When I first moved abroad I was going to school and it was one of the best experiences of my life. That wuickly turned sour once I began dating an Italian man and began working and living in Italy as if it were my homeland.
But it wasn’t my homeland. Which was the entire reason I wanted to be there and yet…
It wasn’t my culture, my friends and family weren’t there, and I felt like an outsider every minute of every day. It didn’t help that my boyfriend’s family were the least welcoming people in the entire world and his friends were skeptical of my American-ness. Seemingly scared that at any minute I’d pull George Bush out of my bra and start attacking people with McNuggets.
I quickly fell into a very dramatic depression and developed a strange form of agoraphobia. It wasn’t fun. And this continued for years.
I finally snapped out of it I realized that part of the reason I felt like I was floating, was because I was acting like the experience was temporary. I didn’t have regular hangout spots where I knew the people working, I didn’t attend expat events, or go to events at all, my entire life had become about day to day fighting my shitty feelings instead of building a life in Italy. Expat depression is very different than regular depression because it’s situational, and very few people seem to understand that it’s a thing.
“But you’re in Italy!” Was the common response I received from friends back home. I was in Italy, a beautiful country that I’d always adored. But I was sad and alone and who gives a shit about cool buildings and great food when you’re sad as fuck? Nobody.
In order to change my situation I had to follow these 5 Steps To Stop Hating My Expat Experience:
1. Realize that my depression was situational and I had two choices: Force myself out of it or dump my sexy boyfriend/husband (he was my bf then became my husband, I didn’t have both a bf and a husband…that would be exhausting) and return back to ‘Merica.
2. Form habits and actually put myself out there to create roots. I started going to the same bar every day for coffee with Oliver and I started to ask the barista questions. Sure, his barista wife thought that I was hitting on him and glared at me at first, but afterwards they started to smile and say, “hey! ME and Oliver!” when I’d enter and as small and weird as it sounds it made me feel more at home.
3. I started to go to events and make expat friends. This was hard for me because I’m not the most outgoing chic in the world. I’m kind of reserved, I swear like a sailor, and I have a tendency to make inappropriate jokes when I’m uncomfortable. Still, I somehow made friends in spite of myself and the more we got to know each other the less I wanted to stab out my own eyes every morning. Try taking dance classes, cooking classes, go to art shows, make projects and invite others to join in, host dinner and a movie night or game night at your place. Just put it all out there. Your friend making self. Not your lady pillow or you penis park. Keep those to yourself in public.
4. I had to stop caring what people thought of me. For years I felt really out of place for being foreign to the point of being apologetic for it. And why? I was different but who gives a shit? Once I became totally fine with being the American at all of Francesco’s family and friend hangouts, and I was able to laugh at myself and our differences, I stopped feeling like such a freak.
5. Write it all down. I’m a writer, but I shy away from writing about my feelings or complaints. However, my therapist a long time ago told me to rant on paper then either burn it and go back and read it a month later when I was having a good day. I remembered his advice and once I started to do it I felt immensely better. Some I burned, some I went back and read later, and I have to tell you that nothing will embarrass you or make you motivated to make changes like reading one of your highly emotional rants a month before. Very effective in terms of forcing yourself to think differently.
You’re not alone, you can do this . If you try these five steps you’ll be feeling better in no time, friends. Please keep me updated on your journey!
Have you ever experienced expat or travel depression? What did you do to feel better and get out of the rut? Help out our struggling expat brethren by commenting below!
*if you’re having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please tell friends and family and get help. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out to loved ones or professionals when you need it.