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.
"How do I know if I love myself?"
That’s a simple question.
Well, it kinda feels like it should be.
I’ve discovered it’s not. It’s not at all. Like, reeeally not. SO much of a not it’s like someone telling me I’m a man.
Ask it of yourself. What was your answer?
Your REAL answer. Not the one you think you want it to be.
If you received a clear answer that affirms that you do love yourself and you know why and how, then I congratulate you. I’m serious. It’s a beautiful thing to love oneself.
If what you heard in reply was little more murky or you felt like that person who excitedly opens their box of chocolates to find that someone else got there first and all you have is empty wrappers, then I think we should talk.
Firstly, you’re not alone.
I’m there with you, exploring this myself.
Only last week was it the subject of my Barefoot Friday.
Secondly, if this is you too, I have a hunch that you’re probably a woman.
I’m not saying that all men love themselves but talk to a woman and my experience is that pretty much every single one of us has had to navigate a path to loving ourselves.
What does it mean to love yourself?
Given how different we all are, I suggest that there’s probably a million and one ways to interpret that question.
Yet, I think that all these variations come down to three elements:
That’s a lot of ‘self’ in there. And trust me, there needs to be. You got to be selfish for this to work, but more about that in a bit.
So why talk about this in a global context of expat life?
Expats are some of the most confident people who get ‘out there’ aren’t they?
Others, like me, grow and mature as we go. The wild ride of living elsewhere, triggers us to go deep. It forces us to find out what we’re made of and to look in our pockets for the emotional resources we didn’t think were there.
And this brings me back navigating the open seas of expat life whilst also learning to love oneself. If you wait until you love yourself, Life presses the PAUSE button. It’s a big button too. Hard to rewind.
There is another option though – find the cassette tape called ‘get out there and stumble through’ and press PLAY. That’s my tactic at least. Decide to do it all despite the self-love and confidence not being balanced.
I’m never going to let that stop me.
Why? Because life is too good not to.
We all have that voice in our head that talks to us. Sometimes she’s your best friend.
Another time? She’s a real bitch. I find her particularly unkind at times, in ways that I wouldn’t dream of being with a friend. She’s so rude. I’m not sure why I’m still friends with her to be honest.
Why do I allow her to speak to me this way?
It comes back to the three Ss, Self-acceptance, Self-respect and Self-confidence.
I can accept myself, but if I am letting that voice have an impact, I’m not allowing space for self-respect – and as a result, my self-confidence plummets. It’s like the three-legged stool. Damage one leg and it’s not going to stay upright for long. We need all three legs to function fully, for the stool to remain stable and to be able to support our weight.
So how do we maintain the balance of a 3 legged stool?
I think it comes down to pleasure.
I know a large proportion of you instantly thought of sex.
Okaaaay… well, that was just me then.
Sex is part of it, but in its broader sense, pleasure is about feeling happy and satisfied on a deep level. It’s everything from passion for your work, reading and cooking to exercise, fashion, sport, music, meditation and pretty much anything else you can think of that makes you feel good in that warm fuzzy way.
I’m currently reading ‘Pleasure activism: The Politics of Feeling Good’ written and gathered by Adrienne Maree Brown. “Pleasure activists assert that we all need and deserve pleasure and that our social structures must reflect this”.
And this is where is gets interesting for expats.
When we exist outside the social structure of the country in which we are living (either through privilege, cultural differences or a feeling of not belonging), I believe that pleasure can be one of the first things to suffer.
Rather than thriving, we may start to feel like we’re surviving. Coping and reacting become our norm and from survival mode, it is an easy slippery slope to experiencing the devastation when self-confidence, self-acceptance and self-respect decide it’s time to take temporary leave.
This was certainly my experience.
I forgot about myself. I didn’t know who I was anymore. In losing myself whilst trying to fit, I also lost my self-confidence. But that’s okay I thought, because I still had self-acceptance and self-respect in the bag. Well, if I’m honest, I’ve always struggled with the self-acceptance side of things.
I realised recently how often I’ve seen myself in relation to others, not me as me, standing there transparently visible and vulnerable. Vulnerability is scary.
This blog kind of throws caution to that wind. I’m hoping that it doesn’t suddenly switch to a gale force 10 and knock me off my feet. But if I don’t step out, I never feel that wind on my face nor feel what it is to be truly embodied and alive.
And so I turn to pleasure as the path back to me.
In practical terms, what does this look like for you?
For me, the exploration of pleasure has included:
So, as I sit here at midnight writing these musings, I’m reminded of a conversation I had this week with my best friend.
We were talking about the value of writing down your achievements and keeping them as a reminder of just how well you’re doing. AND, this is not despite ‘the shit’ of life, but actually because of it.
And through these experiences, I’ve started 2 businesses which I continue to operate, got my passion project off the ground, published my own book, travelled widely, reinvented myself, gone from couch potato to running 9kms at a time, gained a post graduate diploma, made a life in a foreign country, became a citizen of a new country and I’m currently studying a Masters.
I don’t list these achievements to gloat, but to say that I’ve realised something incredibly exciting.
Make yourself a priority.
In doing so, you’ll find that SELF will start to fight for front position and much to your surprise Respect, Confidence and Acceptance will announce that they’ve change their names by deed poll to SELF- Respect, SELF-Confidence and SELF-Acceptance.
I’m pleased to meet you, my new friends.
Have we met before?
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.
I'd like to challenge you....
I'd like to adulterate Brad Paisley's quote: "Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one"...
"Wednesday is the first blank page of the 365 sketchbook of life. Draw a bloody fantastic picture every day. Some days there will be merely a dot on the page. You turned up. That's enough. Other days, the pages will be full of colour. At the end of the year, you'll have an incredible record of your year.
Go on. Go rock it. Go live it.
Go and tear a few pages passionately as you attack the page!"
Okay, so I'm one day ahead of myself, but I'm giving you time to prepare 😉 And I'm an artist more than a writer, but that's details details details people 😁
Challenge accepted? Who's with me?
If you say yes please! you won't be on your own.
Write 'yes please' in the comments below and I'll check in on you at the end of each month to see how you're going.
Let's do this!