A few weeks ago I was struggling. With everything. It was a tumultuous time, encompassing bereavements of various kinds, some difficult relationship situations that required careful management, and the madness that invariably accompanies the school holidays… and my well-worn coping mechanisms simply weren’t working. The balls weren’t so much being dropped as pelting me on the way down.
As I desperately searched for understanding as to why I wasn’t ‘managing’ life appropriately, the answer hit me…
Life was going on.
You see, I’m a Third Culture Kid – like many of you. And the pattern of my life has included multiple and regular transition, from childhood and then into my adult life.
“In one sense TCKs are repeatedly “dispersed” from their passport country, yet in another sense TCKs are dispersed in later life from their TCK (abroad) community, particularly abruptly in as a result of graduation of even evacuation in cases of civil unrest or ill health. TCK dispersal then cannot be understood as an interruption to life’s normal cycle, rather dispersal constitutes the norm and settledness the crisis” (Cason, R. Unpublished Thesis, 2015, p. 30).
Typically, when a life change arrived in my formative years, such as moving from primary to secondary school, or even just class years, chances are my whole life would change. I’d often be moving countries too. Difficult relationships developing in my friendship group? No worries, chances are you’ll move away soon, or they will.
Life events that demand a complete overhaul of routine and daily life, I can do.
Change is my Home.
But Home was changing. This time, Life was carrying on.
Cue second epiphany… I had stayed ‘in Place’ for 3.5 years. Meaning that I’ve been in my home now for longer (in terms of consecutive years) than any other home. The impact of this is that life changes now need to be integrated into Life in Place, rather than being absorbed by a more dramatic Life Overhaul.
Meaning Life Goes On.
So how can we, as TCKs do this without falling apart or running away?
Both of these seemed good options to me a few weeks ago! One of the alarming things to me was that my life was becoming an uncomfortable combination of the Mundane and the Novel.
Novel I can do, novel I am familiar with. After all, if a new project or life change doesn’t go to plan, I can shrug and say ‘Oh well, I’m new at this!’ But three and a half years in, and that phrase doesn’t slip so easily of the tongue.
First, we can acknowledge that Staying through Life Change is HARD! As soon as we stop adding to our stressors by blaming ourselves for our stress, things (miraculously!) get easier… Perhaps, like me, you’ve never done this before. Perhaps, this is your first encounter with staying, ploughing through. So it’s okay if it’s scary, even overwhelming. Hang in there… practise makes it easier.
Second, we can look around us and learn from those who know how to do this. Find non-TCKs, the ‘mono-culturals’ so often decried in our literature, and observe how they do it. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel here (though that’s somehow a much more appealing thought to us novel-seekers!) Instead, find the experts, and put those chameleon-mimicking powers into practice!
A couple of my observations of these Settled People include…
- They invest in relationships past and present. They allow relationships from different times and places to interact, to integrate.
Many TCKs find that relationships get compartmentalised, and that new ones are much easier to get excited about that ‘old’ ones. Other TCKs fear the loss of old friendships, because with them one loses precious shared history, and a sense of the Self one was. These risk tipping over into taking up so much time and energy that new relationships, in the ‘now’ fail to get the time and energy they need to flourish.
- They expect life to be ‘normal’, and this doesn’t crush or frighten them!
Heidi Sand-Hart, writes in her autobiography: Sand-Hart (2010, p.66) writes, “I struggle to accept that life won’t be as exciting and varied as it was growing up. Realising that “real life” is mundane, even unglamorous at times, is a hard pill to swallow” (2010, p.66).
Practising the valorisation of the mundane can be a life-long project but it is worth it. Without it, we can put immense pressure on ourselves and our lives to be extraodinary, whatever form that takes for us.
I’ve recently taken on the mantra, ‘What would be the normal thing to do now?’ Rather than constricting my perspective, this somehow opens me up to a whole range of choices and feelings that I’d previously dismissed. Odd, yet effective 😉
What observations would you add?
If you would like some empathetic support as you adjust to either Life Change or Staying in Place, do contact me here.
I would love to hear your story, and walk with you a little way.