When you decide to immigrate, you start imagining what your new life is going to be like. You conduct research about your new home and you try to put as much as possible in place. But in all honesty, no amount of preparation or research can prepare you for how your future self will handle a future life in an unknown place. I’ve been in Canada for eight months now, and I am yet to find some sort of equilibrium. I had big ideas and big dreams, but I can honestly say that I was wholly unprepared for my future self’s response to this transition.
Some people seem to have a clear sense of who they are. Or perhaps they haven’t taken the time for the introspection required to realise who they are. Either way, they don’t seem to have this internal struggle that I find myself battling every day. The struggle to know who I am and to anticipate what my future self will want and how she will react in different situations.
As someone who values order and structure, I like to have a plan for whatever I take on in life. And I suppose right there was my first mistake – assuming that a plan would make the transition easier. It did not. In fact, in some instances, I believe having a plan made matters worse, because as you can imagine, life is not bothered with your plans. What’s the saying? “Life is what happens while you are busy making plans” … This is how I’ve felt over the last eight months. I’ve been making one plan after another and it seems my life has been living itself. Or perhaps my life has morphed and taken on a “life” of its own, whilst I was trying to reign it in and “mould” (read “force”) it to my will…
What any wise person would tell you, is that when you fight against the flow of life, everything feels like a struggle. It is so much easier to give up to the flow of life. I still believe there are times, when the right thing to do, IS to fight against or to swim against the stream – the times when giving in means sacrificing your values or who you are. But on most other days, fighting against life, is actually denying your real self to come to the fore and figuring out who you are and what you want.
Typical of my ambitious nature, I had set many goals for this “new life” of mine. I was going to transform myself into a fitter, healthier, more productive and more successful version of myself…
But I severely underestimated what disconnection, loneliness, heartache, homesickness and overwhelm can do to your sense of self and your desire to even want to strive towards goals. I am an optimistic and dynamic person by nature. I have always relied on my resilience and my ability to bounce back from setbacks. And although I told myself it was going to be difficult, I still somehow believed that I would just “get over it and move on”.
I could not have been more wrong. Fit and healthy. Forget about it. Four months of the most extreme cold I had ever experienced, and incredible loneliness meant I gave up running altogether and decided to eat my sorrows away. Of course, as everyone knows, eating when you’re sad and depressed, just leads to even greater sadness and more eating. Vicious cycle. Before you know it, you don’t recognise the person in the mirror staring back at you.
Add to the mix, six months of severe sleep deprivation. Baby was struggling with this new adjustment just as much as we were, and she decided that the best way to deal with her chaotic and overwhelming emotions, was to cling to Mummy for dear life and never sleep. So, I spent the first six months of our stay in Canada sleeping no more than 3 hours a night. Being an insomniac meant that I was used to only sleeping a few hours a night, but broken, interrupted sleep is soooo much worse than sleeping uninterrupted; if only for a few hours… Eventually, you don’t know who you are anymore. Nothing makes sense and your concentration levels are below zero. You struggle to find any inspiration and eventually just give up on trying.
Four months of living in temporary accommodation added to the uncertainty and overwhelm we were feeling. It is the hardest thing to try and implement some sort of routine when you know everything you do, is only temporary and will have to change at a moment’s notice. There’s this growing movement of young people opting out of the normal routine of life and electing to become nomadic travellers. It’s a spin-off of living more minimalistically. They are just settling anywhere they end up and then only for a short period of time, before moving on. If my husband and I were younger and we did not have a baby, I would have seen this transition as an adventure – a way for us to become nomadic travellers and see more of the world. But the moment you have kids, your perspective changes. I’m not saying being nomadic parents can’t work, I just know it can’t work for us. I’ve seen how the lack of routine and security has affected our little one and I believe that children function better in a secure environment with routines in place. Now I know a lot of that comes down to you as the parent. You provide the security and the structure and the routine. But that requires that YOU have a strong sense of self and that YOU feel grounded. And I had lost my ground. I felt lost to myself and to the world.
I knew I had to be strong for the little one, but as the weeks turned into months and I felt my sense of self slip further and further away, it became increasingly difficult to find and maintain a stable and secure sense of self. Don’t get me wrong, I tried. I really did. I tried multiple times to register with a family doctor to obtain some help – six times with no success in the last eight months. I tried running by myself. I signed up for different training classes – from yoga to kickboxing. I tried reshuffling my routine about a hundred times. I read books, and blogs and watched videos and tried to “counsel” myself. I tried exploring new places. I even tried speaking to a psychologist about the fact that I’m battling to adjust. Not only did I receive no sympathy or understanding, I also found myself explaining the basics of psychology to this person who was supposed to help me. When it got to a point where I was answering her questions about basic personality types and the role of values in one’s life, I decided that this particular counsellor-patient relationship was not going to work.
So, what have I learnt over the last eight months?
First, figure out if you really know your current self. The real you. Not your ideal self or the person you tell other people you are or the person you hope to become or the person you hope to find by moving to the other side of the world – your real self. The one you are now. The person you are when no-one else is around. The self that skips the gym and chooses to veg on the couch watching Netflix instead. The self that eats the chocolate instead of the salad, because even though you know the salad is better for you, the chocolate makes you hate your life less right now.
What I always intuitively knew about myself, but did not want to acknowledge to myself, was how much I actually depend on other people. I try to convince myself that I don’t need other people. But I do. More than the average person does. As an Ennea 6, I don’t always trust my inner voice, so I often turn to others for confirmation of what I intuitively know, but don’t trust is the right thing for me unless someone else somehow validates it for me. Of course, the most important personal growth I can accomplish, is learning to trust my inner voice more and rely less on others’ validation. However, I don’t think the best way to do that, is to remove all people from your life in one instant. All this does, is cripple you and make you feel completely disconnected and isolated. In stead of finding ways to trust myself more and build my own confidence, all I ended up doing was mourning the loss of those I hold dear; wishing I was with them once more and replaying old memories over and over and basically getting stuck in the past, missing a life I had so carelessly given up without even realising WHAT I was giving up…
Second, make plans. Do research, but don’t imagine that anything will pan out the way you think it will. Be ready for curve balls. Know that the unexpected will happen and it will catch you off guard and you will doubt yourself and even regret leaving your comfort zone. But accept that life is going to happen regardless of your planning or lack thereof and that at the end of the day, you will either make a choice or the choice will be made for you.
Third, know that people back home won’t always understand. They will try to be supportive and they will try to give you “advice” but keep in mind that some experiences are difficult to relate to if you haven’t been through them yourself. Try to remember how you thought it was going to be, when you were still back home and only planning this transition and then you will begin to understand how those back home see it and why they don’t always understand. Forgive them for that, because it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. The fact that they are trying so hard to “help” means just that: they love you. And it is hard for them to see you this way and to not know how to make it better.
Fourth, it is important to find people who are in the same boat as you, who have gone through it, because they get it. But choose carefully. Some people are much further along in the journey than you are and might have forgotten what it feels like to be in the starting gate. They have left the scared, lonely and uncertain versions of themselves behind and are building new lives for themselves and your sad demeanour actually makes them uncomfortable. Find people who can be comfortable with your sadness and your homesickness. For me, personally, I avoid older South Africans who left South Africa more than 20 or 30 years ago. They grew up in a different time and they don’t have the same memories or feelings about South Africa. They don’t get me, and they don’t know the South Africa that I know. I love my country and I did not embark on this journey to run away from my home. I embarked on this journey to grow and stretch myself, for new learning opportunities and to ensure a future for my child.
Fifth, be kind to yourself. The biggest mistake I made, was not being kind to myself. I could not “forgive” myself for not “getting over it and moving on”. I would beat myself up over every little failure along the way. Eventually, I just became a shadow of my past self. I didn’t recognise myself and felt like I had no control over my life. Of course, I would berate myself for it, consequently making a bad situation worse. So, don’t set too many big goals for the first year. Your only goal should be to find a new normal. That’s it. What is normal for me in my new life? What does my routine look like? What do I like about my new life and my new environment, that I can consciously try to bring into my life more often?
Sixth, cry. Cry as much as you need to. Acknowledge to yourself how you really feel. Be willing to experience even your deepest and darkest emotions, because the only way to the other side, is through it. You have to feel the loneliness, the self-doubt, the anger, the frustration, the sadness, the despair. Only then can you move to a new sense of calm, serenity and joy. I have managed a few days of calm and joy. But unfortunately, most of my days are still filled with loneliness, self-doubt, despair, anger and frustration. I suppose, because I was trying to ignore how I was feeling and move on despite how I was feeling, I have inadvertently delayed the healing process. So now, I try to feel all of it and I let myself be sad and weak. I allow myself the space to be tired or to feel like nothing works and I work through it, in the hope that I will find release or salvation on the other side of the difficult emotions…
Seventh, don’t stop loving. Don’t give up on the one’s you love; especially if your greatest sense of meaning lies in the abstract and in things like love, connection and family – which I imagine is where it is for most people; even when they don’t want to admit it to themselves. Find ways to connect. Find ways to remain actively involved in the lives of the people you care about. Hangouts and Skype can never replace the real thing, but it can make the pain bearable.
Lastly, budget. If there is one area of your life where you MUST have a plan, it is finances. Have a budget, stick to it and use it to build a life that works for you. For me, connecting with family and friends trumps anything else. So, I give up luxuries and any other non-essentials to save up and visit home. For now, it is the only way to stay sane. Perhaps that will change over time. But I have stopped trying to imagine I know what my future self would want, and I’ve decided that it makes more sense to focus on what would bring my current self a sense of purpose or joy. After all, my current self is real – flaws and all. She is still who I am right now; whereas my future self will be shaped by the choices I make today, and I want those choices to reflect a life of purpose, connection and value.