Diary Extracts from a Tropical Nomad – VI

Chapter 6 – Prison in Paradise

In this post I have added three diary entries written in the same week in early May.  I have always found that I need my diary more when I’m particularly low.  It’s my way of pulling the negative energy out of my head and looking at it with more objectivity.  These three entries probably navigate one of the lowest points since leaving the UK. 

I was arriving at the dreaded three month wall.  

The three month wall has happened to me in many situations that involve a whole new construct in my life, like jobs or travel.  I find that at three months, all the anxiety builds and builds and if I can just ride it out it will eventually dissipate like a wave breaking on the shore.  

It was my week off and I had decided that I didn’t want to travel too far away from the islands this time, that I would spend a bit of time on Bintan – the mainland closest to the islands.  Bintan is not a tourist hot spot so to speak.  It hasn’t really got any claim to fame apart from large Bauxite deposits and the Tour de Bintan. Apart from the Northern region of Lagoi, it hasn’t yet been developed as a place for people outside of Singapore to visit.  It’s still a very poor area of the world and is a shocking contrast to Singapore which is only an hour’s boat ride away. That being said, I’d rather be in Bintan. 

Most of the staff on the island live in Bintan or Batam (it’s sister island next door), although a lot of them originate from all over Indonesia.  So, I thought it would be nice to get a look at what their lives are like at home.  I was also hoping it might shake me out of the melancholia I had been feeling for a few weeks.

In the distance you can see Nikoi Island from the shoreline of Bintan. Homesickness in the guise extreme lonliness and loss meant I longed to be on the Island with my new family. I sat here, in paradise, and felt so sad. It might be hard to understand this I know, maybe you, reader, feel slight anger that I could feel this in such a beautiful place, but there it is. The beauty, in fact, compounds the sense of distress in a painful cycle of overthinking.

I had booked a few nights in a beach lodge run by the dive master who comes to the island sometimes to help with guest scuba sessions and marine conservation.  His name is Michel, he’s very French.  His place is simple, no frills but a true Indonesian experience.  

My plan was to spend a few days there and then go to Singapore before returning to work. Life had other plans.

6th May 2019 – Monday

Local Time: 20.30
Location: Nikoi Island
Mood: Struggling

I really don’t know what to do with myself.  I spent the day and night in Bintan yesterday and enjoyed exploring Tanjungpinang – the main city.  I felt stronger.  I was able to deal with the crippling loneliness that comes from being the only white person, getting stared at everywhere.  I suppose I just want to blend in.  But that can be even lonelier.

I see how Kirstie interacts with everyone.  I’m not the same person though, and I’m okay with that, so why do I feel this way.  I’m super new to this job.  I need to ease off on myself.  

Anyway, last night I spoke in great depth to Michel.  He owns the beach place I’m staying at. He paints and hosts Jong racing (a type of Indonesian boat racing where the boats are around a metre long – they are unmanned).  It was one of the best conversations about esoteric subjects I’ve had in a long time.  

His wife didn’t seem to like me though.  I felt pretty awkward all day, not sure if I was projecting that or not, but it made my day a little unbearable.  I decided to go back to Nikoi.  I feel better here already.  

I am taking on all the woes and gripes of the world right now.  I need to meditate properly.  I tried to swim today.  Did a few lengths in the sea.  Skipped dinner.

Tomorrow I will paint for sure.  I’m going to draw.

I must start giving myself a break.  Today I worked on the Artist’s Residency proposal and it’s almost done.  I should be very proud of myself and I am.  

Lucy, you are loved.  Nobody judges you and if they do then what good does their judgement do you.  Be compassionate.  Care for those who need it.  Not because they suffer, but because they don’t.  

Affirm your place in this cosmic mess.  Play with it.  Be grateful for what you have.

I am blessed.  I am loved.  I have food.  I have friendship.

Michels place in Bintan was a really cool spot, but I felt so vulnerable at the time.  I needed something that felt as close to home as possible, something with a bit of comfort.  I remember being at a loss as to what to do with myself while I was there.  No option seemed like it would calm the monster of anxiety until I decided to go back to Nikoi, to my room, my home.  

7th May 2019 – Tuesday

Local Time: 8.30am
Location: Nikoi Island
Mood: Odd

I can hear my thoughts – never satisfied.  Always wondering what more can be done?  The Siddhis in India are spending their whole lives doing nothing.  

That’s the point.

What, where, when, how, why, all start the desire train.  Wanting answers.  That’s my addiction.

Ants are pure desire.  They seek constantly.

This is my time off.  I’m going to enjoy it.

That night on Nikoi I started to feel very ill.  A bug had been circulating through the staff on the island and I thought I’d managed to avoid it but alas, I had not. It came on very suddenly and my choice to head back to Nikoi so quickly, that seemed illogical at the time, was now a blessing. It was almost like my subconscious knew that I was about to fall ill. Reading the previous entry back, it does seem a little lucid doesn’t it?

That night was one of the first nights of Ramadam.  I remember because I was woken up at around 4am by the guys eating in the staff canteen before daylight fast.  I felt awful.  My temperature was off the charts and I was crazy dizzy.  My whole body felt alien to me. I couldn’t pin point the source of the problem but something was incredibly wrong.

I tried to stand up and as I walked across the room I felt my blood pressure drop and the world went dark.  This is not a new experience to me.  If I drink too much or if I have a temperature my blood pressure falls critically low and I pass out.  I managed to get back to my bed before collapsing and took stock of my situation.  I was very confused and tried to call Kirstie.  She, of course, was asleep so I messaged my friend on the Island – Copral – to bring me some water as I literally couldn’t move. 

Almost passing out on a stone tile floor had left me a little shaken and I was considering asking to go to hospital but I couldn’t face getting on a small speedboat and crossing the sea to a tiny clinic where nobody spoke English and I would have to do the whole thing again coming back. Instead, I ate some medicine, tried to get some sleep and the next day, I felt a little better.  This was perhaps ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’.  My body and my mind were frail, in danger of collapse and suffering greatly.  There may be nothing worse than being ill and feeling like you have nobody to care for you. I buried myself in my room for a few days and tried to keep my spirits up.

Having a fever in 29C and 80% humidity is really the worst. As I was recovering from my illness I remember traversing through this garden on the way to fetch water. The plants took on strange forms in my hallucinatory state.

11th May 2019 – Saturday

Local Time: 10.00
Location: Singapore – In a Taxi
Mood: Focused

The places I love are not ‘out there’.  They are our impressions of them at the time of thought conception.

When I was in the UK all I could focus on was its bad points.  Well, not all, but it solely depended on my state of mind.  All I wanted to do was get back to Asia.  Once I had landed on this paradise island, the place I had manifested, the most perfect place, my mind is still longing for something else.

This has been a difficult pill to swallow.  The whole thing depends upon me.

I’m driving through Singapore to the ferry terminal.  It’s raining hard and my mind is in Cornwall.  Green cornwall.  The end of the country.  It’s funny, I keep going to places where there were once pirates.  Idea for a story perhaps?

Cornish pirates are archetypes for what?  Crossover?

Anyway, I digress.

Singapore feels more like home this morning than I felt in a long time.  Even in the UK.  One thing that can’t be argued though is how much better my skin is out here.  

I am very tired this morning – it’s been a few nights of bad/very little sleep.  There is nothing to be done about this.

I am a poet

I am an artist

I am a singer

This is how I impress myself upon the world.

Until I do these things my heart is empty.

I find myself in another prison.  Prison in paradise.  It’s almost worse because you can’t balk against it.

There are certain things that are so important that we never notice until they’re taken away/

Only I could get depressed in paradise eh?

I wonder if it’s a genetic thing.  Cursed by my double helix to be miserable.  I should embrace it.  Like Bukowski.  Write about it.  I feel something forming, a character maybe.

Intrinsically miserable woman, survives apocalypse.  Cynical about everything, even the gift of her life.  Could be a comedy.

We always see these strong protagonists as happy and fulfilled.  I’m going to write it how it really is.

This final entry seems a bit more hopeful doesn’t it?  There is a sense of direction towards creativity and future projects.  There’s a realisation that I have to seek some way of accepting my situation and to use it as fodder.

Also, as a side note.  It turns out our ability to experience happiness could be linked to our genes.  That there is a certain level of contentment that we all stabilise at and this is dictated by our genetic makeup. There’s a lot of scientific literature about this correlation:

But no need to despair.  External forces and neuroplasticity can help us re wire our interpretations of how we feel about what happens to us.  I am reading some really interesting literature on this at the moment and as I journey through my own personal progression I will pepper the blogs with things that seem to resonate within this subject.  If you have any interesting books or articles about this please feel free to share them with me.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think we can expand our ability to perceive happiness?  Do you think we are intrinsically biased towards experiencing the world in a certain way?  What does this say about free will?

Cover Photo by Prithviraj Anand on Unsplash

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