They say that one of the most stressful things you are likely to go though in life, is moving. And yet as expats we choose to put ourselves through continuously. Not just a move to a different town or city, but often moving countries and continents.
It was coming up to the 6 year mark for us in Brunei, and in most cases that is the maximum you’re allowed to stay in the country. So I knew we had to leave, I have known that since we arrived, and in fact we were lucky to have stayed as long as we did. And yet, I was refusing to face the reality of having to move on. Panaga was home. I had my community and tribe, people that supported me and accepted me for whom I have chosen to become.
I had found a new path in arts, a small business and with the potential to expand into new areas. I was excited and loved this new direction my life had taken me, all the while being able to be with my family.
Lorie gave me freedom. She gave me freedom to write and to explore the new art forms and small business avenues, as well as giving the children love and attention. And I am not going to lie: I don’t like cleaning and cooking – But Lorie gave me moral support and help in so many other ways. She has always planned on retiring and starting a bakery business in the Philippines when we left. She deserves to succeed and be happy and we want to support her in that endeavour. But knowing that she would be leaving our family, was breaking my heart. From the moment she joined us, we have been a happier family. She helped and supported us all and joined in some of the big moments of our lives, including being the first to visit Alfie when he was born and watching the kids grown up.
So I was in denial, I didn’t want to lose it all and for it to change, but of corse it had to. So I comforted myself with the fact that the one upside of having said goodbyes to others that had to leave, was that I pretty much had friends in all possible postings.
I preferred not to go back to Europe or the West in general. I love Asia and the Middle East, the culture, people and food. I feel far more relaxed and free to be myself as there is no expectations of me in any case to conform. But I also appreciated that it would be good for the kids to experience European culture and for us to be near family and friends there.
When Bastian told me his next job was in Norway it was a surprise and a shock. I cried all the way home on the bike. So many thoughts went through my head. Despite feeling like I know someone in almost any possible job location, Norway was one of the few where I knew no one.
My anxiety levels grew as it became clear that Norway wanted Sebastian to start as soon as possible, and the day after getting back from holidays in New Zealand we got the news that Sebastian was expected to start in the Norway office on 1st May. Just three weeks away!
Three weeks to pack up the house; sell cars; organise the transport of pets and make our goodbyes.
Three weeks sounds kinda reasonable in a way, for those few “things” – but time behaves in strange ways and seems to seep faster through your fingers the more you need it. Mornings and afternoons disappeared in flash. I stopped exercising and felt continuously tired and depressed. In my sleep I was plagued by nightmares of getting into sticky situations with Bastian’s superiors and usually ending with him getting fired!
Every day was an emotional roller coaster. I became well trained in not crying, in swallowing down that big painful lump that formed in my throat every time someone would say they would miss me. Even when friends cried I forced myself to smile and come with positive and encouraging platitudes because I knew that if I let myself show how upset and sad I really was I would just break down and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to pull myself back.
And then there was the kids. I knew how important it was how me and Sebastian behaved in front of them. I showed them big smiles and talked about how exciting it would be in Norway and all the wonderful things we would do. When they said they would miss friends, I told them how I felt the same (swallowing that big lump again), but that we would keep in touch and see people during holidays when possible. And think of all the new wonderful people we would meet! And how we would be closer to the grand parents (big inwards sigh from both me and Bastian).
Even if my heart was breaking, I was determined to make sure the kids were as happy as possible. It’s one thing I have learnt from my parents, is to always look for the positive and be optimistic – especially in front of the kids. That doesn’t mean lying to them or not admitting to them that you’re sad as well. But to cry uncontrollably and show your worries and anxieties is not something they should be burdened with. There are few things more frightening to a child, than a sad and frightened parent who feels out of control.
I started looking for the positives in a fast move: Spring in Norway; kids would have more time in the new school before holidays; the fast ripping of a band aid approach to leaving and saying goodbye.
Apart from the emotional set backs of saying goodbye to friends, there was the continuous stream of practicalities: Selling cars; packing; booking tickets; setting up the new school – arranging for school transcripts etc.
Friends had turned into family over the last few years. Despite the short notice they arranged a fun and beautiful farewell party for me. God I’ll miss those ladies!
There were mornings where I woke up feeling physically ill from the stress and facing the day ahead. In the past I have struggled with keeping mentally healthy and I know that if I am not careful I can spiral into a black rabbit hole. So I had this extra pressure of having to keep it together. And I coped by following a few simple rules:
- When friends offered me wine or beer, I accepted! A chat and a single glass did wonders to take off the edge sometimes. And if you don’t drink alcohol, accept a cup of tea or a soft drink. It’s just the action of actually sitting down and talking that is very therapeutic.
- I would have massages! A lovely lady actually came to my house, so I didn’t even have to worry about the extra time it would take to drive to town. I know this isn’t always possible where you are, but swap this for allowing yourself to watch an episode of your favourite Netflix show and space out. Or giving yourself a foot bath.
- I looked at this picture a lot:
And yes, it actually helped.
But let’s be honest, I knew that I was just bottling up the feelings until I could let it all out later. My biggest worry was that it would come out as a burst dam, as opposed to a controlled release.
Stress levels reached maximum limit when the packers moved at a glacial state and closed the container one day late, the day before we were due to leave! We finally managed to sell the last car the evening before we left, but we had to take a significant hit in the price.
It helped arranging a final day and night at the Empire hotel with some of our closest friends and with Lorie, so she and the boys could have plenty of calm cuddles. Being away from the empty house was sensible and it meant more fun for the kids and took their minds off it.
I thought that when I got on the airplane that I would break down and cry. That I would be heartbroken to leave beautiful Brunei. And I was. But the tears didn’t come. I was so emotionally drained, sleep deprived and numb that all I could manage was make sure the kids were happy with their favourite movies, slip on my headphones and choose a bland mediocre movie to watch myself.
I suddenly realised that the five and half years I spent in Brunei, is the longest I have lived in one country in one continuous stretch. No wonder I felt like I was being torn in half.
I had compartmentalised the move into two steps: Leaving Brunei and arriving in Norway. At least the first step was over and I was still breathing. I knew that I would be taking the hit later and the challenge of settling in a new country was coming, but I was determined that in the long run I would make my family and myself happy.