August 19, 2013

The Aphasic Hermit

During most of my adolescence, I was convinced that I was a full-on extrovert. There was no question in my mind about this. I liked being the loud and weird one. I was the loud and weird one. But once I hit college, I started to feel more out of place, like the loud and weird Laura was just a fa├žade. At times I felt energized when I was around people like my Cross Country team. I felt like I could be my loud and weird self without any contest. But at other times I wanted to hide; be silent. I began to face my own personal battles, like "what am I doing here with all of these put together people? Why am I at this outrageously expensive private college when I have no idea what I want to do with my life?" Those were a few of a number of battles I had knocking around in my head. When I attempted to fight off these thoughts, I found myself hiding out more and sticking with the friends that I knew loved me no matter which Laura I chose to be - the loud and weird Laura or the quieter and perhaps more thoughtful Laura.

graduation 2004 Me: In my loud and weird adolescent phase

I spent so much time convincing myself that I was an extrovert that when I was quiet and not outgoing, I thought something was wrong with me. Time has taught me differently.

My post-college life has done wonders for my psyche. Very seriously. Whoever said "college years are the best years of your life" WAS CRAZY. I think that is one of the most depressing statements anyone could ever have fall out of their mouth. So my question is, do some people just give up after college? Just throw in the towel and say "Welp, I'm adult now. The fun is over." How could anyone end it right there when they're not even a quarter century into their life? For me, I actually started to live after college. Every year is better, not without new and often bigger challenges, but more rewarding and interesting. I feel much more capable now than I ever did as a lost sophomore in college.

I still experience great joy from being around people but realize how important it is for me to have time to recuperate. Back at TBI Metro Services, I was around people - usually 30 very demanding people - 8 hours a day. When I got home, I often spent the next 6 hours to myself unless I had to work at one of my other 50 jobs. (Just kidding, I only had 2½ jobs.) I like being alone but I didn't believe it at first. I used to feel bad for myself when I was alone on a weekend night. In Peace Corps it's almost written in the job application - "Volunteer should expect to spend most weekend nights alone, watching TV, and imagining pizza." (This is not entirely true but I'm sure I could get a couple "Amens" from some other PCVs holding it down in the village.)

cat in room It was an exciting day when the cat came into my room.

I thought working with brain injured adults was one of the most mentally draining work experiences ever. But I've never worked in corporate, or in a hospital, or as an ice road trucker, so I bet there are more mentally challenging jobs but that's beside the point. Before I came to Cambodia, I underestimated how much every daily encounter and exchange would take out of me in a different country. The simpleness of buying a cold beverage or buying breakfast in America is now gone. That comfort and ease of life in America was poured over by a foreign language, different social cues and norms, and so many cultural nuances that I still don't understand.

IMG_1278 That baby's all like "wut are you doin' gurl!?!"

Simple statements like "The lightbulb burned out" are no longer simple and the words I need are missing. (That lightbulb has been out for a week now...) Complex conversations are never had. And strong, meaningful friendships are not as possible without the bond of a common language. I'm sure anyone could see this coming before moving to a foreign country but you'll never know how isolating it can be till you're steeped in it. Lacking sufficient language to have what is considered everyday conversation is like getting a glimpse into the life of a person suffering with aphasia. I know what to say but don't have the right words to make other people understand what I need or want. Or I try to say what I need but when other people listen all they hear is blubbery gobbledygook. I had a shocking experience like this just last week when I asked my friend "tgnai na?" (which means "what day?") I repeated it about 5 times and received only blank stares. After a year of saying this word - REALLY!? Does no one understand what I'm saying EVER?! Are they just smiling and nodding to me all the time?! OH DEAR GOD!!

But then the conversation got back on track and my blood pressure returned to it's resting state.

At times, I isolate myself more than I should. "Hermitting", as I call it, in my room with the fan blowing in my face and a book keeping me company. I'm learning that hermitting days are necessary for my sustained sanity but I can't help but feel guilty about it. (And can someone please tell me how I developed such a guilty conscience for everything and anything??) And when I finally come out of my cave, I find many friendly, smiling faces and kick myself for being such a hermitty hermit. I'm still trying to find a balance while reminding myself that what works for other people, won't always work for me. Especially compared to most Khmer people I know. They thrive off of other people, just sitting together (Ongoii-layng-ing = sit-play) and joking around together (nyay-layng-ing.) I can only do that for so long before I need to swim to the surface and catch my breath...

island An island is a good place to catch your breath...

The past month or so was especially hermitty for me so I hope for my last year in Cambodia, I can find a happy medium between extroversion and introversion. A balance where I no longer have to feel guilty for my sometimes hermitty lifestyle. And I'm dropping this whole idea that I have to be either extroverted or introverted. Why are we always putting ourselves into boxes? Boxes are so constricting and claustrophobic. I'd prefer to be as limitless and undefined as a rice paddy field.

1150838_777107333915_1204409039_n Rice paddy fields for days

Sometimes I'm loud and weird. Sometimes I'm quiet and weird. I guess one could say I've matured...but maybe that's going to far?

Alone and Weird.

I like me.


  1. Deep down inside, we all have a little extrovert and an introvert running around and each gets tired out of they run around too much.

  2. When you're hermitting and guilty about it, feel free to text me, because I will either have been a guilty hermit that day, or am planning on being one later, and we can commiserate.