Updated: Dec 16, 2020
This article is dedicated to my patients who are 'expat stuck'. Stuck reading and re-reading embassy websites, travel-news bulletins, facebook expat groups, desperately trying to find a way to do what we expats do best - fly. Some are stuck in an expat life that they're not sure they want anymore. Others are stuck in their country of origin waiting to get back to the life they chose. Whichever way round, it's been a year of waiting, watching, pondering life choices and well, more waiting really.
So how do you deal with an expat life suspended? In the sessions with my stuck expat patients we've been thinking a lot about this. How to make the most of the situation. How to plan for the future in these unprecedented conditions. How to evaluate their situation with the pandemic colouring every aspect.
Over the weeks and months I have found myself thinking more and more of the serenity prayer that many yoga teachers say at the end of their practice.
"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference".
The first time I heard this I thought it was revolutionary, I've applied it numerous times since and I think it's more true now than ever. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a therapeutic approach that I use often and is based on a very similar principle taken from the Buddhist religion: that suffering is universal and that once we stop trying not to suffer we actually suffer less!
For many of our stuck expat friends the waiting has felt unbearable and many came to therapy desperately looking for a way to end their suffering. However, what we've found during our conversations is that actually accepting the waiting and the suffering is extremely liberating and has given many of my patients the head space to see that there's actually loads to do! I've accompanied my patients (virtually obviously) in every activity from bird-watching to having a clear-out, from getting their medical checks up to date to evaluating their career choices or relationship status. Actually we've found that when what we'd normally choose (or have already chosen) is off the table, a new creativity kicks in.
So for everyone out there who is hankering after their former expat life or questioning their current expat situation I recommend a moment with this wonderful prayer. Acceptance is an extremely powerful tool and when we accept what we cannot change, clarity regarding what we can change, and the creativity to achieve it becomes possible.