Growing up, I always had the sense that I was very privileged to have what I had. My parents, coming from the archetypal African households, made it their priority to impress upon me that the things I had were exclusive to only few– even what I believed to be basic comforts such as food, clothing, and shelter. They would tell me that less than 1 in 100 people had what I had. However, being exposed to an environment where everyone else seemed to have more, I found this hard to believe. I would find myself often torn between overwhelming gratefulness for everything that was provided for me– an emotion that prevailed only when I was exposed to the life that my comparatively less privileged relatives lived– and a desire for more that left me feeling ungrateful and even somewhat selfish. This inner conflict went on throughout my childhood and into my young-adulthood, and is still something I struggle with today.
Being a so-called “third-culture kid” comes with many upsides, but one of the negatives include a constant ambivalence about one’s true identity, and a simultaneous desire to belong while feeling inherently like an outsider. Constant comparison of oneself to others is also a symptom of a TCK. This feeling can persist especially when going through the transition from high school to university. I learned this the hard way when I came to Canada two years ago. Although I had already been abroad for college in America for one semester, the culture shock I experienced upon my arrival was markedly more significant than that I had been familiar with from moving around throughout my childhood.
I found my new home cold. Not just in climate– although that was also a significant difference– but in terms of the connection I felt to those around me. The distance between one stranger and the next here seemed amplified. It seemed that a much greater void stood between me and the world. Having been already prone to loner tendencies, in response, I began to withdraw. It was easy, once this divide had been visualized, to place myself behind it and shut myself out. Not only did I become withdrawn, I became afraid.
Social anxiety, otherwise known as social phobia, was not something I had previously heard of; I was not even aware that it existed. Back home, mental health was not a popular issue to discuss, and the stigmas around even relatively commonplace mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety were brutal. I myself distinctly remember having the strong sense that people who took medication for depression or saw a therapist were ‘whiners.’ So even when the symptoms– ones that I was all too familiar with– began to show themselves, I chose to ignore them.
Over time, I was able to reach out and talk about some of my issues, but what has struck me most since then, and what has sped up my personal journey considerably, is the open dialogue and support network that I was able to find here in Canada. While the stereotypes and dismissive ideas about those with mental illness do exist here in the Western world as well, I was genuinely surprised by the depth and breadth of the attempt to raise awareness about it, and furthermore, how accepting friends were about the problems that I couldn’t even admit to myself.
I remember struggling with myself over the validity of what I was going through, and the various professionals and supportive individuals that I was able to meet with here, who helped me resolve that inner conflict. That is definitely an aspect of my new life that I am very grateful for.