DEAR CAROLYN: Last year, for my husband’s job, our family (with three teenagers!) had to move suddenly and permanently, not just across the country but to an entirely different continent. The kids are adapting reasonably well but I’m having a hard time.
Our new location isn’t the problem — it’s that I can’t get over what I’ve lost. I’m missing my good friends, social structure, our community and the house I loved. Because our move was so sudden, I also had to downshift to a lower-paying, nonmanagerial position.
I know with the right kind of positive energy and just a little bit of enthusiasm, I would easily make new friends, rebuild my career, decorate our new home and eventually feel at home again. I’m just really struggling to find that positive attitude.
I feel I worked so hard to build everything that is now lost. I’m sad, resentful and burned out — as if I was too tired and old to start over (I’m youthfully in my mid-40s). Can’t help feeling “traumatized,” while fully realizing it’s ridiculous to compare the move to a traumatic experience. How do I get my “can do” spirit back?
DEAR DISLOCATED: What, please tell me, is not traumatic about losing your friends, your home, your community, and your career, with very little warning and for reasons you couldn’t control?
They still exist in some form, so, yes, we’re not talking about mass death or destruction, mercifully. But having your circumstances fall beneath that threshold doesn’t mean your feelings of loss are a frill.
So stop treating them as if they are.
And stop flogging yourself for not bucking up or can-doing or blooming where planted or clichéing where you think you’re supposed to cliché.
I’m not suggesting you wallow. The point of respecting the scope of your losses is to allow you to address those losses appropriately — and their emotional symptoms. Sadness, resentment and burnout aren’t going to be shamed or ridiculed away by the part of you acculturated to scoff at such pain. Or else they would have been by now, right?
And would you be as tough on a friend in your position as you’ve been on yourself? People with “good friends” seldom would.
So be that friend to you and nurse the pain. Express your sadness, and get screened for depression. Dig to the source of the resentment and see whether and how you can fix it.
Most important, give yourself extra rest, extra self-care and extra patience as you recover from this shock to your emotional system. If you’re used to feeling settled in after six months, then set a goal of two or three years, longer even, before you start to feel rooted again.
If you remain unconvinced of the healing properties of patience, time and rest, then try this oddball exercise: Give your brain a challenge, like doing a crossword or writing an essay or making complicated plans. Something doable except for some sticking points.
When you hit those points, walk away. Do other things. Forget about it.
Then return to see how many sticking points are “suddenly” unstuck.
This isn’t an argument against mental-health care, obviously — still make the screening appointments. It’s just a demonstration to yourself of the kind of behind-the-scenes problem-solving a resting brain can do.