The expat life is occasionally for the birds. I have to confess, the last six weeks or so have been miserable and only this week have I started to feel like myself again. In the middle of that I was home in the US for a week, and I don’t know if that time made me better or made me worse.
I suspect it’s a common problem for expats; living in a new country and functioning under difficult and essentially work-driven conditions is really hard. Many months have gone by — I will in a few short weeks be celebrating a year in the UK — but the month of August and then the early part of September saw me really questioning everything. Questioning the details of my life here, my reasons for coming here, and more generally my priorities in a much broader sense. If a job is worth moving countries for, and the people in your life are worth leaving behind, is that a good thing? Yes you make a new network of people in the new land, but you have to stop working long enough to actually let new people into your world.
I was actually getting to the critical point where my work was suffering because the dark cloud of depression was hanging over me. I had the classic symptoms, procrastinating, not taking pleasure in things I would normally find enjoyable. And the big problem I have when this happened is that it made me push away the friends that I do have here … so I felt even more alone and lost the ability to get out of bed in the mornings.
Just as you can sink into a minor depression without a clear reason, I maintain that you can snap back out of it in an equally obscure set of circumstances. I had a really surreal experience on Sunday, and it seemed to provide the push I needed to start coming up for air and being myself again. A colleague was visiting from the states, and we had dinner (curry!) and a few pints at the pub, and talked about life, the universe and everything. He knows the expat drill well, as he is antipodean, his spouse was European and as a result his kids have three passports (USA for the third one since that’s where they were born). I think that’s just flat out cool, he called his progeny “citizens of the world” and you really have to say that’s true when you are considered a citizen of countries on 3/6 habitable continents on earth. Anyways, he has lived in the UK and lived in the US and had a lot of advice, some of it hard to listen to. I lost my dignity and cried into my curry, but at the end of the day, I actually felt better. I felt less alone, I felt as though my experiences were typical and my problems were not insurmountable.
I still felt terrible about it, about losing my emotional cool and having my professional veneer so perforated by what would normally have been a casual business dinner. But I was lucky and he was so kind. It’s a hard life wherever you go, says Nanci Griffith, and there is no guarantee that my job would be better or my life would be better in any other place. Time to get back to getting up every morning and remembering why I’m here, how much I love what I do, but also recalling that there is more to life than this job.