I don’t know how it went for you all.. but for me, I feel like 2023 rolled in like a swift roundhouse kick to the head. It certainly has been no walk in the park, and there have been big changes that I did not want, nor did I feel prepared for. But that’s life! I wanted to write this in a way that’s like a reflective journal entry for myself, but also a life update to share. So.. here it goes!
I think the biggest change that took place is that Luke decided to return home to the states shortly after the new year. Many people asked following his announcement if I would be coming home too, but I’ve chosen to stay. This was a decision that was extremely complicated, difficult, and painful for both Luke and I, as well as those closest to us. I have nothing more specific to say about it, but I do want to share this update of my own experience so far, now that the remainder of this journey has become a solo one.
Since the middle of January, I’ve been kind of quiet. Not just on social media, but in my life as well. It’s because I’ve been sad.. so, so painfully sad... My entire future changed in a way I did not want it to. I’ve been grieving. So many hopes, dreams, and plans - all that didn’t work out. I’ve said goodbye to relationships with people I didn’t want to say goodbye to. As much as I wish I could say I moved through this period of my life with compassion and grace, I didn’t. I think I've cried more than I have ever cried. I’ve been utterly pissed with the universe and wished things were different. I’ve felt loss and frustration, and also guilt.
I had a hard time getting out of bed, let alone actually go out and do things. The mind can be quite powerful, and even though I was safe in my home in a safe city that I’ve come to know well, I often felt completely unsafe, distraught and miserably full of anxiety. Sometimes I felt absolutely furious. Other times, completely helpless. My feelings were often overwhelming and difficult to cope with. If I was awake and conscious, I was feeling everything on both ends of the spectrum and it was like constant whiplash. The brain can take you weird places. I’ve always been so fiercely independent, introverted, and content to live by myself, so this sudden struggle with "aloneness" was unfamiliar. It was a feeling I was unpleasantly surprised by, and rather unsure how to handle in a healthy way.
But it has forced me to work on figuring it out. It’s also forced me to give myself grace.
In the darkest of moments though, it’s REALLY hard not to just say “fuck it”, throw in the towel and fly home.
So why don’t I? Well, there are many reasons.. the main one being that I just don’t feel like I’m done here yet. That’s not based on anything logical or concrete. It’s just how I feel. When I feel really anxious, out of control, and ready to make an impulse decision, I make sure not to make any decisions at that time. I know inevitably that feeling will pass, even if it seems to take longer than usual. This is part of what I’ve learned as I’ve continued to work on mindfulness. Sometimes being mindful means knowing when NOT to make a decision.
If I do visualize myself returning home, I know all of the difficult and painful feelings will follow. I would still feel all of the same sadness, and all of the same loss. I would put myself through another drastic change; another culture shock during a time I’ve already felt so unstable. I also know I would feel a lot of disappointment in myself. I would feel like I gave up. I put a lot of time, money, and energy into making this happen. I took time away from a career that has brought me so much fulfillment. I have been far away from loved ones. Because of this, in an ironic sort of way, I feel like it’s important for me to accomplish what I set out to do here, even if that means being away from loved ones for even longer. It’s been a decade-long dream of mine to experience and live in another country… and even though Thailand likely would not have been a place I would have chosen on my own, I received full support, encouragement and a lot of help from my family and Luke’s family when I shared that I wanted to move to Thailand with Luke. I think I owe it to myself, and everyone that has supported me, that when I do decide to come home, to be able to say I accomplished to the best of my ability what I set out to do. Not because I gave up when life got hard.
That being said, I want to clarify that I am in no way suggesting that Luke “gave up”. Luke’s decision to return home was an extremely difficult one with an infinite number of variables. It was a very tough decision that was made because it was ultimately best for him on his timeline, in the same way I will decide to return when it’s best for me on my timeline. So I'm still here. What am I doing? What do my days look like? When DO I plan to come home? I’m going to try to answer a bit of all of this: I fill my days now with a lot of things. I still train Muay Thai, however I’ve backed off significantly. After my fight, I truthfully wanted nothing to do with it. I was really excited to have done it, and I will always be thankful for the memory, but mentally it took me quite a while to recover. (I could write an entire book on this topic, but for now I’ll leave it at that.) Physically my body has just not held up. Looking back now, I think it’s a miracle I made it to my first fight at all! Doing hard, high impact 2-a-day trainings on top of a run, 5 days a week for 3 months straight took it's toll. My 31-year-old body is very different than my 21-year-old body, and recovery (or lack thereof) was an ongoing issue. I also haven’t been conditioning my body to impact since childhood, or even as a teenager. I’ve had ongoing tendinitis in my ankles that has been a struggle from day 1. I wore off the skin on the bottoms of my feet. I broke my left baby toe. I’m missing a toenail. My shins became tolerant of kicking pads and the sandbag for hours, but kicking another human’s shin is an entirely different animal. It’s like 2 wooden bats cracking together. I have some scar tissue in the front of my right leg now. Even after 2 months, it bruises easily after kicking pads for even just a round. I lost my period from being so lean. I couldn’t sleep, despite feeling impossibly tired. I would eat as much as I could, and it was still never enough. I kept getting sick. I also was just exhausted from it all. I felt like I had become very fragile.
Like Coach Phet says, “Muay Thai… it’s not dancing” lol.
Despite all of that, I knew all of these were small, acute injuries that would heal rather quickly in the grand scheme of things (aside from my chronic issues with tendinitis that long pre-date Thailand). It’s Muay Thai after all.. you can’t really expect anything less! So I told my trainer I wanted to fight again. I wanted to prove to myself I could do it again, and not let my fears from my first experience be the reason I never stepped back in the ring. I tried to go back to training full time, but after just 2 days of training, I re-injured my right ankle.
Training and having a scheduled fight gave me a lot of purpose before; something to really lean in to, learn, and work toward. I have a greater understanding, deep appreciation, and respect for Muay Thai in a way I never could have possibly had if I had not come to Thailand, observed, trained, and competed. I've met irreplaceable people that have opened my mind in countless ways. Even still with my very untrained, beginner eyes, Muay Thai is something I now see through a different lens. It's something I am truly grateful to have experienced here. More recently though, I’ve had to start being real with myself. Wanting to fight again isn’t coming from an entirely healthy place now. Sometimes I think the high level of intensity and exhaustion from training have just become a way to numb all of the emotional pain I’m feeling, which is a bandaid on a bullet wound. Maybe that's a little bit what it's always been. Now it’s time to actually deal with those feelings.
So I’ve decided I want to hang it up for now. I want to stay healthy for the rest of the time I'm here. I want to focus on other things and put more time and energy in to my art and yoga practice. I want to eat whatever amazing Thai food I want and not have to worry about my weight, or about my stomach hurting! And I want to focus on healing my mind. I still plan to train until my membership runs out, but at a level where I actually listen to my body. I want to progress technically (because my technique is terrible haha) and get stronger this time, not get progressively weaker. I won’t fight again in Thailand, but I’m ok with that. Sparring with Coach Phet is hard enough lol. I still spend most of my day drawing and making artwork. The other day, I saw a fellow artist’s Instagram post about an artist residency they were doing and it finally dawned on me, “Hey! That’s like what I’m doing!” Mine is just self-funded haha. I feel like their post just helped me better define what I’ve been doing this whole time, and it’s given me the ability to treat my time creating with more intention. I make sure to draw every day. Most of what I make is actually just sketches, scribbles, notes, ideas, or concepts; things I hope to paint or tattoo in the future, as well as the direction I’d like to take my tattooing once I’m home. I don’t post them because it’s not “quality content” or whatever… but I do really like some of them. Maybe I’ll start sharing my sketches a bit more!
I have also been continuing to study Thai Language. It is a tough language. Even after 5 months, I can still only say basic things and ask very simple questions. I can pick out random words from conversations, but without any solid comprehension. I know some of the letters and their sounds, but still struggle to sound out words. Even when I can sound it out, I never know what it means. But I still really enjoy it! It’s like being a first-grader again! Anytime I go to a 7-Eleven and ask for something and the staff understands what I’m asking for, or can pick out a few letters on a sign, it’s a little real-world victory, and it’s really exciting! I’m still so shy and self-conscious when trying to speak. I know that this is what holds back language learning more than anything, but I try a little more every day. I still practice yoga, and am planning to practice even more now that I’ve backed off on training Muay Thai. I’m also studying an additional course in mindful eating to add to my completed 200HR YTT! Because of my own long history with eating disorders and body image issues, it’s something that’s really important to me. I’m still not 100% sure where I’m going with my yoga journey, but if I do end up pursuing teaching, I would love to help others in the areas of food and nutrition as well! Meditation is also something I continue to practice, and am determined to practice with more consistency going forward in my life. Something I’ve come to realize as I read about Buddhism and listen to talks from my absolute favorite, Sadhguru, is that so much “suffering” happens only because I’ve become this "victim" of my own thoughts. I just terribly overthink everything. I try to “force” things into existence that are simply out of my control. The struggle is all in the mind – in thoughts of the past, and unhappened imaginings of the future. But in this moment? There is not actually anything wrong. I am safe. My survival needs are met. I am healthy. I am content. I have the freedom to interact with the world in whatever way I choose. I am ok. As long as I am not imposing some series of expectations on how things should have been or should be in the future, this is actually a perfectly fantastic state of being. I've begun to see how wonderful it is to just be ok. This state of mind is of course, a work in progress. The brain is the most complicated machine on the planet. I think it’s fair to maybe not always know how to use it. Wellness is a journey with no end that I will forever be on. But something about that feels really exciting. What better path to be on than one of wellness? And the final question… what are my plans for coming home? I don’t have an exact answer right now. I try to digest my life these days about 5 minutes at a time. But here is my current “plan”: My mom and dad will be visiting in March, and I truly cannot wait for them to be here and to spend time with them! After that, I’m just going to check in with myself and see how I feel. Do I want to stay, or will it be time to go? I still have a lot I want to do and work on here. I arrived in Thailand on September 1, 2022, and if I stick with the original goal of 1 year, I would leave around end of August. A lot has obviously transpired since then. My future looks very different now that it did before, and will be very different when I return to America. I can pretty much say with certainty I will not be staying the full year, but I do fully intend to wait out the Ohio winter! Once I have definite plans, I will share them… including details about my return to work and my tattoo books opening! I miss my friends and family a lot. I miss my work. I miss my clients. I miss my dog and my plants. But as I said before, I just can’t get past the feeling that my work here is not yet complete. There’s still more to see, still more to learn and a lot of growing to do. And even though this journey has had it’s complications, my life here overall is very simple. It’s one of the things I love the most. It feels easier to heal that way. Last but not least, thank you for reading. Thank you to my friends and family for all of the continued support. Thank you to my clients who have reached out and stayed in touch… for continuing to support my work even while I’m away. I could not be more grateful. Will try to send more (regular) updates soon.. until then, thank you for following my journey, and for all of the love and support. Sending all of my love from the Land of Smiles <3