It feels like there is a lot of uncertainty in the world at the moment. For many of course – Syrian refugees for example – uncertainty has become a normal and ongoing part of life. But for most of us, this uncertainty on a macro scale is something new and something very scary. With my own home country on the Brexit rollercoaster with no idea of whether we will be part of the EU for much longer, how long our current Government will last, what effect all of this will have on food prices, our jobs, the future of the NHS; and the US with elections looming that have the potential to change not just their own country but really the history of the world, it’s no wonder that we turn in these times of crisis’ to humour about Marmite shortages and the comforting words of First Lady Michelle Obama.
But as expats, uncertainty on a micro scale is something we are used to.
A few years ago we were evacuated from Pakistan following the Mariott bombing of 2008. We were lucky in that it wasn’t an immediate evacuation – they prevaricated for ages about whether we should be sent home or not and once they had finally made up their minds we had another two weeks to prepare, pack and go. We took a detour to Thailand for a week’s holiday on the way back so in all it was five weeks from when the bomb went off until we touched down in the UK.
So a very difficult five weeks – two weeks or completely not knowing what our future was followed by another few weeks of confusion about where we would live when we got home, whether we could find a preschool place for our elder daughter, what would happen to my husband’s job, when we would get our heavy baggage back again…..
But even those few weeks of uncertainty faded into the background compared to the next few months. We managed to get back into our own home after a few months renting a holiday place near my parents. Our stuff eventually arrived, we managed to buy cars, my husband was given a job of sorts. But although physically things started to fall into place mentally and emotionally we were all over the place. Because our posting was cut very short (we only managed three months in Islamabad) we were promised a replacement. But because we were out of the normal postings cycle and for various other office politics reasons, it took them quite a long time to come up with a viable alternative.
So for months we had no idea whether we would be moving again, where we would be moving to, when we would be moving, what sort of job my husband would be doing, whether we would need to apply for school places for our daughter, whether I should start looking for a job or not…Those months of uncertainty were probably the hardest thing about the entire episode. Although the bombing itself was obviously very traumatic, we had good support and were surrounded by others going through the same thing as us. This time we were on our own.
Eventually it did all get sorted out and we moved to St Lucia in the summer of 2009. But I am reminded of that time again as we are currently going through another time of extreme uncertainty. We are trying to decide whether to return to the UK next summer or the summer after (all too do with schooling and education – as it so often is) and I feel sick with the not-knowing. I don’t think I do this indecision thing very well. I fret and I worry, I discuss it over and over with people. It plays on my mind and takes over all my thoughts. Once the decision is made I will be fine. I only wish someone would make it for us – then I wouldn’t feel so nervous about making the wrong one.
But as expats it really is something we all have to deal with. From terrorism events to job cuts, whether it be our own decision (as it is at the moment) or one made for us, not knowing exactly what lies ahead is part and parcel of this life. It doesn’t make it any easier but it is something we all go through.
So my question to you oh wise expats is how DO you deal with it? Do you have any tips or advice on how to get through these difficult times? What do you do when you find yourself laying awake at 3am night after night wondering what lies ahead, what will you do, where you will be? How do you stop those midnight demons, or the feeling of a total lack of control or the anger over not being able to apply for that job or accept that school place or even plan for next Christmas because you just don’t damn well know where you will be?
It’s hard. It really is. But we all go through it. So please, share your stories. Help me, help others. And perhaps, just maybe, we can use these skills to help the uncertainty of the world at the same time.