Interview with Kristin Louise Duncombe

What gave you the idea to write Trailing?
There are really three main reasons I wrote the book. The first is because I wanted to recount what it was like for me, a young wife and budding professional, to accompany my husband on his career path, putting my own aspirations into question. That there are thousands of “trailing spouses” in the world today, and that there are so many implications associated with “trailing,” makes this phenomenon an important one to describe. While every story is unique, many of the issues I struggled with – identity loss, not knowing how to fit in or craft a new life, resentment towards my husband – are “universals” for many accompanying spouses.
The second motivation I had in writing Trailing was to describe the public health crises, and the suffering and injustice that the work of MSF opened my eyes to. I grew up in Africa and Southeast Asia, and while of course I was aware of the poverty around me, my diplomatic childhood was very sheltered and I never got as close to the suffering of others as I did when I was attached to the MSF team. It was a very impacting discovery for me.
Finally, I wrote Trailing because after we were violently carjacked one night in Nairobi, I had a need (several years later) to process this trauma in a narrative way. I wanted to describe the trauma, and the ensuing anxiety and depression in accessible terms, so as to illustrate the impact these mental conditions can have on quality of life and in turn, interpersonal relationships.
You write very honestly about your struggle with PTSD and anxiety after you are carjacked in Nairobi. You also describe some of the challenges of your marriage. Was it difficult for you to write in such an honest way about your mental health?
I can't say that it was "difficult" to write candidly about my struggles with post traumatic stress or my marital issues, but moreso that the candor and "truth" emerged, on its own, after many rewrites. The original drafts of the book were mired in many very conflicted feelings about what had happened to me and to us those first years of our marriage. It took several years for me to chip away at my own narrative until it made sense to anyone reading the book, or to me! One of the most important questions that needed clarification was why, if I was so miserable, didn't I leave? The final, published draft of Trailing provides a very clear answer to this question, but it took years of retrospective reflection to formulate the answer. Tied up in that analysis was a coming to terms with just how badly my mental health had deteriorated after the carjacking, something I was not fully aware of until several years after I landed in France and realized one day that I no longer jumped at every strange noise, no longer crossed the road with a pounding heart every time I saw a group of men. Only after I had really started to recover from my trauma did my lens clear up enough for me to realize how unwell I had been. Writing and re-writing the narrative was in itself a very healing process, both for my marriage and my own personal sense of well-being.
How has your training as a psychotherapist helped you as a writer?
Actually, I think becoming a writer may have helped me more as a psychotherapist..Or maybe I have simply discovered how closely the roles overlap. I think my idenity as a therapist informs the way I write, the way I think of a story's arc, and the angle that I find relevant. I am fascinated by how people make decisions, how they push their own life story forward. Writing my first book and learning to trim the fat of all the extraneous detail - the daily life filler that took place in between the major pivotal events - has helped me sharpen my focus when I work with clients to identify how their life story is unfolding. I tend to be very behaviorally oriented as a therapist, and while the past is informative and instructive, rarely is in necessary to fully grasp every detail of the past in order to move forward into the future in a more adaptive way. I think the same goes for storytelling. A story is boring if the character just keeps doing the same thing over and over.. What makes for a good read, in my opinion at least, is when we get to see a character evolve - and hopefully for the better! Guiding and witnessing that process, whether in writing or therapy, is the exhilirating common denominator.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
Kindle! A friend gave me one as a gift and I have never felt the need to shop around. It is the first time I did any e-reading so don't have anything to compare it to!
Published 2014-03-15.
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