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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Kopi!

“Is it too much to find a place with decent coffee?”  a friend asked on many occasions early on in our posting.

Catch ups would be scheduled at new cafes each month or so and secretly we would both hope that this cafe would be the one!  We were desperately seeking a place to call our “regular”, you know the one place we would always frequent for these much needed catch up sessions.  This went on for a good 18 months.  Where is all the good kopi?!

Over the past 12 months a few new cafes  have opened across the city here and there, and some even close to work and home.    Here are a few recommendations for sourcing a “secangkir kopi yang baik” in South Jakarta that are not Starbucks.

Blumchen Cafe, SCBD. 

A cafe situated close to Gran Lucky supermarket and to Pacif Placa Mall which is handy if you need to pick up a few groceries or treat yourself to some new threads.  The staff are friendly and the cafe offers muffins or a spot of lunch if you’re keen for food too.

Crematology, Kunungan. 

Agro Plaza is my pick as it is a lot quieter than the sister cafe in Senopati and offers more parking.  You may purchase something sweet to accompany your cuppa as well as indulge in a savoury dish for lunch. 

St Ali, Setiabudi. 

An Australian styled cafe that offers coffee to an Australian standard (very good) and a tasty breakfast and lunch menu.  Close to a small IGA type supermarket also. 

Anomali, Setiabudi.

Plenty of comfy chairs and lounges to sit on while enjoying a coffee in the place.  The staff are friendly and the cafe offers a small range of tasty treats to sample along with your order.  Close to a small IGA type supermarket. 

D’Journal, Grand Indonesia Mall. 

A busy cafe with a range of beverages including a delicious nutella shake.  The coffee is good as are the sweet offerings available to complement your coffee.  Friendly staff and a great people watching spot if you can secure a table out the front. 

There are so many cafes about the place, however these suggestions should be enough to get your started 🙂

@aubergine_jelly

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

 

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