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When Emotional Resilience Is Running Low

During the summer I was approached by an editor at a new site, AdaptingAbroad.com, to write two companion articles on expats and emotional resilience. The first article was to focus on what expats may risk if they find themselves lacking in emotional resilience.*

I agreed, and found the experience particularly stimulating because I tend to write from the opposite perspective. I usually couch things in terms of the benefits of developing and enhancing our levels of emotional resilience, and the importance of doing so.

Sure, I always touch on the possible consequences if you don’t continually engender emotional resilience, but this request was specifically for the risks. It proved an interesting intellectual challenge to invert my usual presentation style, making my points without appearing overly negative.

My editor was pleased with the results, and published the article as submitted. Howver, the title was changed to emphasize the benefits rather than the risks. The irony was not lost on  me, yet I fully understood why they might choose to do so.

Now the follow-up piece to the ‘risks’ article, Tips for Developing Emotional Resilience, has been published over at ExpatHealth.org, the sister site to Adapting Abroad.

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to take a moment to explain why I’m sharing these articles with you. To some readers, it may smack of hubris: What? Another post on her latest published article? or Yeah, yeah, we know she’s writing a book about emotional resilience, but why does she have to harp about it, going on and on??

I assure you, that has never been my intent. I realize that you don’t know me (or at least know me very well), but you’ll just have to trust me on this.

I’d be perfectly fine just continuing to post links to my articles in the tab up above, and leave it to readers and visitors to decide whether they’re interested in learning more.

In fact, this very issue came up the other day in a casual conversation with a dear friend and marvelous writer, one whose opinion I value highly. It made me pause, mulling over whether perhaps I’ve been a bit too one-sided with the focus on emotional resilience in some of my posts.

I want this blog to be a reflection of my life and my experiences: humorous, silly, enriching, maddening, profound, and occasionally poignant. Just like your life.

But here’s the thing: I keep getting emails.

Photo of a sad woman on Adventures in Expat Land

Some are from aspiring expats with questions about moving abroad. Others are expats-to-be, headed over to Nederland or somewhere else, excited and a bit worried at the same time, with slightly different questions and concerns.

I truly believe that awareness of the challenges of expat life (transitions, culture shock, seemingly always having to say goodbye or hello) is important. I believe that sharing the good, the bad and the ugly about living cross-culturally can help people understand some of the difficulties and prepare accordingly.

It serves as a reminder of things to keep an eye on. You know the old adage: forewarned is forearmed. And I feel that it’s the right thing to do. There are so many wonderful positives about living a global life, but to gloss over the downside seems irresponsible. Ben Franklin said it well with ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’.

And then there are the emails from expats who are in pain.

They may be mourning the loss of family, friends and places they used to live, or finding it difficult to summon energy or enthusiasm to tear themselves away and move on. They might be on their first or second posting, or settling in to their fifth country in eight years.

They may have said goodbye to one too many close friends. Or else they’ve woken up one day and realized that they just don’t have it in them any more to start over, learning their way around a new country and new culture with a new language. They just can’t bear having to meet new people and try to make new friends yet again.

Some are overwhelmed, and others are just plain tired. Some are going through a bad patch that they understand will pass. Others are in a far worse place.

These emails are sometimes difficult to read, but I am humbled to receive them. And am I ever glad that they have reached out to share, whether it be with me or someone else.

I’d like to make clear this isn’t a litmus test of strength or weakness, as if some people are tougher, smarter, savvier. We’re not being graded by ‘pass’ and ‘fail’. Everyone’s situation is unique, complete with wholly different backgrounds, challenges, stressors and other factors. I think of it as system overload. No two people may encounter exactly the same experience, but we sure can see that there are some patterns in there.

Their experiences reflect what I’ve observed and what has been shared with me by my own friends and fellow expats. Sometimes you just get the blues, and need time and tenderness to work your way through the transitions of your life. (This is true of anyone, and isn’t limited to the expat lifestyle.)

But sometimes you may be nearing the bottom of the emotional well, and need some help.

And sometimes you don’t even realize which situation you’re in.

I am not a psychologist or therapist or medical doctor. But when people write to me I can tell when they are in pain, and I believe I have a healthy appreciation for when you must encourage, cajole or even insist that they speak to a professional and seek more specific and tailored assistance.

So for the people who send those emails and entrust to me their deepest feelings, I share the articles. Heck, they’re why I write them.

It’s for them that I also share these links: WebMD’s Depression Health Check and the Depression Self-Assessment from the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. These sites and others have plenty of information to help you or someone you care about get a sense of what’s going on, whether to see a health professional, the questions to ask and the sort of details that are important to share with them. Another good resource is the International Therapist Directory.

There should be no stigma attached to someone recognizing that things have gone off track and seeking help. I happen to think it’s courageous and wise and a sign of strength, and we should encourage and support them in doing so.

And I thank all of you for your patience and understanding. I would expect no less, and you’ve never let me down.

*I’m including below the three tips under the ‘Connections’ section that were omitted during publication due to lack of space. I think they help flesh out the reasons why we encourage ourselves and each other to get out and about:

  • Volunteer in your community: service to others also provides surprisingly
    strong, positive benefits to ourselves.

  • Celebrate your own rituals and develop new ones; create new memories.

  • Remember that you don’t build friendships overnight; widen your circle, be
    present and be patient.

Image credit: grietgriet, morgueFile.com

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