Some of you may have had the experience of moving abroad for the first time to follow your partner’s work. Some of you may have actually been the ones that were offered a job in another country. Whatever your circumstances, being an expat is challenging. If the country you have chosen to move to also speaks another language, then this obviously poses another challenge: that of not being able to communicate effectively.
From my own personal experience, being an expat has been eye-opening and tough at times. My husband has a typical full time work routine and I on the other hand, do some coaching, some voluntary work and the odd child-care. The voluntary work & coaching is mostly from home & online and life has felt very isolating at times. Trying to set up an English speaking business in a German speaking country also has its challenges.
Although learning the language in the country you are living in, is the best option by far, for some of us this just isn’t an option. The reasons for this are many. Some people may only be staying in the country for a short time, 1 or 2 years and will then be moving on to another country. Their job requires constant moving around the globe, so learning a new language each time just isn’t worth the time and effort. Others, aren’t able to learn the language due to health problems, other commitments or a general fear of leaving their comfort zone.
From personal experience and if I am completely honest, I don’t like the language in the country I am living in. I really wish I did but unfortunately I don’t. Secondly I don’t have the motivation to put in the hard work to learn it. This all stems from the fact that when we originally moved abroad with my husband, I was only going to be staying for a year and then moving back home to study. If I had known that I would be abroad for nearly 2,5 years initially, I probably wouldn’t have made the move.
Secondly, due to my mental health and the fact that I live with Complex PTSD, motivating myself to learn a new skill is tough at the best of times, due to the many symptoms of my illness. I am triggered often by my surroundings and feel easily overwhelmed. In order for me to do something well, I have to be determined to learn it and also have an interest in it. This is enough to help me push through the uncomfortable symptoms of my CPTSD. The greater the interest in something, the more motivated I am & the better I become at it.
If you think back to when you were at school, your best subjects were mostly the ones you enjoyed, right? If you were forced to learn things you really didn’t enjoy or even understand, then the result is usually one of frustration or boredom. If on top of that, you also struggled with depression or other mental health problems, your concentration & memory might have also been affected. This was something I was very familiar with for most of my school & subsequent university years. Everything had always been a struggle, due to the neglect and abuse I suffered as a child.
Having a mental illness is a struggle in your daily life even when you are within your comfort zone of ‘HOME’ but when you consider the life as an expat, this can be even more overwhelming. Not only do you feel like a fish out of water and have to deal with homesickness but you also have to get used to the dissapproval you constantly feel for not being what others expect you to be. A fully integrated member of the country you are living in. This obviously means knowing the language, having a job and taking part in some social activities. If however, you aren’t able to be this fully integrated member, this makes you miss home more and more. It can trigger episodes of anxiety & depression and every day becomes even more of a challenge.
We are all different in the way we choose to live our lives and that is totally okay. Some of us have never lived outside our hometown and don’t have an interest in ever doing so. Some of us don’t mind moving around to different cities within our country & others choose to move all around the world and absolutely love it.
I think it is always okay to be honest with ourselves and know our limitations. It is ok to admit that living as an expat might be absolutely terrifying for us.For those of us who are lucky enough to have many friends and family living nearby, we might always value these relationships above moving abroad for a job and that is completely okay!
For me personally, I don’t have a problem living abroad in general but I am just not someone who has an interest in languages. I already speak 2 fluently and have constantly travelled between Greece & England all of my life. I am very content with that. I also am happy to support my husband in his work, which is currently in Germany, as he has created the comfortable lifestyle we have. I am very blessed to be able to share this with him. In future however, I would only move to an English speaking country or back to Greece, which is is where I grew up.
In regards to mental health, when thinking about the difficulties and stigma of mental illness in addition to the difficulties of those of us living as an expat, people need to become more aware of the importance of talking about this and being more understanding.
People need to stop stigmatising those people who are making certain choices in their life, which may differ hugely from others. Expats that choose to live abroad but also struggle with mental health issues, need to cut themselves some slack and be more self-accepting. Other expats who live abroad and have absolutely no mental health issues, need to be aware of those of us who do. It is a big challenge!
It can be very isolating to have mental health problems but even more so when you are living abroad. You will already have your limitations and you will find certain things even tougher than you may have thought of originally. Things that never scared you before will feel absolutely terrifying when you are abroad. If you are also living abroad and don’t have any close friends or family to rely on, then this in itself can be very challenging.
The purpose of this post was to raise awareness of the struggles of those with mental illness that live abroad. I feel no shame in admitting that I am one of those people.
Luckily, despite my struggles, I managed to gain a qualification in CB Coaching and am able to support those with bigger struggles than my own, but in no means should I ignore my own daily living challenges in my life as an expat in Germany.
If you are an expat with mental health issues, then please pop by and say hello!
Love Athina ♥♥
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