How do you navigate the changes that come with moving across the country, or perhaps perpetually around the globe? When Rachael left Toronto for Dubai, it was supposed to be the place where everything finally came together. But her years of experience in the world and business of self-help didn't save her from finding it a very difficult adjustment. Something about this transition required her to dig deep and devise strategies to help her create the kind of life she wanted to get out of bed for. Full of hard-won tips and wisdom, At Home Anywhere is part memoir, part loving letter full of advice on how to lead a more joyful and worthwhile life for those who suddenly find themselves uprooted.
Rachael Lynn is an American-born author and community organizer who writes on personal relationship with self, family, and in love. Lynn believes that sharing your truth is the quickest way to freedom and works to facilitate that in herself and others who are ready. New York was where she first started working in the self-development world, but she is now based in Dubai, where she runs the hugely popular community Women Connect Abroad - a series of gatherings in Dubai where women can come to skip the small talk, make real friendships, and have a community of their own.
In her debut book, At Home Anywhere, Lynn chronologies her first year moving to Dubai in 2018 (just a week after getting married) and how she turned all those "self-help" tools she learned through her work into the methods that would bring her out of moving depression.
At Home Anywhere: Feel at home wherever life takes you was released in November 2019.
What was it about traveling that you liked from your early age?
RL: As a child in the US it was two things: the fact that traveling was so out of reach and Paris. I came from a family where traveling meant driving to the beach. Flying abroad was what “other” people did. When I was in high school my mom’s best friend flew us to the UK. From there we made a day trip to Paris. It was the most beautiful, sunny day and the first time it dawned on me that people all over the world are living very different lives from what I knew! Foods, clothing, opinions and outlooks… That was the day I knew I had to make travel a part of my life.
You have moved to Dubai for love. Everything felt right. Your husband loves you and supports you. But a depression set in shortly after your arrival. Please tell us about this.
RL: After the excitement wore off, it was the first time in 15 years I wasn’t working. We also have help in the house, so cleaning or making meals was not something I “had” to do. Basically, I had nothing to distract myself with, or focus on because I had never in my life had “free time”, even though I always dreamt of that. And then, I felt guilty for having so much privilege. How could I be sad when I had so much? It was a full-on identity crisis, with no friends or family around to help me.
How did you manage to find a way out of depression?
RL: I have worked in personal development and had life coaches for many years. I thought I had “learned” how not to ever get depressed again. Little did I know that fighting against feeling things was causing a lot of the struggle.
It only began to lessen on the day I finally said out-loud to my husband that I was depressed and it was okay that he wasn’t sure how to help me. I was blaming him in my head for a while, because I felt I had moved all this way for him and he was “busy working”. But marrying him and moving was a choice that I made, and admitting what I was feeling helped me take ownership of that. From there, day by day, I took steps to help myself.
With no friends around, and no real support system or blueprint for how we are supposed to make sense of living away from everything familiar, what should we do to feel like ourselves again?
RL: The first thing I did and that I recommend is letting people in on how you are feeling. In the beginning I thought that my friends and family back home could not know how sad I was because I didn’t want them to worry, or tell me I made the wrong choice. But as soon as we are honest with ourselves and with people who care about us, we start to remember who we are. We don’t have to be in person with people to connect with them from our hearts.
If you don’t feel like you can talk to family and friends, then reach for a journal, or a counsellor or therapist. Those are your foundations. From there, you can find a plethora of Facebook Groups or communities on Instagram that are bringing women together. I am so grateful for Dubai, because many of us are away from family and friends, so we build our own.
When did you know that you wanted to write a book?
RL: Writing has been a part of my life for a long time. As a child I fantasized about working on a big NYC based magazine. I always thought that one day I’d write a book about my life, but I never expected the first book I wrote to be about how to support yourself when you move abroad. The idea for “At Home Anywhere” came one day while I was journaling. I wrote to myself: “Where is the book that helps women like me to deal with something like this?”. I couldn’t find one I wanted to read, so I pitched the idea. And it stuck!
What was the most challenging about writing At Home Anywhere?
RL: Worrying about whether I wrote enough to actually help readers, and then wondering whether I share too much personal information. I get quite vulnerable. I kept trying to make my chapters longer because I wanted the book to be physically thicker (I love a good, solid book in my hands), but I kept asking myself: “Have I said everything that is beneficial that I need to say here?” And I felt I did. I still worry that it is not good enough, even though it is done. I try to remind myself that every author probably looks back on their first book with both love and a little bit of embarrassment. Only we see holes that aren’t really there.
How did writing help you finding yourself again?
RL: Journaling and writing in general always helps me make more sense of myself. But writing the book made me actually put things in order; helped me see in retrospect how there were signs of my depression coming even before I moved all the way over to Dubai. It also helped me to look at my story and see that anybody going through something so huge would feel the things I was feeling, and that I was actually really brave. So many women are probably feeling the same and wondering if there is something wrong with them. Writing helped me find myself because I could see myself as a human being. More like a friend, not someone who had to do life perfectly.
During times of transition, what would be the most important things to remember?
RL: Your whole life has just changed. It’s okay to feel all the emotions about it. Whether it is moving, job change, motherhood, loss, etc. any and every transition in life means a part of us becomes different. We have to let ourselves feel that. With moving, it is going to require you to become a whole new person - someone who family and friends back home understand a little less - who can adapt and love in new cultures and languages. You will learn things about yourself you never expected. And becoming someone new requires letting go of who you used to be.
You talk about many issues one can face as an expat: moving emotions, making new friends, expressing yourself, etc. What was it you wished you knew before you moved?
RL: Looking back, I would tell myself in the months leading up to the move that it is not researching the places to visit, eat, or how to do legal paperwork in your new home that matters. What you should prepare for is getting together the tools that will support you emotionally, no matter how strong you think you are (I thought I was a pro!). That and quality time with the people you love before you go is the most important.
Please tell us about Women Connect Abroad community.
RL: Women Connect Abroad started out of my selfish desire to make meaningful friendships in Dubai and I couldn’t seem to find a place to do that. I wished there was something like a “Dubai Expat newcomer orientation” for women who wanted to have real conversations about things that mattered to them, and to connect over things other than going out to parties. That just wasn’t my thing!
So, at all, at the Women Connect events I have held so far, we gather as 10 to 15 women and use conversation starter cards and talk about quite personal things right away. There is a certain type of woman who enjoys being vulnerable and put on the spot like that, and I have had lots of ladies make meaningful friendships out of just one event!
What is for you the best part about living abroad?
RL: Becoming fully myself and discovering who that is without being surrounded by my upbringing and old life.
What is next for Rachael Lynn?
RL: Always, always getting to know myself more. Planning to start a family. And maybe another book? Let’s see. (smiles)
Discover more at:
On Instagram: @iam_rachaellynn
*This story first appeared in the June 2020 issue of L'Officiel Arabia.