The Secret to Expat Sadness

Conversation by Elena Gatti

I came home and gave in. Not to smoking or chocolate. Something darker that had been tramped down for weeks and weeks, tossed into the corner, until the weight of it had me on my knees.


We don’t talk about sadness in the utopia that is expat life where challenging jobs and magazine worthy vacations in lands far, far away, bounce us from one week to the next.

The buzz of our electronic devices keeping us in touch with friends and family back home – and reminding us how successful everyone else is – amounts to a constant wave-like roar in our ears, drowning out the aches and pains pinging in the background.

Yet the sadness can catch up with you and wash over you with the intensity of a riptide. I had a squall of epic proportions. There was nothing I could do, other than ride it out.

“I let it win,” I told a friend during a long overdue catch up. “For 45 minutes, I let it go. I didn’t think it would end.”

“Forty five minutes is a long time,” she said pausing.

Sheets to my nose, favorite songs on the radio: this squall of sadness was the kindness I showed to myself as the storm of emotions raged.

Then I did something else counter intuitive. I wrote to four friends. They were scattered around the world; one a few miles away, the other thousands, the last two ten thousand. I tapped out a message as tears trickled down my nose.

Even though life is very full and has meaning – I feel sad. And if I said these words to anyone, face to face, they wouldn’t understand why, by looking at my outer life.

“See look at Facebook or Instagram or you yesterday! Everything is amazing.”

Nor do I think I could I explain it in a way that wouldn’t end in “it will all work out” or “don’t worry.” Wanted to share so that it isn’t a secret any more. Also, in case you ever feel like this and need someone to talk to. We will find our way together.

Not everyone responded, they’re busy with their own struggles.

Three responses came back right away.

…i think that is profound that you can experience that and share it.

Yes, yes I do have periods like that and you are right, it’s hard to explain and for others to understand. …

And me too.  Of course, me too.  

They affirmed I was not alone. And in doing so, joined me, halving my pain by letting me honest.

When our children cry, as they do, I huddle them close. I try to remember to reach past the cotton candy evanescence of “it’s okay” for something they can hold on to.

“I”m here,” I say.

Reading Chris Malcomb’s “Learning to Breathe”, an essay about how being an asthmatic was his first introduction into meditation, had me wondering how I could help the kids, even now, begun to wrestle with the beast of disappointment.

I’m teaching our 5 year old to reach for the ridge in his mouth, the one behind his teeth, below the soft tissue of his palate. First he puts his finger on mine (I know, but there are plenty of germs in there his germs can join). Then he goes to find his with the tip of his tongue.

This is the first step of the 4-7-8 breathing method, a technique that can get you to sleep in 60 seconds.

I use it now to ground myself any time I need: stuck in traffic, in the midst of a difficult conversation, search for patience with aforementioned 5 and 2 year old.

“I’m here,” I say to myself. Sadness and all.

How do you get through life’s squalls? Who could you send a note today to encourage and receive a boost in your sails?


Monday Mindfulness: My New Meme

English: Mindfulness Activities
Mindfulness Activities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been tossing around the idea of a themed Monday post. Mindfulness is something I’ve been practicing since my second pregnancy; many nights staring at the ceiling at 3 a.m. pushed me into meditation which is closely related. Essentially the two together ask us to focus; bring 100% of our attention into the moment. The scratchy sheet, the clicking of the clock. Surprisingly these tiny sounds make it easier to forget about the laundry, grading, or editing and usher in deep, relaxing sleep.

Here’s my first Monday Mindfulness post. Share your ideas for how to take a break from our continuous inattention.

I have a long overdue to-do list because of a weekend spent, well, weekending with family, friends, and children. Instead of multitasking, I was at the playground. Skipping late nights at the kitchen table, I went to sleep along with everyone else.

And while I was rushing around this morning, after a morning workout (check), the younger one, 10 months old was at the edge of my vision. He was rolling around in his walker, standing on the tips of his toes, gurgling at me with his energy.

I rushed into the kitchen for juice and a snack.

When I came out, he was dashing like a ping-pong ball around the living room, he was a caged specimen of enthusiasm, blocked from the clothes drying on the rack, barricaded from the wires on the television speakers.

We made eye contact; and he smiled. The connection was like a sizzle. I still had 1000 things to do; most of them overdue, many of them related to the release of my next book, furthering my academic career, applications for older brother’s school. But in that moment, since older brother was at nursery, I popped out some toys the younger one rarely gets to touch when Mr. 3 year old is around.

Foam shapes, a fabric tunnel, cushions squares for the floor. The little guy went wild. Dolphin like sounds of delight emanated as he crawled on through, rolling the tunnel this way and that. I watched him for a minute and took a mental picture of his joy. This, I thought to myself, this is happiness. This is what I will remember the next time I start to wonder what any of this is for.

Do you ever wonder what moments will flash before your eyes in the last seconds of your life? If, like in the movies, we get a lightening quick film strip of our lives, I hope mine is full of instants like these. For so a life is made, shared and remembered. Not from a to-do list.

That’s my Monday Mindfulness; you don’t have to take an entire afternoon to make memories. Make them in the flashes in between a workout and computer time.

How do you stay mindful?

Enhanced by Zemanta

It Rains on the Just and the Unjust

English: Unexpected rains!
English: Unexpected rains! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the early hours of the morning, while the rest of the house slept, I was feeding the three month old with one hand and scrolling through social media with the other. Yes, the more repetitive a task, the more likely I am to do being at least two others simultaneously.

Scrolling through trending topics on Twitter, I saw the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. Not guilty, of either murder or manslaughter, since he shot an unarmed teenager in the name of self defense.


The word is what I saw, or in part at least, the rage on the faces of people in Egypt, demonstrating for a government that represented their beliefs, while others demonstrated for their votes to be upheld.


That’s what many people were saying about the untimely death of Glee actor Cory Monteith, found dead in his hotel room at 31.


About sums up my struggles, tribulations, woes with a few people in my day to day life.

It rains on the just and the unjust.

Hope your week is going better than the world’s at large. And you are helping your fellow human along the way.


Enhanced by Zemanta