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 

 

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

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 Glamorous Lifestyle of the Expat Wife

13310497_10154151836188433_3125960751107131055_n.jpgRecently, I read a Facebook post from Expat Housewife of Jakarta, a fellow trailing/expat spouse, who posted a photo showing her enjoying a visit to a hair salon.  The salon was located within her apartment complex, which is not uncommon, and in the photo was the stylist and a therapist doing a pedicure.  To misguided outsiders this image encapsulates the wonderful lifestyle of the trailing spouse.  Spa days, boozy lunches, more pampering, maids, drivers etc.

Delve deeper. Firstly, remember that Facebook profiles show only the highlight reel of all users.  Rarely do we catch a glimpse beyond the shiny, happy facade. The woman (most supporting spouses are) continued that while she enjoyed these pampering sessions they actually fill a void.  It was here that things become very familiar to expat spouses.  She states “..the reality is, I’m lonely and I need to do these kind of things to get through the loneliness.” And there it is, the true expat spouse experience.  Many of our partners travel away a lot for work and must also fulfil week night work commitments – all of which takes them away from the family.

On top of this, in places like Jakarta, the notorious traffic makes spontaneous catch ups with friends virtually impossible; this limits your ability to socialise and impacts your mental health.  And this leads us to the topic of taxis..

Expat Housewife continued that even the myriad of entertainment options on offer in this vibrant city, she felt trapped as she hadn’t asked her driver to work late that night and she didn’t want to take a taxi alone at night.   Another very familiar situation for expat wives. Female expats, including myself, have experienced uncomfortable and down right unsafe taxi rides when traveling alone and so I refuse to go anywhere alone in a cab especially at night.  Another inhibitor of spontaneity.

Don’t go feeling too sorry for us, just keep in mind that all is not as it seems on social media pages.  Delve a bit deeper..

The Stages of Cultural Adjustment

Anthropologist Kalervo Oberg concluded there are four stages experienced by expats when adjusting to life in a new country and culture.  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.This emotional rollercoaster is one heck of a ride, so let’s explore each stop from my own perspective..

Honeymoon phase

During this phase everything is new and exciting and this feeling may last up to a two months; for me this euphoria lasted 2 weeks to the day. Expats possess a positive mindset and feel enthusiastic about creating a life and career in the host country.

Negotiation phase

Culture shock emerges and can last up to 6 months or so into the move.  This phase finds the expat attempting to reconcile what is known or normal from ‘home'(i.e., the social and cultural norms and expectations) and those of the new country.  New knowledge needs to be created regarding social sublties (e..g., subtle gestures, greetings, social interactions, facial expressions etc), making purchases at stores, ordering food at restaurants,  dealing with domestic staff, expectations for conduct of men and women – everything yon take for granted at home.

This time can mess with your mindset and may be a period of confusion, depression, grieving, stress, disorientation, anxiety, depression or frustration.  Talk to others able their experiences as well as their coping strategies, it helps. The negotiation phase lasted from 2 weeks – around 9 months into our posting for me and I found that at times I moved between the negotiation phase and adjustment phase around the 9 month mark.

Adjustment phase

Towards the end of my first year at post, I had developed and implemented coping strategies and this is when I began to feel comfortable and confident within my new country.  Venturing out to malls and supermarkets and catching taxis became ok – I knew some basic language and possessed a limited mental map of the city.  Things start to look promising once more.  The people, language, food and culture start to become the new normal and familiar and I found that when I visited home, I started to feel like a misfit.

Mastery phase

Within 12-18 months I had found that my host country was now ‘home’ and home became ‘Australia’.  The mastery phase was a time of high functioning  and feeling comfortable in my host country.  From this point I found that I had become a triangle (see my post I Am Now a Triangle).  I had moved from a circle country to a square country and had morphed into a shape that did not truly fit either.

Repatriation phase

I have added this phase as this is a dangerous phase.  The thought of returning home home lulls expats into a false sense of security – friends, family and colleagues ask how hard can it be? You’re returning to the familiar, to normalcy. wpid-wp-1401709243607.jpeg Hati, hati (danger)! We often reminisce about how beautiful our home town is, happy family and friends, returning to our previous workplace and colleagues and somehow we have forgotten the day to day frustrations.

The stages of cultural adjustment will kick in all over again.  Reverse culture shock emerges and can be more debilitating than when moving to the host country and familiarising with the new culture.  Changes to work culture and expectations, socio-cultural changes and unrealistic expat expectations may all be contributing factors.

My world view has been altered and returning to Australia is both exciting and anxiety inducing.  I realise that once more I will need to extend patience, understanding and tough love to myself and partner as we make another transition and support each other to thrive through the process.

 

Could repatriation be more challenging than expatriation?

wpid-wp-1421210277801.jpegThinking of “home” conjures memories of blue skies, smiling faces of love ones, our dogs and an easy lifestyle.  These rose coloured glasses of mine are building me up to fail at our upcoming repatriation.

Many expats buy into false assumptions about the ease of returning home.  Home is familiar so the move will surely be straightforward, as will the transition back to normalcy. This is when the gods of reality check laugh and throw a few curve balls.

Those returning home experience similar challenges to when they moved abroad – sourcing accommodation, cars, school enrolments, possibly securing a job for the spouse and so on.  However this time, the family completes this transition without the support from the employer.  After all, you’re home now  how difficult can it be?

Reverse culture shock 

The romanticised view of ‘home’ often omits the forgotten frustrations and stressors of everyday life.  Home has changed – people have changed and experienced new and different things and may have moved into a different lie stage.  You have changed too as a result of experiencing a new culture.   Your beliefs, values and essentially your world view have evolved and these may be at odds with what awaits you at home.  Be aware that this may make it difficult to simply pick up where you left off with friends and coworkers upon your return.

Further, your lifestyle abroad was fairly comfortable.  Here, we have domestic staff who assist with minimising the daily stressors of navigating anger inducing traffic (machet), limited parking opportunities, lengthy travel times as well as home cleaning.  Returning home means doing everything for yourself.  Additionally, you may find that money becomes a consideration without access to expat financial allowances (though this may be countered by the spouse being able to work once again!).

Supporting children

Leaving the familiar is difficult for adults who have the language to communicate frustrations and fears.  Children on the other hand may not and their anxiety may present through behaviour.  Repatriation for kids is an enormous deal – they are leaving their home, school, routines, friends and significant adults – everything that is familiar and predictable.  Some children may have developed a strong connection to the adoptive country and some may not even remember life back home.

So how to manage this transition for kids?  Communication is key.  Talk positively about the transition and ensure that the child knows that the move is inevitable.  Children should feel supported to talk openly about how they’re feeling about the move without judgement.  Other strategies may include:

  • schedule proper goodbyes prior to leaving
  • ask your child what they might like to know about ‘home’ and research together
  • once you’ve made the move, set up the child’s bedroom in a similar way to provide a sense of familiarity and comfort
  • establish routines within the home and
  • keep in regular contact with teachers or carers

Many organisations do provide counselling services for officers and their families; consider utilising this service to support with the transition before, during or after relocation.  Repatriation offers many additional challenges for expats and their families due to the perceived ease of returning to the familiar.  Good luck.