Bouncing Back

After my sinus operation this phrase seems apt to me. For two weeks even the kids could see their Mum was a bit pale; a reduction in eye rolling ensued as plates were transported from the table without much ado. After that it was clear the people in my world expected me to bounce back, the only problem being I was getting better in barely perceptible shifts each day, not to a two weekly deadline. If I was going to allow my body the opportunity to heal I needed to manage my output and, horror of horrors, stop doing things (oh no). Thankfully common sense prevailed and all is well, although I can’t understand how I am both stuffed up still and yet able to breathe more effectively than before the op, very strange!Samantha-French-2

Many people in England are currently experiencing a setback beyond their control, ie the weather. A good friend, living a couple of miles from me, had her house flooded last week. The water is still rising up from under her living room floor and making its way down her hallway … The reason it’s flowing up through the foundations and not through the door – the water table is extraordinarily high in some parts of Kent, a result of the wettest January since records began (rainfall has been measured in England since 1766).

Other regions of England are worse hit, the county of Somerset is featured daily on news media; the army have been drafted in to aid relief. The BBC reporting, “it started raining on 9th December and it hasn’t stopped since”. I am reminded of a television program I watched in 2012 describing the phenomena of ‘global weirding’, a natty phrase which neatly captures the weird and extreme nature of the world’s weather experienced in recent years.

When I was living in Texas, a few years ago now, the droughts and torrential floods began reaching unprecedented levels – that’s my Houston neighbour’s house in the photo. We were fortunate not to have our home flooded, however, the two weeks after Hurricane Ike Came Calling gave me my own experience of coping with a significant setback – more of which chronicled in my book An Inconvenient Posting (unashamed plug).IMG_0348

My recently flooded pal epitomizes all that is good in the English character; she is stoic and apparently unchallenged by the pond in her home. She is resigned to knowing she couldn’t have done anything about it and has a plan in terms of what to do next, and how to prevent it happening again. It will be a long process, probably involving loss adjusters and unwelcome expense, but her head is up and she is ready to pick her way through it.

People vary dramatically in their coping skills at a time of crisis. Knowing this I was inspired to think about what mindset helps us to bounce back; below are some ideas I’ve brought together for you.

Ideas to promote resilience …

TRY AND STAY POSITIVE

–          Berating yourself about how you could have prevented or helped the outcome of the setback will change nothing and make you feel worse.

–          With this in mind, limit negative thinking to a few minutes. Try not to dwell on thoughts such as, Why me? What if? And counter these with positive ones; What can I do differently in the future? And How can I make things better? How or who can help me?

FOCUS ON CHANGE

–          Coming to terms with your bump in the road will help you to move on effectively and make the necessary changes more promptly – accepting that setbacks are part of life is key to moving on.

–          Sometimes it’s impossible to move on because of your ongoing predicament; remind yourself that eventually things will change. Perhaps you can begin to imagine what this might look like and conjure up some positive images to draw on?

–          Try re-evaluating your goals for that time when change comes. Taking control of your situation will make you feel better.

–          Ask yourself, How might I get help or advice? For example, losing your job is usually an upsetting and unwelcome set back. In addition to the obvious financial implications it can sap confidence and erode your sense of identity. On the other hand, it is normal nowadays, in fact most people lack job security. As a result, there is help at hand to provide support and ideas in the form of books and articles on the internet.

SEEK HELP AND ADVICE

–          Most people feel good about helping others so don’t be afraid to network effectively. And who knows, maybe there will be something you can do for that person in return. Research shows that when we help others it makes us feel good too.

–          Meet up with a trusted friend and have a good moan, then thank them for listening. This will help you gain perspective on your situation. Need a deeper discussion in which to process your feelings? You could find a therapist; look for one who you feel you’ll work well with.

MAKE SMALL CHANGES; BEGIN NOW!

–          The road back may be a long one; whilst it’s good to make a plan, you don’t want to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task in hand. Start with small bite size changes, challenge yourself to think about what you can do today that will help.

–          Made a mistake? We all do! Forgive yourself and do not be discouraged. Maybe there was something positive resulted from the mistake? An example that springs to mind for me, was the shower stall I had tiled with mosaic. I was pleased with my choice, thinking they were a stylish bargain and they looked good in the magazine photos… However, one year on the grout is constantly turning black and grimy; some tiles are falling out. It’s a small issue and yet every morning I look at the horrid little squares and stifle the urge to feel miffed I ever chose them. The learning; next time do a little research and ask  someone who knows!

Good luck and please let me know if you’ve been affected by a particular challenge recently.

Specifically interested in expatriate challenges? Try The Emotionally Resilient Expat by Linda Janssen

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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

Overcoming Isolation

Isolation is the companion of loneliness. It can be a reality if you live in the middle of nowhere or it can simply be a state of mind. If you chose to be cut off from the rest of civilization, then you probably like it that way, in which case this blog and my ‘Five Tips for Overcoming Isolation’ are not aimed at you!loneliness

During my twenties I lived on my own; I was happy – I had my own place and felt very grown up – I embraced my independence like a longed for best friend. And yet I remember arriving at work and asking my co-worker, Jacquie, if she’d spoken to anyone since I’d said “goodnight” at the end of the previous working day. people on waterloo bridgeWe laughed about the fact that we travelled home on packed commuter trains, walked the half mile from the station to our homes, prepared and ate our dinner for one, watched some television, slept alone and repeated the same routine going back into work the following morning. And yet we had not spoken to another living soul even though we were surrounded by people on the streets of London; nipping through Waterloo Station and riding the escalator up to our platform, no words were exchanged with our fellow commuters.

Why? I guess it’s because city life is made more bearable by the anonymity of crowds. People hate being packed into a confined space where they can feel each other’s pointy elbows pressing into their sides and even smell their breath! We all get it – we really don’t want to speak to each other.

According to the New York Times ‘MORE people live alone now than at any other time in history. In prosperous American cities — Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco and Minneapolis — 40 percent or more of all households contain a single occupant. In Manhattan and in Washington, nearly one in two households are occupied by a single person.’ Interestingly, their report even suggests that living alone can make people more sociable.

Sometimes I felt isolated and a tad lonely despite having a buoyant social life. Balancing this was the knowledge of a trade-off; I could have a lodger and the potential companionship that might afford, but I preferred my privacy and less hassle. You know the kind of thing; waiting to get in the bathroom before work, your Gran’s familiar old frying pan burned and ruined, doors banging at unsociable hours. I did try it for a while (and I was fortunate to have a choice).

So, Isolation can be caused by a lack of communication and companionship or, as I’ve alluded to, you can feel isolated by your own thoughts, hemmed in by secrets that can’t be shared… There are many such examples; family members who harbour an alcoholic – each feels forced to play their part in concealing the truth, the married partner who yearns for an old lover, the secret gambler who’s blown the family’s savings, the child starting a new school who has no friends but doesn’t want to worry their mum and dad, the parent with an ‘empty nest’ or the elderly person who has lost their mobility and contact with the outside world. These people and others (the potential list is endless) might feel they cannot confide their loneliness.  man praying

For me, there was nothing in my experience quite so isolating as arriving in an unfamiliar country and trying to orientate myself, whilst experiencing the losses of ‘home’ and all the while thinking I should be grateful for my new existence. Fortunately not everyone feels like that, but it’s easy to see how they could.

My earlier foreign posting and the subsequent repatriation had gone fine. The problem with the second posting was that I did not feel that sense of a personal ‘ trade-off’.

An accompanying expatriate spouse, who had stalled their career by moving countries, I found life a struggle without that focus and as for many expat spouses, my partner had his head down in a new job which required significant periods of time away from home.DSC_2919

With young children at school, most of the day (and evening) hours were suddenly very quiet. In time I picked up the threads and made a new life, I adjusted, but the transition was very challenging.

I have learnt that self care and a preparedness to take action are key to coping with such challenges. Here are FIVE TIPS FOR OVERCOMING ISOLATION:

  • Firstly, have some compassion for yourself. Imagine observing yourself as someone you care deeply for; what do you notice and what advice would you give that person?
  • Keep in touch with established contacts (if you have them) but be prepared to go out in the world and form new bonds. Remember it takes time to build new relationships; they require care and attention – think of a house plant that needs regular, small amounts of water in order to thrive.
  • Acknowledge the losses and get the feelings out there – do something creative – a new hobby perhaps? It will provide an outlet for your emotions. It may also provide an opportunity to make new friends if you join a club or a group activity.
  • People often find it helps to keep a journal of their feelings; the therapeutic benefits of this are well documented. More on journalling below.
  • If at all possible speak to someone you trust about how you feel (professional therapist or otherwise). Please don’t suffer in silence…

JOURNALLING

A journal can take many forms, you could begin with a diary describing the day’s events or you might like to include how you felt when you got up and how you feel at the end of the day. You could find yourself writing pages of thoughts and feelings. Your journal will quickly become a place for you to clear your mind, a dumping ground and perhaps a highly creative, exploratory place. Whatever model works for you, there are many benefits to writing from your authentic self. Your mind will have a focus that could, in turn, benefit your health.

Throughout the day we have thousands upon thousands of thoughts, most of which come and go in a second. Many of these thoughts will link us to memories, often the same ones being replayed over and over, again and again. The result is we reinterpret how we feel based on repetitious ways of processing. By writing these feelings down we can observe our own thought patterns as they emerge, clearing a path for new ones. Essentially, by grounding our thoughts on paper and thereby observing them, we create ourselves space for alternative ways of thinking.

It takes time to process and integrate change and loss. If we know what is wrong we can take the necessary action to make adjustments to our life. And if we let go of the past we can more easily give our attention to the present.

If you would like to learn more about the process of journalling and how it helped me survive a depressive episode, follow my adventures in An Inconvenient Posting, an expat wife’s memoir of lost identity.

Finally, I’m looking forward to talking about recognising depression at the forthcoming Families in Global Transition Conference (FIGT) later in the month. If you would like to register for the confererence, the deadline is Wednesday 13th March. Among the presenters will be Linda A Janssen, author of an exciting new book The Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures (to be published soon). You can find Linda at www.adventuresinexpatland.com

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