When You Feel Like Giving Up – The Uncertainties of Being Fighter and an Expat

It’s been a while since my last blog post, for which I must apologise. I was back in the UK for my annual visit home until mid-July and I arrived back in Bangkok with a month to train for my fight on the Queen’s birthday, so threw myself straight into that. However, a busy schedule isn’t main the reason for my lack of communication. The truth is, I’d been dealing with a lot of negative emotions since I came back, and wasn’t really ready to talk about them. I’m not sure if I still want to now, but the reason I started blogging was to share both the ups and downs of what it’s like to do what I do, so it would be wrong not to.

My arrival back at the gym marked the start of a strange and difficult period for me. Firstly, the two people who were closest to me left Thailand to go home just a few days later. Then, almost my entire circle of friends proceeded to leave one by one, and there was just a constant stream of goodbyes. Around six people left in the space of two weeks, at the end of which I felt a bit lost. The gym seemed very empty after that.

Friends leaving is something I once wrote about in an old post, ‘Does Fighting Change You?‘ It’s part of living an expat lifestyle, as well as being in a gym in Thailand. People around me are always coming and going, but it’s not usually the case that such a solid group of people, some of whom have been living here with me for a couple of years, leave for good. It struck up various emotions for me. On one hand, the introvert in me was really looking forward to being able to just focus on training and ‘me time‘, but on the other, I was panicking. The prospect of having no one around was one thing, but I couldn’t help but wonder if I should be thinking about leaving, too. Everyone else was making plans to get on with their lives through studying, finding new jobs and moving either back home or to new countries. Should I have been doing the same? My recent trip home probably had a lot to do with the conjuring of those thoughts, having been ‘back to reality’ and seeing what my friends and family were doing. On one of the very first days I spent alone, I had a bit of a ‘what am I doing with my life?‘ crisis, and kept myself up all night, frantically Googling different options in different countries, trying to figure out where I would go and what if I would do if I did leave, although I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to. Any step from here would be such a huge one, I wouldn’t want to be anything less than 100% sure about it, but how could I be? The pressure was overwhelming. At around 5am, I asked a friend who’d recently moved back home from Thailand for some advice and she gave me the simplest yet most calming response. She said ‘you have to ask yourself – are you doing it out of fear or out of love?‘ Whatever I choose to do, it should be out of love, and it was quite clear that this was a fear-driven episode. Still, it couldn’t hurt to think about other options for the future to prevent a similar freakout further down the line, so I did, just without the pressure.

The strange kind of gym exodus that took place means that what once was my core training group is now gone, and it’s currently low season, so there are fewer new people coming in, too. As a result, it’s been difficult for me to find appropriate sparring and clinching partners recently. On top of that, Master Toddy has been very busy with a new project of his, which meant that he had to spend a lot of time outside of Bangkok for a month or so, and that definitely affected my training during that time. It wasn’t demotivating, I’m always motivated to train and get better, but it certainly made me feel as though I wasn’t getting as much out of it as I could have been. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling lonely here, so that isn’t too much of an issue. I’d always seen it as a necessary price to pay in order to be here and do what I love. However, this was the first time that I started to question whether or not I still loved it. This all came to a head one morning after a particularly disappointing training session, when the stress of it all had gotten on top of me. I was fed up. I felt alone; not only was there no one for me to train with, but there was no one for me to talk to. I had a big fight coming up and didn’t feel like I was getting the right preparation. On top of that, I was having a really difficult time cutting weight for it as my body just wasn’t responding the way it always used to, which stressed me out even more. After that session, I went back to my room and just cried. Here’s a status I posted to Facebook later on that day:

For the first time, with genuine uncertainty, I was asking myself if I still wanted to fight. It’s a very strange feeling to question the entire reason for your existence in that moment. Everything in my life revolves around Muay Thai right now. This is why I’m here. I started to think about the possibility of stopping and assess how that prospect made me feel. There were times when I thought I’d be OK with it, as long as I felt like I’d achieved what I wanted to, whether that was measured by a number of fights or the kinds of shows I fought on. I didn’t want to take the decision lightly, though. My previous trip home had meant that I hadn’t fought in a while, so these feelings could have quite easily come as a result of just feeling out of place in general, tempted by the different lifestyle I saw there and needing to get back into the swing of things. As well as that, the atmosphere in the gym wasn’t quite up to par with normal standards, which made me enjoy training less than usual. To remedy that, I went to train with Sylvie for a couple of days, which was really great. I always have fun training with her and feel like I learn a lot from both her and her training partners. That, and it was just refreshing to get a change of scenery. Altogether, it was exactly what I needed, but I still kept getting those nagging, negative feelings. With a number of other factors affecting my mood, I couldn’t be sure what I wanted at all, so although these thoughts crept up on me consistently, I kept telling myself that I would see how I felt after my next fight on the Queen’s birthday. The cartoon below accurately depicts how I felt for most of the time leading up to that.

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As I had hoped, with the fight, came clarity (post on the actual fight to come soon). Even as I was walking in, already gloved up, I questioned myself, but afterwards it felt right and I knew that I wanted to keep going. Maybe I just needed the adrenaline kick of fighting again, or maybe it was the sting of losing that fuelled me, but as soon as I’d gotten out of the ring, I wanted to get back in as soon as possible. All of a sudden, I remembered why I love fighting and what it does for me. I posted the following status to Facebook, in contrast to my earlier one:

After approaching the promoter immediately after the fight and asking for another fight as soon as possible, I now have the next one lined up a week from today and am excited to get back in there and fix some of the mistakes I made last time. There’s no cloud of uncertainty hanging over this one. Getting this fight was definitely a decision that I made out of love.

Everyone knows that the lifestyle of a fighter isn’t an easy one. It’s one that requires a lot of discipline and sacrifice and often results in feelings of loneliness and self-doubt. The life of an expat can be similar in some regards. It may seem like it’s all smiles, but ‘living the dream’ doesn’t come for free. Moving away from home by yourself and having people around you leave constantly, not being able to be there for friends and family in times of need and spending a lot of time missing people is rough. After being in another country for so long, going home can make you feel even lonelier than you did when you were away, which makes you even less certain of your place in the world. On top of that, sometimes you just generally don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. However, I’ve realised that the same goes for everyone. It’s OK to not know what you want to do or how long you want to be in a certain place. Most of us are just working that out as we go along anyway. Besides, I have to remind myself that although I might sometimes feel obligated to leave Thailand, embark on a ‘real career‘, and ‘settle down somewhere‘, a lot of the people I know who are doing that aren’t happy anyway! In fact, a lot of them tell me that they wish they could do what I’m doing. Anyway, what’s to say that what I’m doing isn’t ‘real life‘?  I may hear that from a lot of people, many of them being older family members every time I go home, but the fact that what I’m doing isn’t conventional or right for them doesn’t mean that it’s not acceptable for me, as long as I’m happy doing it. And I am. Sometimes, I just need a little something to clarify that.

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10 thoughts on “When You Feel Like Giving Up – The Uncertainties of Being Fighter and an Expat

  1. Hey emma, i’ve discovered today your bolg and i’ve been reading some entries. i admire your courage. i’ve been training contact sports through my life but never fought, i’ve never wanted to dedicate so much time, and i sucked too, but recently something happened in my life, that i’m sure would’ve been a game changer for me if i’ve discovered when i was into martial arts more. reading your blog, the entries about introversion and so on makes me wanna share it with you, could help. The thing is that doing a genetic analisys has made me found various genetic mistakes that can be solved with certain vitamins. the change in my body and my personality (i don’t refuse verbal confrontation anymore) only by knowing and adressing this genetic mistakes has been huge. I really wonder if trying this could improve your career dramatically. please try this route, i think that making things that others don’t do can make you have and edge. 23andme.com make this analysis for 100 bucks. you get the data from this website and go to nutrahacker.com and they will tell you what to do to surpass a lot of the genetic disadvantages that we all have. If you wanna know more, send me and email, i be glad to help. And don’t quit!!!!! be strong girl.

  2. Felt like I needed to hear/read that right now, thank you for sharing Emma. I’m one of those weird introverts that gets lonely sometimes being away from home, but love it here (Japan) too. Knowing there are other (many others) out there is of some comfort and reminds me to take a step back, breathe and let the journey flow.

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  4. Hi Emma,

    Its “Simon” or “nakmuaybynature” on the 8limb’s forum.

    Thank you for sharing your intimate story. It have given me the courage to share mines as well.

    I haven’t fought since the one I posted about. I’m going through the same thoughts as well. Although it seems like I’m improving little by little, I feel burnt out as if I’m just going through the motions. Maybe I need the adrenaline from fighting again, but at the same time the uncertainty is giving me a mental block. The emotions causes me to fight/spar with them, which frustrates me. Perhaps its the fear of the unknown/outcome again. The sacrifices and loneliness that comes with fighting. Like yourself, I am an introvert which more or less affects my confidence and social standing. I don’t have many friends nor supportive family members around. I have new training partners, but beside a few a lot of old members has left. The gym is closed this labor day weekend and I feel like shit for having nothing to do. Besides work and training, I pretty much keep to myself and stay at home. Sometimes these negative thoughts make me feel like giving up; I don’t have much going on in my life besides Muay Thai. I’m stuck in a dilemma between what my life will be without it and quitting. I guess I am sacred about the future- the loneliness and failures that may and may not come with it, which seems like the path I’m walking towards. The downtime these past few days got me reflecting a lot. I’m not sure if mental training will even help…these feelings just keep coming back in the end. This life as a fighter or rather life as a human-being is a long-learning process and journey of self-reflection.

    Chok dee Emma. Wishing you all the best.

    • Hi Simon,

      It sounds like we are in very similar spaces! My most recent fight was very hard to deal with and I ended up taking a week off from training to give myself some space. It’s not something I’ve ever done before because I usually want to be in the gym all the time, but I think I needed to separate myself from everything and just relax in order to clear my head a little bit. As you said, life does seem quite empty without training, so it wasn’t easy, but it was definitely worth it. I’ve returned to training this week with a clearer head and more desire to get back into it, and am just taking it from there without pressuring myself too much. Still juggling different thoughts and options, but I think I’m better equipped to do that now. Perhaps a similar approach will help you? Mental training is definitely worth trying if you’re curious, I found it very helpful. Don’t let lack of support or presence from other people get you down, just take your times to work things out. I hope you managed to enjoy your long weekend!

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  6. Oh goodness, the last part you wrote about your family at home making comments about how you’re not living “real life.” I hear that all the time! It’s like you can have a “real life” only if you’re living in one settled place, doing one conventional job, and most importantly, living in your own culture. I will never understand it.

  7. When I first came to Thailand and Bangkok, it was never a plan for me to stay here forever.
    It’s not that I had anything against Thailand and Bangkok, I just saw more potential to develop meaningful friendships and relationships elsewhere. I wanted to do be a respectable member of society — I wanted to do something that would both benefit other people as well as being treated with respect.

    When culture shock wore off, I noticed how Thai people were kind. Every day someone random holds the door for me, smiles, or helps me with something small. I made a few good expat friends yet most went back home. Private hospitals are incredible, and customer service can be very good.

    But as you know, Thai people being kind doesn’t mean friendship, and it became a conundrum of sorts, if there are so many foreigners living in Bangkok, why was it so hard to make good friends?
    I realised that while it’s possible to live in Bangkok and be comfortable, that you don’t have many chances to grow and change as a person.

    While both Bangkok and Thailand are special, it’s important to ask yourself — where do you see yourself in 5 years time? What kind of person do you want to be? When I get sick, I noticed that it was my body’s way of telling that I need to change something in my life on a fundamental level.

    Ultimately, whether we live in Bangkok or Paris, how happy or fulfilled we are going to be depends on meaningful friendships or relationships we are able to forge. It’s nice to live in a city where you have room to grow and change, and where you are SUPPORTED both by your community and friends as you grow and change.

    I always knew that Bangkok was limited in that area. I still love the city, yet it’s not where I want to grow old or stay forever.

    • HI Ethan,

      Thanks for your comment! I certainly see what you mean. I have always said that I love living here, but know I don’t want to be here forever. That’s OK, though.

      I think it is possible to develop meaningful relationships and achieve personal growth wherever you are, and I have definitely done both of those things here, but it is very difficult when people around you are always leaving. I’m still working out what my next step is.

      Where are you living now?

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