Expat vs Depression

Expat vs Depression

The emotional roller coaster of moving abroad is multifaceted; it is filled with those breathtaking ups, but is also plagued by those heart-wrenching downs. Without our typical support systems, known environments, and comfort zones, those downs can quickly spiral into some depressing times. And unfortunately, it happens more than we would like to discuss in my post of expat vs depression.

Reality vs Instagram

instagram reality photos pictures expat vs depressionSocial media has a funny way of influencing our lives. We can use Instagram as an example. Instagram is a photographic platform to express our perceptions of the world through our own lens. Personally, I post only my best pictures on Instagram, capturing the moment in the most creative and enticing way I can. By default, all my followers only see my world through my altered lens. Pictures of Spain, Morocco, Italy, England, Switzerland, etc. fill my Instagram from top to bottom. But how often do people stop to reflect on the accuracy of my portrayal of the world? Probably not much.

If I honestly posted my traveling life through Instagram, it would look more like: boxes of rice (I could not afford anything else to eat), a cold floor (where I slept in the airport because I could not afford accommodation), panic (my bank account rarely has enough to support me in case of an emergency while traveling), and the hostel (with all 20 beds shoved into a room that should only accommodate 8).

My point? Well, to get you to understand the reality of depression while being abroad, we all need to step out of this false narrative that everything is as beautiful as we make it out to be online and start understanding that there are complex, “behind the scenes” layers that many choose not to share.

Home vs There

Home is comfortable. Home is happy. Home is love. Home is family. Home is friends. When I moved here, I had no home. If I had a bad day, I did not have anyone to listen to me. Additionally, if I needed help, I had no one to call. If I wanted to make plans, I had to do them alone. Leaving your support system back at home means giving up everything and being alone with yourself. Some people thrive, while others do not.

hostel dormitory traveling abroad expat vs depression

Leaving so much behind can mentally cause a strain on your life. I missed Christmas with my relatives and celebrated it alone. My birthday was spent alone with cake that I made myself, and a movie on my laptop.  Day to day life felt uneventful because I had no one to share my memories with. Additionally, the added stressors of finding friends, learning a language, assimilating into a culture, starting a new job, finding somewhere to live, opening a bank account, adjusting to a new city, etc, etc, etc, is a lot to take on at once.

On the other side of things, some days I just watched my old life back at home as a third person and how it moved on in my absence. I missed the celebrations of holidays, birth of new family, engagements of siblings, and simple family dinners that once were taken-for-granted. I could not even understand why I decided to give up my past life. Why did I leave my loved ones? Why did I choose to move away and be alone? Where do I belong now? And what on Earth am I even doing here?

Me vs Me

traveling-abroad-expat-pressional-depressionOnce you start questioning all your decisions and plans, things can quickly go downward. It hits you quite hard when you realize you have no one to help you through the changes you are experiencing. At one point, it caused me to become my worst enemy. I started to second-guess so much about my life. From career to relationship to family to my own happiness, I could not get a grip on my own future.

My career?

I move back and continue with lots of money and benefits or I stay here and am much happier, but make a significantly lower income and not much advancement.

My relationship? – He is here and definitely not there.

My family? – They are there and definitely not here.

My happiness? – I love the lifestyle and culture here, but that doesn’t include my family, which are there.

Everything turned into a personal struggle and my mental battle turned into a physical battle. I couldn’t sleep, eat, or enjoy anything about my life anymore. I felt that I was constantly being pulled between two places, or essentially two lives.  What made things worse was the feeling that no one understood my dilemma. My family just wanted me to come home. My friends wanted me to continue my adventurous life. Anywhere I looked, I couldn’t find the answer to any of my questions or anything to alleviate the torn emotions I was experiencing.

traveling abroad expat airport

So, what did I do? Well, I wish I could wrap this story up with a happy ending and a solution like I normally do. Unfortunately, this time is a little different. I still grapple with these emotions. I often find myself waking up from a nightmare about my future, my family, my relationship, and my life. What has helped is focusing on the things I want and the things that make me happy. I try to remind myself that I’m not alone and my family and friends are always with me, whether it’s here or there. I try to remind myself that I’m living a dream in another country and it may or may not last forever. If I don’t seize my day in Madrid now, when will I ever get the opportunity to do so again?


To my expats,

Don’t forget: we are a big network. There are people just like you who have leapt into a new world and are trying to keep their head above water. Talk to others in the same boat as you. Share your experiences to help uplift yourself and possibly someone else who feels the same. Reach out via meetings, social gatherings, or even Facebook where “Expats in ____________” groups are always there to help bring people together. And most importantly, remember the positives. Living in another country is a giant learning experience. You see the world, connect with others, learn about yourself, and gain such valuable lessons that you could never achieve from staying in your comfort zone. Remember that what you are doing abroad is shaping you into a remarkable, well-rounded, and cultured person. These are true qualities that change your life forever. Don’t ever forget that.

Us AND You 

Sometimes you win and other times you learn
Sometimes you win and other times you learn.

Do you have a loved one abroad?

Check in with them often and take note in any change of behavior.

Support their endeavors because sometimes they can’t even support it themselves.

Encourage them to stay strong and remind them that they are doing a superb job so far.

Recognize that they are facing new challenges every day and any negativity can sincerely affect their mental statuses.

Praise them for following their dreams. Just because we are far away doesn’t mean we want to lose the feeling of your presence in our lives.

by Bebe Bakhtiar

4 thoughts on “Expat vs Depression

  1. Great post – well written and really highlights the challenges of being abroad on your own. Nice job.

  2. Omg, this was me for my ENTIRE two years in Madrid. Sometimes I felt like it was absolutely worth it, but considerably more often I felt lonely watching my loved ones’ lives move along without me. My depression spiraled and it seemed like I couldn’t come out of it until February/March, or 4-5 months after I had arrived to begin the school year. Thanks so much for sharing! It’s true – sometimes you win but it seems like more often you learn.

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