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I was extremely humbled to find out that I’d won best overall Taiwan blog and best personal blog in the peer judged category of Taiwanderful’s Taiwan Best Blog Awards. It was a great New Year’s Eve present and really put an extra sparkle on the last day of 2011. More importantly, it was also the impetus for me to think about where I want to take Shu Flies in the next year.

I have to admit that sometimes I’ve felt detached from this blog. Its direction has changed since my first post in 2007, which was about saying good-bye to friends in New York City. I’ve focused on the places and sights in Taipei that make this city special to me, but I also worry that I’ve started to honey-glaze my life here by only presenting the good. I’m proud of Shu Flies because I can go through it when I’m feeling sad or discouraged and it reinforces my decision to live and work in Taiwan. At the same time, I also meant for it to be a record of the more difficult aspects of being an expat. That’s fallen off over the past year or so, partly because I’m worried about privacy and partly because writing about personal experiences without seeming self-indulgent takes time and effort.

I don’t plan to make Shu Flies into a litany of complaints (I have much more to be grateful for than to gripe about), but I would like to write more about one thing in particular. When Ron and I had our first serious discussion in 2006 about moving to Taiwan, one concern outweighed all others in my mind: what would happen if I had a serious depressive episode while overseas?

As I mentioned in my post earlier this year about health and body image, I’ve dealt with major depressive disorder since I was a teenager. In high school and college, I was hospitalized a total of three time. Things gradually became better, much better, in my twenties, but you are never free of a chronic mood disorder. The past four years have been hard, but the only regrets I have are the times I did not take care of myself (by not adjusting my medication when I needed to, for example, or not exercising regularly even though that’s a key part of managing depression symptoms). I don’t want anyone to think that what I say about my experience with depression is anything other than highly personal, but it would really be worth it to me if I could help someone who is asking themselves the same questions that I did five years ago: “Can I do it? What is it like moving to a different country knowing that you won’t leave clinical depression behind?”

I’ve been counseled before by more than one person to never talk about my depression because of stigma… but, seriously, fuck that. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I used to see depression as a prison of sorts, in large part because I was afraid of how people would see me if they knew about my experiences, and it contributed to my constant feelings of isolation. It also prevented me from seeking help at certain times, because I kept thinking that I should be able to manage things on my own.
I’m still figuring out how to talk about my experiences with clinical depression here, but in the meantime, I’d like to direct you to the Community Services Center Web site. It’s an invaluable service for English-speaking expats here. If you need help of any kind, please don’t hesitate to call them. I also highly recommend the blogs of two extraordinary women I feel have written very well about their own mood disorders, Esme Weijun Wang and Kyla Roma.
Please take a look at the other winners of the Taiwan Best Blog Awards. I’m impressed with how much Taiwanderful’s blog directory has grown over the past year. It really has become an invaluable resource and everyone who is a part of it should feel very, very proud.