Friday, November 24, 2006
As I described the familiar patterns - clinging onto people and places in anxious anticipation of impending separation or departure, feeling terrified by what lies ahead, leaving abruptly without looking back and feeling my spirits soar as I do, realizing that I often feel most confident and whole when I am alone and unstretched by the emotional effort of relating deeply to others - my sister said, “You know, those are classic symptoms of third culture kids.” She has been telling me about the TCK concept for years. Finally, I have started to listen. My experiences match those of many fellow TCKs who grew up moving from place to place, country to country, culture to culture, trying to assimilate here, fit in there, find ourselves somewhere in between. I am not alone in feeling most at home when I know that another journey to another country awaits me soon despite the ineivtable dread that surfaces prior to the trip. I am not alone in my aloneness yet still I cling to the joys and comforts of solitude.
Are you an adult TCK too? Have you found ways to manage or overcome the lifelong sense of dis-ease?
I didn’t realize that separating would give me the opportunity
To start pulling myself together.
I didn’t anticipate that separating from my spouse
Would enable me to deepen my relationships with my kids, my sister, my parents, my friends, my colleagues, and all of the other people in my life.
I never imagined that talking about my separation
Would inspire other women to tell me their soul-wrenching stories of struggling with difficult marriages, divorce and the challenges of daily survival.
I didn’t foresee that separating
Would lead to unexpected encounters and engrossing conversations with people I had never met before.
I didn’t expect the outpouring of warmth, compassion and support that I have experienced since I moved out.
I didn’t know that I would find myself looking forward
To the rest of my life.
I didn’t believe that I would feel stronger
Now that I am on my own.
I didn’t think that I would have the confidence
To face the constant challenges and carry on.
I never dreamed that I would be in this place at this time in my life
And that it would feel OK.
I didn’t realize to what extent an ending
Can turn out to be a new beginning.
I don’t want to follow your rules.
I don’t want to play your games.
I don’t want to confine myself to your logic.
I don’t want to restrict myself to your vocabulary.
I don’t want to limit my range of emotions.
I don’t want to hem myself into your worldview.
I don’t want to accept your operating assumptions.
I don’t want to jump to your conclusions.
I don’t want to rule out other realms of possibility.
I don’t want to dampen hope.
I don’t want to resign myself to the status quo.
I don’t want to choose among your categories.
I don’t want to divide myself into prescribed roles.
I don’t want to stifle myself in order to conform.
I don’t want to cooperate with your notion of how things ought to be.
I don’t want to constrain myself in the name of morality.
I don’t want to surrender to one way of being.
I don’t want to stuff myself in a drawer anymore.
I don’t want to be more or less fit for your world.
I want to be more and less.
I want to live in my own dimension.
I want life to be my own invention.
I want to state my own terms.
I want to define my own turf.
I want to relate to you in my own way.
I want to insist on having my say.
I want to create my own reality.
I want to overflow….
I am you. I know, I know. You think you are you. You don’t know me. Not yet. But trust me. I am you. Calm down. Don’t start trying to label me, to pinpoint me, to categorize me.
I am neither your conscience nor your subconscious. I am not your fairy godmother. I am not your guardian angel. I am not your spirit. I don’t claim to be your soul. I am neither muse nor inner critic. I am not the product of your deranged mind nor the other side of your split personality. I am not the early symptom of schizophrenia you have long dreaded. No, you don’t have to worry about Alzheimer’s yet either. I am not your imaginary friend from childhood back for a surprise visit. I am not an alien from outer space who has invaded your body and vacuumed out your soul. I am not the ghost of a long-dead ancestor. No, I’m not God either. Nor the devil. And no, I’m not the outcome of that extra glass of wine you drank last night or something funny they put in the food.
Stop already. It’s much simpler than you think. I’ve told you already. I am you. Must you insist?
No, I’m not a dream, not a fantasy. A nightmare? Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that. I am not your clone. I am not an echo or a strange reflection. I am not a weird, New Age bio-tech invention. I am not your id or your ego or your super-ego or any other high-fallutin’ Freudian conception. I’m not a flashback kicked off by some adolescent trip. No, I told you already, I am not a hallucination. I am not another incarnation. And I am certainly not a figment of your imagination.
Why do you insist on interrogating me? On doubting me? On suspecting me of ulterior motives? On assigning me false identities?
No, I’m not out of my mind. I’m in yours. You are the one who is not yourself. Just pause for a moment and give me a chance. Stop searching for new ways to undermine, rationalize, trivialize, contradict and dismiss me. How do you know you are you and not me? Who do you think you are, anyway?
Yes, I hear you. You think you know who you are and you’ve got witnesses to prove it. All those people out there who have known you for years – your family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances. Your hair dresser and the hygienist who cleans your teeth. The will all vouch for you and your authenticity. Their testimony will prove your legitimacy.
Who will back me up, you ask. Who will step up and certify that I am you?
Well, the answer, of course, is that there is only one person who can do that. Only one person whose voice counts here. Only one person whose recognition and acceptance I seek. That person is you.
Only you can grant me legitimacy. Only you can grant me authenticity. Only you can make sure I am allowed to speak. Only you can set me free. Only you can let me be.
Is that so, you ask. “If, for the sake of argument,” you say. “I am willing to accept all that you say, then where have you been all these years until now? If you are really the real me, then why wasn’t I aware of you before? Why have you suddenly barged into my life, raising your voice, asserting your presence, demanding to be heard?”
I was here all along, I reply calmly. I tried to get your attention but you simply ignored me. You preferred to devote yourself to impressing them. You preferred to direct your energies toward translating yourself into their language, squeezing yourself into their conventions, following their norms, adopting their customs, mimicking their behavior, fulfilling their recommended roles, following their trajectories. You have spent your whole life trying like hell to be one of them. In the process, you abandoned the most important person of all.
You forgot me, you dismissed me, you purposefully avoided me. You went out of your way so as not to run the risk of confronting me. You groveled and begged for their acceptance. You ate their food. You dressed like them. You attended their schools, saluted their flags, sang their anthems, said their prayers. You measured yourself according to their standards. You set yourself their goals and you fulfilled them.
But after all of that, are you fulfilled? No? Why not? Because somewhere in that busy process, when your mind was preoccupied by them and your body dutifully followed along, you lost me. That’s right. Without realizing it, you lost your self.
Lucky for you, I’m stronger than you think. Lucky for you, I bided my time and waited for you to come to your senses. Luck for you, I chose the right moment and then began to kick and scream until you finally turned around and noticed. Lucky for you, though it may be hoarse, my voice is still strong enough for you to hear. Lucky for you, you’ve finally gained at least enough maturity to listen. Lucky for you, I am who I am – stubborn, persistent and insistently myself. Lucky for you, I am you and you are me. In other words, we are one, you and me. We’ll get along well together. You’ll see.