By Kristy Fujiura, Psy.D.
As the world reacts to the COVID-19 outbreak, and we navigate a very new daily normal, I have found myself thinking, as a Third Culture Kid, is my threshold for what constitutes an “adventure” somewhat inflated? My initial response to being told to shelter-in-place for an undetermined number of weeks due to a global pandemic was something like, “Sure, whatever, let’s do this. It’s just another adventure!” After all, in 2009 my family was quarantined because my brother may have contracted H1N1 virus. No problem for us at all, my dad preached via web camera and my brothers and I completed a record number of jigsaw puzzles! Other past adventures come to mind – I can’t count the number of times I’ve been stranded overnight at Chicago O’Hare airport while traveling solo. I’ve been interrogated at customs at Tokyo Narita airport due to an immigration official’s error with my visa. I saw a dead body at the age of 10 when a man died of a heart attack on our plane causing us to turn back to Hong Kong while in route to Vancouver. Shall I go on?
Sometimes I notice the shocked looks on faces as I share these stories in my often-nonchalant manner (and who am I kidding, I kind of enjoy it). But I don’t usually spend much time considering those shocked looks. Instead I fly by them, chalking it up to the reality of my TCK life. That stuff is just normal when you live as a global nomad. But now, as I reflect on the last couple of months with the COVID-19 pandemic, characterized by isolation, fear, and an incredible number of future unknowns, I wonder if maybe my assessment of these circumstances as “just another adventure,” might actually overlook the reality of my experience. I am beginning to wonder if there might be value in assessing how I am being impacted by these events, rather than simply dismissing my experience as “just another adventure.”
How does one assess the significance of a particular life event? Is it just another TCK adventure? Or worthy of shocked facial expressions? More importantly, how much emotional distress is warranted in a particular circumstance? Is it “ok” that I seem to be struggling so much? Or should I be able to “handle it” and move on? Just how much “self-care” is permissible?
There is a major problem with this line of questioning because the answers are not based on some objective assessment of the significance of a life event or circumstance. Instead, the answers lie within our own experience. Are we struggling to get out of bed in the morning? Are we finding ourselves discouraged and unmotivated in our work? Are we irritable with our spouses or children? Are we overeating? Over-gaming? Over-social media-ing? How do we feel? Can we name our emotions and if so, what are our bodies (because all emotion is experienced in our bodies) telling us we need? What would it be like if, instead of evaluating our need for self-care based on the perceived significance of a circumstance, we were to care for ourselves based on what we need as communicated to us by our God-given emotions and other physical reactions?
And what would it be like if I were to take seriously the shocked looks on people’s faces when I tell them the stories of my “adventures?” Sharing our past and present circumstances with others can often help us recognize the reality of our own experiences. Seeing the concern and care on someone else’s face can help us feel concern for and take care of ourselves. Especially those of us who tend to dismiss our experiences as “just another TCK adventure,” or those of us who keep ourselves so busy with ministry, family life, and all our other perpetually urgent tasks, we often need others to reflect back to us what we might be experiencing in order to take ourselves seriously.
Finally, the most important reason we need to take our emotions and experiences seriously is that we have a God who lovingly invites us to “give all your worries and cares” to Him (1 Peter 5:7). How can we do so if we dismiss our own experiences and needs? How can we truly surrender our lives to our loving Father if we keep dismissing our own cares? May God give us the courage to pay close attention to our internal experiences and surrender all our cares to Him.
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