Posted on Leave a comment

Dog-lost in Transition

Spare a thought for our pets.

Imagine the shame.

You’re a French Bulldog and it’s not until your human family move to France that you realise you don’t speak French.

You live in hope for their next move.

They decide on Burkina Faso.
Merde!

It’s the only French word you know.
You remember back. A young labrador I met in the park taught me that. I think it means ‘Yes!

But Burkina Faso is only a two year posting, so that’s okay.

I’ve heard we’re moving to Belgium next or maybe Mali. “Merde!!”

How often do we think about our pets in this way?

They are part of our family and they come with us when we move.

Well…. mostly.

Sometimes a pet suddenly doesn’t appear in the family photos anymore and you know it’s stayed behind with a new family.

Animals are sentient beings and like humans, need to adjust to new locations and new routines. I’ve always thought positively about giving family pets to a new family or equally, taking them with you when you relocate.

Honestly, no judgement.

They will follow suit and fit in with life wherever, but….. and this is a big BUT…

I now know I was wrong.

They do adapt, but having done 3 years of work for one of the UK’s best animal rescue centres, I’ve learnt about all the subtle layers that we don’t see and maybe don’t want to see.

Animals miss their humans. They get depressed. They are intelligent and need stimulation. Before the rescue centre allowed people to become a ‘forever home’ for one of their rescue animals, there was a stringent process to follow.

Potential adopters were often shocked, at the indepth process and that they could be refused.

Beloved pets – the love goes both ways.

Do we do the same before we hand over our pets to friends before we relocate to our next posting?

Sometimes, they can’t come with us, but do we understand the needs of our animal enough to make the right decisions about their future home? Can we, if we’ve only known them in our company?

Are you aware of the impact of new surroundings, new noises and new scents – and what they may translate as to your pet?

Will the new family be able to offer as much stimulation or are they out at work all day? Do you know how your animal lives naturally, as apposed to in captivity? Does it matter?

Turquoise-fronted amazons are one of the most common amazon parrots kept in captivity.

Most parrots pair for life. As highly intelligent social creatures they need the company of other parrots. Keeping a parrot as a pet is time consuming. Humans need to supply the bird with all the things the bird would get naturally. Can the new family do this?

People can also be unaware that ordinary home odours like scented candles, air fresheners, Teflon frying pan vapours and aerosols may also harm parrots. Do the new family know this?

Emotional Needs

It’s not just your pet’s physical needs.

In 2002, the rescue centre I worked for acquired a depressed Amazon parrot, named Peter. His elderly owner had asked that after his death, his much loved bird should live at the centre. Parrots are intelligent social creatures that need a lot of attention. Peter had been with his owner for 32 years and found it difficult to adjust to life at the centre. Thirty year-old Ben, another of their elderly Amazon parrots, was also depressed having lost his female partner. The centre tentatively put them together and within five minutes they were both laughing, shouting and screaming in extreme excitement. They had become their old selves instantly. However, they found that Peter was actually a hen bird and was known as Petra from then on!

Back to the Bulldog

I started out making jokes about the French Bulldog, but I’m kinda serious too.

I think we can take it for granted that our pets will cope. We worry about the flight, especially if it’s a long one, but as long they can get to us, then it’s all okay right?

Yes, mostly, but there’s also an adjustment period.

Who knows what all the new smells mean or what the new next door poodle said when it walked past?

I think we need to think about our pets in the same way that we think of our kids settling into a new school.

Makes allowances for nervous or poor behaviour and the ubiquituous accidental poo.

Cath x

Posted on Leave a comment

Crossing the road in….

Crossing the road in any country plunges you right into the national psyche. As you take your life in your hands – and it flashes before your eyes – you wonder, is today a good day to die.

It’s bloomin terrifying.

  1. Brain engage.
  2. Look left, or is that right?
  3. A tentative step forward. Your foot hasn’t hit the ground yet and you realise that pedestrian crossings are also known as ‘completely meaningless’
  4. You jump back scared, only to bump into the person behind you, who looks at you as though you’re an idiot and walks calmly across the road avoiding the motorbikes, cars, buses and trucks that shave past.
  5. I’ve just shat myself. I’m still on the curb.

Such was day one in India, 1990

….and day 2

…and day 3.

You do get used to it though. Your flight or fight response takes a Valium and you eventually cross the road with ease….until the next country.

Testing the Theory

When I decided to settle in the UK, I had to take the ‘Life in Britain Test’.

As my wife jokes, “how many people in Wales put a red sock on their left foot on Wednesdays?”
Well, not quite, but we’d all benefit from some different questions.

Learn about the Royal family? Or… learn how not to die whilst crossing the road?
Tough choice every time.

I’m inclined to go with the Royals. Prince Harry is a red-head after all. We have a bond, you know? It goes deep. And he’s now also an expat, so….

But, needs must.

I pick ‘not dying whilst crossing the road’.

Based on my completion of the highly accredited course – ‘You’ve Shat Yourself to Suave Moves Across the Road in 30 Days’, I’m generously offering you some free top-tips, based on highly spurious generalisations and gross simplications.

Ready?

Me neither.

Cath’s Cleverly-Cunning TOP 5 TIPS

(also known as Cath’s stupidity)*

#TOP-TIP 1

Wear a brightly coloured shirt so that drivers can aim for you at speed before diverting at the last minute. This works particularly well in France. You’ll stand out better at a distance. It’s great too for testing your flight or fight response.

These long straight roads work wonders with target practice.

#TOP-TIP 2

Wear shoes that are slightly too big for you, so that you trip on a pothole and stagger inelegantly across the road, half-bent half-upright, hoping that half-upright wins the day. And then it doesn’t. This technique is particularly useful when you want to blend in and share a joke with the locals. Carrying luggage can make it even more effective.

He doesn’t know how well he’s about to blend in.

#TOP-TIP 3

A gormless look on your face is a superb way to slow the traffic before you even step out onto the road. If you’re lucky you’ll find 3-4 taxis stopping to see if you want a ride. It’s at this moment that you’ve got the best chance of getting across the road.

This isn’t failsafe though because your inept tourist-level language skills mean that you’ve accidentally said ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ to the drivers. However, it’s also one of the best options because you’ll have an amazing chat to the driver when he reveals that he speaks your language perfectly – and you realise that you have much more personal growth ahead of you than you realised.

#TOP_TIP 4

This is an oldie, but a goodie and works every time. Just as you get near the other side of the road, step in an old pool of water whilst wearing sandles. Like really step in it deep and proper. That way, your parent will have to scoop you up quick as a flash and run you across the remaining distance to clean your feet thoroughly. You don’t want to risk catching bilharzia from contaminated water.

#TOP-TIP 5

Slightly different to #TOP-TIP 3, but equally useful – my best tip for crossing the road is to not cross one at all.

Stand by the side of the road and get into a stranger’s car when they slow down. You’ll discover it’s not an UBER after about 4 mins. You’ll freak out discreetly, but the real benefit comes when the driver starts talking and acting strangely. It’s still good though because you learn how to remain calm and after all, you’ll avoid having to walk to the airport and all the roads you’d have been forced to cross. Genius!

Who was this man and how on earth does one get into a complete stranger’s car???

And you thought crossing the road was easy.

I’m fast going off the Prince Harry option and will start advocating for ‘not dying whilst crossing the road’ to be included in every country’s entrance test.

You with me?

Cath x

*My disclaimer – Please do not try any of these tips! This is a satirical piece for the purposes of prooving I’ve survived my stupid actions 🙂

Posted on 2 Comments

There’s Truth and then there’s TRUTH

Together

We know our truth.

Well at least we think we do.

Two people can have a conversation and come away with different ideas as to what it was about.

There’s a lot of new age, feel good stuff out there at the moment about knowing your truth.

Be true to yourself
You can only be responsible for your own truth
– Find your truth and you find yourself

These are all well and good, but what does that actually mean?

Last Friday, in my regular Barefoot Friday I talked about what it’s like to live with a neurodiverse spouse. Barefoot Friday is live illustration and conversation in which I cover a range of subjects around Identity, Belonging and Expat Life. 

With half an hour to spare before I started, I said to my wife, ‘what am I going to do for Barefoot Friday? Nothing is coming to me. I want to do something simple, but powerful’.

My wife replied,

‘I’m simple….’

‘And powerful’.

We often joke about her being simple, like the happy bouncy dog that can only focus on the ball you are about to throw. I appreciated her nudge towards our inside joke.

‘Why don’t you talk about what it’s like to live with a neurodiverse partner?’ she said.
She was right. This felt good.

Barefoot Friday’s illustration from 5 June 2020

It’s not something I could have talked about once. I didn’t understand it.

My truth was frustration, pain, hurt and confusion.

Ang’s diagnosis of Dyspraxia at aged 50 and our belief now that she’s also got Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Autistic tendencies created a space to talk.
It turns out her truth had been frustration, pain, hurt and confusion.

Ang is now 61, so we’ve had 11 years to learn, negotiate communication that works for both of us, and find ways that mean we get what we need. It’s like anything in a marriage. It takes a commitment to each other to make it work.

So, my truth turned out to be her truth too, but from a different angle.

Finding your truth

In reality…

I didn’t find my truth as the new-age tells me. I found my wife.

My wife didn’t find her truth. She’d known it for a long time. She finally felt understood.

In talking about neurodiversity, I received feedback from another neurodiverse listener who stressed the importance of talking about the positives of neurodiverse people, not just the struggles.  They are right. Neurodiverse people have amazing skills and that will be the subject this week, but it got me thinking about truths again.

It was my wife who suggested the subject matter and she was very happy with it, but someone with a similar experience holds a different truth. Even when we speak the same language this disconnect exists.

In the expat context, imagine too, the added complications of different languages and culture. It’s a wonder that anyone ever understands anyone else!

Dyspraxia is classified by the World Health Organisation as a disability. The benefit of this means that diagnosis opens avenues for funding, support services and further public recognition – all of which has been invaluable for my wife.

However, and I know this is going to sound like I’m speaking from a position of Privilege, non-neurodiverse privilege, the majority, the main-stream…. but I’m going to say it anyway.

And I am saying it, because THIS is my truth.

There is limited support for people who are married to people with dyspraxia. You can find information and services to help with bringing up autistic and ADD children and if your partner is autistic, but dyspraxia? Not so much.

At one point I even contacted the Dyspraxia Foundation to ask if they had resources, but they didn’t. Rightly so, their focus is on helping dyspraxic people, but I do wonder about partners. Are they also hidden voices as they navigate neurodiversity? Resources for non-neurodiverse people would certainly also benefit their neurodiverse spouses and relationships.

Have I just given myself another project?

Navigating neurodiversity in a marriage

Both my wife and I will openly admit that it’s been a challenge to negotiate, individually and together, but we’ve done it well and we continue to. We are an amazing team and I wouldn’t change anything.

Being dyspraxic is as much part of your identity as having brown hair. THIS is the reason I am talking about this issue. Diversity is about understanding, acceptance, embracing and celebrating.

Not allowing space for the full spectrum of people is nothing short of rejection. Who do you reject without realising it or without being honest with yourself, because you can’t cope with their difference?

Living with a neurodiverse spouse can be really challenging, but so can living with a feisty red-headed Australian. We are just who we are. Angie has opened my eyes to the world in ways that I would never have looked it. My wife’s approach to life has given me a lot to think about and loosened me up, inspired me and helped me in numerous ways….

but to find out about that, you’ll have to watch this week’s Barefoot Friday (Friday 2pm BST) on Facebook.

Cath x

Posted on Leave a comment

What takes you to look at the world differently?

There’s something about taxis.
They feature remarkably frequently.

It was 2am and we’d just settled back into our taxi after stopping for a cup of sweet tea. We were travelling to Kipling Camp in northern India to see tigers.

The thick jungle-like vegetation made for a fairly monotonous journey that was, until a man walked out into the middle of the road. Our driver slowed down.

Rather than waiting for the window to be wound down, the man opened the front passenger door.

Something wasn’t right.

Our driver’s face told us all we needed to know – he was scared.

Dad managed to pull the door shut again and quickly reached around to us in the back and told us to lock the doors.

The driver was frozen with fear.
Dad was alert – more and more urgently telling him to drive and getting slightly more frantic each time he didn’t move. Finally, the driver seemed to be back in his body; his foot hit the accelerator and we roared off. We looked behind us.

In the dark, another 10 men walked into the middle of the road from the bushes.
Each was carrying a large machete.

Who knows what might have happened?
I don’t think they were expecting foreigners. The split second look of shock of the man’s face when he opened the door was enough of a delay to save us.

   You don’t look at the world the same way after that.

How can you?
From an early age my parents took us travelling. Where possible, time wise and financially, we spent holidays camping in the outback, learning to 4WD, learning to like your own company, learning to appreciate and respect the ancient Aboriginal culture that forms the foundation of Australia.

Me and a shingleback lizard

Another lizard. I see a theme….

And when more money and more time permitted, we backpacked overseas. I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to grow up learning about the world through the eyes of the people we met on our travels.

You start to wonder how you fit into the world.

You question.

You think about your own community and lifestyle.
You cherish the experiences because they help you start to work out the meaning of your own identity.

Like the machete-men in India, these experiences stretch you unexpectedly, but they also bring compassion. What does it take in someone’s life for them to behave that way?

THE EVOLUTION OF EXPERIENCES
Another time in India our train was held up for several hours by bandits in the middle of the night, other passengers telling us to hide as we would be easy targets.

In Egypt I remember our taxi being stopped by the police. As foreigners, we were viewed as potential drug traffickers. The doors were forced open and the police started to pull the panelling off the doors as they searched for narcotics. As a 10 year old sitting in the back seat, I started to giggle – mainly through fear, but very quickly stopped when mum’s face showed me the seriousness of the situation. On not finding any drugs our taxi was permitted to continue.


It is these very situations that have made me look at the world differently. It’s opened my eyes to the fact that everyone has a story and everyone’s story is their own.

I love Egyptian taxis.
Indian trains are a must-have experience.

I’m sure the men that held up our train didn’t start out in life aiming to become a bandit. Similarly, no child is born with the desire to rob a taxi with a machete.

Life changes us. We adapt to our experiences and evolve by circumstance.

The common rebuttal I hear is, Yes, but we all have a choice.
My reply then as it is now? We don’t all start at the same point…

It’s easy to judge ‘choice’, when you have one.

QUESTIONS REVEAL PERSONAL CONTEXT
I spoke to a man in Syria, who said:

We recognise that governments are different to people. I assume you are here because you want to be. Please go home and tell all your family and friends, that we too want a democracy. We are not all terrorists. We want to live our lives and bring up our families like you do.
Damascus, Syria – the woman on the far left asked me if I liked Iraqi people.

How do you reply to that kind of comment?

How do you answer the woman also in Syria, who during the Iraq war asks you out of the blue, Do you like Iraqi people? or the woman in Vietnam who says, We are sick of people coming to look at us after the war.

How do you cope with the racist attitude of a couple in the Australia’s Northern Territory who are happy to give the man next to us a lift down the road, until they realise he’s Aboriginal?  You respond in the way you know how…

You tell stories and you create community

When we share stories, we create community. We strengthen our bond to others and we find out who we are.

Storytelling has bound communities together for millennia. As the oldest civilisation in the world, Aboriginal Australians have told stories through art, painting, dance, ceremony and Country for over 50,000 years. In 2016 science finally proved this longevity.

Aboriginal people have always known it.
How?
Because they told stories – in community – passed down through the generations.

In Indigenous communities, to witness another person’s growth and personal development is important. When we witness, it’s a public acknowledgment and celebration of their journey, their wounds and their achievements. It shifts in your body and mind.

This is why Ceremony is done in community.
It’s why we gather for celebrations, marriages and funerals.

Community is everything.
Without it, we separate from each other. We start to favour a mentality of ‘individuality over collectivism’. ‘Me’ wins over ‘you’ or ‘us’.

Community and a number of key individuals have changed my perspective. Whilst community is about a collection of people, a collection of people does not make community. The two are not the same. They shouldn’t be either.

Community is born out of a collective inclusivity. An individual is merely that. One person.

Both are enough to have changed my view of the world.

What about you?
What takes you to look at the world differently?

Cath x

Posted on Leave a comment

Sitting in the ‘free-from’ aisle

Just like the ‘free-from’ section in the supermarket, this blog is free from mentioning Coronovirus, other than that one time just back there…. 9 words back… and now, we’ve got another additional 8 words under our belts. See, we’re stepping away fast. You’ve almost forgotten I even said anything right? Phew!

By now, we have firmly taken up position in front of the ‘free-from’ section and depending on where you live in the world, you will have an wonderful range of free-from food (no gluten/dairy/wheat/soya etc) or maybe….. precisely, none? With any luck, ‘none’ is not a bad thing, but actually the best fresh produce available before you.

NONE OR NEW-ONE?
I’m fascinated with how ‘none’ is often equated with ‘less than’. Why is it that we see the world through that lens, when ‘none’ can also mean ‘nothing’, as in a clean slate, a chance to write the next chapter of your life?

Can you think of examples in your own life, where your ‘none’ or ‘free-from’ has actually enabled you to start something fresh? To completely craft a beautifully crisp blank page…..

Going without can be tough though.
Without, also means getting used to something new. It speaks of adaptation – whether you’re ready or not. It whispers, or more often than we care to acknowledge, knocks us off our feet, as we are confronted with a new scenario.

Adapting and Transition – expats and migrants are good at this stuff. It’s what we do.

How do you think you might cope in the following three scenarios as presented in my book Living Elsewhere?

NEW SCENARIO #1

No work? Yay! right?
Not really. Work provides us with routine, money, purpose, mental stimulation and lots more. Without it we can feel lost. If you have worked your whole life, suddenly not working may require you to discover new strategies to adjust.

NEW SCENARIO #2

Normal tasks become mental mind games and can make simple day to day activities completely nerve-wracking.

NEW SCENARIO #3

Sometimes it’s all too much and we get knocked off our feet.

From Without to Within

So if you haven’t got an expat/immigrant friend or family member to ask their advice, here’s some insights into how we go from a feeling of WITHOUT to being content WITHIN?

It’s all about developing strategies.

Whilst there are 272 million people living temporarily or permanently outside of the country of their citizenship,* I can only talk about one.

Me.

I want to be authentic and mine is the only experience I can vouch for. Here you are.

Strategies à la Cath Brew:

* Keep your own culture alive within your new environment
* Maintain friendships regardless of country borders
* Belong by being your authentic self
* Take belongings with you that are emotionally important. You will need them to bolster you on down days
* Try not to compare the place you came from with the new place. They are different and they’re meant to be
* Find ‘your tribe’ and establish a network of people who understand your challenges.
* Continue to practice your passions. If you’re not able to do them exactly as you’d hoped, find a way to do them from a different angle. * Feed the need creatively.
* Seek professional and medical help if you need it. I did and I did need it.

Where can I buy Living Elsewhere?
Get your copy from Amazon or The Book Depository.

Posted on Leave a comment

Bringing order out of chaos

“How on earth am I going to do this?” gasped the extrovert.
The introvert replied, “I will be in my happy place. I’m so going to enjoy it”

The truth is that most of us lie somewhere between the two.

Moments of peace, internal serenity polishing our halos. Other days? Not so much. More akin to, well, let’s be honest, an almighty mess of the two thrust together.

Tension, cabin fever, short fuses and those kids shouting next door? Gees, I wish they’d quieten down. Hang on! Where are mine?

Ah…Um…. “James and Sophie, please stop shouting now. We can glue your favourite cup back together for ‘art class’ this afternoon. We have to do calc… calcu… calcul…. calculus…. calculations? first”. [Where’s the vodka? That looks like water in my glass right?]

Welcome to Coronovirus lockdown.

Never have we seen the world so divided nor so united at the same time. Freaky huh?
There’s a wonderful balance in that. Very yin and yang.

Coronavirus is forcing our coping strategies to enter new heights of adaptation, transition and the unknown.

As expats, we are masters of transition, living apart from family and friends, making tough decisions, learning a new way of life and needing to be flexible.

I think we have a lot of skills and experience to share. Are you sharing your insights with your family and friends elsewhere? You might not realise the positive impact you can have. Sharing the things you’ve learned could be the difference between someone you care about, coping or not coping.

My 9 tips for separation, isolation and staying sane during lockdown

1. Take the pressure off

This is an extraordinary time, so be kind to yourself. There is no perfect way to get through this. You’re doing your best and that’s all you can do. Tears are fine. Meltdowns are fine, just don’t stay in that space. A good cry is a great way to release tension, especially if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, the kids are playing up or the dog has just pooed on the carpet and you’re in lockdown with no carpet cleaner. Just breathe. If the dog really has pooed indoors though, I recommend breathing with your mouth not your nose. Trust me. I am the voice of experience.

2. Create a routine

Given the changes to your life now, it’s likely that you will need to modify your existing routine or create a new one. Adhering to a routine fosters habits and allows us to feel more in control as we find comfort in meeting our goals and aspirations. That goal could be as simple as managing to get the kids to brush their teeth each day or eat breakfast and do an hour of home-schooling. It helps bring order out of potential chaos.

Be sure to get enough sleep. Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time each day. Regular and enough sleep will help you to last the distance, keep positive and reduce stress levels. You’re also likely to eat less, which you might favour if you’re unable to complete your regular exercise program.

3. Connect regularly

Living apart from friends and family is hard, especially if time zones make phone calls difficult.

Humans are social creatures. We need connection. You will know how much you need to feel enriched but get creative with how you do this. Anything that strengthens your sense of connection will benefit you.

* Write letters to each otherTalk on the phone a few times a week
* Leave voice messages or silly gifs via WhatsApp/Messenger etc for your people to wake up to
* Reminisce with someone about times you’ve shared together. Really re-live the feelings of joy, amazement and awe that you felt at the time
* Do things together online – watch a film, listen to music, do a crossword, cook a recipe…

4. Do things you love

It’s hard to feel stressed or upset when you’re doing something you love. Build that thing into your every day. It will feed your soul. If the thing that you love doing is not possible because you are in lockdown, how can you adapt it? If you meet a friend in a coffee shop once a week, why not video call your friend, make coffee and sit and chat in your kitchen like you would normally do in the café. Maintain the things you love, just find an alternative method.

5. Exercise

Exercise helps me process my day. For me, my success in living well through the next few months of isolation, will be making this time different. I’m actively choosing to live my life differently, rather than responding to an enforced lockdown. If I continue with thinking it’s normal life, I will expect to be able to do what I normally do. That sets me up for disappointment. So, I’m doing different things.

As I can’t get to the gym, I’ve set up a home gym. For the first time in my life, I’ve signed up to a 90 day home-workout program. Day 2 and I can barely move! At the end of it I’m either going to be rock hard or dead!

So, what’s something different for you? Dancing around the kitchen? Doing some gardening?
Stair jumps? Sit ups? Vacuuming? Lifting tins of beans?

6. Keep informed – with limits

The internet is a great source of information for updates and guidance about the virus, but social media also has a propensity to foster fear and anxiety. Whilst this time feels uncertain, we can gain ground ourselves living 100% within the environment we are in. This means checking the internet for updates, chatting with some friends, but communicating and living with the people that share the room in which you are sitting.

Turn off the news, turn of the internet and talk to each other. At that moment, the only thing that is present is you and whomever else you are with. By being overly connected to the outside media you run the risk of making your safe internal spaces (your home) feel stressful, when in fact they need to be our safe spaces. Now, more than ever, when we can’t go out, we need the spaces we retreat to and are isolated in, to be emotionally safe and calm.

7. Live with purpose

I have decided to see this time at home as an opportunity. Yes, everything is up in the air as we navigate a new way of being. None of us know when it will end, but we can choose what we do with the time.

At the end of this lockdown/isolation period, what do I want to show for it? If I’m at home much more than I would be normally, how can I use this time productively?

I know personally that I will feel better if I’ve achieved something. Achievement is different for everyone though. For some, achievement will be getting through this time being with your family 24 hours a day and still liking each other at the end of it. Others will be home-schooling their children, successfully.

We may need to lower our expectation of what we can achieve in this time as there are additional pressures present that may not be normally upon us (household finances, limited outdoor time, no in-person socialising etc)

Some opportunities and resources to explore:

UDEMY – online courses
Future Learn – online courses
TedTalks
Central Synagogue (New York City) live streaming services
Jstor online – 6000 ebooks and 150 journals
Scholastic for Kids – Learn at Home
Museum virtual tours
https://allinonehomeschool.com

8. Establish new rules


With couples now both working from home, I’ve seen some hilarious twitter posts about from people realising how their partner behaves at work.

One guy said he was horrified to realise that his wife was that woman who always asks a complicated question right at the end of a meeting!

Seriously though, we’ve all suddenly been thrust into working together in our homes. Spare a thought for the introvert who now can’t cope with partner and kids home all the time… or the spouse whose desk has now been taken over for the partner’s paid work and they’re stressed because they’re not getting done what they would normally do.

It might be worth you setting some new ground rules so that you can all work together happily in close quarters. Hold a family meeting and establish new ways for working time, lunch time, and play time at the end of the day. It’s early days for many of us and we need to develop systems for longevity.

9. Plan your exit transition


When lockdown and isolation restrictions start to be lifted, we will need to adjust to another new scenario.

Have you considered how you manage the return to ‘normal’ life. Pre-thinking a range of feasible options can relieve the pressure for when you have to make some decisions in a few months time.

How will you manage if schools are still not open but your employer wants you to return to the office? At what point will you need to consolidate financial resources from lost income? Are there other resources available to you? If you returned to your passport country during the pandemic, at what point will you return to your host country? If it’s almost school holiday time again, is it worth attending the last 2 weeks of school or should we stay in our passport country for the holidays?

There’s a million and one questions that will need thinking about. Planning your coronovirus lockdown exit strategy ahead of time, just may be as valuable as the thought you put into keeping your family safe during the pandemic itself.

And for expats who are reading this….
Think about your skills and experience in transition. Let’s start an online EXPAT RIPPLE EFFECT of wisdom and guidance.

So I’m calling for us all to:
* STAY AT HOME
* SHARE EXPAT WISDOM
* OFFER TIPS for HEALTHY SEPARATION
* SHARE YOUR SKILLS and INSIGHTS into TRANSITION and ISOLATION

Posted on Leave a comment

Drawing Upon Angels

Oh, Not again…. I wish I didn’t have to post these pictures again.

But I do it because it helps me cope.

It helps others cope.
I know because they tell me.

I’ve often posted these pictures to social media unfortunately. Normally it’s in response to a global grief – a large natural disaster, a mass shooting, or other event that surpasses our comprehension.

They seem to express what we can’t verbalise. The brain process images 60,000 times faster than words do, so that’s pretty effective.

It’s one of the reasons I love to draw. The simplicity of the pen allows all superfluous information to fall away and the minutiae of the message is highlighted.

‘Trusting’ in Angels
I drew these angels in 2003 when I was the Cemeteries Conservation Officer at the National Trust.

Yes, I’ve heard all the jokes and no, it wasn’t a dead end job.

It actually gave me life.
You may not realise, but cemeteries are not actually about death. Sure, they are the final resting place of our deceased, but they are memorial landscapes for the living. Their epitaphs tell you not necessarily about how people died, but more how they lived.

Headstones offer much symbolism – carved stone that reflect beliefs at the time, materials give indications about the wealth of a family, epitaphs tells you about religious sentiments and values, grave locations tell of social hierarchies, whilst the style of monument can reveal how a family felt about the death of their loved one.It’s about life. It’s always about life, which is actually probably the reason that so many of us struggle to talk about death.

And now, it is also life that we now grapple with, in the midst of the global coronavirus outbreak.

The world is trying to contain the virus and preserve life.

This brings me back to angels.

In cemeteries, angels are protectors of souls. In life and more so than ever now, human angels are also protectors of our souls.

Whilst we hunker down in lock down at home, I want to draw your attention to these five categories of human angels.

Medical Staff

My friend, Dr Anisha Abraham recorded this in her street in Amsterdam the other night. She says “Shout out to all my fearless health care colleagues around the world who are working tirelessly in hospitals, clinics, research centres and more to fight coronavirus. Tonight, throughout the Netherlands, we applauded health care workers at 8pm and we will it repeat in again tomorrow night. It made me feel so proud and a bit teary eyed. Here’s the view from our street. Stay strong peeps!” Wonderful huh?

Funeral Staff

Often forgotten, but they too are on the front line. Standard protective equipment is as rare as hen’s teeth for Funeral Directors to buy. Staff are working without it. I’m not posting this to frighten or cause panic, but to raise awareness about the dedication and sacrifices that people are making to fight this virus. It’s easy to forget when we’re watching tv on the sofa warm and safe in our homes. In this article, read ‘funeral staff’ in place of NHS staff and you get the picture.

Teachers


Yes, schools are closing left, right and centre, but here in the UK, teachers are still teaching kids in school with special needs. Schools are ensuring online learning is available for students to try and keep a sense of normality flowing. Now I know some parents aren’t terribly pleased at suddenly having a 3 month weekend or becoming an overnight ‘expert’ in Maths, Science and Geography – no one wants to look stupid in front of their kids right?

Shop keepers and food delivery people

These champions enable us to stay home, so that we don’t run the risk of making the spread worse. We need them just as much as our other essential services. If the human body could survive on water alone, I’d be the first to try it. Mind you, a little less food might be a good thing for those of us trying to lose weight! As someone said on my Slimming World group page, I will either come out of this 60lbs lighter or 100lbs heavier – only time will tell. I joke because I feel the same. Whilst I am able to run outside I will, but I am soon to set up an exercise space in our house.

Rubbish collectors

Whatever is happening in the world, we still produce rubbish. Mountains of it and if it’s not managed, we end up with other health problems. Thank you to those who collect our rubbish and allow us to live at home reasonably carefree.

But equally importantly…

If you are someone who believes in angels of the spiritual kind, please may I ask you to send your prayers, your thoughts, your woo woo juice, whatever you practice, in bucket loads to the people I am most frightened for – those living in abusive relationships.

Imagine lockdown for 1 month with an abusive partner.
Imagine lockdown for 3 months with an abusive partner.
Imagine kids at home in that abusive space, when their only safe space (school) is now closed.
Imagine a mix of alcohol, drugs, guns, frustrations.
Imagine isolation in this environment.
Imagine how fucking frightening that is!

I have no idea what we can do about this.
All I can do is hope for goodness to come across the spiritual airwaves. If you’re ever going to believe in this stuff, then now is the time to enact your interest. Please send your vibes their way.

And if you don’t believe, that’s fine. I used to think it was all a ‘crock of shit’ 🙂
All I ask is that you raise awareness of how some people may be safe from coronavirus, but in dreadful danger from partners/parents.

Check on your neighbours.
Watch. Observe. Help those unseen, be seen when they need it most.

I once asked a police officer at what point I should call the police if I was worried about domestic violence in a neighbouring house. He said, ‘the moment you are scared’.

So if you feel scared for someone’s safety, please make that call.
And in the meantime….

Enjoy lockdown, but spare a thought for all those workers who enable us to be in lockdown.

Cath xx

Posted on Leave a comment

Expatria Déjà Vu

Do you suffer from the condition ExpatriaDéjà Vu?

It’s a little known condition that affects millions of people each year.
Sadly, as yet, there’s no cure.

Patients with ExpatriaDéjà Vu generally have to manage their own symptoms through rest, silence and keeping up fluids. Unlike other conditions in the Expatria family, the consumption of a small amount of alcohol reduces some symptoms, but you are still advised not to operate machinery.

‘Holidays at Home’ (50mg tablets) is currently one of two products on the market designed to help people recuperate temporarily. You are advised, however, to use ‘Holidays at Home’ with caution as this medication is also known to increase the severity of symptoms of Expatria Déjà Vu.

Expatria Déjà Vu and ‘Holidays at Home’

Read this article carefully before you start taking ‘Holidays at Home’ tablets, because it contains important information for you.

Keep this information. You may need to read it again once ‘home’
If you have any further questions, ask a doctor (expat friend) for advice
If you get any side effects, talk to your tribe soon.

What is included in this information?

* What ‘Holidays at Home’ is used for
* What you need to know before you take ‘Holidays at Home’ tablets
* How to take ‘Holidays at Home’
* Possible side effects
* How to store ‘Holidays at Home’
* Additional information

1.What ‘Holidays at Home’ is used for

Holidays at Home contains the active substance, ‘repetitious conversation’. Holidays at Home is one of a group of Expatria medicines called, Hell for Expats in Leisure Periods – Mental Exhaustion (HELP-MEs); these medicines are used to treat Repetitive Conversation disorders.

‘Holidays at Home’ can be used to treat:
*Expatria Déjà Vu, the common condition experienced by expats when they go home for holidays (in adults and children).

Expatria Déjà Vu is a circumstancial condition with symptoms like:
* feeling frustrated
* memory loss – especially being unable to remember if you’ve already said the words you’re about to say
* confusion – primarily about why people think you need to come home to live
* misunderstandings when you try to dispell myth and clichés about your host country
* Mental fatigue
* Loss of interest in conversations

Your family has decided that this medicine is suitable for treating your condition. You should however, consult your doctor (expat friends) if you are unsure why you are taking ‘Holidays at Home’.

If you are concerned about whether you have the condition, the image below shows you what Expatria Déjà Vu looks like under the microscope.

What Expatria Déjà Vu looks like under the microscope

2. What you need to know before you take ‘Holidays at Home’

DO NOT TAKE ‘Holidays at Home’:

* If you are allergic to ‘Holidays at Home’ or any other ingredients of this medicine
* If you are taking or have taken medicines called Family Fight, Overbearing Sister or Any Friend that Suggests it’s Time to Come Back
* If your last four ‘holidays’ have been at home not the tropical island you want to visit.

TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR (expat friends) if you are taking the following medicines:

* Remind Me Why I’m Going Home
* Got Any Tips for Answering Repetitive Questions?
* How Long Do You Think I Can Survive?

3. How to take ‘Holidays at Home’

Always take this medicine exactly as prescribed.
The recommended dose for adults is One Week Staying in a Nearby Hotel with your Own Leisure Activities Every Second Day. If Expatria Déjà Vu symptoms do not ease after 1 week, dosage can be increased to Create a Mailing List to Regularly Update Your People. This will help ease the repetitive questions in time.


4. Possible side effects

Like all medicines, ‘Holidays at Home’ can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. When treating Expatria Déjà Vu, the most common side effect of ‘Holidays at Home’ is Minor Frustration which often dissipates with sleep, a small amount of alcohol and continued treatment.

Talk to yourself and moderate your behaviour immediately if you experience any of the following:

* Aggressive behaviour towards your loved ones
* Name calling, rudeness or angry tone of voice
* Disinterest in having the conversation. They care.
* Frustration at their ignorance. Why would they know any different if they haven’t visited?

COMMON (may affect 1 in 10 people)

* Minor Frustration
* Fatigue
* Memory Loss
* Confusion
* A sense of déjà vu

UNCOMMON (may affect 1 in 100 people)

* Sarcastic comments
* Change subject entirely which confuses loved ones
* You ask all the questions to avoid talking about your life
* Do not see family and friends when at home.

RARE (may affect 1 in 1000 people)

* Return from holiday early
* Cease friendships

5.How to store ‘Holidays at Home’

Do not use this medicine after the expiry date.

Store in ambiant conditions with:
* Grace
* Kindness
* An open heart
* Patience
* Love
* Tolerance

If symptoms persist, consult your doctor (expat friends).

Posted on Leave a comment

Loss buzzes like a mosquito

Just over a year ago I wrote about my father’s death from a few months earlier.

I’d wanted to write about it for a while, but kept running, not knowing what to say.

Why is my loss any greater than anyone else’s?

Writing publicly felt indulgent.
Look at me, poor me, my father has died. Give me sympathy etc.

It felt reminiscent of the Facebook Martyrs who post ‘Oh, some people!” as an invitation for support from their ‘friends’. They then wait for the sychopantic dopamine hit that comes with the replies.

But on this day it felt right. It was right.
I wrote it in 20 mins – far shorter than the usual 2 hours I allow.

Essentially, I just closed my eyes and wrote from my heart. My thoughts seemed to flow in a way that hadn’t been present before.

The difference?
I was being authentic. I was being real. I wasn’t hiding.

I was honoring him and digging deep. In visiting that place that hurts, I’d also opened up the vessel to healing.

Navigating Hurting and Healing

When we run away from the difficult stuff, we can never run fast enough.
Actually, I think it’s a way better athlete than us. It’s exceptionally good at running – always a few paces ahead, ready to anticipate our thoughts and block us from smashing through the ribbon on the finish line.

But did you know that Loss and its cousins, Pain and Fear are shapeshifters?

When they are not running with us, they take on the form of that blasted and increadibly annoying mosquito, buzzing in the room at night. It never leaves you, but it doesn’t bite you either.

It hovers, just enough to agitate and keep you from peaceful rest.

Writing my blog that day gave me rest.
It’s why I draw the illustrations I do. They too give me rest from those pesky shapeshifters.


Why We Need to Create Emotional Rest

Loss is loss is loss is loss is loss is loss is loss is loss is loss…… (Get the picture?)

Whether your sense of loss comes from a death, a serious injury in which you need time off work, or as a rotational expat saying goodbye to friends every two years, it has an impact.

Furthermore, the trauma stays in the body until it is dealt with.
Even before we have words, trauma leaves its imprint on our physical body. It lies there, not particularly dormant until it is processed – and can lead to complex illness and health problems. For example, we know Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) causes visible changes to the brain, demonstrated too by Ariana Grande after the terrorist attack on her Manchester concert.

10 Ways To Help Navigate the ‘Difficult Stuff’

Firstly, let me say, I am no doctor. I am not trained in mental health, nor am I trauma specialist. I am also NOT offering these 10 tips as medical advice or in anyway suggesting that they replace seeking proper medical help.

This list is purely based on my own experience and the things that have helped me in the past.

ONE: Write down your thoughts
During a family trauma of mine, I used to lie in bed for hours at night – wide awake; my brain not able to switch off. Eventually, I learnt to get up, write it all down and then I would go straight to sleep. Try it.

TWO: Wait until the morning to make decisions
Night time is a strange liminal space. In those years of family trauma, I came up with some of my best ideas and solutions in the middle of the night. That was, until the morning, when the cold light of day exposed their ridiculous truth. Sleep fixed these irrational thoughts and perceptions and I was so pleased I hadn’t acted upon them in the night.


THREE: Seek spiritual support
Before I came to the UK, I had no time for spirituality or religion. I wasn’t just not interested, I actively disliked it. No longer able to ignore the things I was experiencing, I now work as a Shamanic Practitioner. 🙂 It’s all just energy – a life force which goes by many names. It’s that gut reaction to the person we want to keep as arm’s length. It’s our Intuition. It’s God, Allah, El Shaddai, Ik Onkar, Great Spirit to name a few. Shamanic practitioners offer alternative techniques and practices which personally, I have found especially helpful for removing blockages. Email Cath for a confidential chat.

FOUR: Make memories permanent
Memory or Keepsake Boxes store mementos, stories, photos and other objects. They are designed to commemorate special people or events in your life. Creating a memory box as a family can help children (particularly cross cultural and third culture kids) to process the regularity of transition including the friends they’ve had to say goodbye to. Equally, if a parent or sibling is terminally ill, creating the box together whilst they are alive helps the family prepare.

FIVE: Commission an illustration
If you’re missing a loved one who lives elsewhere or you’re anticipating the loss of a friend who’s about to move away, a bespoke illustration can show them how much you love them and miss them. Illustrations creates a permanent celebration of the times you’ve shared and as a keepsake, helps you feel connected from afar. Email Cath if you’d like to order one for family and friends.

SIX: Take up exercise
I’ve become a runner. I can’t quite believe it, but I love it. We’re not all Usain Bolt, but the effect of the exercise is the same. Whether you enjoy a walk or a 5km run, exercise improves mental health and comes with a lot of other benefits. For me it sorts out my emotions, relieves stress, separates work and homelife (I work in a home office), keeps my mental health in check and gives me thinking time. It’s everything to me.

SEVEN: Make a regular coffee date
The old adage, a problem shared is a problem halved is one of my favourites. Talking gives the same benefit as writing something down. You get it off your chest/out of your head. Meeting a trusted friend regularly for a coffee can reduce the intensity of what you’re dealing with. Human connection nourishes our souls. A trusted friend will also offer other perspectives and will not be afraid to be honest and love you when you are finding it hard to love yourself.

EIGHT: Find the Opportunity
I firmly believe that there is a benefit to every situation, even in the most difficult ones. It’s when we feel most uncomfortable that we experience our biggest growth. I have had times in my life which I never want to repeat, but for which I am equally grateful. These are the times I have learnt the most about myself. I know it’s hard but what is the opportunity within your struggle? What are you learning?

NINE: Buy a mosquito swot to smack it
I say this in jest, but also in seriousness. Sometimes all we want is to ignore the problem and for it to go away. And that’s okay. When we’re stressed, our coping strategies are pushed to their limits, but part of coping is self-care. We don’t need to be strong, to fight a brave battle, or whatever other phrases people offer. Sometimes all we need is take off some pressure and look after ourselves. There’s always another day.

TEN: Seek medical help
Yes, there is always another day….
but if you realise that ‘another day’ is becoming every day and you’re aware you’re struggling more than usual, please seek medical help. When I couldn’t get off the sofa to make a coffee without having a panic attack and had no clue how to find myself again in the heavy cloud, I knew it was time to see the doctor. I am forever thankful that I did.

Posted on Leave a comment

Travel Adaptor Envy

You know those people who have perfectly ordered drawers?
Don’t worry. I dislike them also.

I have to be honest though. I think I’ve always been a little bit jealous.
Again, don’t worry. I know you understand.

A few months ago, I decided to become one of those people.
I’m a little nervous now. Are we still friends?

It’s okay. I’ve still got the ubiqutious ‘junk drawer’; it just now resembles a drawer belonging to the Ordered Drawer Brigade. I cleaned it up. I had to.

It resembled my cartoon below.

I’m guessing that if you’re an expat, you’ll also recognise the drawer of travel adaptors, plugs, cables.

When I’m unable to travel, they’re my lifeline to the outside world – a comfort blanket with the following words sewn in: Travel is always possible if you have the adptors, plugs and cables.

I’m reminded of a massive safety pin/nappy pin. The cheeky side of me wants to say, ‘It all goes to shit if you don’t use one’, but I’m not that rude.

But the adaptor and plugs ARE like the safety pin that I use to store my other safety pins.

They all fit together, but it’s not quite how you’re meant to use them.

The travel adaptor drawer is the same.

Numerous plugs and cables looking like they all go together, but each having a very particular purpose that is only effective when fitted correctly.

But all is not lost.

Stillness and Order

I think the travel adaptor/plug/cable drawer allows us to create order in our life.

In the chaos of the mess, a stillness arrives.
Each travel adaptor releases a memory of a holiday to another country or the 2 years you lived elsewhere. I even remember hotel rooms in which they featured or cafes I’ve worked in and had to rush back to to collect the plug I accidentally left in the wall.

Each of these plugs and adaptors act as a key to unlock my memories. Memories that connect me to my soul food: Travel and Connection.

Soul Food: Travel and Connection

It may sound unusual to read so much into the travel adaptor drawer, but I find objects especially powerful for deciphering the intangible – That stuff we know in our gut but can’t quite verbalise. It’s hidden, it’s within us and it’s where we make meaning.

So it seems that the humble travel adaptor is quite powerful after all. Even when it’s been used within an inch of its life and we think it’s not connecting to the power source, it works mighty fine. Have you considered connecting it to its other power source?

YOU.

Yes, by all means buy another adaptor to operate your iPad, but use the other one as a key. Turn the lock and revisit your memories. You might find that the crappy adaptor that barely ever worked, now makes you envious of the time you shared.

Now, if it would just f*****g fit into the wall.