Last week’s post was fun; I got to pat myself on the back for doing 5 things right when I repatriated. I’d love to leave you with the impression that I handled it all like a pro, but I made myself a promise to examine all aspects of expat life in this blog — the good, the bad, and the ugly. So here are 5 things I did that didn’t turn out quite so well:
1. I thought re-entry shock only affected other people. Stupid. Naïve. Maybe a little arrogant? However you want to look at it, this was a mistake. (A surprisingly common one, as it turns out.) I had read everything I could get my hands on about re-entry shock, but I assumed it applied to expats who’d been out of their passport country for years and years or had gone completely native. I’d only been gone five measly years and I took a month-long home leave every summer. Re-entry shock? Not me! Now I know that while some people have an easier time of it than others, re-entry shock is like Alcatraz: no one escapes.
2. I thought repatriation would be like home leave, only longer. Oh, please. Where did I get such a crazy idea? Before I got married, I never thought marriage would be like a honeymoon, only longer. There’s just no excuse for this one; I really should have known better.
3. I catastrophized. “I’m the biggest idiot on the planet.” “I’ll never ever do anything interesting again, as long as I live.” Catastrophizing — thinking in worst-case scenarios (or as Psych Central puts it, “striking out in your mind before you even get to the plate”) — is a type of disordered thinking that can lead you right down the rabbit hole of self-pity, hopelessness, and depression. It can also keep you from making decisions or taking action, because if every option is catastrophic, why bother? Now that I’ve regained some perspective, I can see that setbacks are a normal part of life and aren’t necessarily fatal. I’m also 80% 95% 90% sure I’m not the biggest idiot on the planet.
4. I isolated myself. It’s so easy to make friends in a large expat community. In Singapore I couldn’t go five minutes without tripping over someone new and interesting. For an introvert, I had one helluva social life. Now that I’m back home, I find it harder to connect with my old friends (they’re busy), and even harder to make new ones (I’m shy). The early days of repatriation ended up being just like the early days of expatriation: husband at work every day, kids at school every day, and me catastrophizing (see #3), brooding (see #5), and becoming increasingly isolated from my fellow humans. Now I make a point of going out and having fun with people who aren’t related to me by blood or marriage. I figure I need all the feel-good hormones I can get.
5. I brooded. Like many women (and particularly many neurotic women), I have what’s called a ruminative cognitive style. (If you know that ruminants are animals that eat food, regurgitate it, and eat it again, you’ll see where I’m going with this: Cows chew their cud, and I chew — endlessly — on negative thoughts.) People with a ruminative cognitive style obsess over these thoughts, from every possible angle. (“I’m lazy. Why am I so lazy? How do I feel about being lazy?”) The sad thing about ruminants (of the human variety) is that they’re stuck on a merry-go-round of misery, too paralyzed by the bad to take any steps toward the good.
What a downer this post has been, eh? Before you start worrying about my mental health (sweet of you, but there’s really no need!), I want to point out that in this case, the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts. I’ve lived every one of these 10 points — sometimes all in the same day, which is why I’m comfortable writing both “I got social” and “I isolated myself.” (Hey, I’m a complex, multi-faceted, and ever-evolving human being. Deal with it.)
One last thing: depression is rampant within expat communities all over the globe, and repatriates aren’t immune. If you spend your days thinking in catastrophic terms, isolating yourself, and brooding over your shortcomings — without the steadying balance of a shiny, upbeat list like the one I posted last week — for god’s sake, tell someone. It’s normal to feel a little melancholy during a major life transition, but a prolonged period of hopelessness and despair is a sign that something isn’t right.
To learn about the signs, causes, and treatments for depression, visit the Canadian Mental Heath Association website.