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 Leave a comment

What’s your secret and how do you feel about it?

Twice, in my life I’ve had to ‘come out’. Say that phrase and to many it means coming out as gay. Yep, done that one. But it was the other that took me by surprise.

I grew up in a non-religious family. I never went to church except for funerals and weddings. It was a desperately uncomfortable space for me. It felt make-believe and as though everyone was being conned.

‘Faith’ as a good thing was a foreign concept to me. All I knew of it was it being used as a weapon to control people and the damage done in its name. For me that was Aboriginal people who had been forcibly removed off Country and put into missions to convert them to the Christian way.

In short, I always thought anything spiritual was a crock of shit.

Then in 2008 things started happening to me that I couldn’t explain….

I just ‘knew’ things that came true – information I could not have known. I had visions. I saw people in my dreams before they died 36 hours later. I could tell people specific details about their deceased relatives – people I’d never met. I saw people I knew in car accidents that then happened a week later exactly as I’d seen them happen.

In short, I thought anything spiritual was a crock of shit.

– Cath

Try getting your head around that, when you think it’s all a crock of shit! Not easy.

Fast forward 13 years and a chunk of Shamanic training, and this is now my every day.


I’m no ‘fluffy bunny’ type. I’m visceral, candid and work with a discerning gut.

Who is this woman?! hahaha

It’s not something I ever thought I’d be owning as part of my identity. And I certainly never expected to ‘out’ myself a second time to the people who were with me during the ‘crock of shit’ phase.

White sage is used as an incense and for cleansing.

Claiming Your Identity

What are the things in your life that you hide? What are those parts of you that are worthy of you ‘outing’ yourself? The funny thing is that some ‘outings’ fall completely flat. We anticipate reactions. We build them up in our heads. We work out ways to justify who we are and to counteract any resistance.

That’s a lot of energy there isn’t it? All that effort.

So what if we were bolder and brave enough to show who we are?

I know that can be scary and there’s always the fear of being hurt or of an unpleasant reaction. But we can’t not do it. It’s too important.

Why?

If you’re feeling resistance, consider this.

Identity goes to the core of who we are. That’s why it’s scary. It’s meaningful and it’s personal.

So if you’re hiding that part of you, who are you really hiding from? Is it others or yourself?
Living authentically is so much more enjoyable. Take it from me. When I told a close relative that I was gay, he said that he was glad that that’s all it was. He’d been worried about me as I hadn’t been myself. He’d noticed that I didn’t seem happy.

After that ‘outing’ everything changed. Everyone noticed it too. Everyone commented on how I felt lighter, more positive, more of a free spirit. I felt different too – a weight had gone.

And I also noticed the change when I started working Shamanically. By being honest with myself about who I am, I could see how much better I was. More at ease, a quieter mind and nicer to be around – ask my wife!

When we’re at our best everyone benefits.

I now even work with clients who are seeking spiritual guidance and healing.

Occasionally I pinch myself to remind myself that this part of my life is real, this identity. It’s so far from where I once thought I’d end up.

But then I think of the people I’ve helped and I know that’s been good. When clients give me feedback, I know I’m on the right track.

“I was ill prepared however, for the true depth of what Cath was able to do for me.”

– N.H.

“Two years ago, eight years after the death of our daughter my husband and I were both at a very low ebb. Cath was very gentle, respectful and totally non judgemental. We are both enormously grateful to Cath for the inner peace she has brought us.

Debbie

I love helping people and I love doing what I do. Now, I can’t imagine not working Shamanically.

But even more so, I can’t imagine not being able to help people through some of the most difficult times in their lives. It’s a huge privilege to be invited into that space and I’m incredibly humbled by those who do.

And that’s not going away anytime soon.

This Shamanic woman is here to stay……with her ever changing identity.

Cath x

Posted on 2 Comments

Not fitting-in is your Superpower

When I arrived in England, my partner gave me a book.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but Watching the English: the Hidden Rules of English Behaviour would become my bible.

Kate Fox’s book is a marvellous addition to any expat’s research on England. I read it, but like so many things about culture, it didn’t really sink in until I’d experienced the things I read about.

My now wife and I met at a conference, a death conference to be precise.
As you do…

We sat next to each other the first night at dinner and the rest, as they say is history.

But it seems I only made it by the skin of my teeth, or rather the teeth on my fork.

Unbeknown to me and outside of the rules of English behaviour, I had no idea that on that first night, I held my knife and fork correctly. We’ve joked about it ever since. Held it wrongly and we wouldn’t be married…

The Knife Holding Rule

Page 316 talks about the knife holding rule, whether the handle goes under your palm or rests like a pencil between your thumb and index finger.

I jest about whether I would have passed the test to marriage. But it gets more extreme. When we met, Angie ate a pot of yogurt with a fork, because she didn’t want to move away from me to get a spoon. Sweet huh, but oh so wrong!

I jest, but these social rules about eating utensils are the key to opening up the whole world to English social history – the history of class. It’s certainly a fascinating insight into a country when you understand where it’s come from culturally and socially.

In one sentence, whether your midday meal is lunch or dinner, or whether your evening meal is supper or tea tells someone exactly what your social standing is.

I don’t say this to judge. I’m not judging.

This is historically how England operated. Your social behaviour, the words you used, the tone of your voice, your mannerisms – so much was and is revealed.

This history of class was part of shaping the nation. Your social status defined what you could achieve, what doors opened to you and how others viewed you.

The influence of class on identity

As an outsider arriving newly to a country you observe in ways that you might not as an insider.

I’ve often wondered about the infamous English reserve and where it comes from.

I still don’t know, but I can’t help but think about the impact of class. I may be wrong, but historically, if the minute you open your mouth you’re judged, then you’re going to keep it shut aren’t you? Whilst there are many other signs, your behaviour is also going to be more measured to not let out any hints.

Is this where English reserve comes from? I wonder?

The outsider’s view

Whilst time has evolved English society considerably, its history remains present and influential.

When I arrived in the UK, I worked in the field of heritage management. All my experience was Australian history and so I was a little concerned about how I might fit in working with English history, of which I knew very little.

But being an outsider was my genius zone!
It put me in a powerful position that I hadn’t considered.

I could get to the heart of things.

Someone said to me, “As an outsider, you’re in a really powerful position. You’re not part of our social history or class system. You can ask the questions we know we’re not allowed to ask.”

Wow!

That blew my mind and I suddenly realised that I didn’t need to fit. My value and strength was precisely that I was different.

So, I asked away. It enabled me to have conversations that locals couldn’t in normal work settings. Professionally, it became my asset. People hear my Australian accent and I’m allowed a space that others aren’t. My accent attracts other comments, sometimes not friendly, but that’s their shit not mine.

The longer I’ve lived and worked here, the more I knew what I couldn’t ask, but with my accent I was still given open access.

Make the most of how you don’t fit

For all the people out there who are struggling to find a sense of belonging where you live, remember that your difference is your asset.

Whether you’re an expat, relocated 100 miles down the road, or maybe moved to another State or region, you will experience a period of adjustment. It’s easy to fit in because it feels safer.

However, my advice?

Don’t try to fit.
As I stated in the American Express magazine, AMEX Essentials, belonging comes from within

And the best bit?

You really want to know?

Your ability to not fit is your superpower.

Cath x

Posted on Leave a comment

Walking the Work

Okay, we’re told that if we have a location independent business we can work anywhere.

But how true is that?

In my time, I’ve said, Oh, but I need my desktop computer and I need to be in my office where all my stuff is.

On occasions I work from my laptop in coffee shops. I even once wrote a cemetery management plan in Sao Paolo airport.

But this is the work of apprentices.

Today, I’m testing it BIG time.

I’m writing to you as I walk through my local cemetery.

Welcome to St George’s…….

Here, my phone is my ‘computer’ and my ‘office’…. well, let me show you.

I’m not suggesting that we work in our leisure time. Space away from screens and our work is critical. Rather, I’m proposing that maybe we can work from anywhere.

Of course, it depends on the type of work you do, but how often do we stop ourselves before we’ve even tried something?

Typing this on my phone is not the quickest thing I’ve ever done, but I haven’t thought twice about not having my computer or all my stuff in my office.

And you know what?

It’s better.
It’s better because I’m feeding my soul.

Writing as I walk through a peaceful landacape is so much more enjoyable than sitting at my desk inside. It’s got me thinking about what else I can do to shake up in my day. What else could change that means I still deliver on work, but maximise the benefit to my soul?

Maximising Joy
As expats we’re very good at problem solving, developing strategies and adapting to change as our norm. I’m sure we’re evolving an expat gene somewhere in our DNA. If not, we should be. All that hard earned experience could be bottled up and sold for a fortune – especially in times of Covid19 quarantine and lockdown!
But I digress.

We tend to focus this incredible troubleshooting brain for life’s big decisions, but what if we shook things up and used it for daily improvement?

Little changes often have a much bigger impact than we first think they can. And when they accummulate, before you know it, a hell of a lot more in life has improved….. and far more than you could have ever imagined. It sneaks up on you.

Before anything sneaks up on me in this cemetery (it’s getting dark!), I’m heading home.

It’s now the next morning. 10.09am to be precise. Yesterday’s test had an impact. I’m in the garden sitting in the sun finishing off this blog. I’ve been here since 8.30am and I’m now wondering why I ever sit at my desk indoors if I don’t have to.

Why would you work anywhere else?

So often we defeat ourselves before we even try. There’s the vibrant spark of an idea, then that little voice starts telling us all the reasons why the idea won’t work.

Let’s thank them for their advice and for wanting to protect us, but say, No thanks, I’m going to try something different today.

​My something different came to life in the cemetery. That’s normal right?!

​I got to enjoy the dusk chorus of birds settling for the night. It unravelled into a morning’s work in the garden. The fluffy head of a dandelion made me smile – bringing forth childhood memories of fairies and making wishes by blowing the fluff into the wind. I saw sexy things between beetles. I’m sure there’s a joke in there about beetles banging, but that would be rude, so I won’t make that joke.

You see, this little decision to go up to the cemetery has brought me so much unexpected joy.

I’m not going to easily settle for my office again.

What about you?
What are you settling for which you know you can make better?

I have a hunch that you’re already thinking about some areas of your life that you’d like to change.
Why not set aside some time soon to manifest these dreams and ideas?

And to answer my initial question.
Yes, I think you can work anywhere with that location independent business. I know many who do. It’s about thinking creatively, making flexibility your friend and finding joy in day to day tasks.

I’ve now moved into the kitchen as coffee calls.

I know it may sound a little frivolous as I move around with my phone. I hear you saying, but that wouldn’t work with my business.

Is that really true?

You might need to be at a desk for some things, but there’s so much more to running a business. Planning, phone calls, strategising, emails, social media and marketing can all be done elsewhere.

And when I look at the photos above, I know where I’d rather be.

And so I challenge you, what’s the first thing you’re going change?

I’m excited to hear how you get on.
Let me know and we can celebrate your wins!

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

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.