Second Month Theme: Hot Mess and Confusion

After the euphoria of the first month wore off, some things went upside down for a while. Here’s what really stood out:

Meltdown:

Even if everything went perfectly with the move, I still would have had a meltdown eventually. It happened when I moved before and I know different things have the potential to set it off. For me personally, it’s normal for me to have a meltdown after a month or so in a new country. I can’t speak for other expats though. I think there should be more transparency about the are ups and downs in the process because immigrants aren’t robots.

My first post-international move meltdown was two months after moving to England. I was in school and I hated it because I was being bullied for my accent. I didn’t expect to have a meltdown after repatriating to the USA because it was my home country and I wasn’t expecting to go through culture shock. Soon after I wrote my post about the theme for my first month here in Canada, I had a meltdown.

The thing that set me off was: a toxic American. It hit me that Trump has brought out the absolute worst of Americans. It takes different forms, but the fact of the matter is, it’s been traumatizing dealing with it for the past four years. I got to the point it’s been hard to distinguish rhyme from reason. I have lost friends who I initially thought were good people, but then it was like they had turned bad almost overnight. People aren’t who they say they are. That’s what you get when you’re part of an entire culture of people who are hurting for one reason or another.

I’m not saying I’m perfect though. I have lashed out too. Generally, I like to be low-key and get on with life. However, it doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes. I have forgiven the people who have hurt me though, and even though I wish I could be forgiven for my mistakes, I have accepted it might not happen.

It hurts me to see a country I used to love imploding. I asked my Mum, “Why does this hurt so much??” And she said, “Because you care.” I never thought of that before. Even so, I’m not going to put myself in a situation where I have to deal with toxic Americans. I have put up my own personal boundaries and I. AM. DONE.

The most important thing I can do when I’m having one of those meltdowns is to listen to what my intuition is trying to tell me. For example, when I was in England, my intuition was saying to me, “I don’t want to stay here forever.” When I repatriated to the US, my intuition said to me, “Maybe this was a bad idea.” Now, when I had a meltdown, my intuition said to me, “I CANNOT go back to the USA! I just can’t!” And get this, my intuition has ultimately been right. I didn’t stay in England forever. It was a bad idea to repatriate. And now, I have been thinking about what I can do so that I don’t have to return to the USA. While I was going through the meltdown, I didn’t have the room in my feelings to say that I love Canada. Once I felt better, I was able to express the fact that I genuinely love it here and I’m going to do everything I possibly can to stay!

I was also incredibly lonely. It’s not like I can go out and meet people because of the pandemic like I used to before. I missed my friends and just being around people.

Getting Settled:

I’m going to be real with you. It takes a MINIMUM of two months to get settled in a new country! I kid you not, it took almost a year to feel settled when I repatriated to the US. Of course, there is more to getting settled in a new country than meets the eye.

Getting settled goes faster if everyone involved pitches in and helps. If you have a job or have to study, it goes slower. Even though getting physically settled makes a difference in how you feel settled mentally, there is a mental side to adjusting to a new country that takes a lot longer.

I have been taking advantage of counselling services this time while I’m in transition. I have never done that before, but I knew I had to this time. Since I’m new to Canada, I am still trying to figure out what services to find and where. I was able to find crisis counselling where you get six free sessions. My counsellor has told me how I can find expat resources and other important information that citizens use too.

When you’re getting settled in a new country, there is a considerable amount of running around and doing chores. During our mandatory quarantine, we had to buy everything we needed online which was less tiring but also had its disadvantages. Once we got out of quarantine, we were going outside almost every day. We were feeling under pressure to get things done because we had no idea how COVID restrictions were going to change. Even the days we’re at home, there are still a lot of chores to do online.

My Mum and I have been efficient at getting chores done, but we also realized we burned ourselves out. We’re deliberately going to have a low-key, quiet Christmas and make a point of taking a break for a while. COVID restrictions have tightened in Alberta anyway, so we think it’s best to lie low for a while.

Additionally, I have had some issues going independent on my blog, so I’m going to take some time to improve it when I’m laying low. I’m hoping I can do some posts and also work on the book I hope to publish in a year! We’ll see though. I need to do some improvments.

COVID-19:

Speaking of COVID, if the pandemic situation in Calgary was as bad as California, it would have taken a lot longer to get settled. Since starting my pain treatment, I have had to go out a lot more, and my treatment plan has been switched up so I am seeing more healthcare providers. I don’t worry about COVID when getting treatment. It’s just that usually we stop at stores to get whatever we need. Although, I am happy that I will be getting a bit of a break for treatment soon. In some ways, these restrictions are going to affect my treatment, but I’m okay with that.

Since the end of our quarantine, my Mum and I have had a couple of scares where we thought we might have been exposed. My biggest scare happened when I went to the post office. The guy at the desk said he didn’t normally work at that branch. He had been called in because a couple of days before, the post office had to close because one of the regular staff had contracted COVID. I was glad I had my KN95 mask on. When I left, I went to the nearby mall and practically washed the skin off my hands!

Now, we’re prioritizing our outdoor chores more carefully. We decide if we both need to do them and we spread out the time between them.

I will say this about dealing with the pandemic in California. My family had some emergency N95/KN95 masks on hand long before the pandemic because we’ve been getting once-in-a-generation wildfires every year! Who wants to breathe that crap from the fires or contract the virus? Not me! 

I have noticed my bandwidth has been a lot lower overall from getting settled. Someone hacked one of my social media accounts because I didn’t spot the warning signs. Normally, I don’t fall for scams, but I guess this was a clue to how vulnerable I was. I found myself checking the weather forecast a lot during this time because I kept thinking, “Where’s the snow? I need something beautiful!”

Last week, we had a chinook that broke an 81-year-old temperature record! Did I bring California winter with me?

And then we finally got a bit of snow! For me, that’s a better end to a rough month! Will there be a White Calgarian Christmas? Watch this space!

First Month Theme: Is This A Thing?

Calgary Quarantine Diaries: Week 1

Calgary Quarantine Diaries: Week 2

Self-Care

Calgary Quarantine Diaries: Week 1

At this point, Mum and I only have a few more days of quarantine left and so far, we’re still healthy! We have found this time of quarantine to be a good time for us to recover from the journey and set up house and get used to things overall. It’s a more quiet and less harried time of getting settled in a new country than it normally is because we can’t go outside to do chores.

I read something once from women who are part of cultures that require them to isolate during their period. Those women say they really enjoy that time because they don’t have to take care of their families and they can relax and have some quality Me Time. This quarantine period reminds me of that.

To anyone who thinks periods are gross, sorry, not sorry! I’m all about ending period taboo since 1. It’s natural 2. Humans wouldn’t exist without it.

So, what things have happened the first week of quarantine? This won’t include my trip experience because that’s a post on its own, and there are parts that I’m not ready to share just yet.

It was hard to sleep that first night because we were sleeping on the floor. When I woke up, apparently FedEx had tried to deliver the things we had ordered from IKEA at 6:30 am! I had tried to request FedEx to deliver the packages the day we arrived, but it hadn’t worked out. I didn’t have a local number yet, and I got a hard time over it. I decided to leave my cell phone on that night in case it happened again, but it was a pain to say the least!

I suddenly missed my friends like crazy and texted them on WhatsApp to tell them I needed to talk. For me, WhatsApp is the BOMB for staying in touch with people overseas! You can still text your friends and not get charged! I was not okay after the journey and there’s a part of the story I can’t talk about without crying.

All I remember doing that day was unpacking my bags and setting the stuff up, talking to my friend and taking a nap. Plus, I remember our landlord stopping by to get our papers. We needed change for the laundry, and we exchanged a $20 CAD bill for it. YYC didn’t give me change when I got money there. The best thing about the first day: it started snowing! I hadn’t seen snow in years and it made everything beautiful! 😍

I hoped the second night would be better, but no. Even though I left my phone on, FedEx STILL didn’t deliver! I woke up feeling like I had hit my head against a brick wall again! FedEx eventually delivered though, and we were happy. We realized that it’s difficult to get deliveries at our apartment though and we just have to work with it.

We opened our IKEA boxes, excited to finally get our table and chair set and other supplies! We have depended on IKEA for furniture when we moved before because it’s so easy to assemble and you don’t need tools. To our dismay, we discovered we needed tools this time! Fortunately, we have kind friends who lent us some tools a couple days later.

I had noticed when I ordered from IKEA that you can request assembly service. I overlooked it though because I thought it wasn’t important. Then, I remembered that IKEA is under new management now and the founder had died. I had heard of their new sustainability initiatives, which was nice, but I hadn’t heard of them making it necessary to have tools to put it together.

To anyone who is moving and needs new furniture, be aware of this new development! I haven’t tried their assembly service, so I can’t speak for it, but it’s not the efficient assembly it once was!

Traveling had been such an adrenaline high and I didn’t start coming off it until the second day. I have anxiety and PTSD from being an expat and it started to hit. It was then when my Mum and I made a rule that we DON’T want to talk about what’s happening in the US right now! It’s better for us mentally that we don’t know, especially with the election happening in 3 days. I have found if I get up at night, I check my phone to see if I have any messages from my friends in the US. It gives me peace of mind that if I hear from them, they’re okay.

I have some essential oils which I have found to be balancing at times like this, and they did help. I had hoped I would sleep well with the oils, but that didn’t happen. I had a panic attack in the middle of the third night and Mum and I had a talk about the stressors we’ve been dealing with.

Since I am the highly organized person in my family, I bore a lot of the burden. I figured out how to get into Canada because of our chronic pain issues. It was highly detailed, but no one can obsess like I can! I have been in charge of jobs that don’t have an end in sight like finances, and my cell phone was our only source of internet for a while. I paid a high mental health cost for my work though and my Mum agreed to relieve me of some of the burden.

I couldn’t be happier that I’m with my Mum, but I also feel guilty leaving family and friends behind. My Mum said people need to realize in their own time that it’s really not a good situation in the US and that emigrating is a good life choice to make under the circumstances.

The next day, I was impressed that the snowfall had continued straight for 3 days! I have lived in snowy climates before, but never had I seen it snow for so long! I have stepped outside from time to time to take the garbage out (when no one’s around and wearing a mask of course) and I was able to wear a hoodie in temperatures of -10°C! Our apartment is rather overheated, so having the windows open at that temperature was quite pleasant.

I called another friend in the US. I haven’t shared my story of my journey much, but it seems like everyone I told was shocked by what happened. I think it’s a new reality for US expats. I read an article that the US is losing its passport privilege. I believe it! I am really touched by the support I have received and how welcoming people are! Thank you! You know who you are! ❤❤❤

Mum and I did some cleaning and ordered some more stuff. We had been researching how to find a good internet service and decided on one we wanted. I was happy that we would get it soon and we didn’t have to depend on my phone. Things were looking up!

By the fourth day, Mum and I had established a routine of cleaning, organizing and ordering what we needed to get. We each got a call from the IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) to check that we were complying with the quarantine regulations. They were kind and respectful with their questions and comments and were even up for a little talk! I didn’t just answer their questions. I provided them some extra information too. They also checked that we’re getting food and fresh air, which was nice of them. Apparently, they are working seven days a week because of the pandemic, and like all other essential workers, I appreciate what they do!

Mum and I put together our table and chairs and they looked great! It took a while, but it worked. One more step to getting settled and making this place a home!

Day 5 was rather quiet. It was the day it stopped snowing, so by then, I was quite impressed with the length of the snowfall. You would think by now, we would have got our beds, right? Wrong. We were still sleeping on the floor. We were used to it, but it still hurt considering our pain issues. We had been taking afternoon naps in the bathtub because we were able to use our duvets to make it softer.

I had ordered our mattresses from Overstock Ca two weeks before and they told me I would receive them in 11-14 business days. I heard this week that the mattresses were being delayed at customs. I know COVID has delayed a lot of mail and deliveries at customs. I had to renew my UK passport a while ago and even that got delayed at customs. I kept looking for updates on my Overstock account, but still felt desperate for beds!

By Day 6, the snow was melting. There’s a chair in the back yard that got all this snow on it and when it melted, it formed these icicles that reminded us of the snail monster in Monsters Inc that fell through the grate in the sidewalk and said, “Oh great!”

Chair Monster!

I have started collecting cool Canada memes and one of my Canadian friends on Facebook posted this:

Source: Facebook

Definitely part of my collection now along with the cat meme I have in my post What I’m Looking Forward To!

I had been taking a nap in the bathtub for a while now, so I finally decided to take a selfie of me lying there. Okay, yes I know I haven’t shown a photo of myself yet, so here you go now!

Sleeping in the tub

By Day 7, the Overstock mattress situation was looking ridiculous! I know there are border delays, but come on! Is this Brexit or something? We called to see what was going on, only to find out that we basically weren’t going to get our mattresses this week. We caved and ordered the mattresses from Amazon. For the record, I use Amazon in a pinch because I have issues with how exploitative they are, but desperate times call for desperate measures!

Looking back on it, I should have done a price comparison of the mattresses before buying them. Overstock’s cheap prices would have jumped out at me as suspicious.

First seven days are up! Did we get out mattresses? Only one way to find out! Watch this space for part 2 of my quarantine diaries in Calgary and what my new adventures will be after I am done with quarantine!

Culture Shock/Reverse Culture Shock

Update: I may be moving soon! Haven’t set a definite date just yet, but watch this space! My passport took 4 months total to process, thanks to COVID-19, but it finally happened and now my plans can move along!

Something that has been on my mind while preparing to move is culture shock. The last time I went through culture shock was when I was 10 years old, and before that, I’m not sure what I went through as a little kid was culture shock or reverse culture shock. I was born in one country and ended up in my parents’ country, but my parents were going through reverse culture shock, so why shouldn’t I? On the other hand, French culture had stuck with me. There should be another form of culture shock for kids born in one country and moving to another when they are too young to remember it, but it still affects them. I might call it child culture shock. I definitely went through reverse culture shock when I moved back to the US. 

When I was little, I didn’t understand why I spoke French and no one else did. At my US school, I didn’t know why everyone called me “the French girl”. I loved and hated French throughout my childhood because my parents kept putting me in French classes. On one hand, French classes gave me a sense of belonging somewhere. On the other hand, I hated speaking French at home because no one else did and it was embarrassing if my Mom spoke to me in French in public. I just wanted to fit in. Eventually, I got so rebellious, my mother said if I can learn another language, she would stop making me learn French. Challenge accepted, Mom. I jumped at the opportunity to learn German in secondary school in the UK, much to my Mom’s chagrin. She argued I didn’t have a good reason to learn German, and I had to compromise and take a French class as well. When I finally chose Russian as my language to pursue, my Mom was good to her word and let me give up French. In retrospect, I realize that my reaction to French was going through some kind of culture shock, and dealing with teasing and not knowing what it was or what to do about it. I love French now!

I definitely went through culture shock when I moved to London. When my parents and I were looking for an apartment, the estate agent said to us that if we chose the place we did, we would be living among English people! Well, yeah. Where did she expect us to live? An American community and end up not experiencing anything about England? No thanks. 

When I went to school, I crashed. The English kids would get me to say things only to make fun of my accent, and they would ask me questions and then laugh at my answers. That was worse than being called “the French girl” and being teased for speaking French. Little did I know that this was a normal thing for immigrants to England. I thought a country that had a lot of immigrants would have citizens who knew better than to do things like that, and would teach their kids how to behave properly with immigrants, but I was wrong. I had a friend at my first school who was from South Africa and she had similar struggles. My first school had this contest about who had the coolest accent, and the students voted me as the winner. I didn’t care about that contest and my Mom found out about it through my friend. In retrospect, that contest was a signal to bullies to go for me as a target. It also translated into a lack of success in preparing for my future endeavours. The same kind of bullying happened at my second school and continued even after my experience in school. Fortunately, my Mom figured out what was happening and homeschooled me after that whole experience. After my experience in school, I knew I didn’t want to live in England for the rest of my life. Somehow, I ended up staying in England for over a decade, but I knew in my heart that it wasn’t going to work out for me. Not all was lost though. 

I became involved with the Russian community though because I fell in love with their ballet and started training to be a professional dancer. I didn’t like England, but I didn’t want to go back to the US, so I thought if I became good at ballet, I could go to Russia to dance. That’s how I became proficient in Russian. I didn’t make it in the end, but that’s another story. Also, I would deliberately hang out with other immigrants. I felt more at home with them. The best thing about having friends from other countries was I could find some way to relate to them culturally and we would share stories. For instance, I could relate to people from India on celebrating our independence from England. Immigrants from Carribean countries and Canada made me feel closer to home. There are many other examples besides that as well, but it would take too long to write.

When I moved back to the US with my parents seven years ago, I naively thought I would not experience reverse culture shock. My Mom warned me that reverse culture shock can be just as bad, or worse than culture shock. She had a hard time of reverse culture shock when we moved from Switzerland and a lot of it had to do with her not wanting to go back to the US. I thought that because I wanted to return to the US and England hadn’t worked out for me, that I wouldn’t have as hard a time adjusting to the US. There were struggles that I didn’t anticipate. I felt embarrassed asking someone to repeat something they said because they were talking too fast. I thought people would appreciate my perspectives on a subject, but that was not always true. If anything, I would be shot down for sharing my points of view. I was told once to “give up the London thing”. How? I lived there for a good portion of my life! I can’t just let it go! I have a big mouth because I’m not afraid to speak out against something that is very wrong and violates human rights. That has got me in trouble way too often since moving back to the US. As I lost my British accent, I lost the one clue that I had that I am multicultural. I look and sound American now and no one can tell that I have lived overseas. I was put in a box and I didn’t fit there. 

When I was living overseas, I saw that the US was becoming increasingly polarized politically. Despite that, I moved back to the US because I did need to go home for a while. The moment when I realized that I wanted to move to Canada was a culmination of hurts I have suffered since moving back here and not being appreciated for what I have to offer. Additionally, I can see the US is falling apart thanks to all these toxic systems that created the country and the pandemic is exposing those toxicities. This is not my country anymore. I can’t put my name to Donald Trump’s actions and atrocities. I see how far-right movements are springing up in many countries and the US is the perfect example of what happens when it gets out of hand. I think because I was away from the US for so long, the polarization hit me the hardest. It was a shock to see how much had changed since I last lived here. I read that a lot of expats move overseas again after they return home, and that doesn’t surprise me. If you see how much has changed in your country, it can be harder to cope with that change and you can feel like you don’t belong anymore.

A wise friend once told me that there comes a time when you’re living in another country where you realize it’s either going to work out for you, or it isn’t. There’s no shame in a country not working out for you. It doesn’t mean you are prejudiced, or there’s anything wrong with you. It’s just a fact that sometimes, things don’t work out. There are a lot of clues that can help you in deciding if a country isn’t going to work out. One thing I see people get wrong is time spent in a country is NOT a determinant in deciding whether a country is going to work out! I lived in the UK for over a decade, and got citizenship, but that didn’t make me any less miserable. I lived in the US for half my life and it hasn’t worked out, even though it’s like anyone who knows me would expect it to work out for me. I never thought that moving back home to the US would not work out for me. There was a part of me that desperately wanted to go back. As you can see, a country working out for you or not, is a purely subjective thing. No one can decide whether or not a country will work out for you, except you. It puts a lot of strain on families if there are some members who the country is working out for and some who want to go back to their home country. Family problems are often exacerbated by culture shock, and tensions can be on a whole different level. You have feelings you never thought were possible. The best solution I have is to develop close friendships with expats, regardless of whether or not they are from your own country, and third culture kids. They are the best friendships you can have.

As I’m preparing to move, I am able to think about my past experiences and how they have prepared me for whatever lies ahead. It’s no less scary to move again, and there is a fear that things might not work out. The best thing is that I feel more prepared for this move than I did for the other ones and in my post Visas, I quoted Winston Churchill. It’s basically a mantra for moving overseas in general, not just for visas and culture shock.