Thursday 14 March 2013

Dealing with Depression...the first step for an expat

Get rid of all the crap surrounding you. Easier said than done. I can't undo being an expat, I can't control how others respond to  me, but what I can do is deal with what I've got and tell those that say 'it could be worse' to leave me alone.  

\these 5 steps are things I've tried and I am doing....yes it can be hard getting rejection after rejection, but I'm at the stage where I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, there have been new issues chucked at me in recent weeks and some of the prvious problems are no more.

But I WANT things to change and no one else can change them for me, they can help and do it with me, but I need to keep making the effort, I can't rely on everyone having to 'cheer me up' all the time. Life is hard for hubby and the kids also and without further a do, here is my guide to 'cheer up and move on'

1. Talk about it

Easier said than done, family and friends can be jealous, they had no awareness of how difficult it is to make friends when you’re not hanging around the school gates or have a place of work, they don’t think about it, they don’t understand the dangers of South Africa or the cultural differences and the lack of company support.

The first step are to tell people how you feel. Don’t expect them to understand, all you want is acknowledgement not solutions sometimes. Talk it through with the kids, it affects their mood and everyone gets stuck in a downward spiral.

Explain to family and friends by telling them that the sunshine and the ability to dip in the pool does not solve all evils and a that not all expats earn hundreds of thousands of pounds, that’s just a myth.

You will alienate people but they are the types that are holding you back, wanting to see you fail, people who love to hear about your lives and see your photos yet offer little in return in ways of communication, love and support.

2. Don’t feel you have to justify yourself to anyone.

If you smile, laugh or joke don’t feel guilty, just say ‘Today I smiled, I laughed, I joked. Today is a good day and I’m enjoying it for what it is.’

3. Don’t seek alternatives

You can’t ‘snap’ out of it, searching for a replacement is short lived, you’ll end up an alcoholic and double your troubles, gain weight and feel ten times worse.

Embrace what you can do. Are there things you’ve been wanting to try but never had the time for. Sewing, baking, exercising, blogging. You’ll find something even if it does take a long time and then you’ll wonder where you’d have time to fit in your old life you craved for so much.

4. Go see the Doctor

And go again until you see the right one. Ask for medication and don’t be afraid to use it, it doesn’t get rid of the issues, but it does make things easier to deal with.

5. Get out more

Get out of bed and get dressed, do your hair and makeup even if you’re not going anywhere for the day. Even if you live in a compound you can go for a walk, take a cup of tea and a book outside. Smile when people walk past, say hello.

Check your local paper for things that interest you, so what if you go on your own and don’t feel you fit in; you don’t have to go again or even see these people anymore.

Make the most of networking online; join twitter, start blogging, Google keywords to find support and like minded souls. You’re reading this now, so you can do it, you just have to take the lead. Keep a journal; you’ll be surprised when you read it back how far you’ve actually come.

This is one of the unknown skills I discovered and I now use that skill to raise funds for adults in South Africa with disabilities.


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  2. I've just started reading An Inconvenient Posting by Laura J Stephens. She was an experienced expat and a qualified psychotherapist when she moved to Houston, but still found herself sliding into depression. It's a salutary reminder that this can happen to anyone. I'm certainly not qualified to give advice, but just wanted to say that you and Laura do us all a great service by sharing your experience.

    1. thank you so much for your comment. I was given Lauras book by a long terrm expat from south Africa now living in the UK. @lespommes. At first I was cross with Lauras book, it raised so many issues in regards to how I was feeling and the lack of understanding from those around me but it started me off on the road to recovery.

  3. I think one of the things I have noticed with expats is the difficulty of knowing the difference between culture shock/homesickness and depression. In my early years as an expat I was married to a very stiff-upper-lipped Brit and I was struggling with PND. It was assumed by him that I was simply Not Able to Cope because of a Weak Personality, it was assumed by me that I was still struggling with cultural differences. But now with hindsight I should have gone to a Dr and got help. No, he is no longer on the scene. But in my wanderings on the internet I have seen a lot of expats trying to figure this one out--bad culture shock or depression?

    Just for the record I am not for a second suggesting you just have culture shock! But now you have me thinking back to my early expat years and thinking about what the differences might be.

    I loved your tip to make the most of the online world. That is certainly one thing I wish I had when I first moved to the UK.

    1. Hi, I know what you mean about the difference between being an expat and general depression. Prior to relocating I was a very highly strung person, I was stressed all the time and the only tears I cried were ones of sheer exhaustion. I worked full time in child welfare and lectured, I was also studying for a degree in psychology and had 5 kids (3 at home and 2 on weekends), hubby worked away all week and my biggest trigger point was the house getting me down with the mess from all the above. Maybe I just didn't have time then to acknowledge I was depressed, there were many issues from merging two families, but I think that then it was stress which i thrived and on now it is depression that i can't seem able to let go as it is familiar and takes up my time, im sort of scared what will happen next.

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    1. Thank you to those who've commented positively on my book; 'An Inconvenient Posting, an expat wife's memoir of lost identity'. Reading your comments makes all the work that went into it and soul searching about whether I really wanted to admit to the world that I had got depressed, all the more worthwhile! Particularly as my motivation for writing it was to share the experience and the learning with others finding themselves in a similar situation.

      A part of that learning was to understand and define the differences between culture shock, homesickness and depression and to appreciate the challenge that expat life presents when other "struggles", such as Post Natal Depression, kick in (Michelloui comments). I believe culture shock is a 'normal' reaction to a new environment/culture and a natural part of the transitioning process, but depression is something deeper where the person experiences themselves as unable to lift their mood for a significant period of time. Culture shock may of course be a contributing factor to the depressive episode.

      It certainly helps to keep discussing these issues, expat life can be so wonderful but it is challenging too! Love the helpful advice in this blog - keep it coming Chickenruby.

    2. Thank you for your support Laura

  5. Hi great post. It is one of those things I'm not really sure of - if I am depressed here in USA is it because I am an expat or is it for other reasons. I mean I was sometimes depressed in UK and that was understandable because it rained all the time.There is a certain sense of cultural displacement being an expat that never goes away but that is at the same time quite liberating!

    1. Hi Emma, please see my reply to Michelloui

  6. Thanks - This post is so helpful.

    I've been an expat "trailing" spouse for a few years - This is very real.