I’m still here – just!

The last few weeks – months even – have been insane.

Everyone tells you that repatriation is hard but it isn’t easy to explain the impact of a physical move WITHOUT ANY SUPPORT AT ALL combined with the emotions of leaving somewhere you love and returning to a life where you don’t really feel you belong any more.

I am surrounded by boxes. Most of them are empty now. Well, when I say empty, many of them are still filled with packing paper. That wretched paper is the bane of my life. It is taking over. I have thrown piles of it into our downstairs toilet, ostensibly to get it out of the way but in reality it insists on spilling out the door, into our hallway. I should just close the door and pretend it’s not there but then I panic about the fire hazard of having a downstairs loo filled with paper…

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That’s what repatriation does to you. It makes you wake up in the middle of the night and worry about the most ridiculous things. Packing paper is one, but I seem to spend half my life fretting over the silliest of things. It certainly doesn’t help that I am on my own for a few months while my husband finishes his job in Pretoria and that my children have chosen to join the local swim team so I now have to drive them to training up to nine times a week. Including at least twice a week at 6am…

But I suspect that whatever your personal circumstances, this period is hard. Even if you wanted to come home, even if you longed for it. You still have to get used to the fact that you have been away and that others haven’t and now you have to find your new place in your old world.

One of my favourite pieces of advice picked up over the years I have written about expat issues is to treat moving back to your home as if it is a new assignment. Of course it isn’t as easy as all that when you already have friends and the children are going back to their old school and you are moving back into your old house. Everyone sort of expects you just to pick up where you left off (and as I already said in my previous post about repatriation, I have changed). But even if you just pick one of two things that are new or different to how you lived before, you can build on the fact that you HAVE been away and that you are not the same person as you were.

In my case I have already joined a Meet Up group for dog walkers. This is a small thing – I only meet with them once a fortnight or so and it’s more for the dog to socialise than me. But it is important  because this is something I never would have done before we moved to South Africa. It marks the fact that I am now someone who can meet with a group of strangers that I contacted over the internet.

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It’s obviously early days yet and my priority is still unpacking those flipping boxes as well as my freelance writing, working, running the household, making sure the kids are fed and clean, walking the dog etc. But I am starting to think about a project. Something I can do that is new, that marks this new stage in my life. I am someone who always needs to have something to look forward to, to work on. And I think when you repatriate  – especially if you are not sure you will move again – this is especially important. Otherwise it can feel a little like you have moved home just to wait to die.

I don’t know what this project will be yet – I am hopeful that something will present itself. It may be that I won’t know for months or even years to come. It could be that it’s already there, staring me in the face.

But for now, I will carry on as before with my work and looking after the kids and dog and basically, well, surviving.

And I WILL finish unpacking those boxes…

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“I’m fine, mustn’t grumble”…

I was messaging with a good friend back in the UK this week and happened to mention that I was feeling a little overwhelmed. With just three weeks until the end of the school year, followed a few weeks later by an international move, I am sure many of you can relate.

“What is it that’s stressing you?” she asked. “The actual logistics of moving back or being back?” She was well meaning and right now I really appreciate any kindness. But I realised it was hard to convey to someone who has never led this sort of life exactly how I felt.

“ALL OF IT” I wanted to scream. Saying goodbye to people and watching my children say goodbye to their close friends and having five leaving parties for the kids to organise and never mind any leaving do’s for myself and making sure the dog is booked on a flight and what if his crate isn’t the right size and when will his rabies certificate be ready and how will we get everything packed up on time and should we send our bedding in our heavy baggage or our air-frieght or bring it on the plane because what happens at the other end when we have nothing to sleep under and we have a car to sell and another to buy and I will be a single mother for months and I am already having to think about child-care arrangements for meetings in London in October and I don’t want to live in England but it’s the best thing for my children but oh the weather!

And will I have any friends left when I get home, will they remember me, will they care and how am I going to deal with one daughter’s very obvious stress about the move and the other’s internalisation of it and I have three articles to write and no time left and no-one is answering my calls and how am I going to cope being home missing expat life…..

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You know what it’s like. Your head is a swirling mess of worry especially at 3am in the morning when everything seems gloomy. Yes of course things get out of proportion and compared to what so many other people have to go through this is a doddle. After all, I’ve done it several times before and with much younger children (but no dog) so why would it be so difficult this time?

I think what is hard to explain is the mixture of the physical and the emotional. The feelings of being overwhelmed by everything that needs to get done and the emotions about leaving a place and people behind. The fear that you won’t be happy when you get home, knowing that when you repatriate your novelty value wears off pretty quickly. You know your life is about to change pretty drastically but it is so hard to explain to someone what this actually feels like. It’s hard to pin down exactly what it is that is bothering you, it is a mixture of so many things, sometimes separately, sometimes all at once.

So in the end you fall back on that good old typically-British answer: “I’m a bit stressed but you know, it’ll all be ok.

“Mustn’t grumble”.

And back to moving preparations. It’ll all be over eventually.

Are you moving or repatriating this year? How are you coping right now? Are you at the panic stage yet?

Moving day sucks!

Just keep swimming….just keep swimming…

Those of you who know the excellent film Finding Nemo will recognise this quote, but I was reminded of it by fellow expat Eline from the blog Pasta and Patchwork who is also mid-move at the moment. Exchanging tweets about what stage we were at and how stressful it all becomes, this was her excellent advice. Indeed, when you feel like you will drown if you don’t keep kicking forwards, this really does sum up how I am feeling at the moment.

The moving company turned up on Friday morning quarter of an hour earlier than the earliest time they said they would arrive. Our youngest was still at home, waiting for me to take her up to school. I was at least dressed – my husband was still running around in his pj’s doing all those last minute things that you always do leave until the very very last minute because there always seems something more important to do.

So we were all a-fluster from the start and anyone who has been through the nightmare of packing up a home and moving to the other side of the world will know how the rest of the day went.

There was

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and then there was

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and finally there was

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And along the way we found out that we couldn’t take ANY food with us at all so goodbye all our herbs and spices, as well as my baking beans which aren’t beans at all but ceramic balls – yet still didn’t make the cut because they are called beans. And that enormous box of Yourkshire tea bags I bought to keep me going? Not allowed. And the pillows that we were going to throw away got packed but the bedside cabinet that we wanted to take didn’t. We found strange bits and pieces all over the house that somehow got left out like two coasters and the dustpan and brush. And in the end there just wasn’t room for our Dyson cleaner (probably thanks to the pillows) so that’s another thing we’ll have to buy when we arrive at the other end.

Still. Basically we are there now and we’ve left our house and started saying goodbye to friends. We’ve moved into a holiday rental just around the corner from our house for a week, while our place is decorated. Gradually we are all letting go and by the end of the week, when we move on to my parents’ house, I think we will feel ready to leave.

It’s a relief to be past the worst of it. The last few weeks, and last week in particular, has been stressful. But by doing it in small chunks, dividing tasks up and not becoming overwhelmed, and, of course, by just keeping swimming, we’re nearly there.

To all you others out there going through the same thing – good luck!