Recently I’ve been getting quite a few comments and emails from new expats in Belgium who are struggling with adjusting to life here. Expats in Belgium tend to be pretty transient; with terms of 2-3 years before moving on to a new posting. I wanted to find a way to answer some of these common issues and also demonstrate how we all go through rough patches in the beginning.
For that reason, I’ve decided to repost some of my older CheeseWeb posts as a Flashback series. Because there are over 500 posts on CheeseWeb now (wow! Did I really write all of that?) many of the old posts get buried and lost to the internet ether. I’ll be re-posting these with the original comments section, but adding my updated thoughts.
This first Flashback post is from February of 2007. Winters in Belgium were always rough on me and, especially in the early years, the time that I struggled with depression the most. In this post I explain some of the strategies I used to fight the blues. You know what? They still work.
I thought that once I got past the six-month hurdle, my expat days would be bright and sunny. I’m learning however, that the Expat Blues can sneak up on you when you least expect them.
On the surface, I’m the picture of the well adjusted expat – I’m settled in my home, I can find my way around Brussels and travel easily to neighbouring cities (more or less), I’m getting more comfortable with the languages I face everyday, and I’ve found ways of maintaining my career while playing the role of the trailing spouse. I even tend to be the person in my group of friends who’s always pointing out the positive aspects of living in Belgium. I couldn’t possibly be unhappy here… or so I thought.
I try hard to be positive to my fellow expats, to friends and family, and especially in my blogs. The truth is, I was so busy convincing everyone, including myself, how wonderful expat life is, that I started avoiding all of the things about it that make me unhappy.
Besides, I have great friends, an amazing family and a wonderfully supportive husband. I’m living the life I always wanted to live. I felt I didn’t have a right to be depressed about anything.
But as things contained under pressure have a tendency to do when you shake them up a little, I exploded. Suddenly all of the negative feelings that I had bottled up spewed out and now I’m trying to clean up the mess.
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t changed my mind about expat life, or even Belgium itself. I still love it here. But I’m learning that it’s ok to have down days too.
I’m not sure exactly what triggered the Expat Blues – maybe it’s the weather (I always have been a bit prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder); maybe it’s that birthday with a big fat zero on the end of it that’s arriving in a few weeks; or maybe it’s just an ordinary old case of the blahs. Whatever the case, now that I recognise the problem, I can try to cope with it, instead of bottling it up or blocking it out.
So to cope, I’m trying to take my own advice by doing all of the things I have told my expat pals to do when Belgium is getting the best of them: I’m setting myself some work related goals and a schedule, even though I work from home; I’m trying to soak up what little daylight is available and eat healthier; and I’m trying to inspire myself creatively by surrounding myself with beautiful things.
Most of all, I’m reminding myself that it’s ok to reach out to people for help when I’m feeling down. So I’d love to hear any advice from my fellow expats who have overcome the Expat Blues.
Looking for more resources for trailing spouses? Check out our Expat Resources page.