When Instability Strikes…

I wrote this specifically about incidences that occur while living overseas and people back home responding to what’s shown in the media, but I also believe this same issue relates to people in all different situations of uncertainty.

Start off by taking a peak at this video.

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One thing you learn quickly living in a country that is unstable for any reason, whether that is weather related, or political, or anything else, is that it really is impossible to get a good, realistic fix on what is going on. Everyone says something different, often contradictory, and news seems to change by the minute, waffling back and forth like a ping pong ball.

Many times a key point of frustration for expats is the Western feeling that surely someone must really know the truth and is just not sharing it! But, then we have to come to a place where we realize that no, that’s usually not the case – sometimes you just really don’t know; for all the predictions and precautionary measures taken, sometimes (often) the reality is that we just can’t tell for sure what is going to happen.

This goes directly against the worldview held in the West where there is ‘always’ an answer and a way to have control of a situation, and it takes a lot of growing as a person to learn to content yourself in a situation where things are truly out of your control and no one really knows what is going to happen. We will drive ourselves mad trying to keep up with every single point of view and prediction about what will happen. Emotionally, to yo-yo between perfect safety and certain death several times a day is draining and unhelpful.

So, the most healthy approach to have is to keep tabs on the current news without obsessing over it, take precautionary measures without panicking, and then to just keep going on with life without giving more thought to it until more “maybes” become reality… or fade away back into “normal” life.

When Thailand was flooding last year, news seemed to change from one minute to the next. My friends and I received emails ranging from “sorry to hear you are flooded!” to “glad to hear you not going to be flooded after all!” when we, ourselves, were trying to content ourselves daily with the uncertainty of the situation. It can be difficult to know how to respond to emails that make assumptions like those, because we understand the caring heart behind the sender, but also know the situation could still go in any direction.

What is it like to live through a flood? Well, we are not “guaranteed safe”, and we are not “guaranteed flooded.” No one at all will be able to say, “See, I told you so…” in either regard at the end of the day. The reality is we just don’t know. Flood walls are up – fantastic. Flood walls break down under too much stress – not fantastic. Water is “under control” – fantastic. The margin is pretty tight – not fantastic. Even if the Chao Praya is under control, there are still the high tides and heavy rains to consider – which may not prove to be problems after all. The only concrete truth we have is that nobody knows for sure.

It was similar living through bandhs in Nepal. Rumours of danger. Businesses ready to close. Cupboards stocked up. No cars on the road. Predictions of violence and closures for “indefinite” periods of time. And then… it gets called off before it starts. Or not…

That being said, I do understand why people at home would read the news and worry, and why they would be quick to send premature “glad you’re okay” or “sorry you got hurt” emails. I would probably do the same if I had not lived overseas myself. However, having been on the other side of the situation several times now, I know those emails, though sent with great concern and with only the media reports to go by, can inadvertently generate increased stress and anxiety for the expat.

The alternative? If someone you love is in an unstable environment (of any kind, really, not just those mentioned already), focus on asking them questions about what the situation is like for them personally. Give them a chance to share with you from their firsthand perspective what’s going on. Questions you might consider asking are:

• What’s really going on?
• How is it affecting you (if at all)?
• Have you had to make preparations or do anything differently?
• How are you feeling about the situation?
• What is the mood of the local people in your area?
• What, if anything, are the local people doing about the issue?
• If the situation were to escalate, what are your plans?

Keep the questions open. Let them tell you what it’s like on the ground. And, finally, trust what they are saying, and that they are as well-informed as they can be. Sometimes the reality is that nobody knows what’s really going on or what will happen – and we just need to be as okay with that as we can be!

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