Monday, March 1, 2010

Does being an expat give you Dissociative Identity Disorder?

I have two blogs. It's hard to keep two blogs. Scratch that. It's almost IMPOSSIBLE to keep two blogs. I only say "almost" out of respect for people who actually do it quite successfully. Unfortunately, I am not one of them.

I bring this up here not because I feel like I should be apologizing for my absence (although, should you care to know, I was tending to my feminist calling). I only mention this because I feel that as expats/immigrants, etc., we often get pulled in multiple directions, which tends to keep us busy at best, anxious at worst. The Bulgarian* and the expat parts of our brains are at odds; oftentimes, for very sensible reasons. Sometimes, all the tugging... back and forth... starts to wear out our patience.

My two blogs, for example, are a direct representations of my Bulgarian and my expat inner worlds. And currently, I am so warn out of constantly negotiating that both have fallen neglected. We all have our ways of self-medicating and I am dealing by indulging in a short period of un-thoughtfulness. When I encounter a serious thought, I push it away. I know it sounds flippant, but it's what I need right now.

So, tell me, is this something you think about? Do you feel pulled in different directions by your "Bulgarian" and "expat" selves? How do you deal with your various identities? How do you make them co-exist? Have you been able to craft a unified identity for yourself? Do you sometimes feel like you are a character in a novel and the author of your book has decided to give you the gift of dissociative identity disorder?

*Plug in your own nationality here. Recently, I've been lucky to have some new readers, many of them expats, not necessarily with any Bulgaria connections. I am so happy you are here! I've always hoped it goes without saying that this blog is not *really* about Bulgaria or Bulgarians only.I look forward to getting to know you all better!


  1. I think, after 2 years of living in Bulgaria, that I have definitely emerged with a new identity.

    A couple of weeks ago I was at the opening of a bookstore here in Sofia. The launch of my speculative fiction ezine is at the end of March, and I purchased 3 Bulgarian stories, and used 100% Bulgarian artists for the first issue, so I've been trying to tap into the literary scene here, but what was funny (to me) was that sometime during the event I was having a long discussion with a group of people (in English; my Bulgarian is still elementary, far from conversational) and one of the individuals commented that "You seem extremely comfortable for a foreigner coming to an event like this and melding into the Bulgarian social scene. Normally foreigners stick out like a sore thumb, but you fit right in."

    Additionally, my wife and I have noticed that recently (the past 6 months or so) I am no longer automatically assumed to be a foreigner. Yesterday was the perfect example, as we were up at HDK browsing for martinitsa and I was drinking a beer and the girl behind the stand just automatically asked me in Bulgarian how the hell I could tolerate drinking a cold beer in such cold weather, and why wasn't I drinking rakia instead.

    Somehow, along the way, I have shed the "aura" of foreigner, and have settled completely into my Bulgarian state of being. I cannot say that it is conscious. Perhaps it is because I no longer stare wide-eyed at the buildings, because they are no longer mind-boggling in their splendor/decadence. Perhaps it is because I understand enough of the language now that I'm not constantly looking around, curious. Maybe it's because I know the streets of the city now, and my walk is the walk of a man accustomed to the valleys and crevices of the pavement and stone, and I am no longer walking as one does as a newcomer.

    I really can't say.

    On a conscious level, I am far more tolerant than I used to be. Being an expat has definitely pushed me into a new sense of emotions, a new way of thinking. I am no longer the "OMFG HURRY HURRY HURRY" person I was when I first came here from America. I have learned to appreciate taking 4-5 hours for a dinner with friends, being 45 minutes to an hour late for every engagement, and learning how to be relaxed, calm, and simply taking life as it comes at me. Before, in the States, I was always hustle and bustle, busy busy busy, but now I enjoy life.

    My wife says I am almost a completely different person than who I was 2 years ago. It's hard to see it when you are on the inside looking out, but one of the ways I know I have changed is in the aforementioned way others treat me here in the country...I've settled in, so to speak. I no longer exude the essence of foreigner. I am considered a local now, and it's a good feeling.

  2. I also wouldn't trade it for the world. We have zero desire to go back to the States, even for a visit. Our life here is wonderful, we are surrounded by family and friends, thousands of years of history, phenomenal wine, the beauty of the Rhodopes, Rila, the Black Sea, the Aegean, the Mediterranean...all in our back yard. What could we possibly want back in the land of the work-your-ass-off-for-60-years-until-you-maybe-have-enough-money-to-retire when we have everything we need right here, right now.

  3. I do agree with you, Petya, that being an expat can make a person feel split in so many ways, and I think that's what makes it so interesting to *be* an expat.

    I also was like you, I had several different blogs on different topics (one for reviews, one with recipes, one with health-related posts, etc.) and I found I was much less productive as a blogger than I do now with all the different things I write about under one heading. As a result, I feel much more unified in myself and in my interests, allowing myself room to write about all the things that interest me and have them all in one place.

    Great post!

  4. I can hardly cope with one blog, let alone two! also, I am still hoping to find some free time to work on the novel I have in mind. It kind of started, but will probably take years to get finished. if ever! :)

  5. You've managed to be pretty productive for someone with D.I.D.

  6. Really intriguing post! I do not blog, or write for that matter, but I still wake up sometimes and feel as though I am in "no man's land," speaking purely abstractly. It's really not about the geographical location (technically I live in the U.S.), it's about one's personality / identity - sometimes it feels as though I am not so "Bulgarian", yet I am not American/Czech/British/etc. who am I? It's not that I ever wish I was anyone else but a Bulgarian, but it's that lost feeling of belonging that causes me to question my true self.

  7. I'd say your thoughts on living in a foreign country are quite spot on. I've been living in a Western European country for almost two years now, and still get these odd spells of confusion and bewilderment and frustration and dissociation from my surroundings and retreats deep into my own head. In fact, these bouts have become more frequent with time.
    For example, I go to a house party, and everybody would be a non-Bulgarian, and I would just sit and look at them go wild in their own unique and non-Bulgarian ways, singing along to songs they've grown up with, and I often feel as if I am just an observer, that I cannot truly genuinely join them in their celebration - because I am of a different nationality or for personal reasons, or a strange mixture of both, that I can't make up my mind about, still trying to figure it out.
    Anyway, I really loved this post. You've managed to put into words the bitter-sweet-confusing-challenging-educating-frustrating experience of the expat. And I'm glad I am not alone in my identity issues.. Just last night, incidentally, I decided to just listen to my own heart/ inner voice more carefully and act as it tells me (even though I might come across as an egotist) instead of just observing and not being able to react to the "odd", as in, different, environment.
    Sorry for the scattered thoughts, I am still recovering from last night's party :).

  8. WOW! Thank you all for such thoughtful comments.

    I want to modify my initial point a little bit. I know that many of us have various competing identities that are not necessarily related to our nationality. I see it in my husband every day. He is a philosopher by training and teaches at Rhodes College. He loves doing that. But he is also a great lover of photography. He takes pictures (almost) every day, studies photography, collects books and equipment, constantly studies the craft. When we were in Bulgaria, he actually worked on a couple of big projects for AMICA (the Bulgarian version of the famous Italian women's magazine). He loved it and even though we haven't actually talked about this directly, I am sure he must have wondered... what if that's what I DID?! So, yes, I know that the split-personality experience that I am describing here is not unique to expats.

    HOWEVER, it seems to me that by definition, most expats HAVE TO deal with multiple identities on a more immediate level than most people. My daily struggles have to do with the clarity with which I express myself in English and Bulgarian, the books/newspapers that I read, the way I budget my money... and so on and so on.

    Let's keep this conversation going!