It Just Doesn’t Go Away

IMG_5986It just doesn’t go away – written anonymously

This week at Communicating Across Boundaries we received this letter. We’re putting it out there and inviting you our readers to help us know how to respond.

I’m appealing to my community out there who grew up with Where There Is No Doctor or The Village Medical Manual. I need your help. It seems that I have developed this thing. It’s a malaise of sorts and it lives deep inside me, down at the bottom of my soul, in the lurking murky waters. I don’t know how to really even describe it. It’s thick and tangible. It washes over me and erodes joy and contentment at times when I least expect it.  

I’m afraid I may have a chronic case of ennui. Most of the time the symptoms lie dormant but occasionally—when my routines are disturbed, when life is a little off kilter, when friends are traveling, —they flare up, these “feeling(s) of weariness and dissatisfaction: boredom.”

What advice can you give me? What prescription would you write? Are there home remedies you would suggest?

I’ve tried ignoring it. I look away. I pretend I didn’t see it. The shadows out of the corner of my eye are just shadows, I reason. In the ignoring it does seem to shrink, I think, a little. And just when I get excited that maybe it’s vanishing, maybe it’s gone, it bubbles up again inside of me. Very. Much. There.

I’ve tried exterminating it. I’ve tried talk therapy. I’ve imagined exorcisms and interventions. I’ve tried waking up and pretending I’m normal. I’ve wished it away, washed it away, worked it away. But alas, to no avail. It always seems to comes back.

I’m afraid it’s chronic.

What do you think is wrong with me?

Is it an addiction to adrenaline? Am I just longing for adventure and excitement? Am I looking for something to look forward to?

It is residual grief and sorrow that comes from a life of perpetual transition. Too many goodbyes. Too many separations. Is it merely thick sadness?

Is it restlessness? Is there in me another type of biological clock ticking and tocking telling me it’s time travel again? to move far away? Am I somehow unquieted, unsettled? Am I really just bored?

To be honest I think it’s all those things. I’ve lived, by God’s complete grace and kindness, most of my life in a bigger playground. I grew up in Asia, graduated from college in North America, met my husband in the United States, we spent the first years of our married life back in Asia. It’s been a grand life. We’ve seen a lot of places, had coffee in a lot of cafes, traveled on a lot of airplanes. It’s hard to settle down. And although we’ve lived in the United States for almost a decade, it’s still hard to shake this thing that lingers inside me–this grief-adrenaline withdrawal-unsettled-restlessness at work in my soul.

I’m appealing to you whatever your medical training may be: doctor, nurse practitioner, midwife, chiropractor, auyrovedist, naturopath, homeopath, quackyopath. What remedy do you have for me? My symptoms seem intense these days. I need your advice!

Can you relate? What would you suggest? How have you pushed past this in your own story? Marilyn and I would love to hear from you.

41 thoughts on “It Just Doesn’t Go Away

  1. I too can relate to many of the thoughts expressed here.
    Some of the pieces of my puzzle have been ‘fit into place’ by tending to the physiological aspects. Maybe this will shed some light for you.

    For me, hormones were a huge piece. Our endocrine system is one of the central governing forces for myriad of functions. The other highly important piece is the digestive tract because it is the seat of our immune system.
    (Maybe the main piece originallly) turned out to be gluten intolerance-
    which in turn caused my body to become autoimmune, attacking my own thyroid-which in turn caused my adrenals to become extremely fatigued. (Stage 4)
    Once this occurs, you cannot produce your other hormones adequately.
    In a short time, I went into menopause, this became the ‘last straw’ for my very struggling endocrine system.

    I have now been taking hydrocortisone to let my adrenals have a rest, natural desicated thyroid to give my system what my damaged thyroid gland is not producing on its own, and I have had all my other hormones (estrogen/progesterone, DHEA, etc.) balanced by taking bio identical hormones.
    I do not eat gluten, sugar or dairy as 3 food groups that are inflammatory to the intestinal tract. Since revising my diet, and before having the other medications, the struggles with depression pretty much subsided. There is a huge link for many people with mind, mood, and food interactions…even if you are not showing any overt stomach symptoms.

    I encourage you to try to find a Functional Medicine doctor. (Google to find the list for practitioners where you live.) In the meanwhile, google Dr. Mark Hyman to start educating yourself about nutrition’s impact on our health, and try making some dietary changes.

    I am in agreement with the other responders about counseling, a retreat with a spiritual director, prayer, beauty in nature and art, hymns, etc…these are all contributors to a sense of well being. I am still working on finding the other pieces to my puzzle.

    May God grant you every resource needed, and the grace with which to pursue and receive what He has for you.


  2. Many of us really sympathise. I have loved the many changes in our lives over the years, but some years the loss builds up and becomes too heavy. It can be hard to see the joy of the newness that is coming. But it is so good to see a person reaching out and looking for answers. I have really grieved over other friends who refused to do that and suffered too much! As others have said – immerse yourself in prayer and call on others to do that too. At the same time, investigate every possibility of physical healing – our pastor said many years ago that that should be first on our list, to prayerfully consider how we were living our lives in terms of nutrition, sleep, fitness, possible need for suitable medication, and how we were availing ourselves of the means of grace. Stay connected with those who can help and let us all pray for you that the Lord will open the right doors, bring people who can advise and help you into your life, and bring joy and healing into your life – and into the lives of others we know who are experiencing some of this too. Thanks for sharing this. It has given me and many others a lot to consider.


    1. Excellent comment! Some people seem to think that if we just pray enough, or spend time in the Word (both excellent things to do!) all our problems will go away…but our Father has given doctors, counselors and other people gifts which we need to make use of. First of all, tho, is personal responsibility and life style choices which no one else can force us to make.


  3. I can feel this thing she is talking about in my own heart as I read this letter. Sometimes it feels like a heavy, numbing complacency and sometimes like a boiling frustration, or a deep, dark pit of sadness. I call my own by many names: sometimes loss, sometimes darkness, sometimes just an unsettled spirit. I tell myself over and over to “be still”. But usually I accept it as an uncomfortable advantage that I know deep within me that this is not my home and that I long for something more, something so much more fulfilling, so much deeper, so much brighter, so much better, a real and honest home, a place to belong. As a Christian I can count this discomfort as a good thing (in theory) because truthfully we aren’t ment to be comfortable here. We are meant to see the brokenness and I think let it drive us toward love and the True Wholeness we find in Jesus Christ. I can see other Christians get comfortable here, maybe too comfortable. But knowing that we are meant to have some semblance of this doesn’t make that feeling go away. I think I’ve just come to accept it and allow it to exist. Not let it take over, not let it pull me under (when I can). I just nod at it in the corner, acknowledge that it is there, and then take deep breaths, smile at someone, sometimes let some pressure out with tears, and keep moving forward knowing that one day it will not sit in that corner anymore.

    Art helps. Beauty helps. Poetry, paintings, sunsets, songs, laughter.


  4. I too thot of acedia, defined as the noontime demon by the early monastics. As mentioned Kathleen Norris has written about this, also recommend her lovely meditation: The quotidian mysteries, laundry, liturgy and women’s work. And the concept comes up in Nowen’s The way of the heart.

    I have found going on a retreat and being able to work thru things with a spiritual director very helpful– soul care in ways that nourish me. And just allowing myself to grieve the losses that have piled up over many years, a lot of that I do thru journaling.

    One more thing I’ll mention, and that is a holding cross. When I am deeply upset or sleepless in the night, I reach for my holding cross and grip it thightly (helps release anger) or loosely (to remind myself of Jesus’s presence).


  5. To me, this feeling is the result of the accumulation of all the places and people I gave my heart to in my childhood of travel, but which I either can’t see now, or can only visit very occasionally…it is a build-up of losses (even though they were all joys before)–some of which are permanent losses too. Those people have gone or the places have changed, some because of war and destruction. Also there is the simple fact that i cannot be in multiple places at the same time. And so every current happiness has a tinge of sadness. Il y quelque chose qui manque…a little bit of grief that gnaws away at every happiness. I also found it got strongest during the couple of years when I realized I had spent more time now in my “home” country than in any other place, and yet still did not feel at home. I wish I could say it is cured, but it does diminish a bit, as I make more connections here and as I lower my expectations of travel. Finding a friend who has somewhat the same background would be a great help I feel too. And finally, it is one of the reasons I hang onto “the hope of glory” because surely in heaven we will feel completely at home and we’ll be at once with so many loved ones too. Sorry I can’t offer a cure; but I was helped myself by reading your letter and knowing I’m not alone. Thank you.


  6. I highly highly highly recommend the books and dvd recordings of Dr. Henry Wright. Just a fantastic spot on set of counseling materials that is faaaar and away more advanced than anything I have ever seen or tried. You can find his website, AND, he has plenty of material on – the two I like are “Unloving” which is a book that will blow your mind on your inner self spelled out, and the other is “Be In Health, A more Excellent Way”. He has much more, but these two are a great start.


  7. I believe that I can relate to what this person wrote. I wouldn’t describe my own feelings/experience as depression or longing for something (or saudade/homesickness); those don’t really seem to fit. There are times of my life when I knew I was very happy, or I later realized how much I should have appreciated how happy I was. There are also times when I fantasize about living past events over, so I could do things differently this time around. So that fits a bit with the idea of “longing for times-gone-by”; but that feels like a symptom – and not the real problem. It doesn’t feel like the real core of the apple…
    To me the core problem feels like loneliness, the feeling of being alone. And not a type of loneliness that another person – like my amazing wife – or group of people – like my wonderful parents or brothers – or any other 50- or 500- or 5000 people could take away.
    I think Christians hear about this situation and want to quickly propose God or Jesus as the solution – obviously that must be what a lonely person is missing. It is the perfect “opportunity-to-witness” that Christians have been waiting and preparing for, that God would make sure they are available for when the need arises. But that is sort of a “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” mentality (or “what works for me will work for everyone else” mentality); and, at least in my case, suggestions like those have been the opposite of helpful. I have earnestly tried – but praying the right prayers, thinking the right thoughts, believing the right things; they just add up to me thinking I must have done something wrong, because the problem is still the same after all of that.
    I think what helps me is just to realize that what I feel is the human condition. A feeling of loneliness and dissatisfaction with the world is “hard-wired” into a lot of people like me. And thank God really, because think of all of the art and music and poetry created over the years by lonely, dissatisfied people. Think of the mountains that have been climbed, and continents crossed on dog sleds…
    I believe that God crafted humans very carefully, and for reasons that He fully understands – even if we don’t – He made some/many/all of us with built-in feelings like these.
    So I don’t expect the following “secret-to-happiness” to help the anonymous letter writer very much, except maybe provide a glimmer of hope.
    What I do is: drink coffee, put in my earbuds with loud, annoying, pumping music, sit at my computer keyboard, and type computer programming code as fast as I can think of it. I have done that for many years now and the thrill does not wear off. There is still so much to learn and master; new techniques/technologies being developed all of the time; and so many things left to be created. And I feel so proud of myself when I write a program and it works correctly, and I look at what I have created and it is the way it should be. And I feel that surely this is what I was born to do; what God created me for.
    And I look at what God has created – flowers, mountains, clouds, tree frogs, planets, island sunsets, Chinese people – and I sort of envy how awesome He must feel about the amazing things He has created, and everything He has accomplished.
    Dear letter-writer: I hope God smiles on you and quickly leads you to your “secret-to-happiness” that makes you feel like every minute you spend on it is worth it. My natural optimism leads me to believe that there is something out there that has been laid out for you.


      1. Acedia is what is referred to in the Psalms as the demon that strikes at noonday. Sometimes it is translated as depression, but apathy, or a belief that just about anything else is more important than the task at hand, is likely a more faithful translation. Norris’ book spoke deeply to me about my urge to wash the dishes or reorganize my desk drawer when I am sitting down to pray, or my compulsion to do anything except write when writing is the task at hand. Acedia is the lack of ability to care, a deep soul weariness. Norris’ book is in my top 10 spiritual books, maybe in the top 3.


  8. I think your heart knows what you need, if you quiet yourself to listen and then quiet the voices that tell you that you can’t possibly do whatever it is you need right now. God will give you the remedy which is uniquely yours, since He knows us better than we know ourselves. Blessings as you seek with honesty and transparency.


    1. Love this Karin! I still remember sitting in your house so many years ago. You had grown a beautiful plant from a potato and I was in awe if that simple beauty. Love those memories.


  9. This quote has to do with the absence of a person. However, the words are powerful and relative to other longings such as absences, emptiness, and all the feelings described in the blog.

    “There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not attempt to do so.

    One must simply hold out and endure it.

    At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort.

    For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the
    other person through it.

    It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more
    leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve – even in pain – the authentic

    Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the

    But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.”

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer


  10. My first thought is to add something new/different to your life to shake things up. If you can’t travel, then bring the travel to you. Host an exchange student or couchsurfers. Volunteer with refugees and help them learn English and assimilate.


    1. Working with immigrants and refugees is something that has helped me as well, Robin. Glad you brought it up. In fact, I believe as TCKs we have a unique ability to relate to refugees an immigrants – if we are allowed to do so.


  11. Wow. Yes. The Portuguese word ‘Saudade’ also comes to mind along with ennui. I experience some of those same feelings. There is a longing in me to bring all the pieces of this mobile life tapestry together for a sense of wholeness, NOW, that is actually impossible in our time/space continuum. How often do I feel out of round? Too much for comfort. But the hope that there is more; completeness, integrality, lasting joy beyond the current fabric of our existence is a golden lifeline- an anchor for my soul.

    Growing up between US and Kenya and then living in US and Asia, I sometimes think of that dissatisfaction as a curse and sometimes as a gift. The curse is that it sneaks in to the best of times like family reunions with food, stories, laughter, play and unconditional acceptance. That ‘thick sadness’ lurks at the edges that ‘this will not last’ and it will hurt when we go our disparate ways. At other times the curse is to observe situations as a perpetual outsider, finding it difficult just to ‘enter in’. And then there is the sorrow over the losses. Even when the Acceptance target of grief processing has been seemingly been hit, ‘Mission accomplished, sir!’ I find that triggers can throw me back into the grief process. It hurts and saps energy.

    The gift for me is knowing that life is full and there is a spectrum of Joy and Pain. No banality exists when I can fully feel. Another is that being discontent can launch me into caring for others. If I can feel it, I can empathize with you. And I am reminded that this world is not my final home- that seems clear as I observe my own brokenness and that of the world around me- if we are broken, there must be something better that we are longing for, else how would we even imagine that?

    Some strategies as I look to ‘the best that is to come’ are:
    – working towards that better picture to the best of my abilities, to choose love over fear, faith over pride and hope over despair. For me it is choosing.
    – to be grateful, daily. (like narniaqueen said)
    – to serve others in their difficulties and challenges
    – to care as well as I can for myself- sleep, exercise, diet, reading, prayer etc. (I think TCK/global nomad types need to take depression seriously!)
    – to get help when I need it – the doctor, counselor, coach, listening friend (I hear my wife saying my theory is better than my practice but I’m improving, I think :)
    – to embrace the story of who I am and where I come from, (which may mean digging into it, even in the dark corners and closed boxes) and to find others who resonate with that story and then feel open to sharing theirs.

    I hope this is helpful and look forward to other thoughts! This is a really important conversation.


  12. Narnianqueen, love your name! And your suggestion of remembering and writing down those things I’m thankful for today. Also for me, not a TCK, but a TCAdult, music helps me so much: hymns played and sung really well, and classical. Some contemporary works for me, but I’m pretty picky there. Also read the psalms, that most wonderful old hymn book. Recently my husband and I attended a session on living with joy while aging. I’m nearly 87,he just turned 89. Rejoicing at any age is a choice, and I find most joy when I’m not looking for it, in bringing joy to someone else by a phone call or a note or an email. We have many friends who are widowed, women and men. It goes with this territory. One day it will be one of us. I don’t manage nearly as much as I’d like to, but try to make 2 or 3 phone calls a week to some of them.


    1. I spent much of my time as a child in Sindh looking for that elusive path to Narnia! Music can be so soothing when you find a song that feels like it was written with you in mind. I make myself work at being thankful. It would be all to easy to allow disability to turn me bitter with the unfairness of it all. It helps me to be thankful for the little things in life and is a good reminder on the toughest days that I have plenty to be thankful for. Living in the age of Internet communication for starters. When we left Pakistan I felt I had lost friendships for ever, thanks to the Internet they are no longer lost.
      I imagine that session on living with joy whilst aging must have been very useful, I think the church at times forgets that its older members spiritual needs are just as great.


      1. I was going to write something similar to Marilyn’s Mum. We can’t stop the longing but we can refocus our heart eyes on praise which lessens the anguish and gradually replaces it. As we learn to praise and thank God for all we do have, it becomes a habit and kicks in quicker and quicker in the process. We might always have that restlessness and longing hit us but when we know where our go to place is we languish in it less and less.


  13. Bless you for sharing, honestly and poignantly, what so many of us feel at different points. To be at home in so many places, and to rarely be completely at home anywhere; to be blessed to be in the moment, where we are, and yet long to be elsewhere, during important (or mundane daily) events in the lives of those dear to us…. I resonate with what you have said, and will say that after returning to the US as an adult, I fell into depression as well. I had to move away to finally cure it. Perhaps not the answer you want. Much of the USA today, at least in the Midwest where I was, is not the country I love and respect. Look what happened yesterday in Carolina!

    Having said that, I do agree that avoiding sugar and gluten will help. Exercising regularly, preferably outdoors. Communing with nature: gardening, hiking, picnic… Prayer, of course. Reaching out to do a daily good deed for someone else, ideally one they don’t expect or don’t acknowledge you for. Meditation or yoga.

    God bless you on your journey. You are beautiful and God treasures you in every way.


  14. I’ve started typing this response at least 5 times, and I just feel like I am not experienced enough to put any kind of worthwhile ‘wisdom’ into this discussion. But, as I hit backspace, and I’m left with the blank box, I know that I have to say SOMETHING.

    For me, I get this restless sorrow as well. It hits hard, in the gut with it’s relentless fingers attacking all parts of my emotional status. While I have not found a cure, per se, I have found that exploring it does more help than harm. Sometimes it’s the realization that I have no one to validate my experience except other MKs or TCKs and there are none to be found when I ‘need’ them to explain how my sorrow over missing a certain food or smell or person is not unfounded, but rather the norm in our sort.

    I think, too, that we tend to think that grieving is invalidating to our existence – it’s like saying that our childhood experiences, who helped shaped who we are, are abnormal or wrong or…or….or…..and instead of grieving, we hold on to the that this is normal….for us. When really, it’s IS NOT normal….and that’s okay. To say that I LOVE explaining my history of being born here, raised there, traveled elsewhere would be accurate, but to also say that I grieve the isolation that created is also accurate. It’s a symbiotic thing that requires honesty and courage to face.

    There is so much that I could say or want to say that I could take up pages of the internet to do it in. Instead, I offer a hug, a cup of chai, cay, coffee, tea, or whatever you are most reminiscing about, and a listening ear.

    God, in his grace, has given us hope that, in Him, we can have peace, joy, and contentment, even when ennui captures us for days or weeks on end.


    1. I love, love this comment. And I am ever so grateful that you took the time to write and didn’t give up. It was worth every word. I would love to put this into a blog post if you would be okay with that. Thank you so much for this.


  15. Most MKs I speak with have suffered this at some point or perhaps continually. When it’s at its worse for me I try to pinpoint what it is that eats away at me. I’ve been grounded in my birth country for six years now due to disability making travel both unaffordable and inadvisable. I miss having a passport, a ticket to unfathomable adventure. Life here is pedestrian at best. That’s not to say that I don’t have good friends and happy times. It’s more that part of my soul goes unsatisfied. Clearing out my grandmother’s possessions recently I found some writing I did aged 15. It was a diary written on my first trip back to the country I considered home after a four years absence. The line that struck me most was “it’s so much easier to feel holy when we are here living out God’s command.” I don’t think that feeling of unworthiness I feel when living a ‘normal’ life will ever truly leave me and I find it is part of that uneasy restlessness for me. My childhood was hard, it had too much heartache, but the flip side was an unparalleled abundance of joy.
    Simply put, when overseas all my emotions were felt deeper from the depths of despair to the heights of hapiness.

    How to combat that nagging grief I have less answers for. Personally two things help. I occasionally make the pilgrimage to Southall, the heart of Asian Britain, where my two cultures sit side by side with a seamless fusion I wish was possible for the two parts of my life. The second, a daily task before bed to write five things that day that I am thankful for in the life I live now so that in the hardest moments I have a record that I don’t always feel so bereft.


    1. This is incredibly beautiful Jo! I think you need to do more writing. The TCK world would benefit tremendously. The line I loved best is this: where my two cultures sit side by side with a seamless fusion. Thank you.


  16. I really am quite reticent to comment on a very difficult piece of life that I feel is so very common but not much talked about. I am an MK and grew up overseas in Latin America, sometimes where there were no doctors. I appreciate your comments and I believe you and think you have named it well, this life. I have been on this journey for quite some time now and have to agree that there aren’t any quick fixes.

    I wish that I was home, I mean in heaven, where life wasn’t so difficult, disappointing, and sometimes quite frankly devastating. Somehow God expects and in fact invites me to live in the dissonance of not being home yet but still asking me to live out the life of Jesus in a broken world in my broken body. I am actually asking the same question with very similar difficulties as the writer. So I vacillate between depression and watching the hand of God at work.

    Some things have helped me but each of us are on our own journey. We all want relief but I’m not sure that will fully come until we reach our true home in heaven. To me that can be very discouraging. So instead of expecting that this life will always be what I have hoped, I pray and ask God to help me enjoy the little pieces of life that truly show what someday our real home, heaven will be like.

    I could list off the things that I think have helped me in this journey but I’m not sure that it would be profitable for someone else. I think each of us has to do the hard work of what it means for us to live in the dissonance of not being home yet.


    1. Ism so glad that you were willing to put aside the reticence to speak on this. I found this comment to be tremendously wise and insightful. And I appreciate you bringing up the dissonance piece – I’ve not heard this described as such but it is absolutely accurate.


    2. Great practical advice – and I am so glad that you weed willing to be the first to comment. I hope you will go back and see what you started!!


    3. I agree with you wholeheartedly about that longing for HOME which will ONLY be fulfilled when we reach Heaven…where there will be no more parting, abandonment, misunderstanding or pain of any kind! But WHY are we judged so harshly by others (esp Christians, it seems!) when we express that deep longing of the soul?!? As another MK reminded me, even Paul longed for his Heavenly home. I want to continue serving the Lord however I can in my remaining yrs, but when I’m so tired, achy and depressed most of the time it takes most of my energy just to survive. I HATE living this way, and long to be whole, well, good…But the hardest part is being judged by some of those I love the most.


      1. Life is so much more complicated than words can really explain in this type of setting. I hesitate to offer solutions because I think life is so much more complicated that a few written words in a reply. However I have found a great deal of hope from Christian Counseling and if you haven’t tried that option if might be one worth investigating.


  17. I hate to be the first one to comment, but here are my thoughts. It sounds like mild depression. I struggled with this for years. Prayer helped, but it didn’t completely go away until I changed my diet to not include gluten or sugar. I haven’t struggled with it in a few years now, unless I binge on sugar. High doses of a good B vitamin complex and dessicated liver pills also help.


    1. So glad for you, but I have severe depression and have had chemical imbalances and sensitivities since infancy. I take many supplements, along with Cymbalta and Mucinex for the aches and pains. I went grain-free except for oats and rice (MUCH stricter than merely gluten-free!) Have had multiple med failures, 2 months of TransCranial Magnetic Stimulation didn’t help much (altho the talk therapy by the christian therapists WAS somewhat helpful) and I refuse to have Shock Therapy due to the risk of memory loss. Without my memories I feel I have nothing much left. I have enough trouble with memory and concentration as it is! I keep trying new Dr’s and will never give up in the quest for better health, but seem to be getting worse as time goes on. It’s very hard for me to be positive altho I desperately want to be a happy, healthy, encouraging person.


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