, I was not living there for any particular reason. I did not have some great job with an awesome company that elected me to represent them in China’s capital. I didn’t speak the language. I lacked any sort of niche political or economic knowledge that would make my being in China make any sort of sense. It’s only thanks to some technicalities that I can say my time there was even mostly legal.
I was in China because I was depressed and I don’t know how to cope with my depression so I make rash decisions and overcommit myself to responsibilities and goals I can very rarely stay interested enough in to achieve. This time I did achieve my entirely arbitrary goal and found myself living in Beijing. It could have been anything. I could have found myself in a master’s program or in a serious relationship or working four jobs or a homeowner. But that’s not what I did. I moved to China.
There was never any particular excitement or anxiety connected to my move. I was in a place where I felt so little of my own emotions that it took my body physically breaking down before I even had a clue that I might be suffering from some fairly serious anxiety. When I began to board my flight to Beijing and the stewardess spoke in Mandarin before she spoke in English I was a little uneasy but, overall, I was just glad to have something to think about besides how bleak I found my own existence.
Then, after landing, I had these daily, short bursts of exhilaration. I had all these mini goals to accomplish. Order my coffee correctly. Buy lunch by myself. Take the subway. I was also finishing my degree online so that served to center my goal-oriented mind. The satisfaction of having accomplished my goals, large and small, is what kept me waking up every day.
But then, of course, I graduated and I became complacent and the depression I ran from back in the U.S. ambled up and belched, “Nihao,” right in my face.
I considered moving home early but, no, that’s too much effort and the shame would kill me. Maybe I should go to law school? Nah, I’m probably not smart enough. I know! I’ll start a blog to document my exotic, exciting life abroad! (Welcome to the fruit of that particular fever dream.) I made multi-faceted, complex plans that involved tons and tons of research. I planned a trip to Europe. I took my expired prescription given to me during my last, particularly awful panic attack back home and cried for 24 hours straight.
I. Was. A. Mess.
I’m ok right now. Eventually, my beautiful, crazy friends strong-armed me into being with them and that was the right amount of validation to feel like I should stay a bit longer. I went to Europe and then I moved back in with my family in comfortable, sweet Chattanooga, Tennessee. My transition back has been easy because of the soft landing I had with my folks who are more than happy to help me though I’ve done nothing to deserve that help. Now I work, go to yoga, practice my language skills, and read books. I am briefly healthy.
I say briefly because this health is always temporary. I always feel the crushing dread of the rest of my life breathing hot and wet on my cheek. How will you pay your student loans? Can you even buy a house if you wanted to? Will you die alone because you’re an absolute lunatic? The litany of my shortcomings is nonstop and softened only when my active, goal-oriented mind gets its grubby hands on any sort of validation.
Sometimes I cry at the end of my yoga class when the teacher says something like, “Thank yourself for coming to your mat today.” I cry quietly so that no one knows and I’m usually sweaty enough that the teacher couldn’t tell the difference if she looked. But I’m telling myself, “coming to yoga today was enough to save my life again and I really, really am grateful.”
The same is true of my time in China. I was in China because my greedy, insecure brain needed to know that I could accomplish this impossible thing. Beijing, like so many other crazy things I’ve done in my life, was me setting my teeth and pushing back hard against the voice inside me that thinks the rest of my life will be as pointless as Sisyphus’ stone.
I don’t know what the answer is for your depression. I don’t know how to tell you to get out of bed because the world is worth it because, mostly, I don’t think it is. But I know that I want to keep trying and part of that trying is accomplishing impossible things to convince myself I deserve to try again. I moved to China to save myself and I wrote this post for the same reason.
So, when people ask me, “why China?” I want to say, “why anything?” Because it saved me for a little while longer.
I’m a freelance travel writer. Join me as I bounce around the planet offering some advice, telling some stories, and trying my best to figure it out with you by my side.