Expat depression and repatriation

I am not going to write a hugely long post about this because I think so much has already been written on this subject (see links at the end of the post). But I couldn’t close my series on expat depression without at least mentioning this topic.

When I was reading through the survey results from which I initially gathered people’s experience of overseas life and depression, one thing that stood out was the number of people who said the hardest thing for them hadn’t been moving abroad….but moving back home again. But why is this so tough? Surely you are returning to the bosom of your friends and family, to a culture you feel familiar with, to a place where you can understand what people say and find food you like in every shop?

Well, let’s start by having a look at some of the reasons why moving home isn’t always as straightforward as you may at first think it will be:

You’ve changed. They haven’t.

Of course, this isn’t entirely true as everyone changes as they grow and age. Things do happen back home just as they happen “abroad”. People get married, have babies, get sick….but these are “normal” things experienced by all; what you have gone through is very likely something out of the usual bubble of life, something out of the ordinary and something most of your friends will quite possibly never experience. And this will have changed you in ways you perhaps don’t even yet realise yourself. You will see the world differently, things that were important to you before won’t be now and vice versa. You will probably see that there is more than “one way”, that the world is a more complicated place than you possibly realised it was. And you will bring all of this with you into back into your old life – which will probably be just as you left it…

No-one will be very interested in where you have been.

Okay at first they will be. They will want to hear your stories of paddling down the Congo in a dug-out canoe or sleeping under the desert stars. They will start by asking you questions but these questions will soon run dry as they run out of understanding about your life and what you actually did on a day-to-day basis (which probably isn’t that much more exciting than theirs, despite what they may think). Eventually they will stop asking questions, start avoiding you in the street, “forget” to call you back. Not because they don’t like you but because they can’t really relate to this new version of you. And avoiding you is their best way of dealing with this.

You will have to start again.

And yes it could be just as hard as starting again in a foreign location. So you need to find schools, dentists, possibly a home, a job….you may have a group of supportive friends or you may not but many repats find themselves looking for a new support group who has more of an understanding of what life has been like for you over the past few years. So you need to find these people, get to know them, reach the point where you feel comfortable with them…You will also almost certainly find yourself going through the same culture shock cycle as at the start of your posting and as I described in my book The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide: the honeymoon period, negotiation, adjustment, acceptance.

If you have children they may very well be grieving their old life.

Whilst we may feel like we are returning home, this may not be so easy for children who have been out of the country for a long time and don’t really know anything but living in your foreign home or maybe even several foreign homes. For them, the things that are familiar and comforting to you may be very alien to them. They will probably also be missing their friends and wondering how or if they will ever see them again.

——————

And that is just for starters. You will read it over and over again but you probably won’t believe it until you experience it for yourself – moving home can be just as hard as moving away. In fact, many would say that it can be a lot harder – to the extent that one great piece of advice is to treat this as another foreign posting and adjust your actions and emotions accordingly.

In fact, this is why repatriating can very often lead to depression – because you are not expecting it to be so hard. You think there is something wrong with you. You feel ungrateful or guilty….you should pull yourself together, you can’t blame living in a foreign country for your feelings anymore….

So if this is you stop. Just stop. And give yourself some time. Ask for help. Do all the things people have recommended in my earlier posts on expat depression. See a professional. Don’t blame yourself, don’t think you are being weak. Just like you hopefully did when you first moved abroad, you will eventually settle back in, life will eventually get back to normal. You will be happy again. And if you don’t? Well, there is a whole world waiting out there!

Further info/reading:

Link to a free webinar on 26 May called Eeek I’m Repatriating – all about “finishing well and preparing to go home” – http://events.wattsyourpathway.co.uk/eek-i-m-repatriating-event-registration/

http://blogs.wsj.com/expat/2015/04/15/repatriation-blues-expats-struggle-with-the-dark-side-of-coming-home/

http://www.worldwideerc.org/Resources/MOBILITYarticles/Pages/0212-Dean.aspx

https://iwasanexpatwife.com/2012/01/16/repatriation-5-mistakes-i-wish-i-hadnt-made/

 

 

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16 thoughts on “Expat depression and repatriation

  1. Fantastic post Clara. You made some excellent points about setting your expectations when returning home. Reflecting on the last time I repatriated (in my 20s) I made a whole new group of friends and bored the pants off my old ones no doubt! We will be returning home to Australia from London when my children are ready to start school in a couple of years. This has been a very deliberate choice as we won’t be the only people making major adjustments to our lifestyle. Reading your post reinforced our decision so many thanks!

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    • Thank you for your comments and it sounds like you absolutely have the right idea. We last repatriated when my oldest started primary school and I actually found it relatively easy as I slotted in with a group of people all going through this experience together. I think this time will be harder as I’ll be trying to fit back in where I left off. I have some fantastic friends and do miss them but I can’t expect them to have frozen in time while I’ve been away! I think this will also be very hard for the children. Hopefully we still have a year or two until we have to worry about it though 🙂

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  2. Thank you for this post and the other links! I have found returning home to be much more difficult than making the transition to living in another country. My biggest surprise was that I no longer wanted to work in the professional capacity that I had been. I am still struggling with this issue, but perhaps it’s like a new adventure as I achieved some minor success in things that I never imagined I would do. I still feel like I am in the middle of it. Good to know that this is not atypical to have these issues on repatriation.

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    • It’s definitely not atypical and in fact the more I read the more I realise how many people struggle on going home. One of the other reasons it’s hard is that again you don’t have your support network around you, the other expats who get you and understand what you are going through but also any kind of professional or specialist help. You’re thrown back into your old life and just expected to get on with it.

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  3. I wasn’t expecting this aspect of expat depression. I think it’s very valid. My hubby and I met in missions. We were part of a community of 300 Christians from different countries living on board a small ship for about two years. We sailed to many different countries doing outreach. We heard many of our friends afterwards share how hard it was “going back home.” It was easier for us, because we had each other, but most of our friends were singles. I’m still an expat, and I still have challenges living here (South Africa), but our kids are happy and that’s the best thing. Visiting from Expat Tuesdays. Now following via Twitter.

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  4. We aren’t repatriating just yet, but I know it will be extremely difficult when we do. I already experience a lot of these things every time I visit home, particularly the complete lack of understanding/disinterest in what my life abroad is like. We also became parents abroad, so it will be like stepping into a completely different life!

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  5. How very true. I’m not a true expat – just left the country three months a year for work in Zambia, but we definitely changed and see a lot of things differently, and yes, your old friends won’t always be that interested. You find new friends though, that are. and sometimes even your political views change, which can cause some ruffling of feathers!

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  6. Interesting topic although I think we don’t like to believe it can happen!
    Funny enough every time I feel frustrated / overwhelmed / depressed the first thought that crosses my mind is this : I want to go home! But somehow I know that it won’t be all rainbows and butterflies. Everyday challenges won’t go away they will just be different. I’ve kept in mind the repatriation and dreading a difficult readjustment period back home I’ve insisted on going home several times a year, even if sometimes it means not visiting exciting new places instead.
    I don’t want my family to loose their sense of belonging and it’s crucial to stay in touch with friends and family but also with the “real world” (far away from the daily “luxuries” we may be entitled to abroad).
    Feeling like a stranger in your own country / city would be such a shame especially after years spent abroad missing home…

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    • Jana I sincerely believe you are half way there just by being aware that this is an issue. So many go into this blind, having no idea how hard it will be. This is what leads to depression, expectation vs reality. If you recognise that it’s going to be hard and act accordingly (plan ahead, treat it like another posting, set targets etc) then I’m hopeful that it won’t be as hard as you feared.

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  7. Pingback: A series on expat depression: round-up |

  8. Thank you for this post! We’ve been thinking about repatriating for quite some time now. I really want to move back home eventually but I think for all the reasons you listed I keep pushing it. I’ve been reading a lot about repatriating and asked friends that already moved back about their experiences and I’d expect all the problems you wrote about. But knowing about these challenges will definitely help me to deal with them. I love your advice at the end “there’s a whole world waiting out there”. Because it’s the same I keep telling my husband every time we talk about moving back: Well, if we really don’t like it back home, we’ll find a new place to live and a new challenge.

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