Left Bereft: Coping with longing after moving abroad
Leonard Cohen certainly pulls on our heart strings when he sings “take this longing”. Anyone who has relocated or maintains a long distance relationship will tell you that you sometimes just wish you did not have to feel that loss so deeply.
Sadly, even the comfort of support of others is usually inadequate for filling that void. When you miss something it often seems like the only thing which would cure the longing is the very thing you are missing.
Although we don’t have the power to move space and time for our expat readers, we would still like to offer a few bandaids for those weeping wounds. Indeed, mayhaps you can find one tiny silver lining within this article to get you through the day.
Tip no.1: Write it down and read it aloud
Yes, yes, it sounds silly doesn’t it? Writing things down is usually advice dished out to teenagers with diaries or journals. But in addition to getting it out of your system, the act of writing about your feelings and then reading it aloud requires and activates two different hemispheres of your brain. Written language is coded by the right side of the brain – which is also traditionally associated with creativity and spatial orientation. The left side of the brain, known for structure, logical thinking and analysis codes spoken language.
When we write down our feelings and thoughts we therefore tend to be vivid and expressive, to explain things in a way which is not necessarily possible through spoken word – or at least not in an intuitive sense. When we then read our thoughts out loud, we are forced to approach our own feelings and thoughts from a different perspective – a more rational perspective. In using both your left and right hemisphere to consider and solve your problems and deal with your loss, you have a better chance of making sense of it and envisioning practical solutions to help you through.
Tip no.2: Make some plans
Nothing good has ever been said about idle hands, and the same goes for an idle mind. If you’ve been compelled to leave a loved one – whether friend, spouse, lover or family member – behind, chances are you are missing out on all the things you used to do together.
If you don’t fill those empty moments, celebrations or occasions with substitutes – then those moments will always be filled with longing and a sense of loss.
So make some plans. Take yourself on a coffee date each Sunday when you will have dined with the family on the farm back home. Book a spa day for anniversaries or special occasions which your loved ones have always shared with you. See a movie, take a course, join a book club – but whatever you do, don’t just stay in your room or your house. Get out there.
Finding replacement hobbies or distractions does not mean you’re dishonouring the memory of your loved ones, it simply means you’re aware of the effect of the loss on you and willing to seek out coping mechanisms which will make life a little easier.
Tip no.3: Stop thinking about it
As an extension of Tip no.2, it’s important to monitor your thoughts and to change your thinking patterns.
Our bodies have many interesting coping mechanisms which we’ve developed through evolution for protection and self-preservation. One such mental modus operandi of sheltering is by lowering our expectations for a specific outcome or quite simply “expecting the worst”. Although these thinking patterns are theoretically aimed at preventing further harm to us or anticipating danger – our minds have become so adept at this behaviour that we tend to apply it to any and all situations and experiences.
You are therefore predisposed to overthinking and over-analysing a situation and focusing on the negative. But such behaviour can be changed. It simply requires you to identify repetitive negative thoughts and to intervene immediately by thinking of something else or consciously changing your thought to a positive one.
Because, even though a loved one who is far away does not necessarily offer any positive outcomes, you should be aware that you have limited if on control over changing the situation, so obsessing about it really serves no purpose.
Tip no.4: Get creative
Being far away from the people you love does not have to be a gruelling and lonely experience. We live in an era where we have technologies and resources available which make it so much easier to connect with people far away.
Change it up a bit – get Skype or Facetime, buy a bunch of postcards, send each other little trinkets in the post – but be creative in the way you communicate with your people across country borders.
Tip no.5: Sweat it out
You’ve probably been told time and again how physical exercise is good for your body, but you may not know exactly how it works.
Well, when you exercise or play sports, your brain perceives this as a potentially stressful event and immediately releases a protein called BDNF or Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. This protein both protects and repairs the brain and has particular positive impact on memory neurons – it resets your mind in a sense, which gives you a sense of clarity and calm.
Furthermore, exercise also releases endorphins which blocks pain and induces euphoria – this is a physiological response aimed at safeguarding your body from exhaustion and discomfort. So, exercise and physical activity will make you feel better, even if it just takes the edge off. Moreover, a fitness regime will help fill empty hours and days.
Tip no.6: Tell a pal
Although the tips we’ve mentioned thus far should all help you cope a little better, sometimes it’s important to seek out answers, support and resources externally.
Feelings of loss and bereavement tend to cloud judgement and mask objective views or solutions – we may find ourselves incapable of stepping out of the rut on our own. Asking a friend or even a professional for help and advice does not make you weak or vulnerable – it takes courage to admit one’s own frailty and shortcomings. So be courageous.
If you are afraid of sharing your deepest thoughts with people you know, then you can join online forums where like-minded individuals share their fears, tips, solutions, experiences and coping mechanisms.
Tip no.7: A last resort
There is a last resort which is quite uncomfortable, but may be a consideration for some – letting go!
One thing you realise after moving far from loved ones is that certain people tend to vanish from your life. Often the energy necessary to maintain these relationships is so taxing on you – emotionally, mentally and physically – that you may have to consider if it is feasible to keep it alive at all.
Letting go of loved ones or lovers is never an easy thing. It is not what we want to hear. But certain relationships are not built for distance – sometimes things end. And it is only through acknowledging this ending that we can mourn, heal and carry on.
Let us give you a helping hand
Rand Rescue can hardly claim to be psychologists or mentors in emotional healing, but we can take some burdens off your hands which may give you the time and energy to focus on your expat journey.
If you need help with your financial affairs across borders – then let us know and we’ll be happy to facilitate the encashments, transfers and exchange of your South African funds to your new home.