4 Helpful Tips for Dealing with Depression Abroad
Is it possible to be depressed abroad?
When I first considered that question, my answer was a resounding “NO WAY!” How could such a thing even be possible? I have such a great life abroad. Of course, I get homesick sometimes; who doesn’t? But thanks to Skype and a fairly reliable internet connection, I am able to stay in constant contact with family and friends back in the States. I’ve even been able to afford to travel to the U.S. at least once a year, and family members have come to Taiwan to see us.
But over the past two years, depression proved to be something more insidious and darker than homesickness.
Now, this is not a story about what depression is. There are plenty of resources for defining depression and seeking appropriate help. What I will write here is what happened to me, and how I got the help I needed. I will also confess that I still struggle with depression, but at least now, I know I’m not alone.
Depression is nothing to be ashamed of–it can strike even while living and working abroad. It’s miserable, draining, and isolating. But you don’t have to face it alone.
I don’t think there was any one cause for my depression. It was a combination of factors that ultimately settled on my shoulders like a murky cloak of despair. For two years, I had to deal with a merciless three-hour daily commute. My beautiful son had to be left in the care of a bao mu (Mandarin Chinese for “babysitter”) while both my husband and I worked. I was devastated that someone else knew more about what was going on with my own child than I did, even though she was a wonderful woman and a terrific babysitter.
In fact, I went from being a mother who could devote the majority of her time to her child, to a woman who only saw her son for two hours a day and wanted nothing more than to collapse into bed with a glass of wine. I also can’t forget the boredom I faced at work, the weight I gained, the lack of exercise, and the crippling headaches.
The worst thing about depression, though, was how isolated it made me feel. It was already hard enough living in another country, where I didn’t know how to ask for help, or if I should ask in the first place. On top of all that, my husband and I were having problems relating to each other. Little did I know that he was struggling with his own depression.
Yes, it is more than possible to feel depression (or a whole host of other issues) while living abroad. But it is also more than possible to reach out and get help. Here are a few tips for dealing with depression abroad:
4 Helpful Tips for Dealing with Depression Abroad
1. I reached out.
Despite the depression, something in me wanted to reach out. The turning point came during a family trip to Hawaii during Chinese New Year. With things coming to a head between me and my husband, and me doing some pretty bad things to myself, I finally opened up to my mother. My mom not only made me feel that I had nothing to be ashamed of, but also provided some much-needed resources so I could pursue the next step.
2. I sought counseling.
Unlike some countries, Taiwan is very open to counseling and therapy. One of its many resources is The Center. It has locations in Taipei and Hsinchu, and it provides counseling services from Taiwanese and Western counselors. The Center also provides other resources and programs, especially for expats. These are wonderful individuals who are truly making a difference in the community.
3. I looked for outlets.
This is an ongoing process for me. Sometimes after a busy day, I really don’t have a lot of spare time. However, I have set aside some time each day to meditate or do yoga. I also look for opportunities to write, which is as necessary as breathing to me. Finally, I found a group of expats and locals who are involved in acting, music, and the performing arts, which has helped release my crazy inner artist!
4. I found the courage to make changes.
It’s scary to make changes, but sometimes you have to reach inside yourself. It’s involved me cutting some things and some people loose which were negative, or that took too much time away from me for spending time with family and making myself better. I decided to remain in my quiet Taiwanese community, as opposed to moving to bustling Taipei. I also decided to quit my current job, and return to the teaching and writing I love. These decisions are turning out to be better for me and my family. Finally, I’ve found the courage to stay with my husband, and I found out many surprising things that have improved our relationship and made us stronger.
Depression is nothing to be ashamed of–it can strike even while living and working abroad. It’s miserable, draining, and isolating. But you don’t have to face it alone. If you have just one person you can reach out to at work, at home, or anywhere, that’s where healing can begin. It’s not easy, and there will be setbacks. But I believe that’s key to treating depression: you are not alone.
Photo credits for 4 Tips for Dealing with Depression Abroad by Whitney Zahar and Unsplash.