As a school psychologist, I often talk to my students about coping strategies. Some coping strategies in particular are called grounding techniques. These are techniques that one can use when they feel as if their world is being pulled underneath their feet, everything is spinning around them, there is a lot of uncertainty, they feel like they lack control, and so forth. Perhaps they feel anxious, fearful, worried, nervous, scared, or unsure. Imagine a balloon; if left alone without anything helping to “ground” it, it would float away. Similarly, sometimes we spiral into slippery-slope thoughts and need something to bring us back to a safe zone or mindset. An example of a grounding technique is focusing on your five senses. What do you see around you? What do you hear, smell, taste, and feel? These techniques are supposed to "ground" you by bringing you back to the present, reminding you that you are in a safe place, and helping you refocus your thoughts.
I am a Pakistani citizen, though have lived in multiple cities, five countries, and three continents. I genuinely feel as if I lived multiple lives; one in each place that I lived. I attended different schools in each place. I had different friends in each place. I heard different languages or accents in each place. I loved different people in each place. I was a different person in each place.
Have you ever woken up from a deep sleep, and not known where you are for a second or two? Something similar happens to me sometimes, except, it could happen at any time of the day (not just after I wake up). I could be driving down the super green roads of the Pennsylvanian countryside and forget that I'm not driving through Islamabad, Pakistan. Okay, it’s not that serious; I am fully aware of where I am, but… it’s hard to explain. It is almost like a millisecond daydream, filled to the brim with vivid memories, emotions, and nostalgia tied to it. In other words, I am aware and conscious but also almost daydreaming vividly of my past, which confuses my present.
It is a very strange phenomenon that probably makes me sound like I have dissociative identify disorder or visual hallucinations, but it’s just like a millisecond quick daydream, and then I’m back. If you’ve seen the movie Inception, I think you’ll know what I’m talking about - it’s kind of similar to that. Almost like astral projection into a parallel life or “past life” based on the different places I’ve lived. These flashbacks or daydreams are of places, not of people, though vivid memories come rushing back in a huge wave of nostalgia when I have these “episodes”.
I think this happens more often after I’ve traveled or flown a lot, and when I am with others I’ve traveled with (family, friends). I have been pretty much East-Coast USA bound since the start of this pandemic (the travel lust is unreal, y’all), but I can remember this happening more frequently after long flights or trips. My parents continue to move frequently between countries and continents; since I’ve traveled so often to visit them in different locations, these daydreams happen more often then, when I go to see them. I look at my Mom, who is one of my constants, and then I question for a millisecond of less, “Are we in England right now? Are we in Saudi Arabia? Pakistan?” Memories of each place, including the feelings attached to those memories, come rushing back.
Speaking of constants…
There are very limited things that are constant in the ever-changing lives of TCKs. Little things can frequently be changing, such as the language we hear spoken around us, or the accent that language is spoken in, the language the roads signs or labels in the grocery store are written in, the goods or selections available to us (i.e. there is candy all over the world, but you may have trouble finding Galaxy Chocolate in the US, or Hersheys in the UK), what side of the road cars drive on, what curriculum is being followed in schools, what an appropriate way to dress looks like, etc. In a previous post, I wrote about how much I love the sun, the moon, and all of their stars, because they stay constant no matter where in the world we are; there is always a sun above our heads, a moon following us, and stars shining down on us (even if we can't see them sometimes). According to www.dictionary.com, Constant is defined as, “not changing or varying; uniform; regular”. Constant, for me and in this context, is defined as things and/or people who stay with me and don’t change, no matter where in the world I am.
Examples of my constants:
1. The sun, moon, stars, and sky: the sun is always a big flaming Cheetos ball, the moon is always shining bright, the stars are always above us, the sky is always – or typically – blue with clouds, no matter where in the world I am. I love feeling the wind, raindrops, or sunshine on my skin. It almost feels like the physical touch of a loved one, and is something I’ve experienced everywhere I have lived or visited.
2. Some of my personal items, such as my phone, laptop, passport.
3. Some very special and particular people. Let’s call them family.
3. Airports. Airports are airports no matter where in the world you are. Sure, you might hear a different language spoken over the intercom, but the overall concept and feeling you get at airports is the same. Or, at least, it has been for me. Airports are my safe-places. Airports are also the “in-betweens”, but I’ll share that for another post.
These are examples of some of my constants. These are some of the things, or people, that help me stay “grounded” when I have a daydream or flashback and am confused as to which life I am living now, haha. “Is it Ayesha in England in 2006? Or Ayesha in England in 2011-2012?” These things and/or people are also those that I feel most connected to/with. Honestly, they help keep me sane and remind me of who I am when I forget sometimes.
I am not constant, in the literal form, but also in my personal definition of the word. I grow and I change depending on where I am as well. One of the most obvious changes are my vocabulary and/or accent; people who knew me from one place or in one “life” (i.e. from when I lived in Jordan) often tell me how much the way I speak has changed. I’ve had an “Americanized” accent for most of my life, though, for example, after living in the UK for a few years, I picked up on some British terms. I started saying wellies instead of rain boots (and still do! Haha). Now, after living in the US for the past 8 years, people who knew me from before are surprised at how much of a California girl I sound like. Honestly, I don’t do this on purpose, but I think my personality changes based on who I’m with and where they know or knew me from as well. I may be a constant for other TCKs and people in my life, but I am not a constant for even myself.
Regardless of if you are a fellow TCK or not, have you experienced this phenomenon before? If so, who or what are your constants? Who or what helps keep you grounded, when things are ever-changing around you? And, lastly, who or what do you wish was a constant for you, if they aren’t right now?
Well, that’s it for now. Until next time, folks.