I haven't felt like myself since we left Zurich. At first, a lot of things could account for this phenomenon: new baby, chaotic, miserable work situation, moving across the US just 11 months after we moved across the world. Those things definitely don't make for feeling like oneself. But then, the dust settled, we got into a routine, and the feeling persisted. So I went searching. We really are so lucky to live in the age of the Internet. It can be downright magical.
Last week, I took the laptop along with us to Oregon, but only opened it once to do a "Find my iPhone" alert. It certainly wasn't the plan, but it turned out that a week away from the blogosphere was exactly what I needed. With all of that time and brain space, I did something I can't believe I hadn't done sooner. I opened up Google (on my phone;) and started searching for stories, articles and resources on repatriation and reverse culture shock. I can't believe it took me this long to realize that reverse culture shock is what I'm experiencing and why I feel so out of sorts.
Maybe I had tried, but never used the right search terms, because the first article that I found was in the Wall Street Journal, entitled "Repatriation Blues: Expats Struggle with the Dark Side of Coming Home." I nearly cried when I read the line, "Many expats coming home go through a period of grief...until they “give in to the homesickness” for their host country". Honestly, it felt like it was written especially for me. How simple. Predictable even. But the sense of validation it gave me was real. I continued reading and next came to a first-person account from a woman who said that after repatriating, it took her two years to feel human again. I get that. I feel like a part of me has died and is gone forever. It hasn't quite been two years yet; maybe it could still come back again?
From that article, I went down the rabbit hole that is the Internet to a blog post called "I am a Triangle" by a woman named Naomi Hattaway. Oddly enough, the post was published on my birthday in 2013. If only I had read it then! The idea behind I am a Triangle is simple. Imagine there is a person from circle country who boards a plane and moves across the world to square country. She writes,
Circle Citizen now lives in the midst of Square Settlers, and he or she may adapt to a degree, but will never become a truly Square Settler. At the same time, this Circle Citizen will also start to lose a bit of his/her Circle culture. The normal circle things start to blend together with the new square culture.
The major holidays in Circle Country might dissipate a bit to allow for the celebration of Square festivals. Favorite comfort foods that remind her of Circle Country give way to the acceptance of new Square foods. The Circle culture never quite gives way to the new Square norms and at the same time doesn’t go away completely either.
He or she slowly – and seemingly unconsciously – evolves into something completely different. The transformation to a Triangle Tenant begins. Being a Triangle means you have some of your original Circle culture mixed with some of your newly adopted Square culture. You are no longer 100% Circle, but you’ll never be 100% Square. You are left – almost hanging – somewhere in the middle.
Okay, stop right there. That is exactly it. I am a triangle. But she doesn't stop there, she goes on,
Now, imagine that after some time, this Triangle Tenant hops on yet another plane and returns to Circle Country. This Triangle doesn’t revert to the previous Circle status just because repatriation has happened and he has landed home. This Triangle remains forever a Triangle.
Fascinating, right? I highly encourage you to read the entire post (with illustrations!) on Naomi's blog.
Even though I had begun to arrive at all of these conclusions on my own, it all just seemed too crazy or dramatic to really be true. I realized at the end of last summer, that since living abroad, we were doomed to a life of always missing someone or somewhere. Then in January, when I ordered my business cards, I couldn't settle on listing one city, but instead had to list Zurich and Spokane, resulting in the realization that I am a multi-local.
So where does that leave us? Well, to be honest, it leaves us in limbo. But it's comforting in a way to know that as triangles, we are never going to find that feeling of home ever again, so we officially no longer need to keep searching for it. It's strangely liberating! I feel free to enjoy the wonderful things about being in Spokane without worrying that we need to make a decision and be sure that we're staying before putting down roots or creating a network beyond family. Somehow as we wind our way along this weird path, we will know what to do. A year from now, we might be preparing to move abroad again, or we might be buying a house. Who knows!? But the past is behind us. We are not the same people we once were. We're triangles now.
Are you a triangle? Have you found a way to be comfortable hanging in the middle? What worked for you? You might be interested in joining the I Am A Triangle Facebook Group as well!
(Sweet photos of me and Coco by J, circa 2012)