One of my friends bought me this journal two years ago. Turns out that the title has more significance for me, than I initially expected.
I thought there was an abrupt sea change in my blog, because I jumped from telling you about my hot season funk to the delightfully delicious best hot cross buns I’d baked in Phnom Penh and then offered a poem about love rejected. Perhaps you thought that was for the best. But it has been grating on me because it reads like I suddenly got all better again, when that is far from the truth. Of course there was the year long gap of blank nothing…
So, this blog post is about how I’ve been putting one foot in front of the other, in restoring my mental well-being. Quite literally in fact, because running is one of the things that I took up again to make myself happy.
First, I recorded in my journal my hot season depression and the thoughts I had begun to believe about myself or had resurfaced, so that one day when I was better I could go back to it and unpick what I’d thought into truth and lies.
Secondly, I was reminded of a verse in the Bible which says, ‘whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’¹. In light of this, I made up my mind to go back to doing the things that make me happy. Read cookery books, bake, cook up new recipes, exercise, write, sit out on my balcony, look out for faces in places, have a facial…
But believe me, when it’s 44°C (or even 36°C) and you’re a 10kg heavier than what you’d like to be, it’s hard to do any of those things.
Who wants to put the oven on and make the room even hotter than it is?
Anyone want to go swimming when the water is warm enough to bathe in?
Nobody wants to go outside and run, specially in a culture where running outdoors in not the norm.
It’s so easy, isn’t it, to slump back into the same negative thought patterns, to think that change and recovery will never come about. Refusing to believe I was stuck in the rut of depression in those first few months in July and August was such an effort. I cut out as much refined sugar that I could live without. No more khmer coffee with condensed milk for me. I mean I’m a baker, so I wasn’t ever going to cut it out completely if I could help it. But instead of baking sweet things, I baked and started selling my seeded wholemeal loaf. I convinced myself to shell out a bit more on ingredients that I liked cooking with and tried out a new recipe every week. It took a wee while longer to get into a rhythm of exercising. Eventually, I asked exercise buddy, Miri to help me by arranging to run or bike with her at certain days during the week. It kept me accountable. And I did something that I hadn’t done in over 15 years. I got on the weighing scales every week to motivate myself to keep at it.
I also began to be deliberate about posting #domoreofwhatmakesyouhappy. Willing myself to do all those things in the heat. The more I did them, the more I realised that I needed to keep on doing things to keep me happy. And changing my routine so that I could do them in relative cool of the morning to the scorching heat of the midday sun or the sticky mugginess in the evenings, just made sense.
As a young history student, specialising in the social and cultural history of the British Empire, I had researched the hill stations in India and judged those colonials for escaping to those cooler climes.² Oh the joke was on me now. Obviously I had never lived in a hot climate before! My sympathy and empathy extended in historical retrospect. Then I realised that I was also allowed to escape to cooler climes. My nearest and dearest were not going to judge me for escaping the suffocating heat of hot season to the bracing, brisk breeze of the British Isle, to restore my well-being. Consequently, in January, I made plans for a UK break and also to receive some professional help to sift through the fact and fiction.
It wasn’t until I lived through hot season again this year, I was able to see that I had done it. I was okay. In fact, more than okay. As hot season approached, I realised that I was happy and thriving. Yes, there was baggage still to unload. Back in the UK, I would have what felt like open-heart surgery to remove and heal what had caused so much pain and was affecting me. But all that mental and physical discipline, putting one foot in front another, was paying off. The Han-Na that went back to the UK, was excited about running a half-marathon in Phnom Penh and reflecting on the two things that she really liked about hot season and she was going to miss whilst back in the UK:
- There is no distinction between khmers and foreigners in that we all feel that it is too HOT.
- No mosquitoes. It’s too hot, even for them!
¹Philippians 4:8 ESV translation
²Dane Kennedy’s, The Magic Mountains: Hill Stations and the British Raj provides an overview of the role of hill stations in the British Raj.
And for fun, I’ve included an instagram feed (if it works) of what people are posting about #domoreofwhatmakesyouhappy.