Notes from the Trail: Year 1

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I am writing as a newly diagnosed “Trailing Spouse” however this was a domestic relocation:  We moved from Oregon to Kansas, Portland to Wichita, and Trailing Spouse is usually reserved for expat relocations where a spouse must re-identify themselves in a foreign culture and foreign language.

I feel this is a correct diagnosis for me since Wichita is foreign to me in nearly every aspect, and I am undergoing the career dissolution and identity-crisis that accompanies other trailing spouses.

It has been a difficult year.  It is primarily difficult since Wichita is so unattractive as a community and I’ve had to take a serious paycheck reduction, though I’m glad to have a job.  I find that people are unfriendly for the most part here and although I can manage that, it is the ignorant dismissal that is bewildering:  if jobs are supposedly so scarce, why is there just poor customer service? Why don’t real estate agents call you back? Why do people choose the mediocre standard of living?  Poverty is just rampant and people don’t bother repairing their cars after an accident so many cars are driven in a serious state of wreckage:  bumpers hanging off or removed, rear windshiels missing, trunk side panels crashed in,  and front passenger doors inoperable due a large side door cavity.  Many people live in total desperate sub-standard developing world housing.

I often feel it is the slums of Mexico in the middle of our so-called Heartland. It should be the Armpit.

This move has forced me to re-examine things I value, since I’m not in an environment any longer that supports and upholds those values.  Since I have to champion my values and fight for those that I hold most dear, I have involuntarily embarked on a soul quest.

In my first few months here, it was difficult to make sense of where I was.  I was not necessarily in a hostile environment, but things that were friendly or welcoming were not easily identifiable.  I’m not a mall person so finding shops that offered items that I would be interested in purchasing was a real challenge.

Here are some first things to do in your new location when you are a Trailing Spouse:

Find something familiar

For me it was finding familiar stores.  I looked high and low and the only ones that seemed familiar were Target, Home Depot, Starbucks and Big Lots.  These stores grounded me as I looked around for other familiar things.  Later I found Thai and Vietnamese restaurants and a good local coffee shop.  Later I felt secure enough to venture to new stores.

Unpack and Make a Room Homey

Unpack enough items in your new home and decorate a room so that it is your “safe room:” a place where you can go to recover from culture shock, awkward interactions with locals, or to combat sheer homesickness.  It will help to be around things that remind you of you and provide sense to a situation that frequently does not make sense.

Cook Familiar Comfort Foods

Once you have your kitchen unpacked, cook foods that you find warm, comforting, and fortifying.  You will need the strength to brave new situations and the leftovers are a comfort in a new office environment.  The nourishing food will also give you minerals and strength that the extra stress is zapping.

My biggest mistake was thinking that I could simply transplant the life had to my new town.  This was not at all possible.  I hope that this blog will ease the despair, confusion, and loneliness you might be experiencing.  You’re not alone!

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