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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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

Sh*t’s Getting Real!

A sudden pang hit me in the very pit of my stomach just now as a few boxes were delivered to our apartment in the anticipation that we may wish to pack a few belongings ourselves.  Reality is sinking in.. we are leaving.  And soon.  Well, we are leaving in ear14917034_10154617429418433_9134804190214221941_oly January after a little holiday but our uplift (i.e., when all of our belongings are removed) is in 3 weeks!

The first pang arose during the property survey conducted by Allied Pickford a few weeks back.  The rep walked in created an inventory and provided dates for the uplift.

The second pang hit when we gave our domestic staff notice, provided references and advertised their services widely within the expat and Embassy communities.  That was difficult because we know that if they do not secure employment there is no Government assistance in this country and that has implications as both are the breadwinners for their families.

The third happened just now and was accompanied by mixed emotions – sadness, excitement, anxiety, happiness all delivered with these boxes!

The next pang will surely emerge during uplift.. and again when we head off on our holiday.. and for the last time when we return to Indonesia, our current home, before we board our final flight to return to… Now what do I call it when it’s not “home”?

Generally speaking, no one likes change.  Change is challenging.  It’s a process of upheaval of all that is known and familiar and hurls us into the unknown with lashings of anxiety and trepidation.  Some worries that I have include no longer connecting with old friends; experiencing difficulty settling back into my old life easily, or not at all; concerns about work and changes to relationship dynamics with my spouse.

The repatriation process is thought to be more stressful and difficult to navigate than the initial move interestingly.  Many people believe that returning to your country of origin from your new home will be a smooth transition as you are returning to your old life.  But I have changed and evolved as a result of this experience and these new found beliefs are returning with me.  My world view is now different – not better just different.  The stages of adjustment are claimed to bite harder with repatriation and repats require a lot of support, patience and understanding from loved ones and work colleagues for up to a year after their return.

 

So, as the title suggests, reality is setting in and fast!

@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.

Why is the transition challenging for trailing spouses?

Firstly, lets celebrate the trailing spouse and make time to reflect on the enormity of of this supporting role and thank them for their sacrifices.  For me, the two biggest challenges I grappled with were no job and no friends and the baggage that comes with …that.

The majority of trailing spouses at our post are women.  Highly educated, driven women who have willingly put their careers and professional aspirations on hold to support our partners to further theirs.  Many of these women who join their partner at post and find that they are unable to easily find work due to visa requirements, political environment and so on.  This is huge.

Many, like me, find that making the transition from career women to home maker quite confronting.  Our careers are heavily intwined with our identity; who we perceive ourselves as people. Some successfully find short term employment within our post while others take to the ‘ladies who lunch’ lifestyle like ducks to water.  Good on them, but that’s not me or most of my friends.  With no job, zero way to contribute to the household financially and without financial independence this leads us to deeply reflect on ‘who am I without the additional layers?”

Now if like me you have a supportive partner, you will survive the emotional rollercoaster and implement many coping strategies that will serve you well beyond the posting.  For the majority of officers, life carries on as normal.  They work in a familiar environment with policies, expectations and procedures from home, they interact with fellow countrymen and they have routine.  As spouses we struggle with the lack of routine, limited social interaction, running a household with little knowledge of what’s available within our new community, financial and emotional dependency on our partners and constant self doubt.  These factors all chip away at your happiness and mental health and the biggest factor is that you have left your support network at home.

Things to improve and mostly in random ways.  One day you will happen to meet someone who asks if you’d like to join them for a coffee.  Be brave, say yes and actually turn up. This person may end up being your best friend at post OR they may lead you to the next friend. Slowly you establish a small yet trusted support network and everything gets better from this point on.

From this point, you remember the person you were prior to posting – the vibrant, happy, confident, interesting women with hobbies. And she begins to emerge once more.  You notice it, your partner notices it and loved ones back home notice it too during Skype chats.  You venture out of the house more and more, your mental health improves (along with your outlook), you rediscover your confidence once more and you’re no longer dependent on your partner for emotional support.  A weight lifts off your shoulders and you suddenly find yourself thinking life ain’t too bad – this is a huge accomplishment!

And life as a trailing spouse isn’t too bad.  The lifestyle affords us the gift of time to study, explore a career change, start a family, experience a new culture, relax, whatever you want to do.  Initially all of these positives come at the price of happiness and anxiety.  Spouses are forced out of their comfort zone and compelled to work through many challenges.  This experience will make you stronger and more resilient both personally and professionally.  Valuable skills for life after post.

@aubergine_jelly