Just like the 'free-from' section in the supermarket, this blog is free from mentioning Coronovirus, other than that one time just back there.... 9 words back... and now, we've got another additional 8 words under our belts. See, we're stepping away fast. You've almost forgotten I even said anything right? Phew!
By now, we have firmly taken up position in front of the 'free-from' section and depending on where you live in the world, you will have an wonderful range of free-from food (no gluten/dairy/wheat/soya etc) or maybe..... precisely, none? With any luck, 'none' is not a bad thing, but actually the best fresh produce available before you.
NONE OR NEW-ONE?
I'm fascinated with how 'none' is often equated with 'less than'. Why is it that we see the world through that lens, when 'none' can also mean 'nothing', as in a clean slate, a chance to write the next chapter of your life?
Can you think of examples in your own life, where your 'none' or 'free-from' has actually enabled you to start something fresh? To completely craft a beautifully crisp blank page.....
Going without can be tough though.
Without, also means getting used to something new. It speaks of adaptation - whether you're ready or not. It whispers, or more often than we care to acknowledge, knocks us off our feet, as we are confronted with a new scenario.
Adapting and Transition - expats and migrants are good at this stuff. It's what we do.
How do you think you might cope in the following three scenarios as presented in my book Living Elsewhere?
NEW SCENARIO #1
No work? Yay! right?
Not really. Work provides us with routine, money, purpose, mental stimulation and lots more. Without it we can feel lost. If you have worked your whole life, suddenly not working may require you to discover new strategies to adjust.
NEW SCENARIO #2
Normal tasks become mental mind games and can make simple day to day activities completely nerve-wracking.
NEW SCENARIO #3
Sometimes it's all too much and we get knocked off our feet.
From Without to Within
So if you haven't got an expat/immigrant friend or family member to ask their advice, here's some insights into how we go from a feeling of WITHOUT to being content WITHIN?
It's all about developing strategies.
Whilst there are 272 million people living temporarily or permanently outside of the country of their citizenship,* I can only talk about one.
I want to be authentic and mine is the only experience I can vouch for. Here you are.
Strategies à la Cath Brew:
* United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2019)
“How on earth am I going to do this?” gasped the extrovert.
The introvert replied, “I will be in my happy place. I’m so going to enjoy it”
The truth is that most of us lie somewhere between the two.
Moments of peace, internal serenity polishing our halos. Other days? Not so much. More akin to, well, let’s be honest, an almighty mess of the two thrust together.
Tension, cabin fever, short fuses and those kids shouting next door? Gees, I wish they’d quieten down. Hang on! Where are mine?
Ah…Um…. “James and Sophie, please stop shouting now. We can glue your favourite cup back together for ‘art class’ this afternoon. We have to do calc… calcu… calcul…. calculus…. calculations? first”. [Where’s the vodka? That looks like water in my glass right?]
Welcome to Coronovirus lockdown.
Never have we seen the world so divided nor so united at the same time. Freaky huh?
There’s a wonderful balance in that. Very yin and yang.
Coronavirus is forcing our coping strategies to enter new heights of adaptation, transition and the unknown.
My 9 tips for separation, isolation and staying sane during lockdown
As I can’t get to the gym, I’ve set up a home gym. For the first time in my life, I’ve signed up to a 90 day home-workout program. Day 2 and I can barely move! At the end of it I’m either going to be rock hard or dead!
So, what’s something different for you? Dancing around the kitchen? Doing some gardening?
Stair jumps? Sit ups? Vacuuming? Lifting tins of beans?
Turn off the news, turn of the internet and talk to each other. At that moment, the only thing that is present is you and whomever else you are with. By being overly connected to the outside media you run the risk of making your safe internal spaces (your home) feel stressful, when in fact they need to be our safe spaces. Now, more than ever, when we can’t go out, we need the spaces we retreat to and are isolated in, to be emotionally safe and calm.
I know personally that I will feel better if I’ve achieved something. Achievement is different for everyone though. For some, achievement will be getting through this time being with your family 24 hours a day and still liking each other at the end of it. Others will be home-schooling their children, successfully.
We may need to lower our expectation of what we can achieve in this time as there are additional pressures present that may not be normally upon us (household finances, limited outdoor time, no in-person socialising etc)
Some opportunities and resources to explore:
Seriously though, we’ve all suddenly been thrust into working together in our homes. Spare a thought for the introvert who now can’t cope with partner and kids home all the time… or the spouse whose desk has now been taken over for the partner’s paid work and they’re stressed because they’re not getting done what they would normally do.
It might be worth you setting some new ground rules so that you can all work together happily in close quarters. Hold a family meeting and establish new ways for working time, lunch time, and play time at the end of the day. It’s early days for many of us and we need to develop systems for longevity.
How will you manage if schools are still not open but your employer wants you to return to the office? At what point will you need to consolidate financial resources from lost income? Are there other resources available to you? If you returned to your passport country during the pandemic, at what point will you return to your host country? If it’s almost school holiday time again, is it worth attending the last 2 weeks of school or should we stay in our passport country for the holidays?
There's a million and one questions that will need thinking about. Planning your coronovirus lockdown exit strategy ahead of time, just may be as valuable as the thought you put into keeping your family safe during the pandemic itself.
And for expats who are reading this....
Think about your skills and experience in transition. Let's start an online EXPAT RIPPLE EFFECT of wisdom and guidance..
So I'm calling for us all to:
Do you suffer from the condition Expatria Déjà Vu?
It's a little known condition that affects millions of people each year.
Sadly, as yet, there's no cure.
Patients with Expatria Déjà Vu generally have to manage their own symptoms through rest, silence and keeping up fluids. Unlike other conditions in the Expatria family, the consumption of a small amount of alcohol reduces some symptoms, but you are still advised not to operate machinery.
'Holidays at Home' (50mg tablets) is currently one of two products on the market designed to help people recuperate temporarily. You are advised, however, to use 'Holidays at Home' with caution as this medication is also known to increase the severity of symptoms of Expatria Déjà Vu.
What is included in this information?
1. What 'Holidays at Home' is used for
Holidays at Home contains the active substance, 'repetitious conversation'. Holidays at Home is one of a group of Expatria medicines called, Hell for Expats in Leisure Periods - Mental Exhaustion (HELP-MEs); these medicines are used to treat Repetitive Conversation disorders.
'Holidays at Home' can be used to treat:
Expatria Déjà Vu is a circumstancial condition with symptoms like:
Your family has decided that this medicine is suitable for treating your condition. You should however, consult your doctor (expat friends) if you are unsure why you are taking 'Holidays at Home'.
If you are concerned about whether you have the condition, the image below shows you what Expatria Déjà Vu looks like under the microscope.
2. What you need to know before you take 'Holidays at Home'
DO NOT TAKE 'Holidays at Home':
TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR (expat friends) if you are taking the following medicines:
3. How to take 'Holidays at Home'
Always take this medicine exactly as prescribed.
The recommended dose for adults is One Week Staying in a Nearby Hotel with your Own Leisure Activities Every Second Day. If Expatria Déjà Vu symptoms do not ease after 1 week, dosage can be increased to Create a Mailing List to Regularly Update Your People. This will help ease the repetitive questions in time.
4. Possible side effects
Like all medicines, 'Holidays at Home' can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them.
When treating Expatria Déjà Vu, the most common side effect of 'Holidays at Home' is Minor Frustration which often dissipates with sleep, a small amount of alcohol and continued treatment.
Talk to yourself and moderate your behaviour immediately if you experience any of the following:
COMMON (may affect 1 in 10 people)
UNCOMMON (may affect 1 in 100 people)
RARE (may affect 1 in 1000 people)
5. How to store 'Holidays at Home'
Do not use this medicine after the expiry date.
Store in ambiant conditions with:
If symptoms persist, consult your doctor (expat friends).
It felt reminiscent of the Facebook Martyrs who post 'Oh, some people!" as an invitation for support from their 'friends'. They then wait for the sychopantic dopamine hit that comes with the replies.
But on this day it felt right. It was right.
I wrote it in 20 mins - far shorter than the usual 2 hours I allow.
Essentially, I just closed my eyes and wrote from my heart. My thoughts seemed to flow in a way that hadn't been present before.
I was being authentic. I was being real. I wasn't hiding.
I was honoring him and digging deep. In visiting that place that hurts, I'd also opened up the vessel to healing.
Navigating Hurting and Healing
When we run away from the difficult stuff, we can never run fast enough.
Actually, I think it's a way better athlete than us. It's exceptionally good at running - always a few paces ahead, ready to anticipate our thoughts and block us from smashing through the ribbon on the finish line.
Writing my blog that day gave me rest.
It's why I draw the illustrations I do. They too give me rest from those pesky shapeshifters.
Why We Need to Create Emotional Rest?
Loss is loss is loss is loss is loss is loss is loss is loss is loss...... (Get the picture?)
Whether your sense of loss comes from a death, a serious injury in which you need time off work, or as a rotational expat saying goodbye to friends every two years, it has an impact.
Furthermore, the trauma stays in the body until it is dealt with.
Even before we have words, trauma leaves its imprint on our physical body. It lies there, not particularly dormant until it is processed - and can lead to complex illness and health problems. For example, we know Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) causes visible changes to the brain, demonstrated too by Ariana Grande after the terrorist attack on her Manchester concert.
10 Ways To Help Navigate the 'Difficult Stuff'
Firstly, let me say, I am no doctor. I am not trained in mental health, nor am I trauma specialist. I am also NOT offering these 10 tips as medical advice or in anyway suggesting that they replace seeking proper medical help.
This list is purely based on my own experience and the things that have helped me in the past.
Firstly, THANK YOU! I love hearing that the book is so well received!!! It really makes my day.
Secondly, YOU HAVE SPOKEN!
Lots of you have asked me for more illustrations and more products!
I have listened to your passionate requests and am thrilled to 'give the people what they want'!
And so.... I am launching a NEW ONLINE SHOP.
What can you buy in the shop?
Mugs, journals, t-shirts, cards plus loads more - all featuring Living Elsewhere cartoons. You will also be able to buy expat/third culture kids/cross cultural kids themed items. We will also be adding to our collection regularly, so stay tuned for updates.
When will the new shop launch?
In March I'm presenting at the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) Conference in Bangkok. It's such an incredible gathering of people living globally mobile lives. Check out Releasing the Spoon to learn how mindblowing and life changing my first conference was.
Sticking to the theme of 'Releasing' and FIGT, the shop will launch in the first week of March, right before FIGT2020 starts!
Interested in shop updates and exclusive products you can buy?
Subscribe to be the first to hear!
Bangkok is calling!
See you there!
In a few months time I will be speaking at the
Families in Global Transition conference.
It's mainly a conference for people who live a globally mobile life and the companies that operate globally.
A group of us who live in different parts of the world were looking at staying together. You know? Trying to work out how to save money and fit 5 people in a 3 bed place.
And the inevitable happened...
We started to joke about spooning. Well, you would wouldn't you?
It certainly kept us entertained on WhatsApp for an afternoon....
....and reminded me of nights travelling, four of you squeezed into the tiny spare room of the friends who'd kindly put you up for the night.
Dare I suggest the new hashtag #FIGTspooning?
But seriously, it got me thinking about FIGT...
The conference has a wonderful ability to make you feel like you've 'come home'. Rather than being the odd one out in your host country, everyone in the FIGT room understands the quirks and challenges of living elsewhere.
FIGT2018 was outstanding.
It allowed me to breathe again.... I had finally found my people!
And then, this morning and completely unrelated....
another friend sent me this picture below of a dog - its owner cleverly using a spoon to stop the dog from escaping through the fence.
And it was a decision that changed my life.
I now have a new group of friends whom I love dearly and communicate with regularly.
I met my best mate at FIGT.
It's been an amazing year of laughing, talking, soul searching and deep connection.
I've started new projects off the back of #FIGT18....and emotionally,
I'm an entirely different person.
I'm settled in a way that I hadn't been for a long time.
Going to the FIGT conference sparked something that has fed me deeply this last year.
FIGT really is a wonderfully diverse organisation that promotes cross-sector connections for developing best practices that support the growth, success and well-being of people crossing cultures around the world.
There's a reason FIGT goes by the phrase, 'A Reunion of Strangers'.
It's not just big picture and big companies. In fact FIGT is the complete opposite.
Rather, it's about creating rich personal connections that thrive across the vast distances that we all live from each other.
I'll be there this year again in Bangkok doing a Lightening Presentation and Living Elsewhere will be in the bookstore.
If you're wondering about whether to come, definitely do!
You never know where it might take you.
See you there!
The loss of a loved one hits you like a cricket bat.
Square in the face.
And it hurts.
It hurts big time.
It's multilayered at the best of times, but your best coping strategies are well and truly stretched when you live in another country. The distance between your souls is far apart, but you hang on to the knowledge that you will see each other again.
...and that's before death hits.
You can cope with the distance, because you talk regularly on the phone, exchange emails and know that when money permits, you can travel to see each other.
There's always that future time when you know you can sit in the same room catching up in a way that phone calls never seem able to do. Reminiscing with each other - enjoying the sound of their laugh or the wry look they give you. Each facial expression reminds you of another time that you managed to share special time together.
You learn to live with seeing each every 2 years, or once a year if you're lucky. So you make it really good when you do.
And best of all, you always know that there will be next time.
Until there's not.
My father died 4 months ago and I still feel like I've just been hit with that cricket bat. It's not such a fresh wound. The bruises have gone. I now look like anyone else, but my eyes still water with the pain. Cricket bats are painful bastards.
Now, my comfort comes from a picture by my bed, a jumper and a poncho.
Some days, just knowing the poncho and jumper are there, is enough.
I was lucky enough to be able to rush to South America where he lived to spend time with him before he died. A surreal time with loss and liminality using each other to balance.
I think they knew each other well.
'Loss' seemed more of a fragile character.
She knows that I was wary of her, but also that she would need to become my friend soon enough. We danced around each other, eyeing one another for 12 days.
We didn't speak much.
'Liminality' on the other hand was more of a friend to me in that time.
She was quite down to earth, but kept disappearing on me. I didn't know where she would go, but every time she did, Loss came forward trying to sneak her way into the room.
Once she even picked up the cricket bat by the door, but put it down again when I looked at her.
I knew I was only putting off the inevitable.
And the inevitable came after I'd flown home.
Unfortunately, Loss decided she wanted to play cricket...another 4 times.
To experience 5 significant deaths in 4 months has felt more like a round with Mike Tyson, than a cricket match.
It's probably not a surprise to learn that I've decided to not play cricket for a while.
I'm happier at an away game drinking tea, watching from afar.....at least until my injuries heal.
If the captain asks me if I want to play again, I know what I will say.
"Yes, but as long as my dad can watch over me from the sidelines"
I've been here over 11 years now. Am I still am expat? I don't have a contract that I know will end in 2-3 years and then I'll go home. I moved for love. My wife is British and I moved to England to live with her. So....lovepat it is.
So how does a one way ticket feel for a lovepat?
It's quite something to sit on a plane, having packed up your entire life and know that you're leaving home, but not know if you will ever return. I felt excited and enjoyed the feeling of the unknown, but I was also a bit scared and slightly unsure - was I doing the right thing?
But deep down I knew that I still had choices to return home to live if I wanted to.
But what if you can't go home?
I heard the most amazing play on BBC's Radio 4 this week. 'Minority Rights and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon - The Fernhill Philosophers'. In it the Eritrean character - a highly educated man, who was unable to go home said, "Exile is a kind of death, but I try to live".
It's a powerful statement isn't it? 'Exile is a kind of death, but I try to live.'
Imagine living with that everyday. Imagine our friends in Syria who cannot go home as home no longer exists. Imagine the exiled LGBTQI person that will be murdered if they go home. Imagine knowing that you will never go home to all the people and places you hold dear.
It's beyond painful....
But exile is not just about people from other countries. Imagine feeling like you're in exile because no one understands you and your autism. Imagine the stress of trying to do your job well, but your dyspraxia plays havic with your ability to remember what your boss asked you to do. Imagine people always looking at you oddly because your muscles make you walk differently.
We need to care and support people. We need to ask them what they need, because until we've walked in their shoes we know nothing of their lives.
But we can listen. We can listen openly and with love, and we can see ourselves in everyone we meet. If we listen we start to learn differently and we also start to learn the similarities. I love the Vietnamese expression, 'same same, but different'. We are the same but we are all different too.
We are all a piece of the giant puzzle of humanity. No two puzzle pieces are the same shape, all rounded slightly differently, but I know that I can't make up the picture without another puzzle piece, and another piece.....and another, and another, until we all fit together; different, but each forming an integral part of the same picture.
We need each other.
Whomever we are - what ever country we come from - and whatever our abilities.
Sometimes we're that lone piece of the puzzle that doesn't seem to fit anywhere. We can't seem to find our way. But suddenly the piece of puzzle is turned around and with a shift in perspective there's a connection - a connection to another piece and another, and as more and more connections are found, the puzzle bonds together more firmly.
It's much like life and community. On our own we may feel unconnected and wonder how we fit into 'the bigger picture'. But start to shift perspectives and you start to see others more deeply.
You start to see the intangible layers, the personal stories in people's eyes, the body language that shows their discomfort, the way they eat food that shows a rich cultural heritage, the non-stop talking that tries to hide their nerves, the accent that makes them 'not like me' and makes them hide the other 5 languages they speak, the jokes they make so you love them, the respectful silence you take as shyness, the constant movement that helps them to focus, the clothing they wear with pride but you don't understand......the.....the..... The list is endless.
All I ask of you is to pause.
Open your ears and eyes.
Open your heart.
Be the shift in persepective.
None us of want to be that lone puzzle piece.
Despite the 'technical difficulties' of me not being able to hear or see anyone, I hope you enjoy it. It's certainly very weird talking to yourself, but definitely a hoot!
Any questions? Please post them for me in the comments below.