Transition: when health imitates geography

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been very quiet here lately. Three and a half months ago I slipped at home (just a silly accident) and managed to hit the tile floor so hard I gave myself a nasty concussion. Recovery has been slow.

I’ve always had chronic health problems, but in the past year I’ve been pummelled with new and scary situations. All while still transitioning to a new life and new career path in a new-old country alongside my newlywed husband. I’ve navigated these critical health situations in my second language, struggling to breathe in one case and with a brain injury in the other. It hasn’t been easy, for me or for my husband. And that’s definitely an understatement.

Lately I’ve been thinking about parallels between my health journey this year and the emotional upheaval of moving to a new country. Applying the same strategies I offer for dealing with geographical and relational transition to my health situation has really helped me – long before I realised that’s what I was doing!

An important thing I share when speaking on transition is that it’s all about losing your automatics and adjusting to a new normal. When you start over in a new place, you are left without competencies you took for granted. It takes time to learn how to live well in your new situation. You need to be kind to yourself, and patient, as you develop new competencies. You need to leave space to grieve what was while persevering in developing a new life. You need to lean on the supports available to you, including professional help. It also helps to celebrate small victories! (See more of my transition advice here.)

The concussion stopped my world. Through all my lifelong issues with chronic pain, my mind has been my refuge. I also honed an ability to push through pain and discomfort, often to my own detriment. The concussion took those options away. Both my mental and physical stamina dropped away to almost nothing. I couldn’t think clearly for weeks. Even now I can’t focus the way I’m accustomed to, can’t hold more than one thing in my head at once – which means no multitasking, and processing a lot slower. I’m still a bit forgetful and sometimes stop mid-sentence, grasping for a word I can’t find.

Conversation is fairly easy, although I tire more quickly than I used to. Focused concentration is my biggest problem. I can only read and write in short bursts – the more concentration required, the shorter the burst becomes. Short single-idea thoughts shared on social media are usually fine, but reading a book is still beyond me. I started writing this post (in short bursts) six weeks ago but had to abandon it when the attempt left me with a two-day headache.

Pushing through has not been an option. At the start a five or ten minute walk gave me a headache that would last through the next day. The same would happen after two or three hours out of the house. I’ve slowly been building up my capacity. I can now manage (even enjoy!) a 12 hour day out of the house, but it leaves me flat the whole next day. I measure time at the computer in minutes. At first it was 10 minutes, then 12, and 20. Now I can manage up to 80 minutes, two or maybe three times in one day – as long as I don’t think too hard. Every week is a bit better than the week before.

My whole life has had to change, to adjust to my new limitations. I have had to learn to pay close attention to my body, to recognise and respect its limits – even if they don’t seem to make sense, and even when I’m frustrated with them. I’m in the same apartment, the same life, but I’m not the same. I can’t live the way I used to. My capacity has changed. My expectations have had to change.

And that brings us back to transition.

During this process I have needed to tell myself all the things I say in my tips for transition. That this situation is hard, and it’s okay that I struggle with it. That I need to be patient because things will change but they will change slowly. I’ve had to depend on my friends around the world to lift me up when I’m discouraged, share their stories of similar struggles, and remind me to be kind to myself. I’ve put myself in the hands of professionals. Progress is slow, but steady. Every week I’m a little closer to normal.

This concussion will resolve completely with time. (I’ve had an MRI and other tests, and there won’t be a long term problems.) But my other health issue this year is severe chronic asthma, and that will not resolve itself. Over time, with good management, it should become less severe, but the likelihood is that living with asthma is my new normal.

The reason I started pulling all these thoughts together is that I had a small victory in regards to adjusting to my new normal of living with asthma. I felt something wasn’t right with my body, and I did all the right things. I noticed the change and responded to it immediately. I adjusted meds, reached out for advice, and made an appointment to see a respiratory doctor the next day. I managed the appointment, subsequent tests, and follow-up on the results all in my second language without getting overwhelmed. I made my concerns clear, they were taken seriously, and I was involved in the decision of how to treat the diagnosed infection. All that would be worth celebrating any day of the week; post-concussion it was a huge achievement!

I felt very validated that I had made the right choices and done the best thing for my health, without anyone needing to push me. I realised all on my own that the strategy I’d lived by in the past (“wait and see””) is not the appropriate choice in my new situation. My body can’t fight off an infection in the same way it used to, and in the mean time the consequences could be dire – literally life-threatening. So I dealt with it head on, which means I am learning how to navigate my new normal. I am finding my way through the transition to life with asthma.

And as the transition parallel occurred to me, so did something else. I regularly talk about how it usually takes 12-18 months to adjust to a big life change. That the second year is when things start to fall into place, because there’s familiarity at having done certain things before. I realised it’s been less than one year since the asthma first occurred – and suddenly I felt really encouraged! Look how far I’ve come in learning to cope with this new normal! I reflected on all the small ways I’ve adjusted and learned to cope with my post-concussion symptoms. In both cases, there are struggles. Yes, it can be really frustrating. Yes, I miss who I used to be, what I used to be capable of. But also – I am learning and growing. There are ups and downs, but I’m working my way through this unexpected transition to a new way of living.

Click here to read more articles about cross-cultural life.

transitionsky

Supporting TCK research

Today Beijing is beautiful – sunny, crisp, with trees budding green and bursting blossoms. It’s wonderful! Most of the past month, however, has been very polluted. This has played havoc with my newly asthmatic lungs, so I’ve lost a lot of time, energy, and concentration dealing with health issues. So I’m taking a week off blogging, giving myself some metaphorical breathing room to go with the physical!

Instead of a normal blog post, I’m going to take this opportunity to let you know about the Patreon I just launched. Patreon is a platform that allows public sponsorship of individual creators. With a patreon account you can send a few dollars a month to people whose work you believe in and want to support.

I’ve set up my Patreon to support my research work into Adult Third Culture Kids. I do not have grants or any other financial support for my research and writing. When I wrote Misunderstood I had a number of (offline) supporters who sponsored me financially, which allowed me to invest the huge amount of time required. As I start my newest project, it’s quickly becoming clear that this book will take far more time to complete. As it stands, trying to fit it into my “spare” time, I can’t imagine it being finished before 2023. I would really love to spend more time on it, but I can’t do that without help.

I’ve received so much encouragement from ATCKs who want to see this book become a reality, and believe in the importance of what I’m doing. If you are one of the people who believes this book needs to be written, written well, and made available to adult Third Culture Kids, please consider supporting me. Anyone who sponsors me $2 a month will have access to “inside information” – early statistics and topics of interest coming up in my research. (Tomorrow I’ll be sharing some information on my current survey sample!)

I know that even $2/month is out of reach for some – if that’s you but you still want to support my work, you can really help me out by spreading the word. You can follow me on my various social media accounts, share them with friends you think would be interested in cross-cultural resources, and interact with what I’m posting. If you’ve read my book, writing a review (on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook – or all three!) would be a huge help!

Find me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Find Misunderstood on Amazon, Goodreads, and more.

Thank you for reading and supporting my continued efforts to create resources for cross-cultural individuals, families, and communities.

Click here to take a look at my Patreon page – complete with introduction video!

patreon-feed0

Easing into the new year

As I wrote in my previous post, over the past month (nearly two) I’ve taken a break from working on my various projects. Now it’s January and I’m beginning to ease into the new year. I am taking my huge to-do list and breaking it down into manageable pieces. I’m trying to prioritise which projects need to be completed now, which could slowly use a little attention, and which can wait. I’m trying to balance passion and practicality – while keeping a firm hold on my health.

One decision I’ve made is that while I want to get back to posting regularly, I will not try to write new blog posts every week in January.  Instead, I am going to highlight some previous posts that have been popular. I will share some of the comments I’ve received from readers.

I also plan to start sharing the backload of Recommended Reading, but to begin with I may end up with simpler comments rather than full summaries and reflections. I need to start somewhere, and I’m trying to start small.

After that, however, I want to get writing again! And I’d love to know what you’d like to see me writing about. Do you have any questions about TCKs, the Third Culture, expatriate life, what it means to grow up cross-culturally, or anything else? Send me your questions! I may not have all the answers, but that will just give me more to learn so I can share it with you.

What would you like to learn about?

What would you like to share?

What do you want to know?

What do you wish others knew about your experience?

My inspiration for writing has always come from people. Sometimes it comes from listening to struggles – parents who feel guilty or discouraged, TCKs who feel confused or misunderstood, expatriates who feel alone and disconnected. Sometimes it comes from listening to joys – celebrating lives of cross-cultural confusion and joy, finding your own way through international life, or fondly reminscing over a time and place and community that may no longer exist outside memory.

Whatever is on your mind, I would love to hear from you.

I look forward to hearing your stories, as I always have!

Sorry-not-sorry: taking a guilt-free break

I started to write a post apologising for my silence lately, my lack of online presence, the lists of great expat and TCK related posts I haven’t got around to sharing, or even more than skim read. Then I realised I don’t need to apologise – hence the sorry-not-sorry title for this post.

I don’t need to apologise because I haven’t done anything wrong. I have actually done something right! It’s something I need to learn to do better – and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I took a break.

I’ve previously mentioned the health difficulties I’ve faced over the past two months. A chest infection triggered severe acute asthma that eventually landed me in emergency in the middle of the night. I’ve seen five or more doctors in two countries. I’ve been prescribed over a dozen medications (I can’t be bothered to count them all!!) The bottom line is that I’ve spent a lot of time really exhausted. I haven’t had the energy to physically look after myself appropriately let alone focus my mind on work. It’s been very challenging, very frustrating, and progress has felt FAR too slow for my liking.

I was just starting to feel well when I went on a trip to Australia. I did a lot of things but the main reason to go was to meet my two new nephews, as well as see my toddler niece again! I felt fine at first but started to struggle again resulting in more steroids. I also brought a case of gastro back to Beijing with me (a gift from my nephew) but at least I’m now feeling more on top of the asthma, really for the first time.

Through most of this time I was working to keep this blog updated, respond to emails, prepare the next stage of work for my next book, write articles requested of me by various publications. But I wasn’t managing it, couldn’t stay on top of it – I was falling short on every metric. I couldn’t take care of my basic needs, and yet I still feltIMG_20181122_093918_297.jpg the pressure to keep up with external activities.

After landing in hospital a week before my Australia trip, I finally decided to stop. No work until January. I wrote to a few people who were waiting on me, explaining the situation. I let go of a bunch of projects I felt an urgency to be working on. I let a lot of things lapse. And I didn’t feel guilty about it.

That’s the hard part for me. Not identifying that I need rest, or what I need to let go of, and even more than actually taking a break – taking a true mental break. Not even THINKING or worrying about the things I think I should be doing, and not feeling guilty for taking a break that was much needed. I know I’m not the only one. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Perhaps it’s a false belief that my worth lies in what I can DO for others. If I’m not doing something useful, who am I?

Perhaps it comes from caring – and a false belief that worry shows care. If I’m not doing something, and I’m not worrying about that, do I really care?

Perhaps it comes from insecurity about the value of my work. If I’m not taking every opportunity, pursuing every connection, squeezing out every drop of effort, will I ever get anywhere?

Perhaps it comes from using busyness to crowd out the needs of my heart. If I can’t hear my feelings, I don’t have to deal with my hurts.

It’s probably all of the above, for me. Perhaps some or all of these are true for you, too?

What I do know is that stepping away from a lot of things in order to focus on my health and my family was the best decision – even if it feels irresponsible or lazy, or any other accusation I throw at myself!

As I’ve talked with thousands of TCKs over the years, many have expressed a sense of pressure to excel, fear of failure, and a compulsion to keep moving – whether physically moving to a new location, emotionally never stopping to feel, or non-stop perfectionist working. And especially as I think through my new project (a book for twenty-something TCKs) I suspect that this season of struggle is particularly important. I have been forced to rest, and forced to face the reasons I resist rest. Perhaps the lessons I’m learning now, in doing “nothing”, will benefit others down the track.

I’ll close this odd little post with good wishes to all of you – that you will take your own guilt-free breaks, long and short, wherever you can find (and make!) them.