Last January, I was a shell of my former (and current) self. On the outside, I seemed to be the picture perfect image of millennial white female privilege: an independent, fedora-wearing, smiley, bikini-clad, educated, social media savvy travel blogger. I swum in an infinity pool on top of a luxury condominium complex in Kuala Lumpur. I took sunset photos on a beach swing in Gili Trawangan. I Noraebanged until dawn with strangers in Seoul.
But I also started binge drinking on weekends, letting go of my former strict vegan diet, and soon I was suffering from insomnia that left with me little more than an hour or two of sleep a night. After my bad habits culminated into a two-hour panic attack at work, I was diagnosed with panic disorder, mild depression, generalized anxiety disorder and adjustment disorder.
Given my condition, I asked my doctor if I should cancel a trip to Vietnam I had booked for early February. Despite my grocery list of disorders, it was the first time he looked at me like I was actually insane.
With a kind smile, he suggested that taking a real rest and relaxation-style vacation was not only a good idea – it was a necessity.
A few weeks later, I was on a first class flight to Hanoi.
I wandered aimlessly and curiously through the busy streets of Hanoi, my senses assaulted all at once. After a few hours, I rounded a corner and stumbled upon the Lake of The Restored Sword. If I was going to restore my soul – this must be the place.
I just needed to cross the street.
Now crossing a street wouldn’t be a big deal if we were talking about a city equipped with modern infrastructure and traffic regulations that people actually obey. But if you’ve never been to the major cities of Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi) or other developing countries, then you truly can’t picture the kind of traffic I’m talking about. Here’s a quick video to give you context:
Pedestrian crosswalks are scarce. Traffic lanes (when they exist) aren’t adhered to. There is no right OR wrong time to move. Crossing through traffic simply requires a profound, basic human trust between motorists and pedestrians. You just have to take a deep breath and walk through it.
You can’t wait. No one will stop for you.
You can’t sprint during a lull. There aren’t any.
And most all – you cannot hesitate at any point during your trek. In doing so, you may get killed, and potentially kill countless others. Same goes for motorists – some of which hurtle at lightning speed on motorbikes with infants on their laps.
It is a magical, lethal dance between strangers with the highest possible stakes. Life and death.
Now, this wasn’t my first time at the Vietnamese traffic
road rodeo; I had experienced this years before during a trip to Ho Chi Minh City in 2007. And yet, in this very different city, at a very different time, this simple experience took on new meaning.
And so I entered the deafening traffic with the steady calm of a tightrope walker, locking eyes with motorists as they expertly and effortlessly maneuvered around me. Cars and motorbikes zipped and zoomed around me noisily, like the questions and fears in my mind.
Have I made all the wrong decisions?
Is my life fucked up beyond repair?
Have I failed my family? Have I failed myself?
But I just kept on walking, letting cars and cares move around me; and sure enough, the Lake of the Restored Sword greeted me on the other side.
A week later, I started weaning myself off anti-depressants. I decided there was no right or wrong time to cross through the gargantuan traffic jam of questions and thoughts in my mind. I’d lock eyes with all my fears – and I’d keep moving. I just needed to get up, and start walking.
And sure enough, restoration greeted me on the other side.
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