Now I know most of my friends believe that I possess a degree of crazy (what the degree is depends on whom you ask). But recently, I’m fairly certain that I’ve completely lost it. Why? Lately I’ve been exhibiting several contrasting characters in daily conversation and behaviour, to the point where I just might come off as schizophrenic. I know the source of these mood swings, but that doesn’t give me any control over my emotions. Living in a foreign country brings out my inner schizo.
Where do I begin? Let’s start with the anger. I’ve always had a bit of a temper, but lately I lose it over the tiniest things. In fact, I’m mostly just angry all the time. At its most basic, it’s just a measure of culture shock that refuses to fade, a frustration at all these things that I’m trying so hard to understand but don’t, and maybe never will. But this isn’t where it ends. Removed from my community, I lack that socially acceptable channel of complaint. Those shoulders to cry on, and patient listening ears are far away now, and not always available when you need them. So now when I do get the chance to rant, it virtually explodes out of me. This is where the schizo comes in. Normally I appear even-tempered and jovial, but in an instant I transform into the Incredible Hulk. It’s as easy as flipping a switch, and all it takes is someone cutting me off in a queue, or pushing me back into the train by sheer force of numbers as I’m trying to exit. In China, it is fairly normal to see expats flipping their lids at the littlest, most absurd things.
Another manifestation of my “multi-personality disorder” is my love/hate relationship with this country. Talk to me one day, and I’m gushing about this awesome thing I discovered, saying how much I love the food etc. etc. Talk to me another day and I’m crying to leave, to distance myself from the attitudes and indecencies of this place. It really confuses the loved ones when one minute I’m saying how much I miss them and the next minute I’m saying how sad I’ll be to leave China.
I’ve spoken with some of my good friends and long-term expats living in China, and they tell me that this neurosis doesn’t really ever go away. At the end of the day, you will always be of two worlds: the one you came from and the one you’re living in. I know it is possible to thrive here, but I’ve also seen how it wears people down. So here I am at the end of my year abroad, and I have to ask myself: is this what I want to become? And if it is the choice I make in the end, what adjustments need to happen so that I don’t snap? Knowing that it happens is half the battle, and taking precautionary measures is the next step. And I know, that despite how hard it is on me and on my family, in my heart I want this, this expatriate life.