“Re-Entry Shock” is a Thing

With similar emotions to Culture Shock, people don’t really talk about Re-Entry Shock, but I think 2021+ will have a lot of parallels as people go back to work, start to travel again, become more nomadic and work from anywhere. I predict people trying to get “back to normal” post COVID19 will also experience similar emotions.

Similar to striving for “normal” post COVID, going from this life to crowded cities, traffic, and 24/7 news cycles produces anxiety

Culture Shock is a sense of anxiety, depression, or confusion that results from being cut off from your familiar culture, environment, and norms when living in a foreign country or society. Those experiencing culture shock go through distinct phases of euphoria, discomfort, adjustment, and acceptance. 

In reverse, when living for long periods outside of your home country, it’s likely you’ll feel the same in similar ways. Having experienced both Culture and Re-Entry Shock, I think the latter is MUCH harder to accept because it seems unnecessary or manufactured.

I mean, you’re going “home”, right? or you’re getting back to your “normal life”? Why and how should that be harder than experiencing a whole new country, language, currency and culture? But for me, and I think many others, it is. It feels like I no longer have a country. It feels like I don’t belong really anywhere. It feels like I’m straddling two worlds, and no one (but others in the exact same position) understands it. This feels isolating, scary and unsettling. 

We have been back in the USA for a few weeks now, and while I was excited to get back, get our vaccines, and also spend quality time to see family and friends, I knew to expect a less than glorious landing. And, so it is.

I’ve experienced Culture Shock many times in my life. It can be exhilarating, debilitating and annoying. Re-entry Shock feels worse. 

When I first moved to Turkey in 1988, I was hit hard with culture shock. Although I felt prepared for it, it was surprising just how much of a roller coaster of emotions I experienced before settling in and adapting. After a couple of years there, I returned back to the USA, and the “re-entry shock” was harder than the original culture shock. I needed a cultural de-brief. I missed many pop culture references, didn’t see movies people were talking about, and I had bizarre interactions that made me feel like a fish out of water. Although I could speak my native language, I felt awkward contributing to conversations.

Tackling Re-Entry Shock can feel overwhelming

Fast forward to today, living in Mexico and Turkey most of the year, getting back to the USA (during a pandemic, no less) hasn’t been easy, and I have been fighting the realization that I’m going through a major adjustment. I have been irritable, impatient, easily annoyed and really missing my life abroad. Conversations abroad somehow seem more stimulating – discussing global ideas and challenges, providing broader points of view and perspectives on the world and the citizens in it. Getting back to the USA feels stagnant, revisiting the same small conversations and discussing silly TV programs or talking about how “hard” someone’s life is in the USA when they have absolutely everything they could possibly want or need. Let’s not even begin to discuss politics….

So, I decided to dig into what’s really happening, and similar to grief, re-entry shock has stages. 

The myths around returning to your home country are similar: 1) that “home” will be recognizable and easy to merge back into, 2) that family and friends will be interested in what you’ve done (or even care about all you’ve gone through), 3) that you’ll feel “at home”, 4) that the skills you learned abroad are actually welcome in your home country, 4) that because it’s familiar, it will be easier, and 5) that you won’t miss your friends abroad as you see your familiar friends and family back home.

Surrounding yourself with familiar things from your life abroad, taking it slow, breathing, getting outside, and turning off the TV can help immensely, but we aren’t out of the woods just yet. I predict I have another 60+ days to fully adapt. Just in time for us to leave the country and experience it all over again.

For more reading on this topic, this article was extremely helpful. https://horizonunknown.com/5-stages-culture-shock-how-to-overcome/

TRUST YOUR GUT Keep Calm & Sail On

I’ve always said that intuition was born of wisdom, and this couldn’t be more true in these days. While most of our friends and family are in quarantine in the USA, navigating the frustrations and heartbreak of this new life, we also have unique challenges being in another country, out on the sea.

We deliberately left corporate jobs, sold companies, sold our house, downsized, started new digital nomad careers, and sailed away – relying on a retirement portfolio and new reduced income streams to fund our new way of life. We don’t have any regrets, but it’s created a new host of uncertainties we hadn’t expected. In truth, I was worried about the following things happening when we took off two years ago – two of which have already happened:

  1. A rogue wave
  2. Getting caught in a hurricane
  3. Boat breaking down in the middle of the ocean (happened twice)
  4. Hitting a whale (already happened) 

We certainly didn’t have Zombie Apocalypse on our global Bingo card!

Like most natural and human made emergencies, nothing is a problem….until it is. Mexico was late coming to the emergency of COVID19 and still is pretty sleepy compared to many other parts of the USA and the world right now, but if you believe it’s coming, then you have to prepare. And, while we have it pretty good on a house that moves (our sailboat), there are still many restrictions that limit our mobility.

social distancing
Social Distancing at Marina Palmira w/ friends aboard Agave Azul

In the past 48 hours, Mexico has locked down whole cities and towns, making it impossible to go in and out unless you can prove residency. They have made it illegal to do any kind of recreational activity, and this means sailing. Mexico has also locked down national park islands and coves where we normally anchor, and some ports have now made it illegal to enter/exit unless you can prove you are transiting to another port or entering for fuel or provisions. Something that has never happened before. So, we are now locked down in a marina – sailing season is effectively over.

And, this brings me back to trusting your gut. 

When you start to gain knowledge, stay calm and listen to your inner voice, it almost always tells you what to do. I’m not just talking about a Fight or Flight mechanism. I’m talking about what is right for you and when – even if no one else seems to be following your lead. Kirby and I have watched enough pandemic, apocalypse films and TV to know that you must keep moving forward – at all costs. If you stand still or freeze up, you have a greater chance of something worse happening. Yes, I know it’s TV, but I also believe it to be real life, and it’s served us well over the years – even during times of much less strife. 

So, when we decided to leave Puerto Vallarta 2 months earlier than planned (after my trip to Turkey was canceled) to get back to La Paz, where we have our car and a safe marina slip reserved for our boat this summer, we decided to do it. Some people told us we were overreacting, we should wait for a better southern wind weather window, and that it would be fine. Now, just two weeks later, as anchorages and ports are closing, with the coast guard patrolling daily broadcasting warnings, we feel so much better to be snug as a bug in our boat in one of the safest marinas in the southern Baja. If things get a lot worse, we can always jump in our car and drive north or sail north…

The Mexican Coast Guard patrols La Paz waterways and marinas daily with recorded broadcasts to “Quédate en Casa” (Shelter in Place)

Staying and being present is the only way to live right now. A wise friend gave some advice when I start to feel out of control – take these 6 steps:

  1. Breathe deeply for at least 1 minute
  2. Ask yourself: “Am I okay RIGHT NOW?”
  3. Stop negative spiraling thoughts by refocusing your brain on what you see, hear, smell, or taste
  4. Try to live your life and carry on as normally as possible
  5. Empower yourself with knowledge
  6. Be grateful
Making the time to reaquaint ourselves with old passions & hobbies

We are still happy to be on a sailboat looking out at the water, enjoying the sunshine, and watching the sunset, even if we cannot really leave our boat. As long as our internet holds out for us to continue to do work and communicate, we’ll be just fine. And, in the meantime, the wildlife here reminds us that the Earth is healing herself.

Stay Home, Stay Safe!


Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance*

It’s occurred to me over the past week as we are inundated with MORE bad news of a global pandemic, that there isn’t much we need to do. We are ready, my fellow sailors. We. Are. Ready.

Enjoying a beautiful virus-free day at sea

As fans of The Walking Dead, we have also joked for years that we are readying ourselves for the Zombie apocalypse. And we are….unless the zombies swim or float (which they don’t, in my expert opinion; you always have to fear the living, not the dead). We aren’t survivalists by any means, but good preparation for long passages has a similar look and feel as compared to what the CDC or WHO has currently advised.

Kirby in La Cruz, contemplating a few maintenance repairs and the sunset

Our “home” floats and travels – using wind and solar to get us just about anywhere, and within less than 20 minutes (5 in a real emergency) we can be off and away from land. It’s completely self-contained if need be. We have a water maker on board that makes 30 gallons/hour from seawater, and my general paranoia for running out of food means that we always over-provision (how long should I keep those bags of dried nuts before I acquiesce to their actual expiration date?!). Just last month, I inventoried and restocked our medicine cabinet with just about everything you can think of that you may need if you’re stuck in the middle of an ocean (or escaping a global pandemic). 

Pantry 1 of 8 on the boat

Cleaning out and inventorying some of our lesser used cabinets the other day revealed a literal treasure trove of virus-useful equipment: e.g. seeds for fresh sprouts, 4 full boxes of anti-bacterial wipes, and face masks. And, of course, this excludes our Ditch Bag supplies, which are supposed to keep us alive for several days in the event the Zombies do take over the boat.

Contents of our Ditch Bag emergency kit

But, this is no laughing matter, and experts say it’s about to get a whole lot worse. We have been traveling via plane a lot lately and visiting a few big cities, going about our lives but with a heightened sense of our space around us. We also recognize that we healthy adults have a community responsibility by not being innocent carriers to others whose immune systems may be weakened or otherwise compromised. As a reminder, these rules of safety should be our norm, not our new exception, but it deserves repeating:

  1. Wash your hands – and your phone – frequently
  2. Wipe down the areas around you on planes, at home, and on your boat with anti-bacterial wipes, a soapy bleach solution or alcohol of at least 70%
  3. Refrain from shaking hands and avoid touching your faces
  4. Keep 3-6 feet from people in groups/crowds if possible
  5. Listening for coughing or sneezing nearby from which we can inconspicuously and quickly move away
  6. Share your anti-bacterial wipes with your neighbors and strangers in close quarters
Treasures of the Bilge….

Stay safe out there, friends.