The most common question I heard this past year was, “How are you guys doing, being back in Canada? Are you all settled?”
It’s an understandable question. People are kind and interested and that’s a really normal thing to ask someone who has moved back to their home country. I just found it hard to answer because the truth was, what I was feeling was exactly the opposite of what most people were hoping for me. I was feeling exactly unsettled, in fact. I spent the entire year feeling unsettled in three important ways.
#1. I was unsettled emotionally. It took me until late spring to utter the words, “I think maybe I’m depressed.” Eight or nine months after our return, I still found myself sad and weepy on a regular basis. Not a daily basis, like the first three or four months, but certainly a couple of times a week. I couldn’t motivate myself to do much of anything. I really struggled to initiate activities or time with friends. I believe in the power of words and thoughts, so I kept telling myself that I was definitely feeling better and better with each passing month, but by May I realized that actually, I didn’t feel any better than I had in January.
In fact, in some ways I felt worse, because on top of feeling sad and uncertain about what I was doing with my life, I added on a pile of shame for daring to feeling depressed when I had such a good life. “How could I possibly still be sad?” I’d tell myself. This can’t still be about leaving the UAE. Surely I’ve had plenty of time to have grieved and moved on by now. I would scroll through my list of blessings. I’m healthy, everyone in my family is healthy, we have a lovely home, Dwayne has a good job, my kids are involved and active, I have great friends, we live in a beautiful part of the world. Each item on the list made me feel more ashamed of myself for not being able to “snap out of” my haze.
#2. I was unsettled socially. I have always, always, always found great friends wherever I’ve lived. The world is full to overflowing with amazing people, so it’s not surprising that I fall in love with several new friends in every city. When I relocate, my top priority is to seek out community and invest in friendships. But this was not a new city. I’d already spent eight years falling in love with lots of wonderful people in Chilliwack. But we don’t live in the same neighbourhood that we used to. We don’t attend the same church. Everyone’s lives shifted while we were gone, just as ours had. My worldview was radically altered while we were away and I was wrestling to figure out how to fit into a new life in an old city. What should have felt easy, in fact felt harder than starting all over in a new community.
#3. I was unsettled spiritually. Our church in the UAE exposed me to Christians from all over the world whose faith was expressed really differently than mine. I also fell in love with Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist friends. I came home processing all these things and landed in kind of a church nightmare, which further forced us to wrestle through what we believed, what was essential, and where we belonged. This turned out to be the most unsettling part of all. I asked a lot of questions of God, of myself, and of those closest to me, and was left sitting in a lot of uncertainty.
So, with all this unsettledness, this summer finally felt like I came up out of the clouds. I recognized I was climbing a mountain, looked back where I had come from, and saw dense clouds covering the valley below. No wonder it was dark down there. I don’t know if there’s another valley up ahead or a heavy storm rolling in, but for now, my head is above the clouds. Things are clearer and I realize that it felt dark this past year because it was dark. It was hard. But here’s what I learned in the dark places.
#1. Sometimes we feel really sad. For a long time. Longer than we think we “should,” and sometimes about things we think we “shouldn’t” be so sad about. There’s no shame in that. There’s no timeline for grieving a loss. (I am not qualified to make statements about mental health, I can only say that depression sucks and pulling yourself out of it feels impossible, even if you recognize it. If you know someone who is struggling with this, don’t expect her to initiate anything, but don’t leave her alone. Show up for her, be patient while her storm passes, and mostly be present. I had friends who did this for me.)
#2. Coming back to the same place is not the same as never having left. Not by a long shot. It takes time to adjust to moving back “home.”
#3. “If our theology doesn’t shift and change over our lifetimes, then I have to wonder if we’re paying attention.” (Sarah Bessey) “Lean into your questions and your doubts until you find that God is out here in the wilderness too.” (Sarah Bessey, again.) (Actually, just read all of “Out of Sorts” and insert that here.) Paradoxically, God invites us to know him even though he’s beyond our comprehension. In some ways, I think we’re further from God when we think we have him all figured out. Some of my theology has changed, but God is still my all in all. He is walking with me through this season, as always, and I believe being unsettled was part of his good plan for me.
That’s what I learned in the dark this year. I learned more about God and faith. More about myself. Deeper compassion.
And yes, I’m finally feeling a little bit settled.