Trouble get behind me now

hand sticking out of a grey ocean, with the blog title 'trouble get behind me now, trouble let me be'
Photo by Mishal Ibrahim on Unsplash

Don’t you see
That in your bed
I find no sleep
I confess you came because of me
Trouble get behind me now
Trouble let me be

Dave Matthews ‘Some Devil’ album 2003

I’ve been reflecting on what healthy communication looks like and how to ask for help, as part of a vague New Year resolution to be pro-active in getting out of the doldrums where I feel I’ve been stuck for the last two years.

The timing is interesting. It’s not the first time that this two-year cycle has come up in my life in the context of recovery from a particular ‘the shit has hit the fan’ moment. I’ve also noticed that the big ahah moment of ‘ahah! Here it is, trouble!‘ comes not when hardship first occurs. Sometimes, that first experience of trouble is merely the beginning of a journey down an emotional well, one that’s less ‘sudden drop into the abyss’ and more of a very slow trip down to the bottom of a black hole before starting the climb back up.

What I mean is that experiencing difficult emotions like grief or fear at the onset of trouble is expected. The real trouble comes months down the line, when your difficult emotions are not only still here, but they have not diminished in intensity as much as you thought they would, and instead have gone up incrementally and now affect your ability to do normal. It is then that comes the ahah moment, when you realise that you really are in trouble, when the normal emotions born of trauma have taken over your ability to function as you once did, and you suddenly realise that you are at the end of yourself.

Often, that moment of realisation comes as a genuine surprise, and this is hugely important in the context of asking for help. When trauma occurs, be it expected or not, the need for support is obvious. Relationship problems, bereavement, work changes, any such event brings about strong emotions and people understand if you are not at your best. You may not know what you need but friends and family understand your fragility. Less understood is the time it takes to recover from trauma, and the fact that often such recovery will go through ups and downs over weeks, months and years. Sometimes you may find that you are coping better at the onset of trauma than you do months later. It doesn’t mean that you are complacent and wallowing in the struggle, but that it is real and you need to go through that muddy valley of emotion to the point of immersion before you can begin the climb up onto the other side. You need to be able to own that pain and name it before you can start to move on.

You need to go through that muddy valley of emotion to the point of immersion before you can begin the climb up onto the other side. You need to be able to own that pain and name it before you can start to move on.

A lot of people are uncomfortable with the reality that you might not be yourself for years, or even that you may never be your old self again. It’s hard to have patience for the complexity of human emotion that follows no path or pattern but its own.

To use a current example, some people are finding Remainers and EU nationals’ obsession with Brexit disturbing. Everyone is sick of hearing about it. ‘Get over it already’ and ‘What about the real issues going on in our country?’; ‘What about the NHS, and the homeless and the food bank crisis?’ Jeremy Corbyn has turned this into an art form. Whenever an important issue on Brexit is being discussed, he is somewhere else, talking about everything but Brexit.

I jest, but frankly, I am there too. I wish I could stop thinking about Brexit altogether and put it behind me like a bad case of cheese-induced vivid dreaming. Unfortunately, since June 2016, there hasn’t been a single day without some bit of news in relation to EU nationals, be it from the tabloids or the government, slagging off foreigners, blaming the EU, blaming Remainers for the failure of Brexit, blaming EU nationals in the UK for stealing jobs whilst telling us that we should be f*cking grateful for them or go back where we came from, blaming us for claiming benefits and for making the NHS queues longer. Well-meaning supporters tell us that we shouldn’t let it get to us, that it’s not about us but if it isn’t about us, who is it about, this ‘other‘, this mythical foreigner who does all these things because they’re only here to send money back to their backward foreign town. In person, we are told that we are wanted, but whenever we listen to the news or look at the Home Office website, we know that we are not welcome, that we are barely tolerated, a pawn in a government plan to drive the immigration statistics down.

The unwanted emotions all of this causes, well, they have to be managed somehow in the midst of lives that have their normal share of every day trouble. Sometimes they have to be managed on a daily basis. These days I can’t turn the news on without first taking a deep breath, bracing myself just in case Jacob Rees-Mogg comes on the screen and I have to restrain myself from throwing stuff at the tv. There are particular people whose voice I literally have to switch off because I can physically feel the tension rise; I can only watch them on silent with subtitles on (Donald Trump and Theresa May in particular come to mind).

None of this happens overnight, and talking about your struggle to maintain a normal life when nothing much seems to be happening may come across a bit snowflakey, like you’re not trying hard enough, like you are being oversensitive and overdramatic. God know I am not offended by every single thing that has been said in the last few years. It is the accumulation of these now innumerable moments of irritation and disappointment that upsets the balance: it is death by a thousand cuts.

And that’s the trouble with trouble. It takes way longer than you think to name it, and even longer to come out on the other side. It is literally only now, two years since the onset of this ‘accumulation of things going badly wrong’ (the relentlessness of Brexit bad news being only a part of it), that I have enough in me to reflect on what has happened from a sense of having come out on the other side, of having seen the worst of my emotions and being able to look at them and contemplate rising up.



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And breathe…

Readers, I have been BUSY lately. I have been busy like I haven’t been for many years. It’s all my fault of course, but it is not in my nature to fill out my days with doing-things. If I was asked to define myself in a few words, I would always say that I am a being person rather than a doing person. I never require of myself to always be active. I don’t define myself by how busy I am, how many people I see, how many activities I or my children are involved in. I like to sit down to read or blog or watch TV, and I rarely view it as wasted time. It’s all a part of my regime of self-care and basic enjoyment of life. Which all sounds nice and all, but when combined with my natural laziness, makes for an interesting combination. But I digress.

The reason I’m mentioning this is that being busy in the way that my life has been in the last four months is really quite foreign to me and in many ways, I am still trying to adjust. I haven’t yet found a way to do life that doesn’t make me feel like any moment I stop comes with the sounds of brakes and a shout of ‘what the hell just happened to my day/week/month/entire life?’.

Looking back, it is not the house move that has led to all these feelings of whiplash but the combination of going back to work and studying. I had NO IDEA what becoming a student would mean after over fifteen years since being released from school schedules but blimey, that’s been a shock to the system. I have a newly found appreciation for mature students who juggle a full-time job with the pressure of studies but most of all I bow before anyone who does all of this – with children. To be honest, I don’t know how I’m going to manage it. I was under the impression that I had up to four years to undertake my studies but I have since found out that I have been enrolled on an 18-month course. On the one hand, this is good news. I need to be under some level of pressure to push me forward and keep my motivation up, plus there’s an end in sight in the near future. On the other hand, as soon as something happens in my personal life, it affects my ability to study and I feel the repercussions immediately. If a child is ill, or if they just refuse to go to bed, I lose valuable time, the only time I have, and it is out of my control. My first assignment deadline was Friday a week ago and I spent the previous three weeks researching and writing every evening as well as every spare moment during the day. I must have clocked over 20 hours a week of studies on top of a full day at work or with the children, staying up past 11.30 pm most nights in order to feel like I had at least some handle of my assignment brief (which, if you’re interested was on business environment, so think internal and external business responsibilities, competition policy, PESTEL analysis, the World Trade Organization, taxes and the like – riveting stuff but mostly, stuff I knew nothing about before I started). I don’t do well if I get under 7 hours of sleep, and I was starting to feel it.

In the meantime, there are things I would like to write about on the blog, about the move, our lovely new neighbours, our organisational challenges, the little things we have done to make it home, the local French group I have started to attend with the girls, but I just haven’t got the time or the energy. It makes me feel bad, because I do love what I have achieved here. I am really proud of some of the posts I was able to share in 2014 and I have been in a good place both in terms of inspiration and motivation in the last year. And then boom, it’s all fallen down a rabbit hole and I don’t know when it will come back out. One of the things I’d wanted to do was to take part in a 31 day challenge in October, which I should be starting to plan now but considering how my life is going at the moment, I’m not sure how I could and it makes me sad.

All this to say that I am looking for a new life rhythm and it’s taking its own sweet time to materialise. I would like to fit it all in, and I don’t know if I can. I need to get better at planning things and sticking to the plan. I’m not sure what it means for the blog, apart from I want to write and I maybe also feel like I need to but right now, just figuring out how to survive this business course is going to take a fair amount of my energy, especially because the next unit is on finances and oh my goodness am I dreading it, I am so not a maths person.

On another note, it is that time of year when one must buy a new organiser for 2015/2016. I’m a big fan of family planners and have been using one for the last two years. Now that I am back at work and actively studying so I can become a fully fledged entrepreneur with my own business, I am seriously considering treating myself to an Erin Condren life planner. We have nothing quite like it in the UK, and if I do splash out on one, you can be sure I will be reviewing it on here so keep your eyes peeled.

Five Minute Friday: Prepare

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“Are you prepared?”

This is a question I’ve been asking myself quite a lot over the last week. In between Christmas and making huge financial decisions about our future, let alone packing up a house in a month, it has sure felt relevant.

Can you ever be fully prepared? We certainly aren’t, and it doesn’t sit altogether comfortably. I shouldn’t be surprised. In becoming an adult, becoming responsible, one of the things you learn is how to mitigate risk. That’s why we have insurance, and guarantees, that’s why we prepare.

Isn’t it right? Be responsible, consider your options carefully, and avoid risk at all cost. In some ways it is completely acceptable and reasonable and right, and yet, you simply cannot avoid risk. It is a part of life, and one of the things about adulthood is realising that there will always be risk. You may sometimes feel like you tether on the edge of a precipice, because the world is ever turning and you never know what the future holds for you personally, for your family, your nation and worldwide.

So we are, in a way, prepared. And in others, we are not, and it’s OK. It’s something we all have to live and make peace with, and learn to thrive in it, embrace and revel in it. So here’s to life, and being prepared.

A bit.

I’m joining in with the Five Minute Friday crowd, so click on the link below to find other entries.

five minute friday

The times, they are a-changing


Recently, it’s been radio silence on the blog, and for good reason. I’ve been ill, think four whole weeks of gathering to myself every wintery illness under the grey sky (apart from stomach flu, thank GOODNESS). I’ve barely managed to drag myself out with the girls by the tips of my fingers. But it’s not all that’s been going on, and now that I am feeling more energetic and that I am not reeling as much from all the crazy happenings, I’m ready with an update.

Over the last year, we have given a regular glance to our local Help To Buy website in the hope that a suitable property would turn up, and it’s been a whole year of nothing. Then a couple of weeks ago, I casually went online to check it out again and there it was, a 2-bed house that was local, affordable, and… well, a bit small but with potential. We went to check it out, and it wasn’t bad. Badgerman wasn’t convinced that it was big enough for our family but it had a lot of storage space so I was talking myself into it, thinking this was all we could afford anyway and if we ever wanted to buy, this was as good as it was going to be.

The property prices in the South East of England are a bit steep to say the least, only a small notch down from London prices, which are astronomical. With the money you pay for a two bedroom house down here, you can buy a seven bedroom property in Yorkshire. FACT. So with our limited means, we basically can’t afford anything suitable and what we can afford, even a hobbit would balk at. Until 2 weeks ago I had yet to see a house that had a bedroom big enough for both our girls’ toddler beds. I knew we had to compromise somehow but I didn’t know where and how to draw the line.

Within 24 hours of visiting the 2-bed property, the housing agency was waiting our go-ahead and our financial advisor had a mortgage agreement in principle ready for us. We weren’t expecting this kind of turn around so were completely unprepared to make such a big decision! Then the next thing happened.

You know the saying ‘you wait for the bus and then two come at once? In my experience in Britain, it’s been a case of ‘you wait for a bus and three or four come at once and you have to walk all the way down the line and hope your bus is still there by the time you make it’. In any case, the saying is accurate.

The day I was going to arrange a second viewing, we heard about a new 3-bed property just round the corner in the next village, and it was beautiful and perfect and so much more spacious…

And so here we are: in the midst of purchasing our first home, a brand-new, not even finished house in a quaint English village. If all goes well, we will have completed by mid-January and moved in by the end of that same month. I’m suffering from a mild case of whiplash from everything. Two weeks ago, we were just thinking about Christmas and presents. Now I have a month to do Christmas and pack up a house. The move is happening in the midst of the deadline for school applications, I have no car, no job as yet (but looking), no preschool for Little Girl to go to in our new location, and a serious case of jitters. I’m excited with a slight edge of panic but when an opportunity like this arises, you just have to go and grab it.

So this is what I’ve been doing. It’s quite likely that I will only sporadically be on the blog in the next month or so; I know it’s been a while already but it’s going to be so manic I am not going to be able to stick to a schedule. Please accept my apologies in advance and happy Christmas to everyone.

The 4 Stages of Culture Shock: A Franco-British Experience

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If there is one thing that all expats have in common, it is the experience of culture shock. Put two displaced people together and they will soon be commiserating and bonding over some funny story from their first few months in the country. Culture shock is an unavoidable and necessary aspect of moving abroad. Let’s face it, we are talking about a major life change, as significant and stressful as moving house or getting married. It should come as no surprise that it takes time to deal with change, both good and bad, and that this process can on occasion be painful.

When I was day-dreaming this post up late at night, I figured sharing 4 phases every homesick person goes through would be a good idea simply because 4 seemed like a friendly round number. I was therefore gratified to learn I wasn’t just making them up; existing research on the subject shows there are broadly 4 stages of culture shock. How convenient! Here’s how it was for me:

1. ‘OMG I’m in another country, isn’t everything wonderful?’ a.k.a. The Honeymoon stage

Everything was indeed wonderful.

  • I found a job within a month of arrival by just talking to people in shops and handing them my CV (unheard of in France, seriously).
  • All the books were so cheap and I would spend entire afternoons alone with a book and a hefty dictionary.
  • I was strongly encouraged to watch the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice and for the first time, I actually got the jokes.
  • I had lessons at the dinner table on how to pronounce ‘sauce’ (not as easy as you’d think), rough and ploughman, and I learnt the British had many synonyms for ‘cold’. After about three or four months, one person declared I was officially getting there when I described the weather as ‘a bit nippy’. My year-long trip was turning out great!

2. The ‘Everything was so much better at home’ stage, also known as Raging Homesickness, the Crisis

This stage can be made even worse if you are learning a new language. Withdrawal and anxiety doesn’t begin to describe the experience;  think alienation. If you don’t understand half of what people are saying and when you’re at the pub you can’t get a word in edgeways before the conversation moves on, it goes downhill very quickly. Communication is key to feeling accepted; being unable to express yourself beyond the basics can scramble your sense of identity in ways that are difficult to explain. Don’t be surprised if there is a lot of crying involved.

You notice every little thing that is different and your first reaction is ‘this is totally useless and stupid, why would you do it this way?’. First you can’t open a bank account because you don’t have a passport. You didn’t need one to get over the border because ‘EU’ but now you have to hide your cash-in-hand job money under your mattress like you’re a freakin’ refugee.

This is even more true when you go to the weekly outdoors market in the town centre and here’s one bloke selling mattresses (outside? Really?), another chap is selling cheap phone covers, and here’s a fishmonger handing out little polystyrene pots full of cold jellied eels or cockles. To eat there and then. Yep, that’s an actual thing. You spend your days comparing your home country to this strange new place and finding it wanting. It has nothing to do with the actual culture though, it’s just your brain and emotions processing change and trying to adapt.

3. The ‘I’m starting to get the hang of this but you’re still stupid’ stage – Adjustment

You’re adjusting! You might even appreciate that some things are much better than in your own country. Like fish and chips and Indian food! Vaguely unbiased press! Decent TV (TOWIE notwithstanding, it really really is decent. The BBC rocks, you have no idea how deprived France is).

You can even have conversations with people: the Essex habit of dropping the end of each word is starting to enter your system so you can understand whole sentences! You have a job you don’t suck at, you’re no longer scared when people speak to you and you have friends. You can laugh at your misfortunes instead of simply drowning in them. Things are looking up.

4. The ‘I could totally pass for a native’ stage – Acceptance

You are bi-cultural, how amazing is that! Also known as total wishful thinking on my part but I once nurtured the fanciful notion that like Charlotte Gray, my English would become so good that I could be taken for a native and be hired by MI6 or whatever the French equivalent is and become a spy in wartime. Except for the fact that I would now prefer to spy for the English so yep, maybe I swung too far the other way. Anyhoo…

This is the stage when you regain your enthusiasm for your new home and may even adopt habits and preferences because of it. You may still moan about the things that you don’t like but you do so as a fully immersed participant, no longer as an outsider.

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Even with the culture shock and homesickness, living abroad is an amazingly rich experience. I can’t stress enough how wonderful if is to broaden your horizons in this way and I highly recommend it to anyone seeking to gain a better understanding of the world and all that is in it.

Now your turn: What’s your culture shock story?