Teacher Tim's TEFL International Blog August 27th, 2011

Disconnect Your Panic Button

I love old movies.

Especially the stereotypes and the character actors who so skillfully portrayed them;

Dumb thugs. Street walkers with a heart of gold. Debonair jewel thieves. Irish cops. Dopey sidekicks. And the improvident newspaper reporter.

This last character pops up in any film having to do with the big bad city; they are valiant keepers of the public truths who need constant infusions of cash from their editor to pay off bookies, stool pigeons, and friendly constables. This normally takes the form of an advance on their salary. Your typical cinema newspaper scribbler is so far in hock to his or her editor that their paychecks are more wishful thinking than bankable.

I used to smile indulgently at such characters, having always been a miser myself, keeping a fat bank account for the unavoidable moist days ahead.

But when I came to Thailand as an ESL teacher I exhausted my bank balance in getting established and waiting for my first teaching paycheck. It came to pass that a few months later, before I could replenish said bank account, an emergency arose that required immediate cash (and it wasn’t a bookie or bar tab, by the way).

That’s when I had my first-ever anxiety attack.

You’ve read about the symptoms; shortness of breath, chest pains, dizziness, queasiness, an insufferable sense of impending doom — it often mimics the symptoms of a heart attack.

I actually had to skip breakfast and lunch; my stomach refused all sustenance. As a trencherman in good standing since I started wearing long pants, this was the most disturbing aspect of all to me.

Eventually I asked my school administrator for an advance, and she graciously gave it to me. The crisis passed, and, as my dad used to say about anything short of an atomic bomb blast, nobody died.

During my years in Thailand I’ve heard similar tales from many an expat English teacher. A good friend once told me he nearly passed out at Suvarnabhumi Airport because he was a head taller than anyone else he could see anywhere – it caused him acute disorientation and panic. Another friend described his mental stasis when his laptop was stolen while he was making his living in Thailand by teaching online English classes to Koreans. By the time he got it replaced all his students had deserted him for another Internet pedagogue and he was left with no immediate job prospects. He sat in his rented room for 2 days without moving. What finally got him out of his funk was a large flying cockchafer that buzzed into his forehead, awaking him from his stupor and motivating him to go find gainful teaching employment.

There’s no shame in admitting to anxiety attacks. In fact, it’s always a good idea to share your anxiety with someone else, to put things in perspective. Especially in a country as constantly off-kilter as Thailand, where something as simple as negotiating a taxi fare can expand into a Strindberg drama.

I’ve had a few more anxiety attacks here in Thailand, but since hooking up with my Thai gf I find myself gradually settling into her mindset when it comes to bumfuzzling emergencies.

In the words of the immortal Mr. Macawber, “Something will turn up.”

Nothing sums up the casual Thai attitude to most of life’s shenanigans better.

Nowadays, when there is too much month at the end of the money, I can serenely survey the approaching calamity without clutching my chest and emitting a melodramatic gasp. Something will turn up – and, by golly, it usually does.

Just the other month the utility bill jumped by a thousand baht for some mysterious reason I have not yet figured out, and I was caught short. Here in Thailand the utility company is happy to turn off your electricity as soon as you are four days late, no exceptions.

Instead of calling for an ambulance, or some Valium, I shrugged it off; there was a thousand baht somewhere, waiting for me to find it. The next day I picked up a private student, who paid me a thousand baht in advance.

Problem solved, and no one died.