February 17, 2014

A Stranger in the Same Land

 Many of us are familiar with the story of the new immigrant to a new land who speaks little of the language, is unfamiliar with the customs and rules of the new society. How this individual overcomes all the obstacles and finds success in this new world is a popular subject for entertainment and education.
For those of us born and raised in the society we currently inhabit, this story can be diverting or inspiring but does not seem particularly relevant to our lives.
But here is the deal - one day you wake up and you have BECOME that person. Through misfortune or circumstance you are suddenly inhabiting an entirely different world where you speak little of the language, do not understand the rules or culture, and must figure out how to make a new life.
You have to figure out how you are going to make your way in this new place.
The frameworks and strategies that worked in your old world are no longer effective, and you need help figuring out how this new world works.
So the first thing you do is go and find a community of people who are also from your same world, and now inhabit this new country. This will be your base of operations in navigating this new world.
Your new community may even have some familiar faces in it, and keeping ties with those still in the old world is important as well. But having people who can help you learn the ropes is vitally important.

So you have thrown away all the old parameters that constrained you in the old world and can now focus on how you can make your way using your talents in this new world. The next thing you do is look at the new world through the eyes of an immigrant.
How can I make a living, how can I get the needs of myself and my family met in this new place? How can feed my spirit here? What opportunities exist and how can I access them? What new things can I bring that do not exist here yet?

For many of us, the journey from the old world to the new was a long one. We spent a lot of time with one foot in the old world trying to get back before realizing that the new world was going to be our permanent new home. And not trying to negotiate this new world alone is vital. This world is vicious for new immigrants. You are scapegoated, isolated and dehumanized by those who seek an easy target. The rules you must follow are often arbitrary and illogical, and those who are nominally in charge of ensuring your needs are met are usually overwhelmed and underresourced.
In this setting, community and social support is vital to your physical and mental well-being.

Whether it was physical, emotional, or economic factors that landed you in this new place, find a supportive community where you can safely anchor. Then you can start to look around with immigrant eyes and find new ways to survive and thrive in this new world.

We live in a wonderful age, where support and community are not limited by geography.

Here are some examples, try searching for terms specific to your needs.

National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities

Professionals with Disabilities group on Linkedin

Canadian Association of Professionals with Disabilities

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Parents without Partners

Virtual Ability

Canadian Anti-Poverty advocacy group

Try searching for disease or profession specific groups, local legal advocacy groups, local religious or secular advocacy groups, etc.
See my previous post on the issues around support for unemployment. It is infuriating and the only suggestion I have right now is networking within your profession and form support groups on your own. We need a national advocacy group for the unemployed...
In any case -
Knowing you are NOT alone in a strange place is the first step to making your new life.

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