Embezzled — but doing fine, thanks.

When my major depressive disorder kicks in, which it does with monstrous and monotonous regularity as well as a growing severity, my only instinct over the past 12 years is to take flight. The other half of the human impulse twofer – that to fight –  seems to have eluded me. I've tried every imaginable therapy, traditional and less so, and yet still contend with depressive symptoms serious enough to prevent me from holding down full-time employment or building a stable life for myself. 

So it was in the wake — actually in the vice-like grip — of one such episode that I packed my bags and fled to Colombia. The city of Medellin appeales to me mostly because it was so far from everything and everyone I know. But it is also cheap, temperate and pleasant. There are far worse hiding places.

Soon after my arrival in Medellin, I became close friends with a guy from Venezuela who, as a refugee, was unable to secure adequately paid employment. An educated guy with a background in the trainee priesthood, I liked and trusted him a great deal. We were never romantically involved, but enjoyed a warm and affectionate friendship. To ward off loneliness — the Mount Everest of depression triggers — I invited him to live with me for free room and board. Because he speaks English, I also paid him a stipend so he could help me navigate banks, bureaucracy and commerce in a city where my woeful Spanish tends to result in a lot of blank faces. I relished his presence in the apartment.,  As I lay isolated in my bedroom, watching Modern Family on an endless loop, knowing he was pottering around elsewhere in the house gave  me no small comfort.

Four days ago, my Venezuelan roommate told me that his father died at age 50. He asked for enough money to purchase a MacBook, as well as to fund his trip back home for a funeral he claimed to be attending. I duly complied. What else could I do in the face a what I believed to be a grieving son. 

As it transpired, his father did not die.He did not return to Venezuela. There was no funeral.

What happened was that my trusted friend to whom I had unwisely given signing authority at the local bank, withdrew all but $400 of my life savings and escaped to Chile. This was easily established through Instagram photos posted at of at the time he claimed to be in Venezuela with his family. The near emptiness of my bank account also left no doubt as to what had occurred.

Now, when I say “life savings”, best keep your hat on. Largely because of my recurrent depression, I have not accumulated much in the way of financial wealth. To put it mildly. In fact, that is a large part of the reason I have chosen to stay in Medellin where I have a work visa and the cost of living is roughly one third of New Zealand or Australia.


By any measure, this is an unhappy state of affairs. In the immediate term, the financial stress is enormous.

However, these events and my reaction to them have been revealing in unexpected ways. While my mood has been persistently  low since January, the embezzlement has not resulted in a more severe depressive episode or an outbreak of the kind of panicked anxiety that leads me to make poor life choices. instead, that long–dormant fight instinct appears to have  come crawling, if not exactly roaring,  back. For whatever reason, my usually fragile self has been rediscovered some long–lost mongrel.

By “mongrel”, I do not mean I intend to go all late-career Liam Neeson on his ass. There is no fatwa of prolonged legal action or extradition proceedings in the offing.

My younger self displayed a knack for utu, especially in the context of election campaigns, but I am a different person today. For all the visceral satisfaction I may gain by pursuing this once-friend, now-thief, to the ends of the earth, it will not bring relief. It will just produce more anxiety and resentment and regret; qualities that exist in abundance already.

His actions were undeniably criminal and ethically without justification. But Venezuela is in a terrible state, and the money he stole from me will offer more to him and his family than 10 times that amount would to me. He’ll, one thousand times. My only hope is that the money reaches them, and isn’t blown on a lavish Chilean getaway.

As evidenced by my decision not to name this guy, I have chosen to move on. Sure, I will protect my finances far less stupidly in future. Maybe I will be less eager to into into trusting friendships, or to believe promises people make to me. But I will not not let this overwhelm my mood any further or undermine my capacity to recover and build, once and for all, the well populated and congenial life that is all I have ever wanted.
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