I have suffered from bouts of depression in varying degrees of severity since I was about 13/14 years old. But nothing prepared me for Expat Depression.
Between the ages of 15 and 19, I self-harmed on an irregular basis. There have been times when I have been driving and thought: “What if I just swerve into that oncoming lorry and get it over with?”
However, from 2014 onwards, I had started to manage it pretty well. I could recognise the signs and know what I could do to make myself feel less crap. 2018 was perhaps my best year to date, I don’t think I suffered from anything more severe than a few emotional days due to being on my period.
All was not as it seemed.
It was all a ruse though because 2019 was a giant slap in the face. In January, I had started crying almost daily. I had become severely unhappy in my full-time job and workplace and was desperate to do what I really loved. Then, in February, my grandfather died and depression enveloped me once more, almost like a hug from an old friend that was really an enemy. I went through a CBT course and did all I could to gradually make myself start to feel human again.
Then, I got the opportunity to move abroad with my bloody wonderful boyfriend (Zac has honestly been nothing short of spectacular with me during these times). This would fix everything, I thought. A completely fresh start!
The first weeks were a little challenging (largely because I was naive enough to think that I would find work straight away), but everything was new and exciting so I embraced it and went with the flow.
As the weather started to turn from summer to autumn, the magic began to wear off and I found myself crying daily once more. My heart was aching for home comforts and my dear friends. I stopped sleeping and stopped leaving the flat by myself. I had been applying to new jobs every day and trying to keep a relatively normal daily routine, but after constant rejection or, worse, radio silence, my head was wrecked. I couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to become nonexistent.
Then, in December, Zac lost his contract here as well and I thought “well, that’s that then. We’re done here.” We spent a week back in the UK before Christmas to try and ease the pain of it all, to calm down, and to figure out what our next move was. Sadly, it did nothing to help me. I was still so, so desperate to come home. Every single day, I cried sad tears. In my eyes, I was a complete failure.
Back in Germany, with no money and no jobs, we spent Christmas alone in our flat, both of us starting to despise Germany somewhat.
New Year, New Beginnings?
At the beginning of January, we received a small glimmer of hope. Zac received a few different job offers and accepted one that was far less money than he was on before, but that was also far less ‘corporate’ and more suited to him and his way of working. I had been offered two interviews for jobs that I really wanted and was interested in. Perhaps this would help lift my spirits.
Three weeks after both of my interviews, I had heard nothing from either company I had interviewed with. I had been told that this is normal in Germany. Despite being a country built on rules, regulations and paperwork, Germans have absolutely zero sense of urgency. Naturally, this did nothing to help the way I was feeling. As somebody who wanted to move here and contribute to the economic system, with great previous experience and a wide skill set, I couldn’t understand why nobody wanted me. I felt completely and utterly worthless. What was the point of being here if I couldn’t enjoy the adventure? I could just disappear.
I was also starting to run out of money fast. I started planning to return to the UK short-term, to work and save money and try again in a few months.
Just as I was planning my return to the UK, I received a job offer from one of the interviews I had done in January. I immediately accepted.
Words cannot explain the pain I had been feeling in my heart and stomach for months. I was making myself physically sick with worry and anxiety over it all. I was on the edge of the cliff, ready to jump, and suddenly life pulled me back.
A glimmer of hope.
Since beginning work, I am happy to report my mood has been lifted slightly. I am still not completely comfortable here. Germany still does not feel like home to me. I am more desperate than ever to visit the UK. Due to lockdown measures in place right now, that is physically impossible, which I don’t think is helping my situation. I still have bad days where I don’t sleep, or my jaw locks up with worry.
However, I think that there is a small light at the end of the tunnel. If the next few months go well with work (current global pandemic aside), I think that by the end of summer I might start to feel slightly more German.
All this to say, Expat Depression is definitely a real thing and should not be underestimated. I think it’s worse if you are a ‘trailing spouse’ as I am (Zac and I aren’t married, but the idea is the same).
Becoming an expat is an enriching and wonderful experience, but I think it’s important that I highlight it’s not all happiness and sunshine. It’s also bloody hard work. Harder than I ever anticipated it to be. Things only started getting better for me when I started being more open and talking about it.
Bis zum nächsten Mal – Until next time!