“Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”
― John Keats
To seek your own Ithaca and to emigrate in order to find it has its unique positive and negative aspects. Leaving the familiarity of our home country and starting from scratch in a new place can come with many challenges.
Away from the comforts of our family, friends and home country, everything about our daily life changes. It starts with socio-cultural differences, language, building up a new circle of friends and support, work, financial stability and goes all the way to the smallest everyday hassles that in our home country we know how to handle. Dealing with simple things can require an incredible amount of time, energy and patience and feels like climbing Mount Everest.
Enthusiasm, loneliness, growth, change, happiness, frustration, isolation, stress are all part of the expat life. Often feeling overwhelmed by the constant adjustments can lead or amplify pre-existing mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks being the most common among expats.
The factors that can get you down on a bad day are numerous. You just got a fine for driving 5km above the speeding limit, your registration papers got lost in some Kafkiesque public service, your washing machine broke down and you can’t explain what happened to the technician (if you find one…) because he doesn’t speak English and you don’t speak his language, your colleagues at work are hostile and competitive and the list goes on and on. You feel frustrated and wonder “what the hell I am doing here, I don’t belong here”.
Often it is only a matter of time when an expat shows some signs of depression. Just as every human being is unique, so is one’s depression. It comes in different forms with different intensity, duration and symptoms. It’s hard sometimes to recognize it and to distinguish it from sadness, grief and having the blues.
Depression is a state of emotional heaviness where our vital energy is compressed and our capacity to feel joy is seriously affected. It is about losing contact with one-self and the world. The perception of being worthless, losing self-confidence and trust to yourself and the world are the cornerstones of depression. You feel so isolated, confined in a prison of your own making. The world seems such a cruel place, you believe that nothing and no one can help you, you feel helpless and useless. It feels like you are in a dark room where someone turned off the lights. Wondering what went wrong and losing hope you fall into despair. Basic human functions become a challenge. You sleep and eat too much or too little, you can’t concentrate and think clearly and worry that others will notice it. Υou are restless and irritated all the time. You feel exhausted just by the thought of choosing a shirt to wear let alone to work or even think straight. Your body is sending you the message that something is awfully wrong with frequent pains, headaches and colds and/or other psychosomatic symptoms. Your mind gets caught up in a loop of negative generalizations about self and situations with a taste of exaggerated and dramatic perceptions.
Loss of close attachments (family, friends, partner), helplessness and feeling stuck in regard to life stressors, social isolation, conflict and frustration are some of the conditions that trigger depression. If we feel like we have no hope of things working out well, no resources to deal with problems, then of course we go into the “shut down” mode of depression.
One of my clients Foteini (client’s name has been changed to protect her identity), came to see me after not having been sleeping and eating properly for a few weeks. She felt totally lost about her identity, could not find any meaning in her life, relationship and work. “It’s all my fault…what is wrong with me? I cannot do anything right…I don’t know what kind of job I want to do…I don’t know if I want to be with my partner. Everything seems well but I feel so unhappy and lost. I am worthless”.
Often family and friends despite their good intention are not understanding or supportive to a person with depression symptoms “it‘s all in your mind…snap out of it!”, “it‘s nothing serious it will all go away, just go on”. And that only makes the person to sink more in despair…
Alex (client’s name has been changed to protect his identity) has gone into a depression state a few months after separating with his long-time girlfriend and could not find any reason for his depression. In therapy we start to discover how he continuously put his needs and feelings aside to give space to other people’s needs. By saying yes to the other person he said no to himself. Try putting needs aside for decades and you have a ticking bomb/recipe for anxiety and depression. Despite his depression symptoms, Alex continues to play the “happy kid” to his family not to make them worry. In fact, most of my Greek clients are behaving in a similar way when it comes to their family. Hmm…
The most important thing to keep in mind is that depression is an imbalance of body and mind and that nothing lasts forever. Often a radical transformation can be found via our deepest suffering. I consider every mental health issue a message from our self that says “you have pressured and neglected me too much, take care of me”. Psychotherapy (at times in combination with medication) can be very helpful to find a new healthy balance and build a stable ground to stand on. Sometimes we need to retreat to deeper spaces within us and do some soul searching to discover new resources in ourselves and a new way of being close to our true self.
published on http://www.newdiaspora.com/
Anastasia is a citizen of the world since the cradle. Born in Kiev to a Ukrainian mother and a Greek father, she adores her hometown Athens and lives abroad for the last 15 years (last stop: Brussels). She holds a BA in Counselling, a BA in Music Performance (cello) and a 4-year specialization in Gestalt Psychotherapy. A lover of Tarkovsky’s films and Chagall’s paintings, she is moved by the human heart and our capacity to love and connect. As a psychotherapist she is passionate to support others in their journey of self-growth and reconnect to their beauty by encouraging them to revise the life stories that no longer serve them. For more information, visit her website and Facebook page.