Nearly fifteen years ago I made a friend whose husband had just been transferred across the world to a military base in Bangkok. Rather than split up their family my friend and her daughter uprooted their lives and went with him for the two-year assignment.
Frequently awake in the low hours of the morning, I was able to chat with her online as her day began and mine ended. I asked how she was enjoying the experience of being about as far from the American Midwest—her old stomping grounds—as possible. Unfortunately things were not going well for her.
Night after night I tried to be a comforting presence as she railed against the difficulties her daughter was having in school, the cab drivers who wanted to take advantage of her at every turn, the mean-spirited women at the market, her estranged family, and especially her friends back home who all but disappeared from her life when she moved. She was having a very hard time of it, and I wanted very badly to provide solace, peace, and encouragement in what seemed to be a very chaotic part of her life.
We chatted regularly, almost daily, over the entire two-year stay, and in that time she frequently lamented how far away she was from her friends and chosen family back home, and how the time difference made keeping in touch all but impossible. She longed to be back in the states, and I tried to stay positive that her return grew closer every day.
Obviously I cared about her position and her struggles, but being her frequent support structure really took an emotional toll on me. We all have things with which we should deal, and I was putting off almost all of my “stuff” in favor of trying to help stem the tide of negativity that flowed from my friend. It was a lot to deal with and I admit now that I came to resent, or perhaps more accurately, dread our chats because nothing I could say seemed to improve matters.
Finally the big day came and she and her family returned to the States, moving back just a few miles from her old home. I was genuinely happy for her, genuinely glad that her two-year ordeal was over. Hopefully with a much smaller time difference our talks could be better scheduled and without the stresses of life in Thailand, they would be much more positive in scope and content.
Unfortunately the move home didn’t seem to solve any problems for her. Very quickly our frequent chats were filled with how alienated she felt from former friends who had changed in her absence, how being unable to find work was straining her marriage, and how her daughter wasn’t fitting in at her new school. She repeatedly expressed that she wished she were back in Bangkok and that she’d never come home to America.
It got to the point where I would stop asking her how she was feeling or how her day was going, because I knew that her answer would be laden with heavy emotional baggage. She had moved nearly 10,000 miles and yet nothing seemed to have changed. Different place, different people, different country, different environment, same complaints.
At some point I found it very, very difficult to not victim-blame. The only constant in her struggles was her, and it seemed like most of her issues with others stemmed from unresolved issues with herself. Far from me to be one throwing stones, but it was exhausting to try and be her friend, to try and support her, to try and even talk with her.
Unsurprisingly we grew apart, and I remember specifically thinking that holding on to all of her negativity wasn’t doing my own mental health any favors. We haven’t spoken now in almost ten years, but from what I understand from few mutual acquaintances, her life story has continued on the same trajectory.
I’m actively looking for a change of pace, a change of location, a change of almost everything. I want an opportunity to rediscover who I am and who I can be, and in many ways that may include moving a thousand miles from the friends I’ve spent twenty years making.
My sincere fear is that I’ll uproot everything I have, find myself in an entirely new situation, and yet I’ll still be stuck in the same morass as I am today. This fear truly weighs on me, and spikes my anxiety when I think about the future.
I never, never want to have my friends tell a similar story about me as I have about my friend in Thailand. More than anything I want everything to improve so I can continue, or perhaps restart, being a support for others, now with a few years of experience and self-reflection under my belt for my own stability and structure.
Header image of Thailand’s Loy Krathong festival in Chiang Mai