I know I should not be too hard on myself because I am finding it difficult to settle and feel happy in Santa Barbara, California, the most freakishly beautiful place on earth with fantastic people, weather, and a workplace that takes my breath away. But, I know, the trouble is that when I am unhappy I am likely to get impatient and critical with myself – or with others, or both. most likely. I’d be inclined to say, or maybe just to think, to yself: don’t be such a wimp; pull yourself together Rachel; what are you going on about? You wanted to come to California, you got what you wanted, what’s the problem – you LOVE it here, dont you??? But actually, at times like this, it’s really important to care for and understand myself a little better, and as a result be better able to care for and understand those around us too, especially my family and friends. It know it just makes me feel worse to beat myself up, I do, but it is tough to change regardless.
It’s an irrefutable fact that life changes, such as moving to another country with three children, and without my husband, are stressful. Even if they’re happy changes, which this move definitely was, they’re stressful precisely because things are changing: wonderful new job, moving to a stunning house, experiencing living in the US again – joy, sure, but stress. And here we are taking on the whole lot, well most of it, packing up, throwing out, leaving my husband and my closest friends, saying goodbyes, letting go of everything familiar in Norway, relinquishing many important things that had given me a sense of my worth, my purpose in life, and my ‘power’and who I am. And that’s only what I left behind me. Ahead of me, who knows what? Dreams? Sure, but in a nutshell, I have to start again here in California which is obviously both exhilarating and exciting and something I like to think that I love to do. But it can be tough too! Psychologists would tell us that in moving to another place or country, out of our comfort zone, we have embarked on a process of change and transition, a reality, according to them, which is not to be taken lightly. Note that it is a ‘transition’, however, and not a ‘transformation’. I know I will always need a challenge, and that I really needed this journeying towards something that could in the end be transforming in mine and my husband and childrens lives. But it is a journey.
I remembered today a chart that the organization I traveled with as a foreign exchange student in 1991, which showed ‘transition psychology’ graphically to help people like myself understand, anticipate and cope better with what may lie in store for them when moving away from the familiar to the unfamiliar in another place or country or whereever. The journey – my journey and my transition – starts with anxiety and moves on to happiness, which was what was happening with me this fall, when panic set followed by extreme happiness of finally being here. Then maybe some denial emerges (‘Change? What change? What for?’). Otherwise fear comes in, and threat follows. Self-esteem probably begins to sag at this point, where I am now, there’s a lot of looking back at life and beginning to experience guilt (yes yes yes), maybe regret about decisions and actions in the past (how can psychologists read me like a book???). At this stage disillusionment drops in, threatening to drag you ‘back home’ – to give up on the whole thing (which is the feeling I am sensing lurking in the background).
But if you stay the course maybe depression will hit you, according to the psychologists, which does not give me much more happiness, I realize, but more sadness. You are, after all, trying to re-invent yourself in an ‘alien’ environment according to them, which is, well, right on again. And there are two possible routes from this point of depression, they say. One is that you get into a frenzy of hostility, and with much gnashing of teeth, spitting of feathers, swearing and stamping you’ll say ‘I’ll make this work out if it kills me!’ and you’ll strain forward, which is what I anticipate will happen, since I am stubborn and would never voluntarily accept defeat. Or, alternatively, gradually, your feelings of hopelessness and pointlessness begin to change to hopefulness and you start to see a glimmer of a future for yourself with new possibilities, which could naturally also be the result. Psychologists say (and I choose to put my faith in them here) to move forward gradually but with increasing optimism. It is said that this ‘transition curve’ takes at least 6 months…more like 8 and very commonly a year – and I am still in month two, so I have some dark days ahead of me – thank god the sun shines every day.. I know I have to be patient with both myself and those around me for a while now, while I go through this period of transition – knowing I will come out of it, feeling extatic and loving California again to the point of desperate crushing, just when I will start the preparation of doing the new move – back to Norway – only to have to go through all of this again…