From the moment you are born your identity is changing, from self imposed identity from your parents, their beliefs, place of birth, how they raise they, through to school, social groups, peers, incidents both positive and negative. What career path you take, who you marry, having children, death, and divorce. It’s all about identity which in turn provides self worth.
As a former psychology student I know all about identity. I’ve written assignments on it after studying for hours. Yet I’ve still managed to lose mine and with it I have become depressed. I wasn’t depressed when I had my children, or when I moved, or married or divorced, I saw all that as a new chapter in my life. Throughout life my identity has changed from being someone’s child, student, mother, and wife. I’ll never stop being someone’s child or someone’s mother, but I know that relationship will change. One day my parents won’t be alive anymore, one day my children will leave home, I may go into old age alone and not be someone’s wife anymore and I’ve always been aware that this will happen but I would by then have other things that make me, me.
Employment, study, where I live, friends, they’d still be there, maybe different from what I started out with, but in essence the same things brought around by gradual changes to my life, some internal (the desire to learn more) some external (moving, changing jobs) But now those things have been taken from me and I’m a little bit lost.
Maybe that sounds a little harsh ‘Taken from me’ I chose to support my husband, uproot my family, leave my parents and adult children and friends behind in the UK while we restarted a new life in South Africa. But I didn’t choose to lose everything, employment, friends, and relationships with family. I naively thought it would all come with me, different but still there. It’s the law here that prevents me from working, continuing with my degree. I never realised how hard it was to make friends when you don’t have a work place or a school play ground to hang round in. That’s how I’d always done things, I’d progressed from one thing to another, losing people along the way and gaining new friends as I moved on either through work or the children’s school or my own education. Some of the acquaintances I had in the UK have now become firm friends; others have drifted by the way side. They never realised how much I needed their support, clung onto contact with them. Because they’d all been a part of whom I was and without them, without employment and education I had nothing. I lost my identity.
At this point I hear you sigh ‘melodramatic, got an easy life, sun, pool, no need to work, what on earth has she got to complain about?’ Some days I can’t physically get out of bed, Hubby takes the kids to school and at 1.30pm I drag myself out of bed, half dress to collect the kids from school, other days I’m manic, up at 3.30am housework, cooking, baking, shopping, coffee, volunteer work, getting things done, staying up till midnight, crying with tiredness, sewing, reading, writing letters, blogging, tweeting. At the moment I’m going through the ‘eating everything in the house’ stage. I’ve put on 6 kilos, that’s nearly a stone in weight. I’m still going to the gym daily and swimming, but the length of time I spend in the pool is less and less, it’s more about routine than keeping fit. I have lists, that all I seem to do is rewrite, reorder whilst drinking coke and eating sweets. I’ve been on anti depressants, I’ve told people what’s going on, but I’ve never described how I feel. I fell lost, empty, lonely and sad.
The medication helps me deal with these issues but it doesn’t take away those feelings. Lots of people including hubby say ‘go home, return to the UK’ I don’t want to, I don’t give a stuff if you think it’s because I don’t want to be a failure, It’s because I want to and know that I will succeed, that we will succeed, that this move will have been worth it for all of us, not just hubbies career or the children’s education but for the life experience we have gained from being here, the opportunities that have arisen. I know that by talking openly about depression will help me, will help others and maybe my experiences can one day be used to a greater good.
Right now I just sound ungrateful, miserable, depressing. I’m lucky, to have these opportunities, to have my health, that my children are healthy and achieving both here and back in the UK, but the reality is I’m none of the above by choice. I am depressed, bare with me.
It took me 39 years to be who I was, to form an identity. So far it’s been 2 years of grieving for what I’ve lost, who I’ve become, because the problem is after two years I just haven’t become anyone else yet. It takes time to create a new identity, I need a few more experiences, meet new people, develop existing friendships and find a purpose to my life other than that of a daughter, wife and mother.
This could have been written by me....I have suffered from depression, who knows maybe I still am, but the thing is for you, you are alone in a different country. For me me I was alone in the UK when all my immediate family moved abroad! I'm a loner always have been always will be, but that doesn't mean I don't want to be around people and enjoy their company. I feel for you, it's very hard to admit and deal with it on your own. My problem is now I have to force my self to meet new people, to join in. My husband left me this time last year and I still find it difficult to get out and "enjoy" myself! You are doing everything you should be doing to lift yourself out of the fog, exercise, keeping busy etc, but sometimes all you need is to sit down and chat about it with your friends. What about seeing a therapist? D they have that there? Or any expat groups you can get involved with? I'm probably not helping at all, I just wanted to say I was thinking about you... Joanne xReplyDelete
You've got me thinking about the children we left behind in the UK, they are 20, 23 & 25. Although they had already left home, I assumed that because they had their other parent, grandparents, one another, extended family etc that would be ok. They are ok and managing their lives very well, but it must be hard from them, like yourself just not to have us there any more.
I'm sorry to hear about your divorce, I hope you able to move on (can't think of another way to phrase that)
There are therapists and expat groups here, that I will investigate but will also make a seperate comment on my experiences with that. x x x
I haven't suffered from depression but what you're describing sounds exactly like the expat experience, made all the worse for the fact that you don't have a job to go to.ReplyDelete
I felt disjointed for years here in the UK (I'm from the U.S.) in a way that I didn't when I lived for a year in Paris. Ironically, because of my other roles as wife and mother, it seemed that the "rest" of me didn't amount to much, plus I didn't have the freedom to make choices to shake things up like I did while living in France as a single person.
Hang in there. The idea of getting in touch with expat groups is a good one. While the members won't be natives, they will know what you're going through.
Thank you for your comment, I will add a comment about my expat group experiences to date.Delete
Are you settled now in the UK? Do you consider it home now?
i'd love to hear how and when the disjointed feeling eased.
Hi CR, Drop me a line if you think our Expat Women: Confessions book might help & I'll shoot you a free e-copy. Andrea x. contactus @ expatwomen dot comReplyDelete
Thank you, I have sent you an email.Delete
I definitely identify with a lot of what you have written... It is incredibly hard... I third the expat group idea, and if there isn't one, perhaps you could set one up? I bet there are others in your situation too that feel exactly the same way. I hope you find the strength you need very soon. EmmaReplyDelete
I will add a comment about my experiences with expat groups at the bottom. Thank you for taking time to comment, looking at setting my own group up.Delete
Hugs. So very brave of you to tell your story. I totally agree, you can't be the only one feeling like that - take charge and create a group. I bet many others will thank you. MORE HUGS.ReplyDelete
thank you for your comment and the hugs. will be looking into expat groups and added ccomment about experiences to dateDelete
for years I have dreamt of a life that I knew only the UK could offer me, but when we decided to pack it all in and make the move, I too fell into really deep funk.ReplyDelete
It was a bizarre experience for me and I spent alot of time trying to rationalize and avoid the "depression" because I had other medical complications and stressors I could pin it on, but truth be told (and I have yet to admit this to myself until this very moment), I probably am depressed.
Why? I doubt I'll ever fully understand. A combination of a number of things, maybe.
Despite my best efforts and hardcore transition planning for the kids sake, somehow I was more affected by the move than any of us and I was the one that came up with this mad plan to skip.
I call it "soaking up the break" from work when people ask, but quite frankly, I don't know if I am coming or going half the time, so work is not in the cards for me at the moment.
I've lost my sense of self. I am alone. I don't know anyone. I am unemployed for the first time since my teen years (outside of my studies). I don't even know if I will ever feel good about working for someone else in this country. The anxieties I am experiencing are new and often provoked by culture shock. Everything is so foreign and I am having to learn everything all over again. I am constantly trying to make this clear to others (school staff, dr's offices, etc) as I get the feeling that people are short/cold with me expecting that I simply KNOW these things and I am being too bold or too stubborn or too daft, not realizing that my entire life has changed and in ways that no one will ever be able to appreciate fully unless they have uprooted their family to a new country.
I have a few other friends/acquaintances to casually chat with about the expat life, so I keep their expertise and advice fresh in my mind and keep moving forward.
I want this. I really do. I still love England very much and know that this was the right move for all of us. I just need to find those things that drew me here to begin with and make steps (however small) towards redefining my life.
The only thing that has saved me from anything more severe was shifting focus to some of the things that I know and love.
Gym -4-5 times a week (until I injured myself in a fall recently), but definitely helps with energy levels.
Pinterest- inspires me to engage in my interests more and acts as a creative outlet.
Instagram- encourages me to find beauty in this city, even if it isn't the city for me.
Blogging- (new to me) allows me an opportunity to document my experiences and stimulates growth.
Reframing-I am from a BIG city. This city is incredibly tiny comparably. However, for some strange reason, we don't feel safe.
I have never lived in the city centre (downtown), so when dealing with challenging crap, I have to remember that it isn't a "british thing" and it's not that all of the UK is "like that" it is that the culture in a city centre is different to anything we've ever experienced before etc.
I am conscious of these reframing needs, as I have a teenager who feels the same and I am forever explaining to her that it's the fact that we had adapted to our surroundings that we felt confident and safe in Toronto and not here because if we were honest about it, there were ALOT of shady things happening around us that we often shrugged off when living in a big city.
I worked in Community Health & Social Services and maginalized, high risk, hard to serve were my thang-so what has me so spooked?
Change. Change does.
Which, like I said above, is really bizarre to me because normally, I am a huge advocate of change being good.
I am a wanderer. I am a travel junkie. I am the wife of a British National, so no stranger to the culture, but for the first time in my life, I am feeling rather lost in it all... Hmph.
If nothing else, I hope you've found some comfort in our tales. Trust that you are not alone.
I identify wholeheartedly.
thanks for your comment, it is a great help to hear from others in a similar situation. you don't say ow long youve been in the UK fo.Delete
we recently travelled to Cape Town and i couldnt believe i was in the same country, minimal security, could go for a walk along the beach front and just go for a drive in the evening to look for somewhere to eat, something we just can't do up here. Having lived in many counties in the UK i agree with you that there are so many differences, number one being the language barrier, ie local dialects and accents. Up north people are more known for their friendliness than the south, small villages know everyones gossip and the cities you can feel lost.
Let me know where you are living and please ask for help if you need to understand anything.
Really sorry to hear this, as I know that you are making such a valuable and valued contribution in South Africa with KWO.ReplyDelete
Although I was not depressed, I did actually leave the UK on my own and go back to SA (I'm from SA) for a few weeks. I was home-sick, not working, living in a rented flat in Bristol - and not having much fun!
My parents sent me back 'to be with my husband', and somehow things got easier after that. Studied at the OU, worked P/T, temp work at £5/hour on all sorts of silly jobs (typing, filing etc) to meet people, until I had the correct documentation to allow me to work as a scientist. OK, in my case in took 8 years, but only the first 18 months or so were bewildering and horrid.
Good luck, keep blogging, and letting us know how you are coping x.
nooooooo, hubby nearly had a fit when he saw your comment about it being 8 years before you could work as a scientist, it has helped off loading and having my hubby and parents read this, so they get to understand a little more about 'greener grass syndrome' as we call it.Delete
youve prompted me to get on with lesson plans for KWO I don't need to be paid to feel fulfilled.
This piece is very moving and was a talking point in the office today, and I suspect will be all week. We hear from many expats that they feel like they have nowhere to turn as they think that no-one wants to hear about how difficult it is for them in "paradise". Thank goodness you at least have an outlet in your blog. You are definitely not alone. We all send our support and hope that things get easier for you in the future.ReplyDelete
thank you for your comment it is appreciated and helps nowing that there are many others out there feeling the same way.Delete
I can imagine how hard it is for you now. Its so difficult when the things that you take for granted work in an unfathomable way, and the support structures of friends and family are not there.ReplyDelete
When we relocated from South Africa to the UK, I struggled in a similar way. I arrived heavily pregnant and with 2 young children aged 2 and 4. I had a few short weeks to find out how the NHS worked, and boy is it different from a SA birth experience, before I gave birth. At this time, my husband was working up in Scotland and was only home on weekends – something which he has continued to do for a further 13 years. I had no family in the UK at all. I knew nobody.
Initially I was completely house bound, had no way of meeting anyone. No nursery school would take my eldest as it was so near to the end of the school year (another major difference!) and she would be starting school in Sept (well, that is if I could fathom out how to apply for a place!).
My first challenge was getting utilities sorted (completely different!), learning to cook on gas (kept setting my oven gloves and tea towels alight!) getting registered with doctors, dentists etc and all this had to happen during the first few weeks of getting here as I had small children and on my own as my husband was away!
Required equipment lists came from the school for my eldest which I did not understand. Daps – what on earth are those and what kind of shop would I even go in to ask for them! There was no google facility in those days – the internet was an expensive dial up option and mostly used by us for email.
Slowly, v-e-r-y slowly, I met a few people, made a few friends etc. Even now, though I must say that I look at some of my school friends on FB and wonder in amazement that they are still friends all these years later – a long term friendship of the like that has evaded me!
I guess that some time in the future, when the last one has left home, I will be somewhat bereft for company but hope to take up more hobbies eg pottery and other things that have bitten the dust.
I know that things have been much easier for me in that I am allowed to work here as I have always had a UK passport. I think that this is something which has made your life sooo much harder. There were times in the first few years when I used to “joke” that my husband got an amazing job and all I got was our cleaner’s job! I say joke but it was a hollow laugh (humour does not travel well!),
Ah well, it was not to be. I reacted by putting up walls to protect myself. If I didn’t look like I needed a friend, then nobody would feel sorry for me, would they? Eventually I enjoyed the solitude. I got used to the school yard (horrible place!) where I realized that I was the only one in the group standing together that hadn’t been invited to some or other event, party, coffee morning etc.
I have become more of a loner, pretty self dependant, mostly a home-bird except for going out to work the last 9 years and pretty content to stay home in the evenings now with my mostly teenage children for company. Its relaxed, we laugh a lot, I enjoy their company and I am always there for them when they need to talk – something which of late I have come to look on a such an advantage for them.
Depression has come and gone over the years – back again at the moment and am now back on Prozac. I try not to think about it too much. I just recognize the symptoms when they arise: inability to cope, procrastination, everything seeming too big for me to deal with (even when they are really not), shortness of temper, mood swings, comfort eating, inability to make phone calls etc
Good on you for speaking out. Suzanne, you are a sensitive person who cares about other people and, God knows, you are doing your utmost to make a difference in a hostile environment.
You have all my sympathy (or empathy, rather). I can only tell you that from my own experience, isolation is not a good option - its an easy one, but not good.
I honestly say that I know how you feel, and I want to help in any way I can.
Gill thank you for your comment and for sending me my lovely parcel, although it opened a few wounds, it has done me god and i feel so much more positive.Delete
I'm afraid to say i laughed at your comment about Daps, there are many British people who don't know what they are either, so many different words for the same things, pumps and pimpsols. I strugged here with tekkies.
like you, despite it being 2011 when we arrived i also had no access to the internet for the first 6 weeks, stupid HR didnt think a phone line in our apartment would be needed and then of course the stupid FICA rules. I found out last week at the airport that had I of bought my sim card there i woudn't have needed proof of residency...its the little things that make all the difference.
I am happy that you are receiving help from a strange country and that you are willing to keep trying. Hugs.ReplyDelete
i ended up in the drs demanding to see the practice manager, broke down in her office and said 'how does the drs work here?'Delete
Suzanne, sorry to hear that even after two years you are struggling to cope in your 'expat' country. Although I never fell into depression I can identify with what you feel, when we moved to Portugal I struggled to make friends and it wasnt until my daughter started kindergarten (some months after our arrival) that I really met anyone or made friends. I felt I lost my independence as could not understand the language and therefore could not work or do much for myself and felt like an outsider. It is not at all easy and I hope you find a way forward.ReplyDelete
thank you for taking time to comment Christine. That must have been hard for you with a language barrier to deal with also. my kids were 11 & 15 when we came here so no hanging around the school gates for me.Delete
when you are depressed (as opposed to feeling a bit down) you could win the lottery and be made Queen of the world and you still be depressed. I hope you feel better soon, I hope the meds help. I send a virtual hug.ReplyDelete
and cos it's me, a virtual kick up the back side and a large glass of wine too xxx
Wine????????? is that the best you can do????????????Delete
it' the gin bottle that's causing most of the problems (only joking)
I can totally see where you are coming from. So many of your comments could also have been written by me. I read this article about culture shock which was really helpful to me and I recommend that you check it out. http://iwasanexpatwife.com/2012/11/29/how-to-manage-culture-shock/. There are a couple of articles on her blog about this subject and it helped me a lot to realise I wasn't alone in what I was feeling. There are no two ways about it the expat life is damn hard, don't be too tough on yourself many of us are feeling the same as you.ReplyDelete
All the best to you x
thank you for your comment and the link, ive been reading many expat stories this eek and although i feel it shouldnt be like this, its good to know im not aloneDelete
I am from UK and moved to USA 12 years ago. I was depressed at the beginning, especially as I had a newborn and felt isolated. Culture shock is part of it I suppose, but it is mainly the problem of not having roots in the new country. It has taken me 12 years to get there but it is worth it so keep trying. Good luck xReplyDelete
at first reading that it took you 12 yrs to settle alarmed me, but then i realised like i said in my blog it took 39 yrs to be me in the first placeDelete
My expat experience hasn't been too good, there is a group on the estate i live in and i was told by a trusted online friend who had lived here, to avoid them at all costs they were negative, here on 2yr secondments and didnt have to do a thing, companies sorted everything out. it prompted me recently to write about 'what type of expat are you?' i opted to join internations, meet monthly in a pub, get out further a field, meet more people from different walks of life. i attende monthly and despite everyone there not knowing one another, they all did and more importantly they all had bloody jobs, diplomats, teachers, researchers, wild life specialists and mainly women and not married, after 6 months of 'I used to be a teacher' i gave up, im not a teacher here, i wasnt of any interest and so not worthy of invites to other functions as i provided no net working opportunities.ReplyDelete
Instead I have made friends with the locals, a few bad experiences, whittled my way through them and have a few solid friendships. They know im depressed but dont understand why as i live the life they dream of, a pool and no job........'green grass syndrome'
I know depression and anger as an expat too.ReplyDelete
It's a hard thing to go through, and the road back can be long.
All I can offer is a quote from Frederick Buechner:
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.”
Our thoughts are with you.
\You say the road back to recovery, how long did it take you? think i just have to accept this is the new me and find a way to embrace itDelete
Hi Chickenruby. I don't really know what to say. You've got lots of advice from people already in your comments box. Just want to say that I've read this, and connect with it. Is that enough?ReplyDelete
I think people greatly underestimate how difficult it is to be an expat. Our culture is so much part of us. It's part of who we are, it's how we fit in. When that is taken away, it's almost as if we have to start all over again. We're adults, but living in some way as if children. It's very jarring.
Take care of yourself.
Thank you for your reply, I've been searching actively for other expats and things like discovering your blog have helped me.Delete
I'm so sorry I didn't come back to this and hope you've gained some help from the wonderful comments above and some help from outside too. It really does help to know that you're not the only one.
As you're aware I went through something similar last year, but I wasn't brave enough to open up fully about it to all. Well done you.
Always thinking of you, hope you come out the other side very soon.
peaks and troughs Carole, talking about it all and sharing my blog with family really helped me accept where I was, but the novelty has now worn off and I've fallen back down again. This time I realise the only way out is honesty, with myself. I am currently laying a few ghosts to rest by email or over the phone and saying how they make me feel. I'm not hanging around for a response nor will I get dragged into relying.Delete
Other expats (mainly you) have helped more than you will ever know