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Moving Abroad Feels a Lot Like Being Depressed

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As most of you know, I battle serious depression. I had been doing really well in the months before we left, with good therapy, a well-balanced if irksome stable of meds, and some new fulfilling things in my life to give me that extra boost.

Collin and I have both worried a lot about me backsliding into depression after moving to South Africa, with the big change in life and the brief disruption in my access to therapy (I brought over 90 days of meds, which should be a big enough window to sort out mental health care over here, fingers crossed).

In the meantime, I’m trying to carefully monitor my moods to make sure I’m staying ahead of depression before it gets the best of me. Trouble is? Moving abroad brings with it a lot of the symptoms of depression.

You sleep all the time. You feel out of step with the rest of the universe, like everyone is breezing through activities that are strange and confusing and exhausting to you. All of your energy reserves for the day can be sapped by something as simple as going grocery shopping.

The things you used to love no longer bring you the same joy. Foods and drinks you used to love don’t have the right taste. Things that used to be fun are suddenly difficult and scary.

And you feel so, so alone. And you feel like a huge burden on the few people (or one person) you actually can connect with.

All of this describes me these past couple weeks, and it describes me when I’m at my most depressed. But I really don’t think I am at my most depressed. I think I’m just out of sorts because I’m living in a new strange place that is very far away.

Even though the symptom overlap is coincidental, I worry that feeling like I do when I am super depressed is going to contribute to me becoming actually super depressed. Especially because living in a new strange place hasn’t exactly been easy and isn’t always fun (it’s more like, super extremely fun moments interspersed with long stretches of boredom and feeling out-of-sorts. It’s sort of like M*A*S*H minus the war and the surgery and the preachy messages).

Hopefully my ability to self-monitor my depression levels will return as I become more adjusted generally. In the meantime, chocolate is as effective at alleviating homesickness as it is depression. Did you know that “Smarties” are more like M&M’s on this side of the Atlantic? WEIRD.

11 Comments

  1. Completely not the most important aspect of this post, BUT – what are Smarties like in America, if not like M&Ms??

    • they’re a completely different kind of sweet, the same kind as those candy necklaces or sweettarts (though i can’t remember if those exist on the other side of the pond or not)

      More importantly, are orange Smartees chocolate-orange flavour in SA? Inquiring minds want to know.

    • I’ll have to try orange smartees and report back. So far I’ve just had the chocolate bar that has smarties in it, which is sort of like a hat on a hat, but it a really delicious way.

  2. We love you whether you’re just getting in stride or feeling depression. That doesn’t change no matter what.

    :)

  3. You’re right about the emotions of moving abroad – I don’t know anyone who hasn’t struggled emotionally, even without previous issues. Finding other expats will help, simply because they ‘get it’ – there is a perception that expat life is all martinis, flowing linen dresses and house staff, when the reality is far more about struggling to find an identity and purpose without any close friends or support network to ease you through the transition..
    But chocolate helps. Although I prefer Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut or Giant Buttons..

  4. Hi Robin, I have been thinking about you lots while you try and settle in (yes, that’s sounds creepy) and thinking of things to do in CT that you might enjoy. Current atrocious CT weather aside, one of my favourite things to do there is run along the promenade in Seapoint. It’s about a 4-5km flat run (in one direction) along a pedetstrian area right next to the sea. The sea air is delicious and it’s a great way to observe Capetonians going about their business. You can complete the outing with coffee and smoothies at Newport Deli or one of the other lovely coffee shop type places there. I thought you might enjoy after all your half-marathon training. It’s perfectly safe, there are lots of people around and lots of parking nearby.

  5. I’ve stumbled across this post by chance. After moving from UK to USA four months ago I am struggling… Reading some of your points has been like a light bulb going on for me. You’ve put into simple words what’s been rattling around in my head and it was really comforting to read them. So I just wanted to say thank you for the post and to wish you well!

  6. Dear Robin,

    I also just stumbled upon your post and it is quite a revelation. Coincidentally, I temporarily moved to CT in Jan. 2012 for six months and it was such a struggle! I went alone, and on top of that, I left a boy back at home. All this time I thought I was just super lovesick, but your post sounds so true.

    SA is sooo beautiful and enchanting, but it can also be a very dark place. Being a single woman did not help as I constantly obsessed about my safety…

    I found some comfort in your post, even now 2 years later, because it feels good to know that my sometimes excruciatingly lonely (and tear-filled) experience in SA was not all that unusual (and hopefully WASN’T all about a boy after all :-)

  7. I was just googling about feeling depressed and living overseas when i stumbled across this article. I suffered with depressed many years ago and i’m worried about going back to that place. I would be really interested to know how other people managed their overseas stays.

    I am in SA, just outside of Cape Town and originate from UK. I spent 6 months here 8 years ago and it was without a doubt, the best time of my life. This time around i am here with the open mind of it being forever…. i was so excited of the prospect but this time i find myself feeling very different. My friends and family back home have such high expectations of me, they think that i will live the most exciting life here and that i made such a good decision. I feel too embarrassed to tell them how i really feel.

    Ideally i’d like to give it a year but i’ve only been here a little over a month and i’m already feeling terribly lost. I don’t feel safe being a young, single woman and things are very expensive here when earning rand. I have family here and a few friends, they very much want it to work and i don’t want to let anyone down.

    I have a family reunion in September/October, plans at Christmas time and then my Dad is renewing his vows in March 2016. Some days i just want to book a flight and head home but i can’t afford to keep toing and froing between countries. I’m in 2 minds as to whether to cut a loss and go back after the reunion but then i would be heading back during UK winter and i suffer with SAD – i will have not have experienced a summer since 2014…

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