© Anushka Bose. All rights reserved.*
Streets in the Main Camp of Dhahran. December 2019.
One logistical aspect of life that the Aramco ExPat and the ExPat community at large is more than familiar with, for better or for worse—well mostly worse—is all the strenuous processes that come with moving. Packing up everything you have and moving across the country, or the world comes with literal baggage, as well as a weight of emotional baggage. Being involved in the process of a move myself right now, I can attest to the fact moving isn’t just about a physical relocation—for third culture kids, expats, and anyone who has moved many times knows that relocation depression, anxiety, and grief are very real side effects of a move, even if the move is “for the better.”
The smell of cardboard boxes, the discordant sound of pulling tape, the messy buns, re-warmed cups of coffee, and countless calls with customer service agents are the state of affairs in my apartment right now.
For anyone who has moved from a place that became home to them knows the pain of leaving that world behind. The fear of missing out on your old life, the endless “what-ifs,” and the sadness of saying many goodbyes take a toll on your heart. While the world you leave behind may be presuming that you must be thrilled with joy about the world you are going to gain, the emotional experience is much more nuanced than that. Sure, you gain a new world which you are thrilled about— but you lose your old one. There is a real cost that comes with that. And it happens each time you move. While it doesn’t necessarily mean you will lose the bonds and relationships in your old life, the pain of a loss of a familiar routine disrupts your entire physiological and psychological response and impacts your interaction in the world you gain.
For those that move in hopes of improving their lives, there is a deep knowing in their psyche that this is for the best, but even what's “good for you,” may not be pleasant for your heart to bear. The initial loneliness, the fear of the new world not living up to your imagination, bearing the loss of your old world, and the countless free-floating anxieties about setting into a new place flood your heart and brain with a wanting for emotional solace and our future-selves telling us it's going to be okay.
Judging from my own experience, I find that when plagued with such anxieties, it's best to live immediately. What problem needs to be solved today? How can I break them down? What am I doing to make my life harder than it needs to be right now? What can I do to make the most of this day? How can I live and love the moment I have in front of me to the fullest?
Living immediately in the present honors the presence of your being in the life that you know to exist in front of you. Roman philosopher Seneca said, “The whole future lies in uncertainty. Live immediately.” This is a stoic principle that I aim to live by and one that I have been in more contact with in recent months.
Another principle that has helped me calm my fears and anxieties has revolved around isolating the external experience of the move from the internal experience of your being. For example, even if the outcome of a move doesn’t produce the imagined positive benefits you hoped it to, at least you know that you have the skills and abilities in you to actualize it, that you aimed at something —whether it’s a new job, graduate school, moving to be closer or be with a loved one —the achievement of the aim in and of itself will give you the confidence you need to accomplish what your heart desires.
For every negative thought that our internal fortune-teller tries to interpret as reality, there is an alternate positive thought. While our brains are hardwired to protect us and keep us secure, it’s natural to be plagued with negative thoughts that try to arm us with the weapons we need should those negative thoughts actualize. Remembering that the thoughts are a figment of our negative imagination helps us not interpret them as reality. It’s wise to honor their purpose and be prepared; however, it is equally wise to be a bit more tender to ourselves and have room for hope, a hope that whispers that things might just work out. They might even work out even better than you had imagined.
What if, right? If the "What ifs" we know are mostly written in the language of negative thoughts and fears that act to protect us, they can also be written in another language of positive thoughts that give us hope.
Lastly, I am constantly reminded that there is a cost that comes with every decision or lack thereof. While there is a cost to bear of moving, there is equally a cost of not moving, of staying behind in a situation that propelled you to look elsewhere in the first place. Which cost is greater to bear right now? The answer to that depends on each individual, and the answer might change over time, but it is a helpful question to ask when you are at a crossroads of making a call.
They say that relocation is one of the most psychologically difficult life changes for anyone to go through. Nobody knows that more than expats. The emotions it brings up are old—it brings up all the stored emotions from every move you’ve made, for every goodbye you have said, for all the tears you’ve shed, for all the sacrifices you made. No wonder it is hard.
If you’re about to embark on a move, do what you need to do to make all the logistical processes happen, but offer yourself some grace and kindness emotionally. The world tells us to be strong, and rightfully so, but all of this is very hard on the psyche. Even though we gain a new world, which may or may not be what we imagine it to be, there is real fortitude and confidence in being able to make a life change in an effort to improve some aspect of your life. If you can do it once, should things not work out with your move, you can do it again. And should things work out, then you are golden.
Turning the lens to you:
Apart from moving to Aramco (or including), 1) what has been the toughest move for you, logistically and emotionally? 2) How old were you at the time? 3) What did you give up on acquiring your new world? 4) Was it worth it? 5) Looking back in hindsight, what piece of advice would you say to that frightened part of you that was afraid of change and leaving behind the old world? I would absolutely love to hear from you.
Anushka is a Graduate Student at Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. She spent her youth growing up in Dhahran, where she attended Dhahran Elementary, Dhahran Middle School, and Dhahran Academy. She loves learning about new cultures and is fascinated by the diversity that brings us all together, especially the expatriate community, where the only thing that is common is that we are all different, in culture, religion, and the perspectives we hold. One day she hopes to publish a book on the third culture kid experience. Dhahran holds a big place in her heart.
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