Monday, October 28, 2019

October Symptoms

October Link up with A Chronic Voice- prompts Waiting, Parting, Persevering


Waiting...for a year now I've been waiting to either feel better or find out why I feel unwell. Around October last year I found out it was my thyroid causing the issues...then a month or so later found out it wasn't. Then in July this year I found it I do have thyroid issues, but then this month found out its not thyroid....

This season of life feels a bit like a dream. Partly because I'm sleepy all the time, no matter how much sleep I get, and partly because things are easier now. 2011-2017 were really stressful years, but over the last year or so at least three big stressors have gone. I keep thinking about school teachers who are so busy during term, then when they have time off end up falling sick. I feel like that's what happening here. Previously I had to put a  lot of effort in to survive, now I need to lie down for many hours a day to survive.

So I haven't been blogging etc very much since early September, instead posting photos everyday on here, its public so you should be able to see them? And also in monthly Facebook albums, as well as noting some sickness stuff in a Facebook group called Katherine's Kronicle.


Sometimes life in an expat community is like this:

You go to church and run into a friend you haven't seen since she said goodbye and moved out of Cambodia.

Actually today I saw 2 friends who left years ago and just moved back in recent months ( I knew one from playdates and one from Bible study group).

Also, you see another friend whose time in the country is coming to an end.

Actually today I saw 2 friends who will move back to their respective passport countries next year.

And if those reminders of goodbyes weren't enough there was someone at church wearing a recently departed friend's clothes.

Actually there were at least 2 of us there today who were wearing the departed friend's clothes.

(When people move back to their passport country they usually shed many of their belongings. We have furniture, clothes, books, kitchen stuff, toys etc etc from departed friends.)

Sunday October 20th


Some bits of pieces of my symptom experience this month:

I suddenly feel disorientated. It can happen when I'm in the middle of doing something normal. Its alarming and confusing and its been happening for just over a month. I think it might be because I actually forget what I'm doing while I'm doing it. Such a bizarre sensation.

In other news it might not be a coincidence that brain fog began about a month after I started on Vitamin D supplements (following doctors orders after a blood test). (October 22)

By the time I noticed it was already too late. I was only standing one pace away from the fry pan yesterday but the food burnt anyway. Perhaps its a memory issue, or perhaps my brain can't process very many things at once these days. I must have been able to smell smoke, but it didn't register because of everything else going on. I think I'm just going to call it brain fog. Its been getting worse over the last couple weeks, so we 're wondering what the next step is for my health. My last check up was 3 months ago and I was given somethings to try, hopefully to help with fatigue but so far it feels like it hasn't helped.

While its been distressing and frustrating for me to not be able to do things like I used to, at least I haven't had to explain it to Soeun. He already knows what its like from his own experience, the onset of his fatigue etc back in 2011. We've done this before (experienced onset of invisible symptoms) second time doing anything is generally easier. And this time we are in a stable stage of life, not hitting all the big stressors like moving house, job, country etc. MUCH less stress! (October 14)

"But that's normal for me."
Earlier this year when a doctor told me I might be anemic and have Hashimoto's, I joined some relevant Facebook groups. Some things that group members called "symptoms' I was familiar with but I had never thought to call a symptom, as they have been part of my life as long as I can remember. Hair fall, bruising easily, feeling dizzy and seeing black when standing up to name a few. (October 24)

Thanks for reading, hopefully it made some sense. Since early September I have been burning food, dropping things (including my phone, which broke and cost a lot to fix) and spending a lot of time lying down doing nothing, to recover to prep for the essentials. Due to conflicting medical advice I'm not sure what is next.

Photo credit: Facebook, I couldn't find where exactly it was from though, must have been a chronic illness page I follow, get in touch if its yours.

Friday, September 27, 2019

What does a successful day look like?

“Well, that was a successful day,” I thought to myself as the kids and I headed home in a tuk tuk. 

At 5pm in Cambodia the sun is already setting. With the spectacular rainy season clouds and the tall palm trees there is enough to distract me from all the motorbikes that are zooming and weaving around us. 

My big achievement for the day had been lying down for 2.5 hours. 

Yes, congratulations to me for resting from 12.30 until 3pm. Having time to do that meant that I had a bit more energy and concentration for the one hour visit with friends in the late afternoon. 

Although my iron levels are in normal range now I feel like my brain fog is getting worse, it is so frustrating trying to interact with people when take so long to think. Hence, a long nap time to ensure I was feeling well enough to take the kids out.

It is one year since I started noticing fatigue. And since its my fatigue- iversary as I mentioned here I guess I’ve been noticing these things. I probably would not have called a two and a half hour rest a successful day before I was sick!

Photo by twinsfisch on Unsplash

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

My Fatigue-iversary: The tiredness I've blogged about in the last 12 months

Doctor: Have you had any loss of concentration, brain fog?
Me: Umm, er....what? Do you is it...err...ummm...

I've enjoyed using the A Chronic Voice link up to describe/ share/record our health experience and this months prompts fit exactly what I'm thinking about as I mark one year of being tired.

A Chronic Voice Link up for September -Prompts this month include: recounting, finding and researching

Finding out why and researching the next step

So my iron, Vit D and B12 were all low, so that could be the cause of fatigue and the first next step for remedying  that is supplements. My thyroid function is within normal range but some other tests showed high antibodies. Thyroids are tricky and researching the next step is probably going to be confusing. At first my doctor mentioned gluten free dairy free, even AIP, but then after another round of tests said I didn't need to try those diets.

Within days of finding out I have high antibodies I heard from a few people who have Hashimoto's. One swears by a gluten free diet, one had never heard of it for Hashi's , another had tried it and said it didn't help her, another sounded like she knew about it but didn't follow it strictly...

Recounting a year of fatigue 

So last October I felt unusually tired. As I mentioned back here  I went for some blood tests and I felt like I'd found out the reasons why and worked out the next step to deal with it. And then over the holiday in November I was still feeling tired so as I mentioned back here I just rested while all the relatives did the cooking, cleaning and looked after the kids.

I think in early December I felt a bit better after I'd been taking iron supplements for a month or so, but in late December I was still feeling frustrated with energy levels as I mentioned in my December  A Chronic Voice link up .

Then I started off the year thinking that eating enough iron would be the way to health as I mentioned in my A Chronic Voice link up for January. 

I was feeling tired in March and April too, but I always do as it is hot season. Everyone is tired and grumpy. So as I mentioned in my A Chronic Voice link up for April it wasn't the time to work out if my ongoing tiredness did have a medical reason.

So I think in May with the cooler weather I felt a bit better, but then in June both the kids needed medical attention and it felt chaotic as I mentioned in A Sandwich of Sickness stories and 4 Surprises in June.

So then in July it was time for a healthcation. I'm not really a fan of travelling but it turned out to be a useful time as I described here. Being away from normal life to focus on health meant I had time to think about my thyroid as I mentioned here.

So here we are in September, almost a year later. I've been taking supplements but no medications, according to doctor's advice.

Thanks for reading! I feel like there was something else I was going to include, but can't remember it at this time, maybe I'll edit later when I think of it. Sorry if it doesn't make sense I can't think clearly...So tired...

Photo Credit: Someone on facebook? I can't remember where I got it from, I did google it but no luck.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

9 books I've blogged about in the last 12 months.

What supporters think we do, What nationals think we do, What the secular world thinks we do,
What my friends think we do, What we think we do, What we actually do...

This photo (above) may or may not give you an window into what I actually do. But this list (below) will give you an idea of what I have been thinking about recently.

Some of the books I've read over the last 12 months and the blog posts I mentioned them in:

1.Misunderstood: The impact of growing up overseas in the 21st century, Crossman 
-Culture Gap
-Searching for an origin
(other books mentioned Third Culture Kids: Growing up among worlds and Finding Home)
-6 ways I can see my offspring's childhood is different to mine

2 &3.Marilyn Gardner's books
-Between Seasons, Between Worlds

4.Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker, Trotter
-Taking care of your heart well

5.The Body Keeps Score; Brain, Mind and Body in the healing of Trauma, Kolk
-A Sandwich of Sickness Stories
-3 books related to counselling
(other books mentioned Trauma and Resilience: A handbook, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook)

6.Arriving Well: Stories about identity, belonging, and rediscovering home after living abroad, Brubaker et al 
-6 Types of Reverse Culture Shock Incompetence 

7.Apocalypse Now and Then: Reading Revelation Today, Barnett
-2 ways to read more of the Bible

8.Subversive Jesus: an adventure in justice, mercy and faithfulness in a broken world, Greenfield 
-Silent, settle, still

9.When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor... and yourself, Corbett and Fikkert
-What do poor people lack?

Let me know if you found a mistake in this post, or if you found inspiration for your own reading, or if you found a desire to buy me an Amazon gift card.

Photo credit: someone on Facebook?

Friday, August 30, 2019

Looking back at (non) recovery of trauma (graded exposure)

Avoiding it for ages only makes it worse.
Jumping in too far too fast makes it worse too. 
So what to do? 

Graded exposure therapy or desensitization is something I learnt about recently in relation to coping with my PTW (post trauma weirdness). Looking back over the years I can see the times I tried to just get over and rip the Band Aid off probably retraumatized me. And the fact that I've lived with it for so many years also kind of feels like it is getting harder.

So graded exposure makes a lot of sense. Dipping into it in a small way, until that gets comfortable, then moving on to the next step, or the next rung up the ladder. Staying there until that feels comfortable etc etc. Maybe like if you were afraid of dogs so you got a toy dog to play with, and then moved on to playing with a puppy, and eventually you could work your way up to a full grown dog.

For more on this see the 3 books I listed here that have been useful in recent months.  

Thursday, August 22, 2019

3 books- related to counselling

I have not read any of these books in their entirety, but they have all been useful in the last few months. (As mentioned here and on this trip.)

The Body Keeps the Score,  (Kolk) chapter 3 helped me to understand in a bit more depth what my counselor explained to me about post trauma. It describes what happens in the brain when a traumatic memory is triggered. Its as if it is actually happening in the present, with the left brain activity decreasing while danger signals are being sent from the amygdala.  (That is my current layman's understanding anyway, feel free to leave a comment if you want to clarify it.)
"Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma, has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he uses recent scientific advances to show how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain, compromising sufferers’ capacities for pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust." (Amazon)

Trauma and Resilience: A handbook,  (Schaefer) section 5 has some ways to manage traumatic stress.

"Are you looking for resources to come alongside people who are suffering
as they serve God? This book brings together theological perspectives;
personal stories; and spiritual, psychological, community, and medical
resources. It is research-based and at the same time practical. This is
a handbook for church and mission leaders, peer supporters, counselors,
those in personnel and member care roles, as well as those who suffer. It is also an excellent resource for training courses about this topic." (Amazon)

The Anxiety and Phobia workbook  (Bourne) has a chapter on graded exposure/desensitization

"...unparalleled, essential resource for people struggling with anxiety and phobias for almost thirty years.
Living with anxiety, panic disorders, or phobias can make you feel like you aren’t in control of your life. If you’re ready to tackle the fears that hold you back, this book is your go-to guide..." 

Friday, August 09, 2019

I was happy to find out (again) that my thyroid....

Last October I felt tired. Sleeping didn't help. I had some blood tests. Turned out one of my thyroid tests was abnormally high. My TSH was 9 when it is supposed to be between 0.4 and 4.

I was happy to finally find out that my thyroid was probably cause for fatigue.

So in January I travelled  to see a doctor about it. He did his own blood tests for thyroid function in his more reliable lab (he didn't trust the lab I'd used). It turned out that actually my TSH was only 2.2. In range. So my thyroid was ok. The scan and exam of it gave him no concern.

I was disappointed to find out that my thyroid couldn't be the cause for fatigue. Not that I want to be sick, but I want to know why I was so tired.

But then last month I travelled a bit further to see another doctor. I told her I had though I had a thyroid issues previously but my function was fine. She ended up doing the tests again, and 2 extra that hadn't been available back in Cambodia. So my TSH was still in range but the other 2 tests showed that -yes,  I DO  have a thyroid problem.

I was happy to finally find out (again) that my thyroid was probably the reason for fatigue.


This is the simplified 5 min version- thyroids are much more complicated. I just tapped this out in the required five minutes. 

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Is it a holiday? Is it a conference? No, it's a...

It’s not like any other travel I’d organised before. 
It’s not a mission trip to a host country. 
It’s not a visit to a passport country. 
It’s not a holiday. 
It’s not a conference. 
It’s not going away for study.

It's a tailor-made international health trip.

Emails flying between 3 countries. Collecting the correct documents for medical matters and crossing international borders. Trying to write a budget with 3 or 4 different currencies. Scheduling doctor's appointments not knowing how long it would take to get there from my accommodation, or how I would do that with no local language or knowledge or sense of direction. Trying to choose the cheaper flights that also matched up with when counsellors and guesthouse beds would be available...   

It felt like such a hassle to have to organise it, and it was annoying that we would all need to put our lives on hold for the duration. Going away cost so much money and I needed many people’s help to make it happen. If only I didn’t live somewhere without these services, there would be no need for a trip like this. I could just slot it into our normal everyday activities.

These were my thoughts as I prepared to have our babies overseas, and more recently as I got ready for two weeks of counselling and medical appointments in a country we have no connections to.  I resented having to travel for fairly run-of-the-mill health events. 

So what was this trip like?

It was a little like a holiday, in that I was in a relaxing environment away from normal life. 

And a little like a conference in that I learnt a lot of exciting things that I’m eager to take back to my real life. 

I was in a country that was neither my passport country nor host country. Daily activities included catching taxis from my accommodation to meetings. They weren’t big group meeting though, rather individual counselling sessions or doctor’s appointments. It was great to finally be able to investigate the mental and physical health issues I had been trying to work on over the last six months.

And the accommodation wasn’t just a place to sleep. It’s a little like a guesthouse, but specifically for cross-cultural workers. People often stay and rest when they visit the town for a holiday, health care, between conferences and while in transition between countries. 

This means I was instantly part of a community of others who have similar (but very different) life experiences and who are also there for counselling, or having babies and a variety of other reasons. Joining feels so easy and enjoyable; it makes the whole experience of a health trip even more valuable. I don’t know how to describe just how amazing it is to be briefly immersed in relationships that start and end quickly but with a connection that feels so unique and deep.

And it means it felt slightly reminiscent of living on Bible college campus, each family or individual has their own place to sleep but we all eat together. Perfect balance of personal space and community life. The big difference being that instead of classes to attend there is a pool, gardens and playgrounds. Other differences are that people often arrive and depart via the international airport, and stays are usually measured in weeks rather than years. 

It also means that I could really focus on my health as food and laundry is all taken care of onsite. Counselling and getting blood tests results back is exhausting, so I didn’t have energy for much else.  The only “housework” I needed to do while there was collect drinking water from the dining room, and drop my clothes off at the laundry.

Being away from both my passport and host country meant that I was free from any distractions and obligations. I could use all my brain space and energy on the specific things I needed help with.  Instead of resenting that I had to travel for health care, I’m actually really glad now. It worked really well. I feel like it was more helpful doing it like this than doing things from home, slotted in around normal life.

I remember the same feeling when we were away to have our first baby. It had been so hard to get there, and I was annoyed I couldn’t just do things from home like pregnant friends in my passport country. But when we were there, it felt so beneficial to have that family time away while going through such a big transition.

Yes, it was expensive, time consuming, and I needed a lot of help to make it happen; especially from my poor husband who basically had to put things on hold for a couple of weeks. But it turned out to be really effective in the ways we were hoping, as well as enjoyable. In fact so enjoyable I almost didn't want to come home!  It's a strange thing to have such meaningful memories in a country we aren't connected to in any other way. 

My clean laundry waiting for me! Boring photo but exciting moment.
I was excited to see Velvet Ashes this week is all about TRAVEL. I wanted some way to remember this whole experience of a two week counselling intensive while staying in a missionary retreat, so this blog post is what I came up with. 
I enjoyed being driven around by drivers who know where to go, on smooth roads, in closed vehicles with suspension. 

Photo by Owen Beard on Unsplash

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

4 surprises in June

"Give him 4.5ml once a day."

I couldn't understand what the nurse was telling me, although I knew I should be able to, and I knew it was important. My son had a scary looking infection, with a weird red line growing out of it. Why couldn't I understand the instructions? And what would happen to my son if he didn't take the antibiotics correctly? What if his blood got infected?

It felt like there wasn't much action in the logical part of my brain, the fear response was taking over. My brain was tricking me into reliving the emotion I had when my husband was sick. Even though it was more than seven years ago it felt like it just happening in the present. The counsellor had explained it to me almost 12 months before, and the book I happened to be reading in the waiting room explained it to me on the spot. ( A Sandwich of Sickness Stories) That's what can happen after a "big T trauma".

I memorised the instructions (still without understanding) and repeated them to Soeun when I got home, and he gave our son the medicine. Part of it was written down in Khmer language but not in full detail.   

Just popped out the front gate to take this while cooking dinner.

Surprise 1
Dealing with my health was more urgent than I had thought! The last few months I have just been dealt with my post trauma stuff mostly by avoiding triggers, like thinking about going to Australia. But right at the start of June both our kids needed medical attention and I realised I wasn't really well enough to take care of them. Seeing a family member in pain can also be a trigger. Now I get why they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first, before helping others. 

Surprise 2
It was too hard to arrange things for me to get help- that was our position over the last few months. But in the first week of June it switched to- it would be too hard to keep going without getting help. 
The surprise was that when we actually started planning things fell into place. And it will give us a chance to deal with a couple of other things too.

Surprise 3
Back in January we finished up with our Khmer church. We decided for 6 months we would just go to House Church (English speaking). It was nice for me, but weird for Soeun. We didn't have a plan for when the period of time was over, but just at the right time a new church popped up in our commune. Soeun has already been visiting and now it seems like its going to work.

Surprise 4
On the last day of the month Soeun started getting messages from his neighbourhood football team. A farming accident was in progress and ended up being fatal. Such a shock.

So here we are at the start of July, with the mournful music and monk chanting sounds all across the neighbourhood  from around 5 or 6 am. And it seems like mostly our days are filled with errands and admin, which are mostly health related.  Tomorrow is the funeral of the boy who was killed. Also its  our daughters 5th and final post exposure needle from her dog bite last month.  It feels a bit like a full stop of all surprises. Not sure what the next bit will look like! 

I didn't really think through this blog post as much as usual, feels like there is a lot going on and wanted to record it as it happens. Hopefully it made sense!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A Sandwich of Sickness Stories

Hot season is over and the rains are here.  They say it never rains but it pours, and we recently had a week that felt like everything thing happened.  Let’s call it our Sick Week.

In the beginning...

How does a biracial family access health care?  The lack of trustworthy medical care in Cambodia was terrifying when I first arrived back in 2006.  I was told there was one specific clinic I could go to if I got sick. Seeing a doctor cost about a month’s worth of rent. That was the information given to foreigners at the time. There was no way the average local could afford that. There were other clinics for them. 

If I was going to marry a Cambodian and look after our babies here, how was that going to work? And what of our extended family? Those were my thoughts about 13 years ago, and I had cause to reflect on them this month during our Sick Week.  

It felt ordinary like bread on the first and final days; while the central day was more intense, like meat seasoned for a sandwich filling.

Wondering why he was contradicting himself
First Day of Sick Week

“Your son has chicken pox, he will be contagious for 7 days.”

“So I should keep him home from play dates and parties?”

“No, no need.”

“But those spots are from chicken pox? Is he contagious?”


“So I might not take him to visit friends this afternoon.”

“No need to stay home.”

I was wondering why the doctor was contradicting himself, when he was usually so helpful.  
Four years of respect and trust for him was the only thing that prevented me from getting angry and leaving in frustration. We tried to communicate about this but I was just left wondering. 

It wasn’t until later I realised what was going on as I interacted with parents of various nationalities over the next few hours. I was equating “contagious” with “stay away from other kids”. I stayed home from school when I had chicken pox, because it was contagious.  But for Khmer parents, those two things don’t seem to go together. Of course their kids will get chicken pox at some stage, no need to stay away from sick people.

My brain repeating that emotion from years ago
Central Day of Sick Week
My fear response was taking over my logic.  I was at the medical clinic with my son and his scary looking infection.  Over 7 years ago I felt like my husband was moments from death and that feeling keeps getting replayed. When it is triggered by things such as seeing family members in pain it doesn’t matter that I know things are probably OK, my brain tricks me into re-living that old emotion.

Spookily (but in a comforting kind of way) I happened to be reading about trauma as I sat in the waiting room with my son. It was as if Someone was with me, explaining what was going on. A woman called Marsha has her brain scanned while she re-lives her trauma. The Body Keeps the Score (chapter 3) explains what happens in her brain. It was similar to what my counsellor had explained to me about my own brain only in more detail.

It wasn’t only my 8 year old emotion that was being repeated.

Last July I was at the medical clinic with my husband and his scary abdominal pain.  Over 6 years ago I felt like my husband was moments from death and that feeling keeps getting replayed. When it is triggered by things such as seeing family members in pain it doesn’t matter that I know things are probably OK, my brain tricks me into re-living that old emotion.

Spookily (but in a comforting kind of way) I happened to be reading about trauma as I sat in the waiting room with my husband. It was as if Someone was with me, explaining what was going on. A friend had just messaged me a link to this blog post about trauma. It was similar to what my counsellor had explained to me about my own brain only in more detail.

Getting the post exposure rabies shots
Final Day of our Sick Week


Our daughter came in crying.  She was bleeding from a dog bite. I’d seen other expat friends rush to get the rabies post exposure shot so I knew that’s what we needed to do. Even though there was a really small chance she was infected, it was such a serious thing. I began urgently asking on Facebook which clinics in town had the vaccines in stock.

Soeun drove our daughter straight to a clinic and got her first of five shots done. Phew! I breathed a sigh of relief and so did the friends on Facebook.

In sharp contrast, a local woman in the waiting room told Soeun he was being ridiculous. He was advised by his fellow Khmer that washing the wound was all you need to do. The shots are just so the doctors can make money. I guess she hadn’t seen all my expat friends running to the doctor, but I’m sure she’s seen people getting bitten.


You can experience the exotic by eating in a Chinese restaurant or watching an Indian movie. Relying on doctors in Asia for my children’s health has given me another way to gain insight.

War is part of this country’s recent history so I’d read about post trauma issues before I came to Cambodia; but having a personal taste of it feels like the beginning of a different level of understanding.

Hopefully I’ve been able to share some of that insight and understanding with you here. Stories like the chicken pox and rabies shots are our usual way, using the Khmer doctors’ expertise but sometimes in a different way to their other patients. Whereas the central story of re-living emotions feel like the start of something new.

 Photo by Jonathan Pielmayer on Unsplash

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Taking care of your heart well

It was exciting to be part of a big campus ministry. So many things happening. New training programs for believers. Creative outreach ideas. People reading new books about evangelism and old books about the Bible. Conferences out of town, big events on campus and meetings about meetings.

In all this excitement I remember feeling surprised that the director kept talking about something that seemed so ordinary and mundane. Bible reading and praying. Throughout the two years I kept hearing this mentioned as the main thing that needed to happen, the most important thing. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised but all the events were all new and exciting to me, while reading the Bible and praying seemed like such a normal, boring, everyday thing to engage in.

I was reminded of this when I was reading Serving Well, in a section called Taking care of your heart well.

"We need so much more than yesterday’s manna, so much more than the gorging of conferences or the regurgitations of famous teachers. We need time with God and his Word. Today.

Each bite will not be Instagrammable. Each bite will not be magnificent and earth-shattering and memorable, and that’s as it should be, because sometimes you just need the calories. Regular, non-crisis reading of the Word may seem to make zero difference in your life today or even tomorrow. But I promise you, in a year or ten or fifty, the consistent ingesting of the Word will make all the difference."

Friday, May 31, 2019

How do you pronounce your husband's name again?

"like a pair of old shoes, we are useless without each other (well, I’m useless without him, but I think he’d do okay without me since he’s way better at parenting and adulting than I am). Thank you, Lord for my other shoe!!!"

From an article about marriage on Velvet Ashes.

That's how I feel too, about Soeun. The fact that he can pronounce my name correctly every time but I can't do the same for him is indicative of our language and culture skills.  He knows how to function in my country, Australia. And I quite happily live in his country Cambodia but probably with a lot more limitation. It doesn't feel limited to me on a day by day basis but if I were suddenly dropped in rural Cambodia it would be quite a shock. Conversely if he were dropped out back of Bourke he would probably be OK.   

People often ask me what is hard about cross cultural marriage. I used to try to think of something interesting to say, while secretly wondering if we were doing it wrong. Was it meant to be hard? Why did people keep asking me that question, why didn't an answer come to mind? I think Soeun does most of the language and culture work in our relationship so to me it just feels like home.

Five Minute Friday free write link up. This week the word is: NAME

Edit update: Just now I was with some English speakers. A friend was explaining to a new person about my husband.
My friend turned to me and asked me something along the lines of "How do you say your husband's name?" (Which made me laugh as I had just  written this.)
"Soeun"  I said
But then my daughter piped up, declaring to a table full of adults, "But his real name is Daddy."

Friday, May 24, 2019

Culture Gap between generations {fmf}

“Yucky” was my son’s first reaction when he saw people wearing shoes inside. It was his first ever visit to Sydney, Australia.

It was alarming for him when he was handed a drink of tap water.  “But that will make me sick.”

I was amused. After growing up in Australia I have lived in Asia most of my adult life. I always find it weird going back to Australia and doing those things again, after not doing them for so long. But for my son he is not doing them AGAIN, it was all new to him.

My children are Australian. I'm Australian. We all live in Cambodia together, but our experience of this is different. My children are having their developmental years here, forming their identity.

When I came across this article about the Culture Gap I realised I needed to learn more.  

This gap can go unnoticed which creates frustrations and kids growing up overseas usually feel misunderstood by their parents. Most of culture is like the bulk of the iceberg, hidden under the water. Things like shoes and taps are easy to see and talk about, but most things aren't. There is a reason the author called her book Misunderstood. 

Hopefully we as parents can notice this gap and learn to see the world from our children’s point of view.  

I don't know if I explained this very well. If you are a parent bringing kids up overseas I encourage you to read this, or this. Or these. Or watch this 3 minute video.

This week the Five Minute Friday free write word prompt is CULTURE

Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Counselling is like trying to photograph a gecko skeleton

I wasn't sure what to expect when I became a counselling client. Here is how it worked out for me.

Regrouping after realising something was wrong

Living in the tropics we have geckos flitting all over our house. My son was fascinated when he discovered a gecko skeleton on the floor and asked for my phone to take a photo. At first he was frustrated. He couldn’t see anything on the phone screen.  Taking a photo up close with auto focus was harder than he thought. After some playing around he found the gecko on the screen and eventually we got it clear enough to take a photo.

It reminded me of how a year and a half ago I came to realise that annoying blur on the edge of my life was actually something. I wasn’t just going to get over the weird feeling I had when I thought about the start of my husband’s chronic illness.  Even though it had been more than 5 years it was still an issue. I felt like I had been defeated by my emotions and needed to regroup although I didn't even know what the blur was.  

The word prompts for A Chronic Voice blog link for this month help describe the last 18 months.

Regrouping. Investigating. Boosting. Setting. Reviving

Read on to find out more and visit over here to see what other chronic illness bloggers up to in May. 

Investigating the issue

Counselling sessions gave me a chance to say what I was actually feeling, not what I thought I should be feeling. All those years ago when my husband was debilitated by dizziness, it didn’t seem like the problem was that big. People who I asked for help told me I would probably be fine soon.

But early 2018 I realised what happened in 2011-12 was still impacting me. I spend two years feeling like my husband was dying or dead. I only came to realise was a big deal after having to articulate the emotions I had during those years. The first counsellor (TFC) called this unresolved grief.

To help process this grief TFC suggested journaling. In theory it sounded good but I didn’t really feel like I had anything to write about. Even though I journal and blog I came up blank at that suggestion. Where would I start?

At last the blur had a name, it became a shape, something I could talk about.

Boosting my understanding

After the second counsellor (TSC) heard my frustrations of not being able to get over it she said it had probably changed my brain. TSC called it “big T trauma”.

Despite planning a “fail proof” trip back to the place where it happened (Australia) I still had that weird horrible feeling. I had been calling it anxiety.  I thought I was scared of something that might happen in the future. But that weird feeling I had when I was forced to think about the events was not anxiety about the future.

I was actually re-living a feeling I had had in the past! My brain was tricking me.
This clarity relieved a lot of frustration.
The blur that became a shape now had a more defined outline.

Our son took a blurry photo of his watermelon drink

Setting out to learn more

So there I was realising finally that I had suffered grief and trauma back when my husband was first sick then I read about a type of traumatic unresolved grief.  

I was excited to find a more specific way to describe it: Ambiguous loss.

This concept popped up on my screen thanks to Marilyn Gardner (the third counsellor?).

 “  "I move on and find out there are two types of ambiguous loss: One is that the person/place/family is physically absent, but psychologically present, in that they may reappear. This can be loss from divorce, moving, boarding school, migration. The other is that the person is physically present, but the core of who they are is absent. Examples of this are people with dementia or alzheimers." 

It had  felt like my husband was absent but he was actually physically present so it didn’t look like a loss. Reading more from Pauline Boss, who coined the term, things makes a lot of sense. It explains why the magnitude of my loss wasn’t acknowledged. The loss was unclear.

I feel like I could write much more about this but for now I’ll just say it is such a relief to have someone else explain what happened and why it is so painful after not being able to explain it for so long.  

I wrote about this feeling of clarity the week I first came across it. You can read it here: Frozen Sadness.  Interestingly at the time I did note here that he felt more present when he was away in Cambodia while I was still back in Australia.

The shape on the screen had even more than a clear outline now, I could see some details.

Reviving my going forward strategy  

I’ve found some clues to help me go forward. Looking at my timeline of post trauma events I can see what helps and what doesn't.

Where I felt forced to be in certain situations it just made me feel worse. “Rip the Bandaid off” was my method at one point when I thought it was something I would just have to get over; but so far that seems ineffective. Ignoring it for years also didn’t help.

Writing about it is one thing that helps. I think I’m going to call my blog the fourth counsellor. Perhaps it’s because I’m recalling the memories myself without the presence of the weird feeling.  I think TSC mentioned this would help separate the memory from the stress hormone reaction. And TFC also mentioned writing. An example 5 ways living with an undiagnosed illness in the family is stressful. Also this has more about writing.

The blur, became a shape, with an outline, then a few details and now with writing feel clearly defined.

So there you have it. Its only the tip of the iceberg but hopefully this gave you an idea of how counselling for me has been like focusing in on what it is going on and finally seeing the details. 

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash