Let me say that again, just in case you missed it. Re-entry is exhausting! So many of my clients have said to me how tired they are, months after coming home. In fact it’s not at all uncommon for people to find themselves still struggling with fatigue 18 months in. I don’t say that to discourage you, but to let you know that if that is you, you are not alone. You are not unusual.
Leaving is tiring
Think about it for a minute. In the last weeks of being overseas, time seems to speed up. Like it does with every big move. Every minute is filled with sorting, packing, visiting, farewells, last minute bits and pieces. And when you finally collapse on that plane, your thoughts immediately turn to what greets you the other end.
Hellos, lovely (or not…) relatives, decisions, sorting, unpacking, schools, work, finance. Your brain goes into overload. And that’s just as you land. The next few weeks can be a whirlwind of people and places and decisions.
Enjoy those few hours at the airport when you are in between two lives.
Reverse culture shock is tiring
On top of that you have reverse culture shock. After a few weeks the “honeymoon period” starts to wane and you start to clock that this really is it. You’re not just back for a holiday. This is it. Those people you find really annoying – you can’t leave them behind. The creaky floorboards either need dealing with or ignoring. Church is what it is. You really do have to have those tricky conversations with (grand)parents if you are to work out a way to co-exist without going insane. People who have never been overseas really do seem to have a narrower worldview and can’t be persuaded otherwise. Friends don’t really want to hear your best toilet story because it beats theirs hands down.
And you are starting to realise quite how different you are now compared to when you left. Your values are not the same. Nor are your thoughts, worldview, spirituality, you name it, it has probably changed in some sort of a way. You may feel a bit like an alien who is trying to blend in. To all intents and purposes you look normal and like everyone else, but something odd is going on inside and you feel strangely disjointed and different. You don’t understand all the nuances of life anymore and are constantly trying to second-guess the correct responses to things.
Identity crises are tiring
All of this takes time and energy to sort through, and also pushes many people further into a form of identity crisis. Who am I now that I’m not an expat/missionary/international student? What can I offer in this culture? Where do I belong? Where is home? These big existential questions thrown up by transition take energy to engage with. If we ignore them, it is to our peril, as they will come back at a later date and their energy is still held in our body.
Tiring tiring tiring
If you take nothing else away from this post, I hope it would be that it’s ok to be tired. Re-entry adjustments take time and a lot of energy. Things will settle down, but they may take a while and it will be exhausting at times.
What can you do to help yourself?
Allow yourself to be ok with being tired
Try not to get frustrated with the fatigue
Create a list of things which give you life, things which you can do for YOU to help you feel more energized/pampered
Be aware of your vulnerability – listen to your body and be kind to yourself
Don’t ignore the big issues which arise during re-entry – take time to explore them
Talk things through with someone who cares and understands – your organization, a friend, a counsellor or coach
Be gentle with yourself
Re-entry is exhausting. Take it easy.
Helen Watts is from England and she lived for 8 years in Kyrgyzstan. She works as a coach providing re-entry support for individuals return home http://www.wattsyourpathway.co.uk
She is also the Co-author of “Arriving Well: Stories of identity, Belonging and rediscovering home after living abroad.”