Mental Health & Kids

Last night, a friend confided that his daughter is experiencing difficulty maintaining a social life outside of school now that she has repatriated to the UK.  Another has a daughter who is finding it a challenge to settle in at school within the adopted country.  Both families need support clearly and perhaps organisations have under estimated the challenges and frustrations our children face before, during and after their time abroad?

Resilience and mental health are key to maintaining a happy and healthy life. Today I stumbled across a (new to me) section of BeyondBlue, a section devoted to developing and sustaining resilience within the family unit.  Applicable to all families, especially applicable to those posted/living overseas or those who have recently repatriated.  Of particular note were the sections relating to identifying and seeking support for children suffering from mental illness; here parents are provided with advice, information and links to gain further information.  

So in support of friends, colleagues and fellow expats here is the link to beyondblue beyondblue.org.au an organisation committed to “increasing understanding and reducing the impact of anxiety and depression”.  You may wish to share this information with your own family, friends, school community in the hopes of supporting others.  

@aubergine_jelly 

 

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Social Media and the Expat

Many moons ago, I packed a suitcase and headed for the UK, A place close to Manchester to be precise.  This was back in the early 2000s when social media was slightly more than emails – no Facebook or Skype – where staying touch with loved ones back home was reliant upon well timed phone calls and letters. 

Social media has transformed into a wonderful place where we can chat to loved ones face to face online, simply send a text message or instantly update others on where we are and what we are up to.  Further to this expats find that the world of technology offers much in the way of support before even leaving home.  We can now research and network our new home at the click of a button.  Amazing! 

For me, I researched all things “Jakarta” and “Indonesia” as soon as we knew we were relocating.  Womens organisations, expat Facebook groups, things to do, recommendations for cafes, language apps, the list goes on!  The unknown became less of an unknown and this in turn allowed me some control of the situation.  Surfing the web from the comfort of home was ‘safe’.  I didn’t need to know the language to commence researching and I was able to dip my toe into the culture and  investigate what the city had to offer before we had even left home. 

Social media supported me to connect with expats and expat groups already on the ground; experts who provided guidance and encouragement when needed and who offered to be my guide when I arrived.  Small gestures make a huge difference to newcomers.  These Women’s groups host many expat events, post relevant information on their Facebook pages and facilitate networking opportunities for members. Further to this, social media allows one to connect with expats around the globe; a very supportive bunch of people who truly understand the joys and challenges of that present as a result of this lifestyle.  These people who have selflessly shared their own personal experiences and advice with me, a perfect stranger, have proven invaluable to during my time abroad – here is my opportunity to say ‘thank you’. 

Many expat spouses take to blogging in an effort to document their thoughts, feelings and experiences abroad.  A vehicle for good mental health and wellbeing perhaps?  At times these may seem quite dark and at others quite uplifting and surprising.  My blog was created as a means to work through issues about finding myself and finding my way as a former career gal grappling with suddenly not working and not being so busy.  Using this platform has shown me that my experiences are commonplace amongst expat spouses and I realise that I’m not alone if I reach out to others.  Blogging has been quite cathartic and feedback from readers has been very positive and affirming – give it a try!

@aubergine_jelly

The Return To Work

Now that we have returned to Australia as repats, I must face the daunting realisation that I soon return to full-time employment.  After being out of the education game for 3 years, the prospect conjures mixed thoughts feelings ..particularly ‘am i up to this?’

Researching for this post, I found that there is nothing to support expat spouses to make the transition from homemaker/part-time employee to full-time career gal/guy.  The only resources I could locate were about returning to work after maternity leave.  Not terribly applicable.

Returning to work while adjusting to our new normal will be challenging.  We will be grappling with a new lifestyle, routines, relationship pressures, culture shock in addition to  transitioning back into work.  Maintaining mental health and wellbeing will be key I predict.  Below are a few of my thoughts of how to best support myself to make the leap back into the demanding and rewarding world of educational leadership while still grappling with the repatriation process.

Be organised.  This includes establishing routines at home including sleep, exercise,  household chores and so on. Professionally, meet with your boss and/or immediate colleagues (if possible) to understand your role, their role, future directions for the organisation and glean other relevant information.

Nurture health & wellbeing.  Be mindful of your work hours.  Working long hours may feel like a sound strategy to get on top of work responsibilities and tasks but this may actually be detrimental to your physical and mental health.  Maintaining a balance between work and other priorities will promote productivity.  Making time to exercise, catch up with friends or simply read for enjoyment are all ways to relax and recharge.

Say no.  Allowing yourself time to settle into life at home as well as full-time work is important.  It is okay to say no when asked to accept additional responsibilities or social invitations.   This is about knowing your limitations and how best to make a successful repatriation.  Talk to friends, family members, colleagues and your boss about how you’re coping and how they can best support you.

Say yes to professional learning.  Develop your knowledge of new initiatives and approaches, as well as increasing your self-esteem.  Remember that your skill set is not as outdated as you believe and that many of those you have developed while on eave are transferable.

There must be a myriad of effective strategies that I have not yet discovered.  How did you manage and sustain your return to work?

@aubergine_jelly

Game Faces On – We’re Nearly Home

Almost home now and trying to follow my advice from previous pre-emptive posts. What I am most anxious about now is how I will received by friends who have also been shaped by life, who may have forgotten about me or may not wish to reconnect.  This is followed by commencing work at a new workplace and the typical ‘have I got what it takes to do this?’ thinking and  thirdly managing the culture shock that has already started to jolt me as I move about doing ordinary tasks such as driving, grocery shopping and so on.

My coping strategies for transitioning to a new normal:

Expect and except change within yourself. You have had new experiences which have shaped your world view and transformed your beliefs and values.  These may be challenged upon your return ‘home’.

Be prepared for isolation or feelings of lonliness. Family and friends have become used to your absence and may not give a thought to calling around for a cuppa or inviting you to a social gathering. Nthing personal, they’ve just become used to you not being around.

Be prepared for apathy. You know the look of eyes glazing over when you have visited family and friends at home and you launch into sharing an anecdote from your new home? Well expect that upon your return; basically noone cares after 5 minutes.

Establish routine. Exercise and work will assist with this to an extent and can help with your transition in addition to supporting mental health.

Keep in touch with other repat friends still overseas or at home. Friends who have repatriated already can be a real support as they understand the process of grieving the life you have just left behind, culture shock and stressors of settling into life at home.  These guys have a shared history with you and will happily indulge in moments of nostalgia.

Seek professional help.  Many government employees have access to psychologists who can assist with preparing for repatriation, settling into life at home, relationship counselling and so on.  Use these services should you need them.

Prepare for reverse culture shock. Just like when you moved to post as an expat, you will experience the highs and lows as I discussed in my post ‘The Stages of Cultural Adjustment’.  Many of us are familiar with the term ‘culture shock’ however the stages are the honeymoon phase, negotiation phase (known as culture shock), adjustment phase and mastery phase.  Reverse culture shock can be pretty intense for repats as it’s impact is unexpected – you’re moving home after all, should be an easy transition.   This emotional rollercoaster is one heck of a ride and may last more than 6 months, as you will remember!

Be kind to yourself. Be patient and at times administer a bit of tough love when required. You know you’re resilient as you’ve managed this process before.  Allow time to settle back into your new normal.

What other effective coping strategies do you use?

@aubergine_jelly

Home is only days away..

As this post goes live, we will be merely days away from returning ‘home’.  Prior to our move and shortly after we arrived, we were prepared by our organisation for the initial challenges of change and cultural adjustment.  Repatriating, we have found a gaping hole. There is very little support in preparing us for the transition ‘home’.

Repatriation is difficult to understand if you’ve never experienced it. Many people perceive returning expats (repats) as being overly nostalgic, affected, resentful and difficult to relate to at times.  I mean, repats are returning ‘home’, so what’s so hard about it?   Well, for us ‘home’ is where we have lived for the past few years.  We have carved out lives here, we work here, have friends here and here is where our normal and familiar is.

wpid-wp-1421211122475.jpegResearching repatriation, I have discovered that the process of returning is extremely challenging for most. Most repats experience depression, anxiety, grief, isolation and reverse culture shock that may last for up to 12 months.  Friends and family just wish you’d stop talking about your old life and get back to normal, back to reality. But what you really need will be their support, patience and understanding.

Friends and family have changed since we moved away due to life experiences, as have we. I am acutely aware that some friendships won’t last the test of reconnecting and that has to be ok.  That’s life.  Another stressor however, is how this next phase will affect and test our relationship as we move from being a single income family with pressures of life abroad to a double income family with the additional pressures of the everyday plus transitioning back to a Western culture.  Relationship breakdowns are common within repat communities.

Having worked for only a short while during our posting, additional anxiety is emerging for me about returning to work. Have I lost my knowledge and skills and have I still ‘got it’?  Will I cope with the long hours and a job that is mentally and emotionally demanding? How will I establish a work/life balance and not burn out? Will colleagues understand if I have a mini meltdown due to stress or anxiety about settling back into Australia (reverse culture shock)?

So.  with all of this in mind, we cross our fingers and hope for a relatively smooth transition into our previous lives.  I’ll keep you posted..

@aubergine_jelly

 

Testing Times

11755705_10153439309178433_1361961058966712893_n.jpgRelationships take a bit of a hit when you move and live abroad.  Prior to the move attention shifts to working through the uplift process and then setting up a home at post. Once things begin to settle, cracks will appear.  Suddenly both partners are dependent upon the other to fulfil emotion and social needs and this is particularly true for the stay at home spouse.  So let’s focus on them.  Oddly, I have found that this occurs at the beginning, around the midway point and again as the post draws to an end.  And these periods are tough for both individuals.

The officer does not have a easy life at post, however they do enjoy the benefits of routine, working in an environment similar to that at home, interacting with others and escaping the confines of home.  The trailing spouse has none of those things and must strive to carve out some sort of normalcy for themselves with little support.  Initially, the isolation and lack of confidence combine to make a formidable force that psychologically inhibits the spouse to  leave the house.  You know little of the language, have no clue on the layout of the city and feel scared to venture out in a taxi alone, anything could go wrong.

So what happens?  You stay within the confines of your new abode and beat yourself up because at home home you are a bubbly, independent woman with interests and hobbies. Your partner returns home from a busy day of work and asks the dreaded question – ‘what did you do with your day?’  And in that moment you feel like you are merely a shell of your true self.  This is where the pressure emerges for the working spouse to be your everything.  And it becomes tiresome very quickly.  Suffocating even.

Below are a few tips to work through these trying periods at post:

Communicate –  have honest and timely conversations with your spouse about how you’re both coping and how to best support each other moving forward.  Talk about ways to use your time at post be it through study, volunteering or work.  Make travel plans together to have something exciting to look forward to and as means to reconnect and create positive experiences and memories together.  Discuss how to give each other breathing space or time apart to recharge.

Utilise every support available to you – visit the doctor, chat with trusted confidantes at home, use the company counselling service, keep a journal.

Tough love – force yourself out of the house.  Sit in a communal area and smile at those around you, strike up a conversation at a cafe, wander through a mall.  Accept social invitations and actually attend.  Tough love remember!

Exercise – exercising releases endorphins and feeling good about yourself physically will transfer to a better frame of mind and may contribute to improved mental wellbeing. Attend gym classes, if offered, as a means to meet new people.

Join an expat group – many cities have chapters for the American Women’s Association, British Women’s Association, Australian and New Zealand Women’s Association and other groups.  Most of which accept membership from all expats and regularly host social events including seminars, excursions, morning tea and luncheons.  Check it out and remember that not all groups will be a good fit and that’s ok.

Be bold – when attending work events with your partner mingle and hand your phone number out like candy.  Some will share their contact details and get in touch, others won’t.  You’ll meet some friendly and not so friendly people but you are actually meeting people and you may meet the first person to meet out for lunch or a coffee.  And one friend leads to another..

Relationships are never easy and expat relationships have added pressures.  You will find a happy balance and create a dynamic that supports the needs of both spouses if both give 100% effort, and extend patience and love towards the other.

@aubergine_jelly

The Posted Expat Officer

Mental health is something I care about deeply.  Depression and/or anxiety touch most families these days and is of significance for expats and their families.

Sometimes I believe that expat spouses have it easier than the posted officers.  We’re invited to attend formal and informal spouse functions, coffee mornings, general language classes, community group events (e.g., ANZA, AWA, BWA) gym classes.. whatever comes our way.  These social events provide opportunities to network and meet new people but also to make new friends. These friends eventually become our support network who give us a boost when we need it and a kick in the pants when needed too!

The officers not so much.

Often due to visa requirements the posted officer is the bread winner for the household. We rely on that one salary to support our lifestyle here and fulfil financial commitments back home.  Talk about pressure!  Many work extended hours and are on call 24/7.  There is no downtime.  They travel for weeks or months at a time which adds the stress of leaving family behind in the adopted country and leaving family responsibilities to the spouse.

Between the work day and evening work commitments, officers find limited opportunities to socialise outside of work.  These functions can be an additional stressor as the officer must remain “on” throughout the work day and again during the function leaving little time to recharge before backing it all up for tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

Self-care is a key ingredient for mental health and wellbeing.  For my spouse there is limited opportunity to blow off steam.  The capacity to exercise outside is thwarted by traffic, poorly maintained roads and footpaths, insane traffic and pollution. If you’re not a gym junkie what do you do?

For me, I try to find activities and experiences that fill our buckets.  Netflix has been a godsend, hosting dinners for friends within our home, weekend trips away, open and honest communication with each other, cooking interesting meals, cultural experiences within the city and monthly dinners with trusted friends to debrief with have all been of some support.

How do you support your spouse?