Hi, my name is Rachel and I'm a chameleon. Maybe you are too. Like many other Third Culture Kids, perhaps you developed early skills of observation and adaptation. You watch, you listen, to learn how to belong. You learn to 'pass' the multiplicity of spoken and unspoken rules that are your passport to acceptance and validation. Perhaps, like me, the seeking after that validation became your life's work. And so you spin.
I didn't expect to write that title. It just came out as I began to type. The last decade of my life has been dedicated to the pursuit of deep, meaningful and (wait for it...) lasting relationships. I grew up as a Third Culture Kid, like many of you readers, and mobility was my stability. I knew that I was good at initiating friendships but long-lasting ones were less comfortable for me. For a start, they were unfamiliar. Either they left or I did... this was the rhythm of my life. While this sounds painful, I'd built up some pretty sturdy callouses. Goodbyes weren't that hard for me and I was confident in my ability to rebuild social connections at will.
Morning all! Or whatever greeting is appropriate for whatever time of day it is while you are reading this! Welcome to this corner of my mind. Pull up a chair, grab a coffee (I'm nursing a honey and lemon drink) and let's allow our minds to wander together... When working with Third Culture Kids, we often discuss Identity Props. This is a term I use to describe those things (both physical objects and behavioural characteristics) that we possess that communicates our identity to those around us. Part of our identity challenges stem from the fact that so much of who we feel ourselves to be is invisible. I don't look any different from my peers, nor do I sound different. So how will they understand that I am different - and how can these differences be explained? So I use art from my host countries as identity props. Someone enters my home and they can 'see' that I have experience from elsewhere. When parts of our stories feel so otherworldly that they almost feel unreal, even to us, it's important to seek out and nurture identity props. And this is where vision boards and joy jars can come in.
So, it's just occurred to me that I'm going through transition. I know, doh. Due to my impending nuptials, I'm planning on moving house in the next three months. I suppose it snuck up on me. I mean, I've done house moves. I've moved between countries, between cultures, as a student, as a newly wedded wife, as a new mum, as a divorcee. They've been routine, life-changing, hard work, and significant life events. So how did this one sneak up on me?
So while I've dipped in and out of the world of Star Trek over the years, I'd never have been described by my nearest and dearest as a 'Trekkie'. And yet I have Trash Jaeger (@spacetimeboss) on Twitter to thank for my special interest in the new series, Star Trek: Discovery. He tweeted: You better BELIEVE I'm hyped about a Star Trek that focuses on a PTSD-suffering Third-Culture Kid and I was hooked!
"I'm so excited; I'm going to the theatre tonight and I've not been in ages!"
"Sounds great - what are you going to see?"
"This thing on trauma. It's billed as both informative and funny."
Trauma. Private pain laid out on the stage? Humorous? A good night out?
"So my name is Rachel Cason, and I'm a failure". This was how I felt like introducing myself yesterday. Complete with aggressive self-loathing and topped with misery and embarrassment. I had failed my driving test. Halfway through it I failed to see and respond to the actions of the driver ahead of me, and probably frightened my examiner half to death. I somehow managed to complete the rest of the test competently, but my ultimate failure was made worse by the fact that my examiner was convinced due to my otherwise tolerable driving, that I had seen the danger ahead and simply taken a chance. So I had failed. AND I had been misunderstood. This is such a 'double-whammy'. I am a Third Culture Kid, and have grown up working frantically to try to work out the rules of every new cultural environment I found myself in.
In light of my previous posts on this topic, PTSD and Cultural Variance: Implications for Third Culture Kids and TCKs and PTSD continued: West African culture-bound syndromes, I wanted to speak to some therapists who are more experienced than I in this field. My hope is that my interviews with them will both inform and encourage any Third Culture Kids to feel better equipped in understanding their stress responses, and actively seek help if needed. There are wonderful practioners out there - and it's an important investment in our mental health to reach out to them.
Many of us are living in a culture other than the one (or 'ones'!) in which we were raised. We are called Cross Cultural Kids, Third Culture Kids, Expats, Immigrants, Global Nomads, and many other things besides. We are competence tight-rope walkers. We are familiar with borderlands, with the edges of our Selves. We are marginals, drawn to the edges of our competencies. We seek out new challenges, excited by the novelty, the stretch we feel in our characters and abilities. Yet as stimulating as these spaces are, we can easily tip from thrill to spill as we dance on the edge of situations that we feel ill-equipped to handle with grace.
How many of us find relationships utterly terrifying? My hand is up.
Third Culture Kids have grown up in flux, travelling around different identities as much as different countries and cultures. Raised by parents in a culture other than the one represented by their passport, and often embedded in an organisational context (mission, military, business), we TCKs are hard to pin down. We become cultural chameleons, adept mimickers (or perhaps rejectors of?) of localised belonging.
Some of us, of course, are drawn to relationships like magnets, for they signal 'home' and 'belonging' in a way that soothes the weary nomad soul. But this doesn't make them easy to navigate, drawn as we are to their promises of love, and of rest. Hence the terror.