Finding peace in strange exile
July 30, 2017 2:04 AM   Subscribe

I was set to emigrate to country B but for sudden legal reasons am very likely to remain in country A for the next 10+ years with my children. I spent two years making plans about a future in country B and detaching from country A. What are strategies I can consider to reconcile myself for the next decade to country A? How do I engage in a place I know I won't live in permanently as country A doesn't want me permanently either? I don't want to live insulated or resentfully for a decade.
posted by dorothyisunderwood to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think the main thing you need to do is to consider the MEANING you are giving to the next ten years. We tend to hugely underestimate the effect that the meanings we choose influence the way that we feel about things.

Why do some people hate going to the gym, hate having sore muscles, and avoid going at all costs - but others scream "FEEL THE BURN!!!!" as they lift weights? The physical feeling of going to the gym might be very similar for both people, but the first person gives the pain the meaning of 'pain', whereas the second gives the pain the meaning of 'growth'. Guess who will keep going to the gym? Who do you think will be fitter in a year's time?

Meaning is EVERYTHING!

There are many meanings you can give to the next 10 years, and although I can suggest some, the best ones will be the ones that are most personal to you.

You ask, "How do I engage in a place I know I won't live in permanently as country A doesn't want me permanently either?" I think this question misses an important piece of the puzzle, which is that time is fleeting too; the next 10 years will pass wherever you are, and however you feel. We all spend time investing in things that we know will eventually pass: school, university, friendships, relationships, places we live temporarily, jobs that we know aren't forever. But what we learn as we go through life is that we carry the lessons of these periods from one episode to the next.

Why do we eat food knowing that it will pass through us in a few days and be gone (sorry for the crap analogy)? Because that food will help us grow, it will give us energy, it will get us to the next stage.

It seems to me that you are giving your eventual move to country B a meaning that is akin to death: all that happened in country A will end, you will carry nothing with you, and anything you have invested there will be wasted. But what if you thought of country A as you might think of your 20s, and country B as you think of your 30s?

Reconsider your questions in that light:

What are strategies I can consider to reconcile myself to being in my 20s, when I know that I will eventually turn 30?

Well, the answer is that you engage with your twenties because your twenties give you things that your thirties and forties can't, and your thirties and forties will give you things your twenties can't, and you try to soak up as much of the unique parts of each section of life as you can.

There are things to appreciate in country A that country B cannot give to you, so enjoy them and learn from them where you can. When you get to country B, you will be able to share the extra things you have learnt with people in country B who haven't had the benefit of your experience.

Country A will always be where you raised your children. It will inform them as people: how they speak, their cultural references, and that will mean it will always be special to you. Country B will mark a transition, like turning 40, but of course everyone who has turned 40 will tell you that the benefit of getting older is that you take all the wisdom and the things you've learnt with you.

You will be able to experience country B in a totally different way because of the extra 10 years in country A. The things you are experiencing - not getting what you want, having to make sacrifices, having to reset the way you see the world - they are what will give your life texture, what will give you the wisdoms and insights that will make you a better person, and the best part:


There is continuity between these two periods of your life, but the continuity is inside you, and I think it's pretty likely that one day you will be sitting in country B, having completed your journey, and somebody else will ask you a question like the one you've asked here, and you will find that you already know the answer, because you've already been on the journey.

Your current situation doesn't mean 'death', or 'catastrophe', or 'waiting': it means GROWTH. You are becoming someone more interesting and wiser, and no migration will ever take that away from you.

Good luck!
posted by matthew.alexander at 2:53 AM on July 30, 2017 [33 favorites]

FWIW I spent 7 years living without a visa in a part of the UK that was anathema to me. My mother encouraged me to view it as an extended anthropological field trip. I eventually developed affection for the area.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:16 AM on July 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Is there a reason why you're being vague about the countries? It would help a lot for people trying to answer your question to know what countries we're talking about.
posted by ryanbryan at 4:44 AM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry you're having to deal with this. I understand the difficulties of engaging in a place you know you are leaving, but 10+ years is a significant chunk of a human lifetime, i.e., you're not just "passing through" County A. I think Matthew and DarlingBri have offered excellent advice regarding adopting a perspective that will help you address the situation.

As ryanbran mentioned, more info might allow folks to offer more specific suggestions. E.g., are the people (in general) of Country A hostile to you/your family? Can you move within Country A, or are you limited to your current place? How difficult is it for you to find like-minded people in your current situation, e.g., do you currently have a support network or at least a few close friends?
posted by she's not there at 5:39 AM on July 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Mentioning the countries is going to end up being people going 'oh but Country A is so this and Country B is so that', plus make me way more identifiable online than I'm comfortable. I've lived in Country A a long time and have ties to Country B as well. Country A has many wonderful qualities. This is very much all about my perspective and approach as someone who is struggling with now having the choice of where to live being taken away (think Brexit or trailing spouse) and not being able to make permanent plans in Country A either in a kind of forced limbo.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:12 AM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

You have children. Therefore, your literal location is less important than the life you are providing for them. Ten years is a LONG time in their childhood. Whether or not you WANT to, for their benefit, you need to remain or become involved, interested, and active in the place you are living. That's true whether you're there for a year or your life.

Ten years is an incredibly long time, and if you isolate because you're continuously hoping/anticipating/expecting to leave the place or the people behind, that's NOT going to be good for your children. Make friends, participate in community activities, and give your children the example and experiences they will need for a full, healthy life.

Do that even - and especially - if you expect to eventually leave the place you are. Decide to enjoy and make the most of what you have. You'll be teaching them to do the same. And that's hugely important for them to have happy, fulfilling lives - no matter where those lives are lived.

Reframe this. And be utterly grateful that you will be where your children are. There are too many in this world that live - or live in fear of - arbitrary laws that can relocate them far from their children with little choice in the matter.
posted by stormyteal at 7:44 AM on July 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you can't go to country B, and country A is hateful, why not country C? (There's a lot of them.) 10 years is a looong time to be playing head games with yourself.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:28 AM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Good to know that you aren't someplace that is objectively awful/potentially dangerous for you (e.g., a Muslim woman in a small town in Trump Country).

It would help to know some specific issues re Country A, but I understand your privacy concerns, so I’m going to presumptuously assume that my situation is relatable. Specifically, I returned to my small hometown (after 40+ yrs of city life) about 3 years ago, thinking I would be here for a couple of years, max. Things changed and current circumstance dictate that I will be here for another year or two. I'm sure some of the 30K locals would say this place has "wonderful qualities", but said qualities are lost on me. (I actively dislike the place, but keep my complaints to a minimum.) It annoys the bejesus out of me when folks try to sell me on the town, or worse, offer "bloom where you are planted" platitudes. If that sounds familiar, perhaps the following might be useful.

Re engaging in your temp home: obviously, making friends and being an active member of your community is the way to go and those opportunities are usually easy to find. You’re likely automatically connected to an informal community of parents through your kids’ activities. Do you know (or know of) like-minded people you can spend time with? That said, I take issue with the notion that you need to be involved, interested, and active in the place you are and I can imagine situations where meaningful involvement is virtually impossible/not worth the effort/actually prohibited. Since you mentioned Country A “doesn’t want you”, I’m wondering if that’s the case for you.

I know I need to be connected to a group of local people who share my values and interests before I can feel engaged in a place. And given the dearth of left-of-liberal, certified city-oriented (grad degree in planning), atheists, I never expected to find that connection here. Instead, I’ve been focusing on (borrowing from matthew.alexander) things I can take with me. For me, that’s included more time with my adult kids, renewing/strengthening friendships/relationships with people scattered across the country, as well as acquiring new skills.

Granted, this might be too insulated for you and/or a difficult tack to maintain for 10+ years. Are you able to travel to places where you can feel engaged? I’m not talking about getting-away vacations, rather something like a second home. Can you spend time in Country B? (I’m extremely introverted and this has not been easy for me—had I known upfront how long I would be here, I would have bought a car and tried to connect with like-minded people in the nearby university town from the beginning.)

Are you working/do you like your job? Engaging in a career/work you love—including focusing on pet causes—could be suitable subsitute for engaging in County A.

Do you have someone you can talk to about this who won’t be insulted or respond defensively when you talk about the frustration of having to stay in Country A when you really want to be in Country B? The simple acknowledgment that life sucks sometimes can go a long way.

A final comment: I suspect that you're feeling overwhelmed because you're still reeling from the sudden change of plans. For the time being, try not to think about how you are going to cope with the next 10 years—instead, focus on things that bring you joy right now. Put off long-range plans/worries until things have settled and you're back into a daily routine. I'll end with one of my go-to platitudes: you will get through this.
posted by she's not there at 3:19 PM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Reading your follow-up, it struck me that you are in a situation that is emotionally similar to that of a woman who has had a miscarriage. I don't know if that makes any sense to you but I see an experience where you have spent time investing emotional energy building dreams of a very specific and desirable future and then suddenly had those dreams dashed. I think maybe you just need to give yourself permission to grieve, to not have to be happy about this abrupt loss right away.

I was going to offer advice like She's-not-there - that you focus on finding your tribe, people who support and appreciate you and finding opportunities to grow and create wherever you are. But feels like telling a woman with a miscarriage that she will have another baby. True, but not what she needs to here. So, I'll just offer sympathy and virtual hug for you in your time of loss, because that's what this is.
posted by metahawk at 6:55 PM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

There may be some sense and benefit in relating to this as a time of grieving. Fourish years ago I had a belief about the sort of transition I was going to be able to make in my career life that I ended up being disabused of over the course of the next two years' pretty harsh confrontation with my viability in the actual job market for that prospective career (I also became very sick during this period which is a whole other story but added to the dark and distressful nature of these times). I ended up having to make decisions based on raw economic necessity when the U.S. job market was still very unfavorable. Not a happy time. My father died suddenly a little less than 6 years ago so the correlations between the impact this loss of perceived opportunity and grief over death were very clear to me. I can't say it made things particularly easier but it did make them more comprehensible and have given me a toolbox of dealing with the day to day feelings that have been useful. These tools... well, I'm not going to lie to you, they can kind of sound like a pack of the most banal self-help platitudes but I found real value in them, and maybe you will find some help in some of them too.

So, be aware that times of grief and major life transition are also times of great stress. Stress affects your thinking and your physiology. You need self-care at these times more than others - being as mindful as you can of needing proper sleep and a healthy diet, exercise, space in your life for practices that promote a sense of peace and quiet contemplation - whether that's meditation or being in nature or religious practice or whatever works for you. You've got a pass for a while to beg off loading yourself with voluntary extra responsibilities and commitments. The stages of grief are a pragmatic model for real things we go through mentally and the way through is best assisted by self-acceptance and non judgement, but in a context of awareness and trying not to get mired - so if you find yourself getting angry or depressed you can be aware that this is normal and expected, a necessary part of the transition and not something you should beat yourself up about.

One day at a time is of course a huge cliche but at the same time it's so necessary. You can't reconcile yourself to the next ten years, it's just not possible. There's no such thing as "permanent plans". In ten years time you may be living somewhere entirely different or changes in your career or personal life might make leaving Country A a non-issue. Life, as they say, is what happens while we're busy making other plans. Focusing on what needs to get done this month, this week, this morning will do more for your quality of life and will keep you usefully active.

Try to focus on positive things about your new reality. Again, I know. Count my blessings? Spare me. But so help me it helps. It's very easy and accessible to dwell on the negatives in a time of lost opportunity. But while sadness and regret are natural and rational reactions, dwelling on them and hanging onto them ultimately can only lead to feelings of powerlessness and depression. There is a lot of research that shows that intentional, focused concentration on positive aspects of our lives that we feel positive about creates a genuine impact on our happiness.

I'll leave it with one more hoary old chestnut - wherever you go, there you are. Again, there is a lot of research now that reinforces the theory that we tend to be pretty poor judges of what is going to bring us happiness, contentment and fulfillment in life, and it roughly boils down to that we think it is mainly external circumstances but it turns out that the most impactful things that we have the most control over have more to do with our internal mindset and interpersonal relationships. Gratitude, social connection and involvement, investment in the present, nurturing our physical and mental health - these are the arenas where we can take personal actions that bring the greatest returns.

If I'm making it sound like I'm some kind of paragon of wisdom and well-being, believe me, I'm not. I struggle with these challenges daily and still fight a lot of regret and resentment about where I've landed in life at the moment, what I did wrong or the wrong that was done to me, what I thought I would be and where it's all going. But I'm in a lot better place in many ways than I was 2 years ago and I owe most of that to working on cultivating these sorts of mindsets. Be gentle with yourself and good luck.
posted by nanojath at 11:43 PM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm sure this is complicated, but maybe try to re-frame this:
country A doesn't want me permanently either

I'm going to guess many people in country A do want and appreciate you: extended family, friends, neighbors, and so on.

The other thing to remember is that country A will be your children's home, regardless of your feelings about it. Whether or not they are citizens, they will feel connected to country A forever, as we all feel about the place we spent our childhood. You know how you're not supposed to talk trash about your ex to your kids? Think about country A that way: even if things might not work out in the long run (ie, citizenship), country A is still very much defining who your children are and who they will be. When you look at your children with love, at least some of that is because of country A.

Good luck. This sounds very stressful.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:45 PM on July 31, 2017

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