Wednesday 3 June 2015

Identifying and dealing with expat depression

We all get down days, in fact I'm having down days right now, have been for the past few weeks, but I'm not depressed. I've identified the signs of what triggers my depression and I'm hoping that taking these basic steps will prevent me sinking back into it.

I first suffered with depression when we moved to South Africa. Eventually after spending days not getting dressed, staying in bed, crying and barely functioning, hubby took me to the doctors, I was given medication and received counselling and I talked about it, loud and clear and often. I learnt to deal with it and identify the triggers.

We've now relocated to Dubai, it was stressful, there were issues, but somehow all this kept me going until I hit the 6 month mark and I could feel myself slipping again, crying, feelings of loneliness and helplessness. But I'm prepared this time, I know how it all 'feels' and I'm better equipped to deal with it.

Moving is a very stressful situation, but you when move to a new country away from everyone and everything you know, you are stripped of your identity, EVERYTHING you know changes.

When we moved to SA, I gave up my career, I thought it would be great to finally have some 'me time' after raising children since 1992, including 2 step children. I became a SAHM over night.

With this move to Dubai, I'm not even a SAHM anymore, I'm just a SAH. I've had to go back to the beginning, networking, exploring, getting out there.

I'm not a shy person, I'm outgoing and sometimes a little over friendly. I can come over as being too pushy, desperate even, but I do get the hint. I can tell if this is just going to be a friendly coffee or a life long friend.

I've not been coping very well at the moment. Hubby has been away more than he's been at home. I'm applying for 3-4 jobs everyday and no one is replying not even to say 'not this time, but thank you' I have only the cat and dog for company, although I have met up with a couple of people for coffee over the past week. I chat daily to my friends back in South Africa, I have plans made for lots of travel that will involve being with lots of people and for the past 3 weeks I've been suffering with a very painful bad back.

I've been quite emotional the past few weeks, I've been lonely and a bit down, but it's too be expected I think with all that is going on and suffering with chronic pain, but I've put together a few coping strategies, that are keeping me going for the time being, which I'd like to share.

I go out every day where there are going to be people, even if it's just over the road to the local coffee shop. I also walk the dog daily and tend to get on the beach in the early evening as much as possible. I've had daily appointments at the physio which has forced me to get dressed every day and wait for the call to say there has been a cancellation, can I come in now?

But what helps me the most is my 'going to bed routine'

I've invested in a selection of shower gels and bubble baths. I'm currently favouring chocolate scented ones. I have a shower or a bath every night, read my book and generally just switch off and relax. i leave my phone in the bedroom and I've been ploughing my way few a good few books (bath only, not shower)
 I cleanse and mositurise every night, my skin is very dry in Dubai with all this sun and heat and the water does me no favours at all. 
 I select my clothes for the following day, every night before I go to bed. I know what the weather is going to be like and I add a pashmina to the mix before going out the door.
Having my clothes ready every morning means I have absolutely no excuse not to get dressed and ready for the day, everyday, regardless of what I may or may not have planned for the day. Once dressed, I apply my make up, hair usually gets scooped up into a pony tail.

Most days hubby gets home from work around 5-6pm, we walk the dog, we eat dinner together and as long as he doesn't have any conference calls we go to the beach for a swim. While he's been away I've kept to proper meal times and made an effort the last week to eat breakfast, lunch I tend to have out and then cook for myself in the evenings.

I'm struggling, but I'm talking about it and trying anything to prevent it coming back.


  1. I’m kind of glad you’ve written this (but sad you’re going through it) - at some point in the future we’ll go to Australia, and I hadn’t thought about the whole idea of losing my identity, but you’re right. It’s like I need to plan ahead almost, despite not knowing what it will bring.

    I hope it all works out. Having said that, going for a swim in the sea when your hubby gets home sounds pretty ace - I crave to live by the sea for the fresh air and being able to breathe again. London is too stuffy.

    Thanks for posting this, you have got me thinking x

    1. it's a tricky one Jo, it's something I was warned about but thought 'how hard can it really be?' i thought i was better prepared for the 2nd move and have been told in the past 'watch out for month 6' the only difference this time is I knew it was coming and was a little better prepared. It is lovely living by the beach but the reality is, it's getting too hot to go down there now. Good luck with your move to Australia, which part and what is the time frame?

  2. It's funny but I never thought of having an expat life in this way. I didn't think about the significance of leaving everyone you know and everything that is familiar behind. A few years back we came very close to moving to California for the Hubby's work. I really hope you keep the loneliness at bay hun. Your routines are working and your photos are great! If you ever need an online chat, I'm here. xx

    1. thank you Morgan, i'm struggling a bit today but son arrives on monday night, then hubby is home the day after he leaves

  3. Gosh I'm so sorry to read this but it sounds as though you're definitely doing all the right things. It must be so hard being in a strange country. The loneliness would definitely get to me. Keep moving forward and swimming in the sea daily sounds like an excellent decision :)

    1. just been for a lovely dip in the sea now, it was actually cooler in the water than the beach for a change

  4. I'm so sorry To read about this! Isn't it amazing how the life of an expat seems very glamorous no one thinks of the downside and the effects on the families. Hope things get better and your planned travels help

    1. thanks Funso and one of my many planned trips brings me back to SA in october

  5. Suzanne,
    Thank you for sharing this brave and thoughtful piece. I am a former humanitarian worker and professional mental health therapist. I’ve seen so many ex-pat friends and colleagues suffer from adjustment, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and exhaustion. That is why I started a private practice just for ex-pats and humanitarian workers. I provide mental health counseling for the globally mobile via video conferencing. Please take a look at my website and share with your network.
    Warmest regards,