A few years ago, as I was going through one of the most difficult periods of my life, I looked for help. I was living in Riyadh and a friend (forever grateful, May) recommended a psychotherapist she was convinced could help me. I postponed and postponed, convinced I could get over whatever was troubling me by myself. Then one day, I realized I needed help. Badly.
The first time I met Dr. Madeha, she explained the rules very clearly. This would be how often and how long we would meet and what we would work on. In a country where (back then) I was not allowed to drive, making a bi-weekly commitment was in itself a challenge. Book a driver, make sure he was on time, have a plan B if he canceled etc.
I liked Dr. Madeha right away. I felt comfortable in her office, protected. One of the first questions she asked me to work on was my identity. ‘Who are you?’ she asked. At that time, I thought it was not important. I knew who I was. That was not the problem. I had more pressing issues to work on.
We achieved a lot together over the years. Some days I left her cabinet feeling light and happy, other days I felt miserable. It was painful. But it was eye-opening. I will be eternally grateful to Dr. Madeha. From realizing I came from a violent, abusive background to the beginning of my writing career, the path was long and harrowing. I learned. I grew. And yes, I struggled with my identity.
I learned to accept, without forgetting. I came to understand, without forgiving.
Recently, the question of my own identity came up again. And I felt it was time to address it. Finally. I’m French but from a region, Alsace, that has a very complex history and a strong German background. I had to learn German. My grand parents didn’t speak French. My father was born French, was forced to become German during WWII then was French again.
When I met my American husband almost 30 years ago, in Paris, some people commented. Not about him as a person, but about the choices we would make. Language? School for our son? I should have shut them up.
When we moved to South Korea for my husband’s career, the French side was quick to criticize the school I chose for our 5-year old son. For choosing English over French. For being more involved in the international expat community rather than the French one. I should have shut them up.
When we moved to Saudi Arabia, the American side was quick to criticize our decision. How could we go to a country that does not respect women’s rights, where women can’t drive, have to wear an abaya etc. I should have shut them up.
When we moved to NYC in 2017, lots of people thought I was going ‘home’. No, I wasn’t. I never lived in the US before. This is another expat posting for me. Some said I could go back to France if I didn’t like it here. Others said I would like it, how could I not after Saudi Arabia? In France, I was called the American, I was no longer in touch with my country, I had been away too long. And as an expat, really, I had a golden life and no right to complain. Most of these people thought they knew. They didn’t bother asking me. They were not interested in me, merely projecting their own hopes or fears.
New York is not home. America is not better or worse, it is my husband’s country and half our sons’ heritage, so I respect it.
The list goes on and on. I don’t care what people think anymore. If I unleash your own demons, it’s your problem, not mine. If you don’t like who I am and what I stand for, move along. I don’t want to compromise anymore. I need benevolent people around me, and am grateful to have many. I want people who have a heart, not principles. I respect people who act with compassion, not people who perorate. I frankly don’t care if you studied Latin and what college you went to.
I met amazing people during our different postings. Some I crossed paths with, others remained life-long friends. Some I learned from, some inspired me, others I had a blast with. Even those who are no longer part of my life were there for a reason and helped build who I am today.
So, where is home? I’m over 50 and still don’t know. I used to say home is where I put my suitcase down for a while. Home is with my loved ones. For now it’s New York, but there is so much more to explore.
Who am I? I am a citizen of the world, who happened to be born in France. American by marriage and expat by choice. If you want to follow a positive, open-minded person who loves to live and lives to love, please follow me.
The others, you know what to do.