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

 

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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

Expat Wives Club: Keepers of the Wonder Woman Facade?

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Trailing spouses, supporting spouses, expat wives, expat spouses.  These terms provoke similar responses from women on the treadmill of regular life back home.  Conversations about expat spouses needing a ‘reality check’ or the prediction of these folk not coping when they return home as living ‘the high life’. I mean, these folk won the lottery and have escaped the rat race to live out a fantastical life of luxury and pampering, right?

While the expat life has many advantages and benefits to both the posted officer and their families, it does come at some expense; it’s not all smooth sailing.  Most spouses have placed their career on hold to support their partner to further their career and many also experience difficulty securing work themselves due to visa requirements.  This means financial dependence and feelings of mooching, not contributing to the household.

Further, dealing with the loss of routine, personal and professional identity, one’s support network of friends and family, and all things familiar from home become magnified. In my experience dealing with everyday situations can be a struggle due to cultural expectations (like requiring a husband’s approval to open a bank account), language barriers, loneliness and boredom.  The facade of being Wonder Women naturally begins to crumble.

What I have also found is a peculiar culture of ‘everything is awesome’ permeating through the expat wives club.  An expectation to sing the praises of the lifestyle and not let cracks appear is evident – don’t let the team down.  Even when meeting other expat spouses we all ask ‘how are you?’ or ‘how are you settling in?’ and we have learned to cheerily answer ‘I love it here’, ‘coping well’ when working the crowd.  Those not coping or needing to debrief do so in whispers in one on one conversations with trusted confidants. Lest they be the subject of gossip and labelled as someone not coping, not maintaining the party line. Publicly, remember, ‘everything is awesome’ and noone likes a Debbie Downer.

Blogs and social media pages are popping up everywhere as a tool for spouses to cope and reach out anonymously for support and an outlet for reflection.  Posts have similar themes if you read carefully – isolation, loneliness, anxiety, depression and of course the Facebook highlight reel that reinforces the Wonder Woman facade.  But don’t feel too much sympathy for these spouses, after all these folk won the lottery and escaped the rat race to enjoy a fantastical life of luxury and pampering, right?

@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?

 

Trailing spouses, healthy relationships & mental health

Today I woke up, made a coffee and viewed the world from the kitchen window like I do most mornings. It’s a lovely ritual that allows me to gently wake up and plan for the day ahead. This morning however was different.  I woke up, made a coffee and viewed the world from the kitchen window and the tears rolled down my cheeks.  That was 9am and it’s now 1.42pm and I’m still not “together”.

There are many issues and frustrations to deal with as a trailing spouse and relationships with others is a major source of angst, anxiety and frustration.  Particularly relationship issues between spouses even if both parties are highly supportive (like mine) and like most others is generally wonderful.

The issue was exacerbated however when through the steady stream of tears it dawned on me rather quickly that for most trailing spouses it is extremely lonely to not feel comfortable to confide in new found friends who are geographically close by.  For many these friends are partners of your own spouse and the community is quite an incestuous bunch.  Work colleagues don’t need to know the private goings on of colleagues and in some cases the information is used as gossip or ammunition in the workplace.  This leaves trailing spouses vulnerable to feelings of depression and isolation.

So how to cope?  With my spouse working in another country I texted to let him know how I’m feeling and what the issue is, outlining that text or email is never the mode of communication for resolving personal issues.  True to form he is so level headed and wonderfully understanding that he agreed to wait to talk face to face upon his return and suggested booking in for a spa day to take care of myself.

For me, confiding in family back home is currently not an option from my perspective due to the mental health of my brother who is currently battling clinical depression.  Not wanting to add to this, I choose to keep my own needs and worries to myself- not ideal. But I do know that I will be ok once D returns home and work together to resolve the issue face to face.

And so, I sat by the pool and flicked through a magazine for an hour.  A friend and her husband offered for me to join them for coffee but the tears returned and as I sneakily wiped them away, I declined their offer.  Instead I continued to read and cry, read and cry until it was time for lunch. And so here I am…

Keeping connected..

Being a trailing spouse certainly allows the significance of maintaining long distance relationships to shine on through.  Like others, I have different ‘go to’ people for the many challenges life throws at you while living away from home.  These days social networking makes reconnecting so easy, effortless and convenient and I must admit to wondering sometimes how the TS coped in the era of snail mail?!

My sister, four BFFs and mum are just the ticket back to reality when needed. During the last 12 months at post I have experienced the full rollercoaster ride of emotions. D bears the brunt most times but for other times my tribe gets me through and I love them more than anything ( remember that you’re here to ensure that the posted officer’s life carries on as normal and with the least amount of stress, right?).

They listen and provide that (I want to say harsh) reality check that is needed to sometimes put life back into perspective and importantly they do this without judgment and with my best interests at heart.  And the wonderful thing is that I get to do the same for them when needed.  We laugh through tears and see that things are pretty great really and that you’re never alone.  Black humour during difficult times is a godsend!

What would we do without our tribe?