Small Steps, Self Care and Simplifying

As mentioned in Under Construction, I hope you’ll join me as I navigate the re-entry stage in our repatriation journey. Every three months I’ll share a series of ‘snapshot’ blog posts about the particulars of building a new life from scratch, filed under the post category Re-entry Reality. I’ll look at everything from making a home, engaging socially, staying healthy, and stretching creatively,  to becoming part of a community, launching new career endeavors and addressing spiritual needs and emotional well being. The first post in the initial three-month review, Why Here, examined where we decided to repatriate.

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Three months into repatriation, and in terms of well being – social, physical and emotional – I’d say I’m doing fine. Not fine as in amazing, terrific, couldn’t be better. Fine as in decently, pretty good, occasionally rather pleased, not bad.

Initially I was going to give my progress a score on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being just having crawled off the plane, newly arrived and standing in front of a mirror giving myself a pep talk about what a gift it is to start anew with a blank slate. This self-encouragement of course being necessary to avoid focusing on the realization that a blank slate is just that. Devoid. Empty. Zilch. Nada.

On such a scale, ten would therefore represent being fully re-integrated and prospering in an emotionally engaged, culturally connected, happy, healthy life. In other words, perfection.

As if.

On this broader scale, my current score would be something like a 2 or a 2.5, stretching toward a 3. Not so bad when you think of it as making steady progress toward a desired end state. But I’m a preternaturally glass-half-full kind of gal, so such an assessment rankles.

Far better to chart the well being quotient of my life-building escapades in terms of where I am in relation to what I’d come to expect, and how I’m doing relative to how far along I was hoping to be in the short span of ninety days.

Have I mentioned how long a period of time three months is to live through, yet how short it is to be measured against?

On this comparison of progress to hopefulness and expectation tempered by knowledge, research and the experience shared by former expats who’ve blazed the repatriation trail before me, I’d say I’m a solid 6.5. Now and then a 6, but on some days, even a 7.

Now that’s  a score I can feel good about.

Which brings me to the three things I’ve learned in these first twelve weeks. Number one: it’s about taking steps – even baby steps – but steps nonetheless, each and every day. Or almost daily. It’s about seizing opportunities to construct the shell of your well being, and incrementally but steadily adding materials to fill in the structure. Bit by bit. Beetje bij beetje. Slowly but surely.

Second: it’s all about making yourself feel good, not bad. Accountability and goals and objectives are all well and good, but I tend to think that sort of thing is better left for when your ship is sailing pretty much under full steam, not when you’re in the early days of building your ark. This is about caring for yourself, nurturing your body and mind. Recognizing that thrashing and smashing and dashing your way forward is simply a recipe for disaster. Better to cut yourself a break, listen to your body as well as your soul, push the pedal when it feels right yet show a willingness to ease off when it gets to be too much.

And so we arrive at the third: nothing beats simple. Simplification is hip, it’s happening. It’s trendy, en vogue. So let’s not make this any harder than it has to be. In these past three months I haven’t taken on any big projects or said ‘yes’ to unrealistic requests. I haven’t hosted a block party or volunteered for anything but the smallest, most necessary things. I’ve gotten out and about, but even that has been on a slow, steady, simplified basis.

What have I focused on? Being there for my parents during my father’s final days as soon as we arrived back. Being there for my mother and family in subsequent days and ever since. Helping my family settle into our home after the household goods shipment arrived. Helping Daughter navigate a new school and Son return happily to university. Enjoying well-earned time with Husband as we plot this new life chapter. Caring for everyone, including myself.

Incrementalism is where it’s at.

Not too much this, not too much that. Staying in touch via social media, but in a reasonable amount, and never at the expense of the hard work of making new flesh-and-blood connections. Easing back into writing and blogging, and making some interesting changes in the work arena (more on these areas in a future update). Walking regularly, swimming a little bit before it got too cold, and getting back into jogging.  Using the transition as an opportunity to clean up my diet, lose a few pounds, book a couple overdue medical appointments. I’m making a concerted effort to move more, sit less.

I’m getting back into a morning meditation routine, and giving some thought as to which church in our denomination (there are several in the vicinity) we might attend. Upon waking up – okay, once I’ve walked the dog and made coffee – I think of three things I’ll do that day which are interesting, fun, helpful, involve others or otherwise keep me moving in the right re-entry direction. I end every day expressing gratitude for three people/things/happenings for which I’m appreciative.

And on the social front? That has taken a little longer in part because I was so focused on family support during the first six weeks. In general I think I’ve been patient, but I distinctly recall the morning I took my mother to the airport after a visit over a holiday weekend. Daughter was at school and Husband was working in his study. The dog had been walked, I’d tossed a load of laundry in, and straightened up the kitchen. I hadn’t yet worked out what my next writing project was going to be, and as I walked down the sunlit hallway I was overcome with such a wave of loneliness and the thought Where are my friends??

That was enough to get me going, because let’s face it: friends don’t magically appear on your doorstep when you’re ready for them. You have to find them, put yourself out there and make the effort to share enough experiences in the hopes that friendships will develop.

One of the first social engagements I had was meeting for lunch a fellow repatriate whom I’d met months ago on Facebook. The connection was instantaneous and heartfelt; we ‘get’ each other and where we are on this repat journey, and the conversation flowed freely. We’ve got some things cooking, and I’ll be sharing more on her soon-to-be-launched book about entrepreneurial expat women in another post.

I’ve met several of our neighbors, brief yet pleasant encounters while out walking the dog or with Husband. The logical next step is to invite one or two of them for coffee or tea, but I haven’t quite gotten around to it yet. I know, I know – what am I waiting for?

Of the handful of people with whom I’d been friendly when we lived here years ago (albeit in a different neighborhood and at a different stage with younger children at the time) and stayed in touch, I’ve managed to meet up with two. One started blogging while I was away, and we enjoy discussing writing projects. The other has already incorporated me into her small early morning walking group which includes two (!) expats – one from Scandinavia and the other from Southeast Asia. A few times a week we gather to chat while maintaining a fast-paced 4 mile walk up and down hilly paths among the deep forest of a nearby park. I’ll be contacting a few other friends in the coming days and weeks to get together when schedules mesh.

It’s early days, but overall I feel fortunate as these are good people, fun to be with, easy to talk to and learn from. Not BFFs or as expats refer to ‘3 am friends’ you can call when things go pear-shaped, but you never know.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a Skype session here or there with two close expat friends.  We know each other well and have shared much, so the conversation quickly goes deeper. We grab a cuppa and catch up, stay abreast of current happenings and solve each other’s problems, and I am grateful for their willingness to maintain our friendship across the miles, no matter what.

So there you go.

When it comes to physical, emotional/spiritual and social well being, I’ve managed a 6.5.

There’s so much more to do, but I’ve survived the first ninety days and I’m fine.









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