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:
Oh, Not again…. I wish I didn’t have to post these pictures again.
But I do it because it helps me cope.
It helps others cope.
I know because they tell me.
I’ve often posted these pictures to social media unfortunately. Normally it’s in response to a global grief - a large natural disaster, a mass shooting, or other event that surpasses our comprehension.
They seem to express what we can’t verbalise. The brain process images 60,000 times faster than words do, so that’s pretty effective.
It’s one of the reasons I love to draw. The simplicity of the pen allows all superfluous information to fall away and the minutiae of the message is highlighted.
Headstones offer much symbolism – carved stone that reflect beliefs at the time, materials give indications about the wealth of a family, epitaphs tells you about religious sentiments and values, grave locations tell of social hierarchies, whilst the style of monument can reveal how a family felt about the death of their loved one.It's about life. It’s always about life, which is actually probably the reason that so many of us struggle to talk about death.
And now, it is also life that we now grapple with, in the midst of the global coronavirus outbreak.
The world is trying to contain the virus and preserve life.
This brings me back to angels.
In cemeteries, angels are protectors of souls. In life and more so than ever now, human angels are also protectors of our souls.
Whilst we hunker down in lock down at home, I want to draw your attention to these five categories of human angels.
My friend, Dr Anisha Abraham recorded this in her street in Amsterdam the other night. She says “Shout out to all my fearless health care colleagues around the world who are working tirelessly in hospitals, clinics, research centres and more to fight coronavirus. Tonight, throughout the Netherlands, we applauded health care workers at 8pm and we will it repeat in again tomorrow night. It made me feel so proud and a bit teary eyed. Here’s the view from our street. Stay strong peeps!” Wonderful huh?
Often forgotten, but they too are on the front line. Standard protective equipment is as rare as hen’s teeth for Funeral Directors to buy. Staff are working without it. I’m not posting this to frighten or cause panic, but to raise awareness about the dedication and sacrifices that people are making to fight this virus. It’s easy to forget when we’re watching tv on the sofa warm and safe in our homes. In this article, read ‘funeral staff’ in place of NHS staff and you get the picture.
Yes, schools are closing left, right and centre, but here in the UK, teachers are still teaching kids in school with special needs. Schools are ensuring online learning is available for students to try and keep a sense of normality flowing. Now I know some parents aren’t terribly pleased at suddenly having a 3 month weekend or becoming an overnight ‘expert’ in Maths, Science and Geography – no one wants to look stupid in front of their kids right?
Shop keepers and food delivery people
These champions enable us to stay home, so that we don’t run the risk of making the spread worse. We need them just as much as our other essential services. If the human body could survive on water alone, I’d be the first to try it. Mind you, a little less food might be a good thing for those of us trying to lose weight! As someone said on my Slimming World group page, I will either come out of this 60lbs lighter or 100lbs heavier – only time will tell. I joke because I feel the same. Whilst I am able to run outside I will, but I am soon to set up an exercise space in our house.
Whatever is happening in the world, we still produce rubbish. Mountains of it and if it’s not managed, we end up with other health problems. Thank you to those who collect our rubbish and allow us to live at home reasonably carefree.
But equally importantly...
If you are someone who believes in angels of the spiritual kind, please may I ask you to send your prayers, your thoughts, your woo woo juice, whatever you practice, in bucket loads to the people I am most frightened for – those living in abusive relationships.
Imagine lockdown for 1 month with an abusive partner.
Imagine lockdown for 3 months with an abusive partner.
Imagine kids at home in that abusive space, when their only safe space (school) is now closed.
Imagine a mix of alcohol, drugs, guns, frustrations.
Imagine isolation in this environment.
Imagine how fucking frightening that is!
I have no idea what we can do about this.
All I can do is hope for goodness to come across the spiritual airwaves. If you’re ever going to believe in this stuff, then now is the time to enact your interest. Please send your vibes their way.
And if you don’t believe, that’s fine. I used to think it was all a ‘crock of shit’ :-)
All I ask is that you raise awareness of how some people may be safe from coronavirus, but in dreadful danger from partners/parents.
Check on your neighbours.
Watch. Observe. Help those unseen, be seen when they need it most.
I once asked a police officer at what point I should call the police if I was worried about domestic violence in a neighbouring house. He said, ‘the moment you are scared’.
So if you feel scared for someone’s safety, please make that call.
And in the meantime….
Enjoy lockdown, but spare a thought for all those workers who enable us to be in lockdown.
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.
A bag of oranges here. A packet of dates there. A box of biscuits.
Different food groups, but all the same within their collective packet.
It's the reason that supermarkets, haven't offered (until recently) imperfect fruit and vegetables. We like symmetry and we like to lump together.
We like to lump together when it comes to people too.
We do it with nationalities. We do it with gender. We do it with religion. We do it with..... well, everything.
It's easy isn't?
But have you noticed that we only do it when our words have derogatory intent?
When was the last time you heard someone say,
Oh that's so typical of women to be amazing at juggling family life and work?
Typical men, they're so good at raising their kids.
We lump together and generalise when we want to slag off or have our misguided judgements confirmed.
Oh yeah, but that's not always the case I hear you say.
I wouldn't say that because some guys aren't great at raising their kids.
You're right, They're not, but I challenge you.
Do you afford the same positive variations and distinctions when generalising in a derogatory way? Do you say, Ah, typical men! or do you pause and say, that's so typical of a certain type of man?
Generalising Isolates and Incites Hate
I've seen it. It's not pretty. In fact it's horrid.
Social media is not kind. Faceless 'warriors' influencing and creating fear against certain people. Massive generalisations.
Transphobia. Xenaphobia. Islamaphobia...to name a few.
Inclusion and Being a Friendly Face is Not Hard
It's not till you see someone else's every day, that you realise the reality of why we need to reach out.
On one of my last trips to the USA I was standing in a slow security queue at an airport. People were starting to get irritated at the delay. The security team were being extra thorough on one person. A muslim woman and her 3 year old child.
People smiled as he played behind her, leaping onto anything he could climb, but at the front of the queue you could have cut the air with a knife. The security guys were doing their best to be polite, but there was a massive elephant in the room, stomping down the conveyor belt.
I swear I heard it blow its trumpet, at least twice. Once when they insisted on putting the woman's bags through the scanner for a third time and again when they offered to repack her now completely jumbled bags. She fought back tears as she grabbed her bags; all her belongings falling out. No, I'm okay. I'll pack them myself, she said, clearly desperate to get away from the public spectacle.
It was awful to watch. We all knew why she'd been stopped, but no one said those words.... Muslim woman.
A few minutes later I was in the toilets and realised she was there too.
By now she was crying too. She leant forward to hug me. There we stood in the bathroom, two strangers in tears, hugging each other.
And the incredible thing...?
I spoke to her to give her comfort, but in reality she gave me comfort. That experience of 'other' was new to me. THAT reality check of someone else's life.
How is it that we've got to the point where the victim is the one who reassures the privileged? And because they are so used to being treated as 'the other', it's become their normal.
That frightens me.
I do not want to live in that world.
But as Sundae Schneider-Bean, LLC advocates:
Love the crap out of your people! "
Keep them at the forefront of your lives. Look after them in the way that maintaining the steel girders of a bridge keep its users safe.
Maintain your steel girders too. You are the user of your own bridge.
Don’t let distance stop the connection. There are always ways to keep your friendships nourishing, meaningful and as close as they’ve always been.
I feel safe. I feel secure and I feel full.
Find your steel girders.
Love the crap out of them and your bridge will stand against the fiercest of storms.
It might become a little cracked and dented in places, but these marks bear witness to a remarkable story of how the bridge survived the Force 11 storm of....
[insert your month/year].
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.