The Struggle in the Doldrums: when TCKs keep still

by | Aug 14, 2019 | Blog | 0 comments

My summer could not be described as ‘still’. I’m busy balancing work and family time, as usual really but with the added presence of ‘precious family activities’ scrolling on my Facebook feed to add additional pressure to the experience. I expected to feel manic, either with joy or despair (!) but it’s fine. It’s really fine. My daughter is having a wonderful summer, with both busy days and more relaxed at home ones, and we are getting along okay – even well, most of the time. So why this post? Why am I reflecting on stillness as a challenge?

Because I’m a Third Culture Kid. And for many of us, the summer is a season of movement. Many of us moved in the summertime, to try and sync up with new school schedules with minimal disruption. Summer means transition. Summer means change. For some of us this was a season buzzing with the potential of unwritten stories, the chance to reinvent ourselves for a new community, the opportunity to seek out new adventures. For some of us this was a season of dreaded goodbyes, the exhaustion of explaining ourselves all over again, a season of new untried ways of being misunderstood. For most of us, the summer represented a combination of the two.

And my summer? I’m in the doldrums. I’ve completed one project (achieving my counselling qualification – yippee!) but am on hold before I can invest the time in developing the potential of this. I have many, many ideas for new resources I want to develop for TCKs, but again I’m lacking in immediate time and space to dive into these fully. I would love to compete more effectively as a ‘fun mum’ for the summer, creating a packed programme of enjoyment but a) my daughter likes staying at home to keep energised and balanced (introvert) and b) I’m working. I’m lacking significant wind in any of my many sails (or identities, or selves?) – hence, doldrums. And its accompanying unease.

There is a passage in C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ that goes some way to expressing the fear that the doldrums brings. The wind drops, the sails hang useless, and a slow awareness comes upon everyone on board that there are limited resources on this ship. A ship’s entire purpose is, after all, to take a crew from place A to place B – without movement it cannot achieve what it has been designed for.

What have we TCKs been designed to do? How have we adapted our shape, our energies, our talents? Many of us feel at our best in movement. Give us change, transition, a new project, a crisis even – and we can revert to auto pilot; this we know, this we are good at. This ‘ship shape’ can serve us well. After all, life is full of transitions, if not always geographical, then relational or career-focused transitions lend us wind to our sails. And we can harness these changes to build on our skill sets, collect experiences that develop and challenge us, and even offer reassurance and comfort to others on our way.

But what happens when the winds of change drop, and we become still? We can find ourselves looking around at our crew of portable identities, wondering how to assign a captain when no new land is in sight. We can become acutely aware of our own limited resources – and wondering if we are, in fact, enough.

For me, this is a summer of no change. An unfamiliar experience and occasionally uncomfortable. No change. Down sails. Staying.

Staying in relationships with the people I am already in relationship with. Staying with work I am already working well in. Staying in a home that is well established and functioning exactly as I need to it for the life I am already living. Staying in place, because I am at home here and have everything I need and more. Staying.

The stillness is uncomfortable. Unsettling. Full of false starts as unneeded adrenaline tries to prepare me for the wind that doesn’t come. Staying can be a struggle.

And the struggle holds hope. Hope that struggles stretch trembling muscles into stronger ones. Hope that staying might, just might, offer an alternative adventure; the adventure of taking an internal inventory, of discovering that my resources are enough – that I am enough. That I am enough here. Staying.

The struggle of the doldrums is real. And is just as much a part of our TCK story as any other. And it holds so much Adventure.

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