Jul 19, 2018
I realised this week that when I wrote “Things I Have Learned Since Moving Abroad”, I didn’t really touch on all the points why I struggled so much that first year — and maybe I need to clarify. When we decided to move, it was a team decision. Craig and I both agreed that it was best decision for us at the time, but at the same time, it was very clearly a move that was based on my husband’s career, not mine. Most of you come to find my blog because of the state of South Africa is in at the moment. But we never felt like we couldn’t live in South Africa anymore… we just felt like we had this opportunity that came up because of Craig’s work, and it would be silly not to take advantage. Little did I know what I was in for… In hindsight, I obviously was dealing with a level of ‘Expat Depression’.
Just A Bit Of Background:
I was a final year law post-graduate UCT student (with Psychology degree neatly tucked under my belt too) when we embarked on our plan to immigrate to Canada. At the time, Craig was a Medical Officer (Doctor) for the Military in Cape Town. We lived super cushy lives: earning a decent income; travelling overseas once a year; working relatively hard. We decided to throw a spanner in the works when two of our friends (also Doctors) were making the move to Canada. At the time, it was pretty easy and lucrative for South African Physicians to move to Canada. We decided we would make money while we’re young and come back to South Africa when we wanted to settle down.
My Career Plans:
With Canada looming, I made no plans for post-law school. While friends at school spent hours talking about applying to the ‘Big Five’ Law Firms, I countered with how glad I was that I didn’t have to go through the rejection process. At the time, although Craig and I had been living together for two years, we were only dating — not engaged or married. While I was in NO rush to get married; it became awkward talking about my ‘boyfriend’ whom I was moving overseas for. Secretly, or not so secretly, many of my law girlfriends seemed more glad that they weren’t in MY uncertain position. No guarantees about anything — my career; my relationship or my life. But at the time, I wasn’t anxious about it. Craig was it.
Moving For A Spouse’s Career:
It sound’s really romantic. I packed my bags, left everything behind and followed Craig to the end’s of the Earth, quite literally, because I loved him and this move made sense for his career. There’s a term for us ‘romantic’ accompanying spouses, we’re known as the “trailing spouses”. The reality is though, that upon my first year anniversary in Canada, I realised how much it had actually stunted my own personal career plan, growth and achievements.
Career Ambitions Take A Backseat:
I knew there would be a delay in my life plan. I knew that going into the move, I knew that when I arrived. Work permits; qualification accreditations; conversion exam costs — all the things I was expecting. But I did not actually realise the sacrifice I was making. While I reiterate that every decision was made as a team, I could not have comprehended how a year at home, unemployed, with no immediate life goals, tasked with being “the housewife” / “doctor’s wife”, affected me. Dealing with the lack of personal satisfaction became a burden the entire household came to bear. The fear that this life wouldn’t be enough for me was growing every day, delaying my adjustment every day.
Financial Dependence On Your Partner:
Part of why I struggled so much initially was being financially dependent on Craig. Since we were not even married when I moved across to Canada, with no Canadian Dollars to my name, we navigated the financial terms of our new life in what felt like an unequal partnership. Going from a relatively pro-rata, but separate, financial agreement in our South African household to one where Craig earned and owned it all, was tough. Not only did I not have anything in my own name, for the first few months, I did not have a bank account/card; a car or a working Canadian phone number. Everything I did, went through him.
Bitterness To Your Partner:
I would hate to use the word resent. I never resented Craig. But I felt if I had gone one for years like we were… I might have. It can be tough when it feels like your spouse’s life carries on, in the career they had chosen, while yours is turned upside down. Furthermore, your spouse usually cannot relate to all the emotions you’re feeling because for the most part, their life has just carried on. Initially, this caused many an argument in our household: probably coming out of frustration on both our parts — Craig wishing I would just get on with my life and me struggling to let go of my last one without validation from Craig.
To be fair, one night he did validate me. Obviously, after a long talk with a colleague with a spouse in a similar situation, they’d come to the realisation that us as the wives had given up so much: our ambitious careers; families; friends; lifestyle; independence; dreams; everything! It literally brought tears to my eyes hearing him genuinely acknowledge it. From that day on, it felt like we were back on one team. He might not have been able to relate to it all, but he knew what it meant for me and he appreciated my sacrifice. And that meant everything.
A wife who feels loved is an unstoppable force. She can dream. She can persevere. But most importantly, she can fall. Because it doesn’t matter what’s in front of her, as long as she knows who’s behind her. Husbands, fuel the tanks of your wife’s desires. Make it clear to her that your life will never exclude the deepest parts of her heart.
In my desperate attempt to understand how I was feeling and relieve Craig from having to constantly console his stay-at-home wife, I remember googling topics and found this blog and this article that documented several ‘trailing spouses’ experiences. I remember reading about situational depression, and some of the symptoms like loss of joy or interest in hobbies you normally enjoy; low energy, fatigue, or difficulty getting out of bed; and excessive crying or lack of emotion — and then self-diagnosing myself as depressed! I wasn’t [clinically], but it sure felt like I was. Nonetheless, the relief of knowing that this was purely situational, and that others had felt this way too, helped!
A Turning Point:
After wasting a year, struggling to find my feet, I took on the following year dedicated to achieving things and gaining my personal satisfaction back. I remember sitting down on New Year’s Eve, looking at everyone’s happy social media posts reflecting on the past year and thinking I literally had nothing to show for it, nothing to post. So I didn’t. Instead, I spent the entire evening writing down goals for the year. I’ve literally never looked at them again, but it made me goal-orientated again. Every day after that, it felt like I was working towards something.
I can write this all now because I changed my outcome and outlook. No more Expat Depression. Shockingly… My career sacrifice was actually the best thing I could have done. Most people move for a job because they’re paid significantly higher, usually with many more privileges that aren’t possible in their current work position. Moving for Craig’s career, sacrificing certain things at the time, resulted in a situation which gave me the ultimate career freedom to decide what I really want to do. Today, I have the flexibility to work and travel when I want to. I’ve been able to explore other career paths that I never would have considered had we not been financially stable on one income.I moved across the world for my partner & it was actually the best thing for my career. #Expat Click To Tweet
The Reality of A Trailing Spouse… You Have More Options Than You Realise:
I’ve realised that life is all about sacrifices — no matter what you choose — they are inevitable. Staying in South Africa, following my life plan to a T, not ever adding the title of “trailing-spouse” to my name, would have been a sacrifice too. We certainly would not be travelling as much as we do. I wouldn’t have ever decided to actually blog. I wouldn’t have explored other hobbies like photography and writing with all my new and unlimited free time. And, I sure as hell would never have learnt to keep challenging myself or dream bigger.
The Surprise Blessing:
So, as a result of all this, I expect more from myself now. I do it now because I know what it’s like to settle, be unproductive and feel unsuccessful — and I never want to feel that way again. This past year, I have juggled being a law student, blogger, house-wife, traveller, volunteer and Clinic Manager. I’ve learnt more about myself and life than I ever would have stuck in a 9 to 5 (more likely a 7 to 9) article clerk job in Cape Town. I have learnt to do more, even when I feel like I can’t. And I KNOW that as trailing spouse, I’ll have more to add to my story.
I realise this isn’t and won’t be everyone’s happy ending. Some Expats will read this, and still be in the depression phase, tied down to the title of ‘trailing spouse’ and wishing to be back in their home country. And that’s also okay! I acknowledge your sacrifice and I know that starting over isn’t easy… but I am proof that it is worth it.
If you’d like to view all of our Expat Posts, check out our Round Up Page here. If this article resonated with you, or you know someone who might be suffering from a type of Expat Depression, please do share it on Facebook and tag our Page! Comment below with your thoughts, experiences or concerns about future plans to move — I’d love to chat!
No longer depressed,
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