For weeks I was feeling categorically tired to the point of considering having my blood tested for anemia, constantly irritated by the smallest of things and generally uninterested in meeting people and engaging myself in activities. Then I overheard the words ‘culture shock’ in a conversation and something clicked.
Now Wikipedia may not be the best of online sources on this topic, but it has one thing to say that really hit home this time:
Many people are handicapped by its presence and do not recognize what is bothering them.
It’s not the first time I’m experiencing a culture shock, but it’s certainly the first time I’m facing one this severe and for a prolonged period. After the familiar first signs of culture shock had passed I genuinely thought I was over it and when things took a turn for the worse it never crossed my mind that rather than being over it I was in fact getting deeper into it. Below is a simple world cloud of the most common symptoms of culture shock, created with Wordle, one of my favourite online toys (you can click on the picture to make it bigger if you want to see it properly). A simple online search can result in an impressive list of symptoms of culture shock, many of which I could easily see in myself:
- Irritability – it could be anything from the traffic to the fact that my bathroom floor had not been cleaned or that the office had ran out of toilet paper;
- Fatigue and need for excessive sleep – even for me averaging 10 hours of sleep a night is excessive and while it is said that sleeping too much can make you drowsy, it made absolutely no difference to my energy levels whether I was sleeping six, eight or 10 hours a night;
- Preoccupation about returning home – as lovely as it will be to go home for Christmas, starting a countdown to December six months early is ridiculous by any standard;
- Physiological stress reactions – two months into the rainy season I was getting pretty good with avoiding dehydration yet I was experiencing constant headaches and upset tummy episodes;
- Withdrawal and unwillingness to socialise – best noted with my increasing unenthusiasm towards Couch Surfing along with an unusual creativity in making excuses not to do things.
Relieved of the fact that I’m probably not clinically depressed or the most anti-social and loneliest expat alive, I started to look into how I could possibly make myself feel a bit better. Surprisingly enough, the mere awareness of going through a particularly rough patch in my cultural adjustment process made a big difference in how I felt getting up from bed this morning. There are other things I can try too: I will start by getting to know this culture better, maybe read a book or two. I could start from a set of mysteries set in Laos, Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri Payboun series. I will also have a brief go at being a tourist in Laos by heading to Luang Prabang this weekend. I’ve also committed to eight weeks of structural yoga therapy, which I hope will not only yield some positive changes in my body but also help me fill the time left over from ultimate while I wait for the next dry season.