Black Man Moving to Vietnam: State of Depression.

Darrion M. Willis
Aug 22, 2017 · 6 min read

Success is what everyone wants. But depression comes along with it. Find your cure.

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Dong Thap Province, Vietnam, 2017.

Vietnam is similar to Thailand, so my experience teaching and living here aren’t that different. One key difference about being in Vietnam was the stares and rude comments I would get.

Fall 2015 I abruptly moved to Vietnam, thanks to my good friend Zola. I began work up north, in Vinh City, near Hanoi, Vietnam. That is where I met Stef, Head Teacher of Blue Sky Academy. Immediately Stef and I became best friends. He was very supportive and resourceful in his efforts to welcoming me here. We spent many lunch breaks together playing cards, chatting about sports and our own experiences living and working abroad. Stef is of mixed race; British and Filipino. Although many of the Vietnamese people think he’s one of them. They’re baffled at his English accent in response to them when we’re out speaking in public. Stef is one of my close confidants I can rely on. Stef is a man of integrity, class and inspiring to the people around him. He is one of my future best men at my wedding.

A turning point in my life came after I left Blue Sky Academy. I left Stef and Blue Sky Academy four months after I was hired (due to the employer’s breach of contract).

I mostly worked in the north. Thanh Hoa, Vietnam and Lao Cai City, Vietnam.

I can recall the countless phone calls we had for an hour (every week) about my new job(s). I felt that my talents and voice were silenced. I cared about my career as a teacher and wanted to implement many ideas. But my employers in both Thanh Hoa and Lao Cai had other plans in mind. The managers tried to change my image like shaving my facial hair. They believed that it “scared the children.” But in reality when I taught my students, they would laugh and become curious about why their teacher has hair on his face.

Although I knew my teaching ability exceeded expectations, I was treated unfairly. More classes were given to me while other teachers took vacations. I was included in a promotional banner for the school in Lao Cai, only for parents to complain about my image being on there. I would hear the conversations in Vietnamese but no one knew I could understand; my secret weapon. I wanted to “blow up” and verbally attack them. Stef has given me key advice on being a professional, eliminating stress and establishing mental fortitude. My darkest period abroad occurred during this time up until summer 2017. 18 months of confusion, pain and a loss of identity. Within 18 months, I moved three times; from Vinh to Thanh Hoa, then to Lao Cai, and then off to Dong Thap province.

Prior to moving, I was hard headed and didn’t follow my own habits. I developed new ones; partying, drinking and sex every night. A rockstar lifestyle I would say. I would go home, look myself in the mirror, and couldn’t admit to myself that I was in a state of depression. I was depressed because for the first time in my life, I felt alone.

I was alone because I didn’t have the support like I had in Vinh and Thailand. I didn’t have anyone to speak to that could relate to me. I basically taught my classes and went home after. I couldn’t socialize outside because I couldn’t take the laughs and weird looks. Stef and my sister held me together during this time with our frequent video chats online. They were the ones who reminded me who I am; a black man on a mission to change the world. I put myself in my own version of rehab by listening to motivational speakers on YouTube. Gary Vaynerchuk and Eric “ET” Thomas spoke life into me. Their words threw me back on my feet, built my confidence back up and taught me to eat criticism. My “rehab” also consists of writing journal entries about how I felt each day. This habit allowed me to release my pain and stress on a sheet of paper rather than on someone innocent.

“In addition to that, I want to get reconnected with my pastor Darryl Morrison. We have a date set up to chat. So many things I want to read, learn, and do. I can do all things through Christ. My goal for tomorrow is to control my reactions and stay positive.” October 17, 2016 (21:37pm)

“Continue to read as much as you can. The power is in the books. It is up to you to reveal the truth to the world. Don’t believe everything you read but take notes on the opinion of other writers.” October 29, 2016 (17:57pm)

I also bought a dog in Lao Cai as I thought I would be here for a while. I named her Willow. Willow was a very energetic, obedient and loving puppy. She was two months old. My depression began to arise again when Willow became ill. One month later, she died. I never own a pet before nor have I love anything more like I did Willow. When Willow came into my life, nothing mattered. She gave me back my smile. She gave me the strength to endure a tough day at work. And she also gave me hope that I would see brighter days. January 10, 2017 was one of the darkest days of my life. I never cried in front of anyone before. The staff didn’t understand what I was saying in English but they knew Willow died. My tears immediately struck them as they attempted to call the vet. It was too late.

The Doctor tried his best to revive Willow but nothing worked. The doctor took her away as he drove to a burial site for her. I couldn’t go. I would have lost my shit to see Willow at that time. I didn’t work for a week. I stayed in my room, rarely ate and disconnected myself from the world. I eventually regain my energy from my family and friends who sent there positive words of encouragement online. Still, I was broken. I thought the only way to fix it was to go and have sex and get wasted. That only led me to my first adult bar fight. Eventually, the police apprehended the suspects and settled the issue at the police headquarters.

I left Lao Cai after working 10 months there. I headed south to Dong Thap province. To be frank, I needed to escape Lao Cai because it was detrimental to my well-being; partying, sex, lack of focus, etc. Dong Thap was a small town and the people also gave me hell. They’re not used to having a foreigner in their town. So I received the same negative energy as I did up north. I was fed up with not working in an urban part of Vietnam. As I mentioned before, I met Stef up north in Vinh. Throughout my time changing jobs, Stef ended up relocating to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He and I kept in touch throughout the entire time and he recommend I work there.

So that’s what I did. I left my job in Dong Thap province (after a three month stint) and finally moved to a place where I belong. I made Ho Chi Minh City my home in July 2017. The people are used to foreigners living here and most of the negative comments and stares faded away. I was finally reunited with my best friend and only at the moment when I saw him here, I found closure; and I was able to move on to the next chapter in my life.

With the encouraging words of wisdom from my family, friends, motivational speakers and frequent journal writing, I was able to climb out of my depression. And it wouldn’t hurt to say that 90’s R&B music was a Band-Aid to my emotional wounds.

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