This question was presented to me first hand when we PCS’d back to the US for two months starting in March. There were so many things to be done before the move that I swore I would lose my mind, but thankfully I didn’t. We arrived in the US in late March together and all in one piece… well… 4 human beings, 5 checked bags, 7 carry-ons, and 2 dogs anyways. Being the optimist I am, I thought that this would be the end of the crisis so we could settle into life for the rest of Spring, and then PCS again in June with no problems. I mean, we were back in the US, the land of Chinese delivery, Target, and decent toilet paper, what could possibly go wrong with that… right? Wrong.
It was only a matter of a couple of weeks or so, once my husband was back in training and my kids were back in school, that I realized I was sitting on the couch in the hotel in the dark watching Netflix and working on my computer all day with no motivation. I didn’t feel connected to anyone, I didn’t want to do anything, and at the heart of it I didn’t feel connected to this place as any sort of home. I felt sort of lost, like I was just existing to fill space. I started wondering what I was doing with my life and why I was allowing our family to go through the same stressful process every 2-3 years over and over again. Sound familiar to anyone yet?
It was then that I realized this- THIS is what I am always talking to everyone else about. This is the adjustment cycle that we all face in Foreign Service, time and time again. We go through similar mixed emotions when we are at the beginning and the end of tours overseas. We face uncertainty on both sides of the journey, which creates a sense of excitement, curiosity, relief, sadness, anger, and even grief. While these feelings wax and wane over time, they eventually lead to feeling adjusted and being “back to normal.” Often, however, we find that these emotions ironically become most intense when the stress has lifted and everything is supposed to (like in my case) already be “back to normal.”
Thankfully, the expat adjustment cycle has been documented and studied by numerous academicians. The conclusion they have drawn is that we are not all simultaneously crazy, nor are we even necessarily lacking in coping skills. We are just wonderfully human, and adjustment is a process, and processes take time.
Even though we cannot remove the adjustment process, there are ways that we can make the process more smooth and help ourselves move forward with less headache. As the title of this blog would indicate, there are ways to bloom when you are in a movable pot. A flower relies on its surroundings to survive, including soil nutrition, water prevalence, and sunlight. If it is moved to the wrong environment, it can be significantly harmed because it cannot care for itself. The difference between you and a flower, is you have the ability to influence the elements you need to succeed in any environment, so you have the potential to thrive with the right set of skills and support.
Here are some quick ways you can start feeling better sooner:
Know Yourself. You are the expert on you, so you know best how you cope with changing circumstances. Are you the shove it inside and ignore it type? Are you the plan everything down to the last detail type? Maybe somewhere in between? Take a look at how you have handled change in the past for clues. Notice what you have done that has worked and what hasn’t gone so well. Use this information to come up with a plan that will meet your needs when you find yourself in transition.
Move the Pot. No, I don’t mean literally get a pot and move it. What I am getting at here is to find something you enjoy doing that is portable and take it with you wherever you go. Do you enjoy running? Do you play an instrument? It doesn’t have to be a physical thing, it could be an activity that only requires you. Whatever it is, it will help you connect with others no matter the place, provide you with continuity, and smooth your transition because you already have something familiar to do.
Find Something that is Everywhere and Do that Instead. If you do not have something portable in mind, or you do not want to create a hobby or interest, then you can simply join in on other ones wherever you go. For example, every place has food, so you could get into cooking just about anywhere. The best part? People tend to flock together when food is involved, so fast friends here you come.
Practice Acceptance: Change is Inevitable. My son would tell you that he doesn’t “do well with change.” The reality is that he actually does just fine; he simply doesn’t like it. I am not sure that anyone loves big changes, but liking something does not have to dictate how we approach it. It is possible to accept our circumstances for what they are, and work to better what we can, when we can.
Leverage your Support System. I often hear people say that they do not want to bother anyone, but when we are having a rough time is exactly when we need to be a bit louder. Go find like-minded people, or those in similar situations at least, and share ideas, inspirations, and of course, commiserate.
Try Something New. One great way to break out of a funk and help adjustment along can be to do that thing you’ve “always wanted to try.” Take a spin class, learn to salsa, start that YouTube channel, and do whatever might add some healthy excitement and entertainment to your life.
Make Use of a Transitional Object. A transitional object is an academic word for something you keep with you through times of stress or change. For example, a child’s teddy bear he takes to help him sleep when he is at grandma’s house is a transitional object. Some families have a favorite couch, art piece, or even light fixture that transitions through every tour in order to make each place feel like home.
Get Involved or Be an Advocate. Some people feel good through being of service to others. If this is you, you may benefit from getting involved with an organization that helps FS workers and families, like AAFSW or FIGT. If you don’t think there is a good service available even though there is a need for it, advocate to make it available. You never know, something might just come from your efforts!
For the Love of Netflix, Do Not Sit Inside All Day. If you are in a place where you can go outside every day, do so, or at least get out of your house and go to someone else’s. Sitting indoors alone with nothing to do can quickly lead to feelings of isolation and depression, and nobody wants that.
So what did I do to break out of my funk? I joined a gym and got out of my hotel room. Group workouts can be a great way to meet people, get some social interaction, and improve your all over health, physical and mental. I love fitness on all levels, and if you have read my previous blogs, you have likely noticed that I recommend it to everyone. The research solidly supports the benefits of exercise and social interaction for your mental health, so I suggest it not only for the people I work with, but for myself. It also helps that exercise is portable to every city in every country across the globe, so I can take it anywhere.
All in all, nobody is impervious to change, but every transition is in itself temporary and there is a lot of power in that sentiment. You can find ways to outlast the changes in your life, and most times, figure out how to make them into positive experiences. As always, if you are finding that you cannot break out of your funk, or if you are unable to make any strategy work for you, please reach out. We are here to help. Happy Spring!