The action of pulling my well-worn suitcase off the closet shelf never fails to awaken strong feelings of anxiety and excitement. Some TCKs feel only anxiety, others excitement.
But me? I sense both anxiety and excitement.
I believe much of this is due to my life as a TCK and moving from country to country, saying goodbye to new and old friends, leaving behind much-loved caretakers, the excitement of sensing that a new adventure is about to begin, fear of the unknown, wondering what will accidentally be left behind, and the anticipation of our new home, all mixed in with the silent pleasure of leaving behind some challenging relationships.
When I think about the emotions of excitement and anxiety, they both produce the same feelings in my body. I feel my heart’s rapid beat, shortness of breath, my muscles tightening in my chest, and I am aware of my rapid speech. At times, when I am feeling completely stressed out or overcome with excitement, I fear I will have a heart attack if I don’t get myself under control. I find it interesting that both feelings create the same body sensations.
When I work with a TCK in my counseling office, they sometimes present all of the symptoms of anxiety. Some talk about full-blown, panic attacks. Some have been on medication for anxiety for months. Yet the source of all of this anxiety can be a mystery to a therapist who lacks experience in counseling TCKs or expats. The life of the globally mobile looks picturebook perfect. Most will report a loving, stable family, travel to some of the most exotic places in the world, the best of education, and wonderful job opportunities. Yet underneath this idyllic world, some experience a silent struggle with anxiety.
Are we just a strange group of travelers who are a bit hypochondriac and we just need to be given a prescription for the newest psychotropic medication with the least number of side effects and sent on our merry way? No, no, no! Yes, some of us might need some psychotropic medication due to our genetic background or our long history with anxiety, but most of us respond well to a caring, understanding friend or family member who understands our world, actively listens to our “what if” stories, accepts us even though they may not completely understand us and journeys with us.
A few of us need the skills of a professional counselor who has knowledge of the impact of the constant mobility on the life and identity of the TCK or the expat. We need to be seen as normal and yet nudged to explore the source of our anxiety, allowed to grieve our losses on this journey and move forward into all of the wonderful opportunities before us. We need a therapist who can help us develop better coping skills for that anxiety along with embracing the excitement of that next adventure.
So give me my suitcase! Anxiety is not going to stop me from getting to know yet another part of the world. Even though anxiety and excitement may travel with me, they will not stop me. I will tell myself, “My two friends, excitement and anxiety, will help me to stay on my toes to do all that I need to do so that I can get the most out of life.”
Now, I can finish packing my well-worn suitcase. Where is my passport?