Moving to a new country is exciting at first, but what do you do when you realise that you need to start a new life in unfamiliar surroundings?
9 January 2018| Last updated on 11 January 2018
Today, I finally clued into why I had a meltdown every day this week. This morning, I had deliberately researched a tea place so I could find a cup of chai latte in my new hood and when I arrived they told me they don't make lattes and to try a coffee shop instead. Like a little girl I whined, "but I want tea!" and slunk out of the cafe dejected. After a few moments, I realized that I didn't just lose my favourite pet or get dumped by my boyfriend. I was really sad because the honeymoon is over...
When you first arrive someplace new there is so much excitement around your new city and the new life that you are going to create that not too much phases you. You mostly see your new city as shiny, squeaky and new. You see every challenge as an exciting adventure. Then about 6 weeks in everything comes into focus and the other shoe drops. That's where I am right now.
I just moved from a popular hip city to a small college town in Northern Texas. As Anne of Green Gables says, it feels like I am in the "depths of despair." There is no Central Market, Breathe Body Yoga Studio, Gramma's hummus, or place for me to buy my chai tea. These are things that I can't live without! Okay maybe, I can live without them but they definitely make me less grumpy. Regardless these are the little things that make me teary-eyed but the little things are always connected to big issues that become clear around six weeks in. For example, the job I thought was going to be so great, isn't so great, or learning a foreign language isn't romantic it's really REALLY challenging, or I moved here because of my partner and there is no job for me!
Step One: NAME IT!
Here is the kicker: I spent 10 years living overseas. In that time, I was prepared to not be impressed with the grocery stores, and take any kind of hummus or chai that I could get. I was not prepared to move somewhere in the U.S. and not have access to grocery stores with local organic quality produces, and a kick-ass yoga studio. In my mind if I was going to give up my sexy adventurous lifestyle, I was going to be able to have access to these things. Apparently, the universe didn't accept my deal. No matter how prepared, or not, you are for what are going to be your challenges, there is always something that knocks you off your feet. No matter how many moves you make you can't skip through this stage. So what to do? How can we deal with this tricky time when the newness wears off and we are left with an overwhelming feeling of sadness?
It sounds simple but we don't often acknowledge what we are feeling. My favorite word in Portuguese that I learned from my time in Brazil is ‘saudade’, which is a melancholic feeling of incompleteness linked by memory to being deprived or separated from someone, someplace, or something, or to the absence of certain desirable experiences or pleasures. So when you get teary-eyed over not finding a cup of chai or quality yoga class, realize this is a sign of something bigger than that; you are in your period of saudade. Call it what you want but acknowledge the state that you are in. Don't ignore or try to bury your feelings. Instead be aware of what's happening and give yourself permission to be nostalgic.
Step Two: Have Self-Compassion
Self what? Kristin Neff, a self-compassion researcher, defines self-compassion as "treating yourself like someone you care about with support, encouragement, and warmth." Often we are very good at being compassionate to our friends and family members but we don't always give that compassion to ourselves. What would you say to a friend who had your problem? Talk to yourself with the same kindness and tone you would to your friend. Ask yourself what you need during this difficult time. Don't focus on the things that you can't give yourself like that cup of chai, but rather, what do you have at your fingertips that you can offer yourself?
Step Three: Connect
It's my instinct to isolate myself when I am suffering. All humans, however, go through pain and there is not one emotion that you are feeling that another human has not felt. Instead of isolating yourself, connect with other people. This can be a challenge because you are about 6 weeks into your new place and have not formed your tribe. Make the effort to set up a Skype date with people already in your inner circle. Don't rely on text messages to connect - have an actual conversation. If this is your first post overseas, sharing with a family member or friend about how you are going through a difficult time might encourage them to say, "COME HOME!", so tread carefully with whom you share.
Remember that other newcomers in your area are experiencing similar feelings as you, so reach out and test the waters with someone new. When sharing your suffering with anyone, keep in mind vulnerability researcher, Brene Brown’s advice "share with someone who has earned the right to listen."
Step Four: Sew in the Positive
Our mind tends to focus on the negative and forget the positive. Dr. Rick Hanson, brain researcher, says that our brain is like a Velcro for the negative moments in our life and like a colander for the positive moments. As I said before, don't push away your painful emotions. However, just because we are in our "saudade state" doesn't mean there are not positive moments happening in our lives. We have to train our brain to remember these moments, so challenge yourself each night to think of a positive moment you had that day and replay it in your mind, or write down every last detail about the emotion, or share it out loud with a loved one. By practicing one of these activities, we are sewing our positive moments into our brain.
Give yourself time and eventually this phase will pass. Having these practices to engage in will give yourself a sense of control during this difficult time. As Kristin Neff says, "we give ourselves compassion not to feel better but because we feel bad." Also, keep searching for your favorite things because you just might find your cup of chai or something almost as good...