My struggles with depression while living overseas

It has been a few months since we moved back home and I wanted to share this for the benefit of those who might have similar struggles.

My husband and I were married for a few months when we decided to live overseas. It was a decision motivated by the charm of adventure. When the opportunity for my husband to teach overseas presented itself, we were super excited! Saying goodbye to family and friends was hard considering we had spent our entire lives living just five minutes away from our loved ones. But we knew that we would be back in a couple of years, which made moving overseas really seem like an adventure.

We arrived in our new home city in the middle of summer. Temperatures were not too bad and we loved the feel of the city. During the first few weeks, we tried to get connected with a church and a community around us.

It’s strange trying to establish relationships from scratch.

Since we had pretty much lived in our old home city all our lives, friendships and communities had developed organically over time.

In our new home city, we had to ask intentional questions about how involved we wanted to be and we had to seek people out to meet for coffee or meals.

I plugged into my “get things done” mode right from the start. Finding a local grocery store, learning about the city, working out our apartment lease, and registrations were all completed within the first few weeks. These chores kept me busy while my husband tried to figure out his work. We spent weekends exploring the city and trying out new places to eat. The first month went by in a flash and we felt pretty settled there.

Read related: Living Overseas: The First Two Weeks

Over the next few weeks I had very little left to do after my husband left for work. I tried volunteering but was limited by my language skills. I tried learning the language online and I spent a lot of time reading and trying to write. But boredom and loneliness would take over. 

In a few weeks, this loneliness started effecting my sleep schedules. I would stay awake at night often crying softly into my pillow so that my husband wouldn’t find out. I didn’t want him to think I was struggling because he seemed to be living his dream. I wanted to support him well. Waking up in the morning was another story! Some days I would wake up early and some days, it would be noon before I could drag myself out of bed. And even then I would just sulk around the house. I tried to reignite motivation and make the most of my time there but it was a fight I was losing everyday.

Since I am a Christian, I would pray, read my Bible and journal. But I couldn’t shake that heavy depressed feeling weighing me down. 

We kept in regular touch with family and friends back home. It was great but I couldn’t tell them about my struggles. I did not want them to worry about us.

In fact everyone who met me considered me a great example for expats because I seemed to be fitting in!

After the first year, my depression seemed to hit me in waves. There were still nights and days when I would sob uncontrollably with a sense of complete helplessness. It was almost as though this sobbing had become a ritual that needed to be done to get on with my life. I felt useless even though I knew I was valued and all that. The fear of being alone would ruin social events and I stopped enjoying adventures with my husband.

At the beginning of our second year, I finally decided to share my struggles with my husband. He listened intently and shared about his struggles with me, which to be honest, really surprised me. I was under the impression that he was doing better than that. The conversation did nothing to alleviate my struggles but it made me realize that I didn’t have to fight those feelings alone. 

It finally hit me – I was struggling with depression and allowing it to slowly win over me. It wasn’t just feeling lonely and homesick anymore. This had grown into something more powerful. I needed to make some significant changes and give myself a chance to enjoy my time overseas. Here are a few things I did. 

  • I realized that sobbing every other night for no apparent reason was not “normal”.
  • I also realized that the sobbing was worse when I was exhausted so I started going to sleep by 10 pm. It improved my ability to sleep through the night and wake up refreshed in the morning. I had more energy throughout the day.
  • I started praying with my husband and we started sharing and supporting each other more.
  • I started working out everyday – nothing elaborate but consistent workout with some goals.
  • I started reading purposefully.
  • I started eating better and learned to cook a few dishes that were our favorites.
  • I made the time to attend social events and plan adventures with my husband. No, I didn’t always want to but I needed to do them and so I did. And they usually turned out fun.
  • When I didn’t feel like talking about myself and answering questions during social events, I learned to redirect the conversation towards the other person and make them feel like the center of the conversation. It usually worked.
  • I started dressing sharper and I already had the clothes and accessories to do that. Dressing up prevented me from feeling like a slob. It’s amazing how clothing can influence how we feel and behave.

These small changes made a big difference to the rest of my time overseas. I still struggled sometimes but my mostly stable emotional state rubbed off on my husband and we made some crazy awesome memories!

My husband was offered an extension because he is amazing! We accepted the extension and spent three years overseas before returning home! During that extended time, the homesickness didn’t disappear but it no longer hindered us from having the best time there! 

If you need support during your time overseas, please don’t hesitate to seek the help of a counselor or mentor. With just a little help, your time overseas can be amazingly life-changing!

The author of this post has requested to remain anonymous.

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Questions you should be asking during your first overseas “check-out” trip

Visiting a place before moving there for long term is a great idea because it can prepare your mind and help you make moving decisions. Setting some strategies can help you make this “check-out” trip more worthwhile.

Whether you are someone, who enjoys just going with the flow or someone who needs it all chalked out – here are some guiding questions.

Of primary importance:

  • What kind of visa will you need to get?
  • What are some non-negotiable conditions for you to thrive in this new place? Think of food allergies, other allergies, medical attention.
  • What are some compromises that you are willing to make?
    • In several instances, the compromising attitude disappears when the going gets tough at the end of the glorious honeymoon phase. Giving this question some thought beforehand could help you push through challenges later on.

Know your limits

Everyday living:

  • What will housing look like?
    • Conduct a brief scan of the housing scenario and budgets
  • If you have kids, will you consider a local school or an alternative?
  • If your spouse will join you, what are things they could be involved in?
    • Include them in all these decisions.
  • Assess the public transportation system. Will you need a car? What kind of driver’s license will be required?
  • Will you be able to learn the language?
    • Learning the local language can help you feel more connected and confident.
  • Could you thrive as an outsider?
    • If you look significantly different than the local people, you will most likely get stared at a lot. Be aware of the attention you are getting and decide if you can handle the staring for the rest of your stay there. The staring doesn’t really go away although you might learn to live with it.
  • Do you like the food, culture, lifestyle?
    • Try the local food and decide from a daily meal perspective if that is something that you will be able to enjoy. Observe people and lifestyles. 
  • Will you do well with the weather conditions?
    • Weather often plays a big role in how productive and healthy we can be,
  • Will you be required to change the way you dress? Is that something you wouldn’t mind doing?
  • Will you have a local community that can help support you? If not, what are ways in which you can make your stay in a foreign land seem more like home?
  • Can you afford the cost of living?


Work related:

  • Where do you fit in and how you can best support the role?

Staying in touch with family and your community at home:

  • Will staying in touch with family and friends back home be easily possible?
    • Whether you are close to your family or not, having a familiar community support your time overseas, even sporadically, can offer a great boost to your time overseas. 

Getting back home:

  • How can the role help your plans for the futures?
    • This brings perspective and focus so that you can make the most of your time overseas.
  • Throughout your overview trip, ask yourself if this will be worth the move – Is the work you are going to get involved in be meaningful enough?

getting back home

Exit strategy:

  • If your health or some situation demands an early departure, could you leave without any hassle?
    • Even though sometimes having restrictions on moving can be helpful in being tough through overseas challenges, it is good to have an exit budget and a plan in place in case you need to leave earlier than anticipated.

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Read related: Tips for Overseas Living – Inside Considerations for Housing | Tips for Overseas Living—Outside Considerations For Housing

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