It’s been a funny old week. How many blog and social media posts this week have started with those words? Coronavirus has us all captivated. In the expat world, just as in the ordinary world, expat coronavirus is all-consuming.
And no, we don’t mean funny haha. But isn’t that the most British way of describing the craziness of watching the world lockdown country by country?
Across the globe
As I write, my in-laws who are British and American citizens with dual nationalities are in the air. This morning they boarded a flight back to London, 4 days earlier than planned. Their onward flight to the US has been cancelled: even on arrival in the UK, they face organising the logistics of getting to their final destination. They will be juggling daily changing self-isolation demands from three different territories.
Meanwhile, my sister-in-law in California has completed two full weeks on almost complete lockdown. We video call her frequently. I sometimes speak to Granny Wanderlust, approaching a week of lockdown in the UK, more than once a day. We message daily with my brother and sister-in-law in London on our family group chat. Never have I been more grateful for technology like Houseparty, Zoom and WhatsApp to connect me with people who are so far away.
As I have watched the world struggling with the mental and emotional consequences of self-isolation, I realise that, yet again, the complexities of expat life multiply the complexities ad infinitum. For now, we aren’t on lockdown and we can only watch from a distance as, country by country, the world shuts its doors. I know, in the grand scheme of things, we are the lucky ones with a roof over our heads, food to eat and each other.
Expat coronavirus is complicated. I know expats with health issues who have had to make split-second decisions about their choice of treatment country. Others who had lost their jobs before the pandemic now face the impossible task of finding a new job here or face going home where they have nowhere to go. Workers who are here supporting this country find themselves stranded as their own countries have closed their borders. Other families find themselves split with children in one country and parents in another.
But for all of us
When we will get to see loved ones is a problem everyone faces today, not just expats. But for us, the problem is even more complicated. Expat life, especially when you’re new, always brings challenges of learning new rules for a new lifestyle and an element of social isolation. Most expats I know are old users of this “new” technology that is keeping everyone else sane – it has kept us sane for years! Not seeing family and friends might be a new concept to the general population but it is something we live with every day. Now, if we get on a plane it’s highly unlikely that we would be allowed back to our host country. Knowing the “when” is something we all cling to as is having the knowledge that we could get back if we wanted to. Now that has gone.
Even when domestic restrictions are relaxed, when most people will rush to see their loved ones, I know international travel will take longer to recover. When the borders do open again, there’s no guarantee that companies will release us to travel immediately as they rush to recover their business models. The long-term impacts on the economy will be far-reaching and those of us still with jobs now don’t know if we will still have jobs when this is all over or where they will be.
I’ve started feeling a lot of emotions since this all began. Coronavirus and expat coronavirus has made me feel things I’ve never felt before.
Anxiety isn’t something that I suffer from. Even I’ve felt twinges of it since we had to cancel our Vietnam trip a couple of weeks ago. Having anxiety about a trip, my first solo trip for 20 years was a strong signal to decide against splitting the family up. Having our visas denied was, for sure, karma telling us to stay home. While we were away, Singapore shut its borders and our return flight was cancelled which would have left us stranded.
The extrovert in me craves seeing people as we voluntarily restrict while the introvert is stressed out by having constant company – the realities of homeschooling.
The stress of staying in, of homeschooling and of boredom creates fatigue that I’ve never known. This conflicts with a nervous sort of energy that I am trying to harness and put to positive, productive use.
Everyone has an opinion
I find the news overwhelming with the constant updates and changing landscape. I’m overwhelmed by social pressure. I feel people almost expecting us to self impose our own lockdown when all they are seeing are snapshots of what we are doing. I feel the need to justify the country’s unique situation. The anxiety of others when I’m successfully keeping my own anxiety at bay is too much.
Fellow bloggers are telling each other that it’s inappropriate and insensitive to post about travelling at this time. Other people say that planning a future when this is all over is what they are living for. The messages on social media range from spreading rumours to spreading messages of positive thinking and mindsets. They combine humour with advice to disconnect from social media to avoid others from bringing you down. I think about how, with all this isolation, we may end up seeing a decrease in other contagious diseases. I simultaneously feel terrified to consider what the suicide rate will be the time this is over.
Relentless and overwhelming
Everything contradicts itself. Everything is relentless. Everything is overwhelming.
And nothing makes sense.
I don’t really know what the point of this post is except for me to write it all down. To try to maybe make sense of the jumble of thoughts in my head. Maybe someone reading this can identify with it – after all, I started writing the expat stuff when you, my lovely Wanderlusters, started telling me it was resonating with you.
And for all of you who are reading this from so very far away. Know that in my mind, I am sitting at a virtual window as I write this.
And I’m writing it just for you.