Expat Depression: When Living Abroad Isn’t All Pasta & Prosecco
This was originally published on Medium.
I knew moving to Italy would take some adjusting. I knew I’d have to go through the stages of culture shock in the months after my arrival.
What I didn’t know was that sometimes the overwhelm and frustration don’t go away, even once an expat is settled into her new life.
Behind the Instagram Filter
Look at my Insta feed, and you’d think I live in paradise. And I do. I’m five minutes from the sea, and the beaches are mostly a postcard view of clear waters and blue skies.
I’m making friends, and my Italian is rapidly improving. I’ve already dealt with all the bureaucracy I needed to live here.
So why do I find myself burrowing under a blanket on my English island of Netflix and books once a week? Why did a simple conversation in Italian with a neighbor cause me to need a very large glass of wine and a nap? Why did I avoid going to the grocery store because I didn’t want to step foot out there, in another world?
Why did I feel a serious decline in my self-confidence? Why didn’t I feel like I was really being myself here in Italy?
And why on earth wasn’t I telling my friends and family that I was struggling? I guess I felt like what they wanted to believe was that everything was perfect. Also, it’s kinda a lot when you’re texting to catch up with friends to throw in, “hey, by the way, I cried myself to sleep last night. Again. For no reason.”
Expat Depression: It’s a Thing
I knew the way I was feeling so frequently wasn’t normal. I started doing some digging and found the term “expat depression.” It’s tied to adjustment disorder, which comes with the stress of a major life change, such as moving to a completely new culture and country!
I immediately felt better, knowing it wasn’t me, but rather a normal phase in my adjustment as an expat.
I’m an impatient person, but I’m trying to give myself time and grace to work through it. To be kind to myself when all I want is to watch a sappy sitcom in English, drink a bottle of wine, and eat all the cheese in the house. I know one day I won’t need to hide from the world and that I’ll feel a part of the local community.
For now, I’m patting myself on the back for the tiniest of wins:
I spent an entire day with my neighbor, meeting her family in the village where she grew up, and I understood everything they said!
I’m translating from English to Italian a lot less in my head when I talk.
I got my car maintenance taken care of.
I got through the day feeling pretty okay.
I picked a bunch of wildflowers on the beach.
My neighbor brought me cookies because I gave him homemade limoncello.
These may seem tiny, insignificant events to anyone who lives in the comfort of their safe life in the country they’ve always lived in, but for any expat who knows how these tiny things can often feel insurmountable, they’ll get it.