In the future I’d like to write a little about my experience of expat life, making friends, getting settled into a new community and how to do all of this whiilst being both incredibly awkward and also quite depressed. So I suppose a bit of background on this situation might be helpful being that I am a complete stranger to you and you know precisely nothing about my relatively boring life.
I have suffered with depression fluctuating from mild to severe for about 11 years now (god that sucks to read it written down). I was initially diagnosed and prescribed medication when I was 18 and had left my hometown to move to University – I really struggled with the change, I missed my friends and my family to the point I was travelling 150 miles to go home every single weekend. As happens, time passed, the isolation faded, I ended up making most of my now-best-friends and I came off my medication after a year. But the change had been enough to completely unsettle my mental balance.
I was represcribed last year, after the breakdown of a six year relationship and the consequent crumbling of my life. The relationship was not healthy, and should have been ended a long time before but the person was my best friend, we had built a home and a life together, we had cats and a dog that we really, really loved – and it was a terrifying prospect to lose all of that. I had been depressed for a long time, there were so many tears shed throughout those six years, I feel so sad for my younger self that I wasn’t able to be the change that I needed. He didn’t believe in depression and thought anti-depressants were an embarrassment, I really wish I had been strong enough to make my own decision and get help way sooner than I did. I suppose I was a coward, as was he – we were scared to face life alone and start again.
But start again we did, I bid farewell to my life, to him, to my cats and I returned back to Sunderland with Sookie to live in my lovely dads attic. Once again I was without my friends, the people that had become my family whilst I was geographically away from my blood family were now far away, the isolation had returned.
There were a few months when I spent waaaaaay more time than is okay in my bed, watching Pretty Little Liars (in itself an indication of how serious things had become – I watched SEVEN SERIES of what is potentially the biggest pile of televisual shite ever created) and sitting in an armchair in the front room with snot and tears dripping down my face bawling “my life is a disaster” at my poor dad. In the absolute lowest of the low times I lay on the floor of my bedroom making weird and unnecessary animal-like noises, shouting “why” at the ceiling with Sookie licking the tears off my face. I liked to think she was trying her best to comfort me within her limited capabilities, but then I saw on animal planet that dogs just really like the taste of salt water. I was utterly pathetic.
My depression was all-consuming. It had moved on and was no longer linked to my past relationship. The sadness I had felt prior to the break up and immediately after had turned into a sort of ‘relieved peace’. I felt no sadness or anger towards my ex partner, I wanted him to be happy. I wanted myself to be happy. I recognized these things weren’t achievable by us being together. We agreed to remain friends and the door closed on that part of my life. But far from becoming free I fell farther into a deep depression. I found it literally impossible to feel happiness or anything more lighthearted than complete despair. I somehow managed to start hiding these feelings and was sometimes able to be a bit normal. I reconnected with Paul who I’d known for ten years but had lost touch with. I became closer to my family. I travelled to see my friends and they travelled to see me. But still the depression raged and worsened.
Things were really bad when I finally returned to the doctor. I was prescribed Citalopram and counselling. They gave me all sorts of emergency numbers. They tried to make me let them call my dad. They were openly worried about suicide. I really was not in a good way in that doctors office. I also was no fun to be around at all during this period of time – my sister took me to an Alvvays gig to cheer me up and I completely ruined it by spewing the whole way through the show – sustained misery makes me really pukey. Everytime I saw my friends I spent the whole time crying, or getting drunk then sobbing. The worst thing was I was crying about nothing at all – I was sad because I missed my friends and I was WITH THEM. I refused to talk to my mother in case she made me talk about my feelings, I pretended I wasn’t home when she called. I was hanging out with Paul and I remember being completely detached sometimes, angry, sad, blaming him even. Blaming him for what? I tried to break it off with him, despite the fact I had never felt this way about someone before and I knew how much I was falling in love with him. It’s like I needed to take this boiling anger out on someone else so they would feel even slightly as miserable as I was feeling. Depression is so dreadfully selfish.
I started to take the citalopram and as time went on I leveled out a bit. Anti-depressants are a controversial subject sometimes, and I understand why. As much as my day to day life has improved I do often wonder about whether I am feeling better or whether it is solely down to the drugs. Maybe a mixture of the two? It’s difficult to know. I never did end up going to counselling because of NHS cutbacks – this scares me because of how wildly desperate I was when I was first prescribed. I hope anyone else in the same mental state who sought help was given it instead, maybe they needed it more than I did.
I am proud of how far I’ve come in the past 20 months. I made an effort to plan things and enjoy special occasions with my friends and really just appreciate being there and being with them. I went on my first ever girls holiday to a festival in Barcelona and laughed continuously for a week. I spent time with my extended family in Scotland and really cherished their presence. I went to Glastonbury and danced in Shangri-La til the early hours with my best friends. I got promotions at work and did a load of travelling. I spent more time than I had in years with my family and I really enjoyed it. I finally built a brilliant and loving relationship with the man I should have been with ten years ago. I moved across the world to start a new adventure in Saudi Arabia with him.
I’m still on anti-depressants and I will be for a while yet. I have no desire to come off them – I still have bad days, if I skype Sookie back home in the UK I feel like my heart has shattered into a million pieces. I miss my best friends, I miss my siblings, I miss my parents. But above all of that I am proud of myself. I was brave and I didn’t let depression keep me from having this experience, I’ve brought it along for the ride but that’s better than staying at home.