Expat depression and anxiety

On expat anxiety and depression

An honest conversation about expat anxiety

Let’s have an honest conversation about expat anxiety and depression. When you live alone in a foreign country with no family support, things can get tough.

I experienced no anxiety or depression before moving to Hanoi in 2016. Well, that’s not exactly true. I’ve had a few anxious moments — sometimes days and weeks — around jobs and boyfriends and parenting. But nothing like the alien being that squirms around in the middle of my stomach, tying itself up in unruly, uncontrollable knots, eating away at my insides. Every. Single. Day.

Despite meditation, exercise, music, writing, volunteering, friends, travel, and any number of other worthwhile distractions, my anxiety follows my every move like an ominous shadow, a portent of doom that has me on low level alert, waiting for something, anything, to go pear-shaped. For it all to come tumbling down burying me in a huge pile of shit that I can’t extricate myself from.

It wasn’t always like this. My first year in Vietnam was a celebration of all things possible. I had quit my deeply unsatisfying government job in Australia, packed up my white privilege, said farewell to my fiercely independent daughter and hot-footed it to Hanoi to take on a volunteering role with a highly respected social enterprise.

I developed my fledgling writing career, working for an expat magazine and then Vietnamese travel companies. My social life was vibrant, my friends interesting, the opportunities seemingly endless. My money went further, and my relaxed lifestyle was the envy of all my friends and family back home.

Vietnam loves me, right?

I had not lived overseas before and was emerald green about how it all worked. I approached Vietnam — which is still a developing country, despite modern cities like Saigon and Danang and Hanoi — with rose-coloured glasses, saying yes to every little opportunity and big experience that came my way, trusting the country and the people that had embraced me. I loved Vietnam, so Vietnam loved me. Right?

Well, kind of. But not really.

In 2017, I nearly died on a press trip that went horribly wrong.

In 2018, I was blacklisted by Vietnamese immigration and was stuck in Bangkok for one month trying to get my visa sorted out.

At the end of 2018, I was hospitalised for a dangerously toxic liver.

This year, I was horrified to discover that the lovely, kind Vietnamese man I had been dating for 10 months had all the traits of a covert narcissist, and I was caught in a cycle of emotional abuse.

These are things I’ve not had to deal with or manage or navigate in Australia.

These are things that have taken a toll on my mental health and emotional well-being.

These are things that have left me feeling vulnerable and fragile and in a dark place.

These are things that things that have left a sticky residue on my life in Hanoi.

So why don’t I just go back to Australia?

That’s probably not a solution, either.

What’s the solution to anxiety?

For a start, I brought my cat from Australia to Hanoi in the first year — anticipating a long, charmed life as an expat — and it’s difficult to get her back. Not impossible, but difficult. The cost of living and the job situation in Australia is prohibitive. Australia is expensive, and decent jobs for women over fifty, of which I’m one, are notoriously scarce. I don’t know if I’d be happy in Australia in the long-term. Sure, I’d have a reprieve from worrying about things like visas and blacklists and administrative penalties, but a different set of concerns and problems would surface, and I worry about possible poverty, isolation and unemployment.

Anxiety is not an emotion I want as a permanent visitor. It’s an illegal immigrant that has hijacked my emotions. I miss spontaneous joy. Humbling awe. Liberating empowerment. Anticipatory excitement. I have to acknowledge, though, that anxiety will be my unwelcome guest for a little while and that I need to get comfortable with apprehension and fear, and learn to sit uncomfortably with the disquiet.

Maybe it’s in the solace of my ordinary life, a permanent quest for stillness, is where I’ll find some semblance of peace among the sharp shards of fear that pierce my emotional well-being. As with all things, only time will tell.

Or will it?

Image by ThuyHaBich from Pixabay

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