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Lost in China

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When I was barely twenty years old I was travelling with a small group of people through China, and we were spending about two months in Qinghai province, which used to be part of Tibet. Our destination was a specific town to teach English, but we'd been stopping often in towns and small cities along the way. One day we arrived in a rural town, very small, nothing unusual. We spent only a couple of days there, shopping for food at the markets and walking around to see the sights, although there weren't many. This was in the dead of winter, in February, and all the grass on the hills and plains around the town was dead and brown. The overall feeling was that of the normal kind of bleakness that any rural place has in the winter.

At this time in my life things were going amazingly, extraordinarily well for me, and I say that because my teenagehood had been rather darkly overcast. But the overwhelming good luck of being able to travel and these close friends I'd made in the last year had more than changed my feelings and attitude towards life — it was like I was a whole new person. I was ecstatic to be in Tibet, went to sleep with a smile on my face every night.

On our second day staying in this small town I woke up feeling a little odd. Not bad, just odd, like my normal thoughts and feelings had been turned down low, like on a dial. We all decided to go for a walk on the hills right behind the town, where there was a small summit with a pile of rocks and some prayer flags (to be honest there were little "altars" like these on every other hill, but it gave us something to do).

As we hiked up the hills behind the town I started feeling stranger and stranger. I wasn't scared, and I didn't feel angry or any strong emotion. In fact, it was like emotion was trickling out of me somehow, and I was getting blanker and blanker, emptier and emptier. My mind started feeling a little hazy and more and more I felt like I simply didn't care about anything. A small and rapidly dwindling part of myself started to panic, knew that something bad was happening, but it was like my own inner voice was slowly getting quieter and quieter.

I remember we reached the little summit and I simply sank to the ground next to the pile of rocks. Without meaning to, I started tuning out the voices around me and fixed all my attention on the little pebbles in the dirt. I began tapping one against the other, repeatedly. Do you know the kind of horror that is opposite of feeling scared or feeling anything at all? The kind of vacuous hideousness of a fly buzzing against a closed window for hours on end in an empty room? That's what was filling my mind. It was demonic in its meaninglessness.

I touched my face and felt that I was grinning at nothing. Through all the emptiness a thought floated to the forefront of my mind: You should just die.

At first it sounded totally reasonable, but something in me fought it and I was momentarily troubled. Right then, my group started to walk down from the hill, and I followed. The further we walked, the more normal I felt, until we left the town that afternoon and I was totally freaked out. When another girl, Hanna, mentioned in an odd off-hand way that she had felt very strange and depressed while staying there, I told her that I'd felt the same.

When the group leader mentioned that a local had told him that the town had been plagued with a rash of young women under 25 committing suicide, Hanna and I went white.

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