Links to reviews of An Inconvenient Posting

1) Read a review of An Inconvenient Posting (Laura J Stephens) which was published in Dutchnews.nl written by Shelley Antscheri. Click here for review.

Shelley Antscheri writes a blog Disparate Huisvrouw, find her at www.shelleyantscherl.com

DutchNews.nl is the leading provider of quality Dutch news in English for an international audience. Some 18,000 people read DutchNews.nl every day, either online or through a free subscription to its daily digital newsletter. DutchNews.nl was founded in 2006.

2) Read a review of An Inconvenient Posting (Laura J Stephens) published in the popular blog Adventures in Expat Land, by Linda Janssen. Click here to read review. Linda A. Janssen is the author of The Emotionally Resilient Expat

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Book Review by Aisha Ashraf: An Inconvenient Posting

Published by Aisha Ashraf in her popular blog Expatlog, you may prefer to click to read it there and learn more about Aisha’s ‘life without borders’ 

Dangerously evocative reading for those acquainted with the invisible assassins Culture Shock and Depression. 

Describing an encounter with depression during her family’s expatriation to Houston, USA, Laura J Stephens’ memoir will strike a chord with displaced souls everywhere.

Straight-talking, hard-hitting, while those on nodding terms with ‘the black dog’ will undoubtedly find something of interest here, the expat niche is where ‘An Inconvenient Posting’ will garner its greatest appreciation. As a professional psychotherapist Laura was better prepared than most for the changes she anticipated yet still found herself stalled by the rictus of morbidity that settled over her. In her deceptively down-to-earth style, she captures the emotional vortex of the expat experience so skillfully that I found myself reliving the dramas of my own. Corresponding memories continued to re-surface long after I’d put the book down. Details like glancing at the clock to gauge the time on another continent when thinking of absent loved ones bring visceral authenticity to the account, and the practical guide that follows offers advice and resources for anyone currently struggling with depression or preparing for expatriation.

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While it’s the dramatic, life-changing events that capture our imagination, in reality, the tightening screws that stretch our lives and test our endurance make themselves felt in more subtle ways. Laura documents the almost imperceptible slide from fully inclusive functioning to becoming an outsider in your own life that so characterizes depression. As readers, we share the dilemma of conflicting thoughts, vacillating between “something’s not right, but I probably just need time to adjust” to the insistent whisper “how far down can you go before you can’t get back out?”

In an unflinchingly honest description of psychological displacement, she lays bare her insecurities, hopes and naivetés, so that like Doubting Thomas, we can approach, poke our fingers into her wounds and see for ourselves the discomfort and distress she overcame. She creates a window of understanding for those who’ve never expatriated and the opportunity for deeper self-knowledge for those who have.

We travel with her as she leaves the familiar, ‘the lattice of small white frames of my Georgian kitchen window… the sunlit autumn garden strewn with dead leaves and worm casts’ for ‘the world they had only previously seen on TV’ familiar on the surface but deceptively alien in practical terms where she often feels ‘like an actress in the wrong role’.

‘No one had died on the journey and yet I felt bereaved’

Working through her thoughts and feelings with therapist and Life Coach Gretchen, Laura draws back the curtain on the more intangible aspects of the process of acclimatization, demonstrating how, even if you’re living as expected, ticking all the boxes – getting the driver’s license, attending the gym regularly – it’s no guarantee you’ve reached your equilibrium. She conveys the frustration of the ‘trailing spouse’, bereft of professional identity and diminished in social stature. She also discovers how past experiences can have a significant influence on subsequent postings as her new situation resurrects old ghosts.

The biggest obstacle to overcome in any expatriation is recognizing ‘we can only live in the present however much we look to the future.’ After a year of torturous adjustment and a return visit to her homeland, Laura finds her perspective has shifted and she is able to better appreciate the opportunity to have seen what was previously unseen. On her return to the US she finds herself welcoming routine and reconnecting with family life. Somewhere along the way Houston has become home.

Moving on and Letting go

‘Forgive and Forget?’ was the title of my last blog article, it looked at the dilemma and merits of doing so. But what happens when you decide it is time to move on irrespective of the need to forgive and forget? How do you finally let go?

Letting go and Loss

Moving on in your mind or literally going somewhere – or both perhaps? That is the wrench expats can feel moving countries; with all that is familiar beyond reach – often in a blinking of an eye or the time it takes to make a long haul flight! Change-ahead

Expat or not, we all have losses in our lives; we move schools, change jobs, move house, loose contact with friends and occasionally, sadly, a loved one dies. We usually adjust to these normal life events, given a little time to accept and integrate the changes.

Transitioning and letting go can still be tough, particularly if you experience the deep grief associated with death or another significant ending (examples being: divorce, suffering chronic illness, addiction, or as mentioned a cross cultural move).

It can enhance our ability to cope if we understand our natural process, typically through a sequence of emotional stages. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, refers to this as ‘The Grief Cycle’, her model forms the hypothesis that people undergoing catastrophic personal loss will experience “five stages of grief”.

1.     Denial

2.     Anger

3.     Bargaining

4.     Depression

5.     Acceptance

Although the model was inspired by her work with terminally ill patients it can be useful to others undergoing significant loss.

Another model you might find useful was adapted from the Kubler-Ross research to help people cope better with change in the workplace. Known as S.A.R.A.H. Again, it helps us to understand our process, acknowledging that as people meet with change they generally have the following reactions:

1.       Shock

2.       Anger

3.       Resistance

4.       Acceptance

1.       Healing

Emotions Accompanying Loss

Speaking from my own experience, I felt a plethora of mixed emotions when I left England to take up another foreign assignment to Texas. I struggled with sadness, anger, disbelief, guilt and resentment at leaving friends and relatives. Conversely I also felt some relief as I believed I was doing the right thing for my partner by supporting his career and that it would benefit the whole family. Although this holds true, once I discovered there was no hope of continuing my new found career as a therapist, I found myself unable to cope with my accumulation of losses (as I saw them) for some time.

In my book ‘An Inconvenient Posting’ published by Summertime Publishing, I wrote:

“Angry was a word I preferred not to apply to myself. How about ‘frustrated’ or ‘fed up’? At times I hated myself for expressing my anger and sadness, I wanted to cope for the children’s sake. They had not asked to come here (Houston) and were coping better than me.”

Tips – What Helped me ‘Move On’

My journey back to happiness from an episode of depression and the adventures our family encountered are detailed in the book, but a number of things helped me let go and move through my own cycle of grief which I would like to share with you:

  • Writing and journalling my thoughts and feelings in a private place.
  • Acknowledging what was going well and noticing what I did like about my new situation!
  • Visualising myself happy and settled in my new home – it was tough on the black days but it still helped to imagine a positive outcome.
  • Pushing myself to talk to people, getting supportive comments from old friends and making the effort to initiate new friendships even, when my heart wasn’t in it.
  • Getting out of bed straight away, jumping in the shower, having breakfast and leaving the house.
  • Setting simple, small goals and gradually doing more as I could manage them.
  • Acknowledging there is no magic cure for depression; with professional help I became my own detective, working out what had gone so wrong and why I was depressed. After all, nobody had made me leave ‘home’ …
  • Remembering that time can be a great healer if you take steps to care for yourself emotionally and physically.
  • Seeing my progress, albeit slowly at times, through The Grief Cycle helped encourage me that I was healing. It normalised my shock and anger and gave me hope that ‘Acceptance’ might follow.

Resources

On Grief and Grieving, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler

Transitions, Making Sense of Life’s Changes, William Bridges

When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron

The Emotionally Resilient Expat, by Linda Janssen

An Inconvenient Posting, an Expat Wife’s Memoir of Lost Identity, Laura J Stephens