I wouldn’t change traveling the world for anything. I love looking back on my life and being proud of what I’ve done. I love showing off photos of all the places I’ve been to. Telling our kids about the exciting lives we led as young travelers and scuba divers. Recounting stories of when our newborn daughter slept in a bassinet, on top of a (low) set of drawers until we were confident enough to take her on a plane and 2hr boat journey, back to the tiny island we lived on. Even the horror stories of delivering food to hotel guests in crocodile infested waters or being evacuated from a tiny Caribbean island before it was engulfed in a hurricane that was “off the scale”!
However, and I know you can hear the echo of a big BUT coming before I even say it….. Even in the best of circumstances (while seeing the world), when things go wrong, it’s so ridiculously hard to manage! To find answers to all the bewildering questions floating around in your head, to deal with the untold emotions showing up at any God-given time of day, to get on with daily life and continue to care for your family…. When all you really want to do is cry, run away, go back to bed or have someone else deal with it all for you. The trouble is, our friends come and go so often. We don’t always have a “bestie”. Being an expat is sometimes truly lonesome.
I’ve given a lot of thought to this subject. I’ve felt so desolate at times and wondered how on earth I was going to pick myself up. It’s easy at the time to feel so upset and confused, that you imagine what you’re experiencing (collectively if not exclusively) is far worse than it is for anyone else. But no, that’s definitely not the case. People have experienced a million times worse than I have, and hopefully more than any of you reading this.
What it always seems to boil down to though, what makes me feel worse, is that I don’t have my (extended) family with me. The heartbreak that there are people out there who would hold me and console me and make me tea and say all the right things and look after my kids…… if only I were back “home”. Then, when I’m at my most vulnerable, that void always rears its ugly head, and I miss them more than ever.
So, what can we do about it?? We can’t change the fact that sometimes we’re going to miss our family, we love what we do, but how can we make those tough times…… easier.
- Share your angst with a friend nearby. A problem shared really is a problem halved. Saying it all out loud does a lot – puts things into perspective, serves as a way to gain some helpful advice, confirms there’s people close-by that care, eases the loneliness of living abroad and helps you realise you’re not alone in the way you feel (especially if you’re terrified your island is going to get blown away).
- Be kind to yourself. That doesn’t mean coming up with 5 positive thoughts and ignoring what’s happening, or authorizing yourself to wallow in self pity until you feel better. It means accepting that you feel terrible, recognizing why, dealing with each and every negative emotion that shows up and talking to yourself like you would a best friend. Being aware of all that negative energy and accepting that it’s okay to feel the way you do, gives you the space to comfort yourself and heal so you have the ability to move on when the time is right. It gives you the opportunity to consider what you’re feeling and why, and come up with a few possible solutions.
Ask yourself “what’s actually making me sad?”, “what’s so important to me?”, “how can I learn from this?”, “what do I need to pick myself up?”.
- With that mindset, it’s easier to focus on the outcome you want. By that, I mean deciding on the best way to deal with a situation (stay calm, give yourself a few days to get over it, manage today before thinking about tomorrow, re-write your CV and present the best bloody version of yourself anyone has ever seen!), and focus on that. If you can just decide how you want to show up and what’s beneficial for you and (if relevant) your family, one day at a time, you’ll see this through.
“Feel your emotion, know it’s there, but don’t let it dictate the outcome.”
- Remember that as much as you miss them, your family don’t have all the answers. They have their answers to your problems. You may simply need comfort, encouragement or security, which you would no doubt find at home, but they are not limited only to home. You are the one who holds all the answers to your problems, issues, dilemmas, hardships and challenges. Give yourself time if that’s what you need to move on, but then dig dip, find your answers, pick yourself up and tackle this. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last.
- Surround yourself with the family you choose for yourself. Say no to events you don’t want to attend. Say no to anyone who doesn’t fill you with love and laughter or the comfort, encouragement and security you’re looking for. Say yes to things that make you smile (even if it’s a cream doughnut). Say yes to walks outside in the fresh air. Say yes to a sympathetic ear. Say yes to friends. They may not be your ultimate first choice, but they’re reaching out to you, they’re offering to help and support you. Be grateful for that and you may just make a new “bestie”.
- Refocus. Your main focus yesterday, may not be your main focus today. Refocus and ask yourself again “what do I need today to make progress?”, “what will benefit me/us today?”, “what outcome am I trying to achieve?”. Give yourself a small, attainable goal and slowly move towards it.
This is what we’re good at after all….. we go on journeys, we travel, we set a destination and don’t stop until we get there.