Hi! It’s me. I’m still here.
First of all, thanks for being here.
I know it’s been a minute since I’ve posted anything on the blog or podcast. I’m so happy to be releasing a new podcast episode and had a lot of fun chatting with my Texan-Bavarian guest.
However, I felt like I needed to come up with an explanation of why it’s been so quiet here. I wasn’t sure whether I should or shouldn’t but I’ve had a few revelations this year, and one of them is to follow my gut feeling and rely on my instinct more, and it just felt right to do it. So here it comes:
For those of you who are new here, I’m Stephanie, and I moved from Texas to New Jersey back in February of this year, and this move absolutely pulled the rug out from under my feet.
Of course it’s not the first time I moved, and again, just for those who haven’t read anything else or listened to my podcast yet, I’m a serial – and seasoned – expat: I moved from Germany to the UK in my twenties, then met husband, had two kids, moved to California in 2010, then to Austin, Texas after a few years, then back to UK for a year, back to Austin, and now we’re in New Jersey, just outside of New York City.
See? I have every right to be exhausted, and this time, I’ve actually been diagnosed with burnout by my doctor. Of course, in this case it’s expat burnout. Look it up, it’s a thing, and there are plenty of articles written about it. I’ve read lots of them over the years, but it still got me. I’m pretty sure there are a few of you reading this who know exactly what I am talking about. This is also the reason I’m talking about this now and I’m not trying to keep that from my story.
Well, if you’ve been following me, at least on the blog, you know that this isn’t coming totally out of the blue; there definitely have been signs of expat fatigue over quite some time.
However, I’ve had another ingredient added to the mix. It’s not a new ingredient, but up until now, I hadn’t been aware of it. It has made the burnout more extreme, or actually more obvious, and it’s actually provided some sort of explanation why it was all hitting me so hard. I was also diagnosed with ADHD.
Now that I have this new lens, I’ve started to approach things from a different angle. In the past, I used to fight exhaustion and depression and all the things that go hand in hand with transitions (especially involving different countries) with work, and projects, and more and more time commitments, just to keep going and to distract myself from not feeling so good. But now that I know I have this neurodivergence, I decided to educate myself on that and take care of myself in other ways. To be fair, it was actually my body that decided for me – I literally couldn’t move without pain because of all the ailments and niggles aches that kept appearing and just not going away, not with exercise nor physiotherapy. I’ve tried so many things, but ultimately had to accept that there was a deeper underlying cause. So I took some time off work, am trying to slow things down a little and not stick to such a busy schedule all the time. I’m slowly starting to enjoy things like crafting again, hobbies, I’ve read books, tried to sleep more, do more gentle yoga etc. Not sure it’s made a huge difference yet, but impatience is my middle name, and I know I’m pretty much trying to re-wire my brain. This takes a lot of time and effort; it’s like learning a whole new approach to life, because I don’t want to experience burnout ever again.
It’s not an easy thing to do, especially when you live in a fast paced, high achiever society like the United States. Add to that three top ADHD issues – constant lack of dopamine (depression, anyone?), executive dysfunction (ie brain goes to shit with decision making) and emotional dysregulation – plus the fact that I’m approaching fifty (perimenopause sucks), and you can probably see that the very last thing someone should do when all of these factors come together is move.
Another thing I used to do is masking my troubles. I always put a mask on in order to disguise how I really felt. This is something a lot, if not most, ADHDers do, we try to not let anybody know that we can’t do something or that things are too much for us, because we feel a lot of shame, and so we wear a mask to hide those “weaknesses”. That’s the biggest reason why it takes so long, especially for women, to be diagnosed. Anyway, I could go on and on and on about this, but for this post, I’d like to keep the focus on expats.
So many of us expats do exactly the same thing: we learn to wear a mask when we move, first to appear capable in our new surroundings, and then also to show people back home that things are fine, even if they’re not. We somehow feel a huge need to present a version of our lives that is positive and exciting, to show that we made a good decision in moving abroad and things are exhausting but manageable. It’s easily done; you just stick some pretty pictures on Social Media, you smile brightly on Facetime, and if people don’t see you a lot in person, but only online, you can pretend all sorts of things.
There are numerous reasons why we do this, and besides the ones I mention above, it’s the need to protect others from feeling bad for us, or get tainted by our sadness. There’s a huge amount of guilt we feel for having moved away, and then not being happy. Very often, all we crave is someone who says “Oh that sounds awful, it must be so hard for you.” (Basically the verbal equivalent of a physical hug). What we usually get is advice – I think people in our high achiever western societies automatically feel the need to offer advice. The thing is, once we’ve braved a few moves, we know our shit and are more than capable of reading up on what it is we need to do. “Why don’t you join the local YMCA?” is not going to cut it, believe me.
Expat burnout is a beast that just sticks its finger up to things like that.
Of course you also get the ones who say things like, “You’re so lucky you get to experience all those things”, or maybe “Well it was your decision to move, so you shouldn’t complain now?”. Yes, yes and yes, all very valid points (believe me, hence the guilt). But expat grief, and expat burnout are real, too.
As a consequence, we feel shame and guilt for not feeling happy. And it becomes easier to slip on the mask, to pretend things are hunkydory.
I’ve decided that I’m done with that now, since it’s really not healthy. And I felt like I needed to say this here on this platform, because I know there definitely are expat readers and podcast listeners out there who are going through some form of burnout or depression themselves, or maybe people with ADHD who also know what it feels like even if they haven’t moved abroad. We need to stop pretending, or hiding, and share our experiences.
And please know that I’m here to talk, I’m approachable, I’m not doing this to complain or whine or feel sorry for myself, but I genuinely want you to reach out if you want to connect with me. I have a lot of thoughts on all this, and a lot more to say, and I’ve done a ton of research and have some good resources for expat mental health.
But enough for today, as I said earlier, I just felt the need to explain why I haven’t been around.
I’m thinking of doing some research into the expat/ADHD connection, since there aren’t many resources out there. Let me know what you think about that.
Anyway, now I’m closing the laptop, I’ll put some finishing touches on the new podcast episode – make sure you subscribe to the podcast! – and then I’ll curl up on the sofa with a novel.
And I won’t feel guilty.
One thought on “ I’m still here, my friends ”
Thank you for sharing your journey – and giving permission to others to talk about theirs.
Thinking of you as you continue to courageously do the work of really living. ❤️
Sundae Sent from my iPhone