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What to Do When You Get The Expat Blues

What to Do When You Get The Expat Blues

Last Thursday was Kristi himmelsfärds dag, aka Happy Jesus Christ’s Ascension to Heaven Day. Sometimes I feel like when it comes to religion, Sweden's motto is this:

“Christianity—we're not that into it, Ferragamo Watches Store but we won't say no to a day off from work.”

Or, even better, two days off from work, since a lot of people get the Friday in between Thursday's holiday and the weekend off as wel. Long holiday, yeah!

Instead of loving having a random day off, however, I was mostly just grumpy.

There was a storm outside, a pile of unfinished work inside, and a bizarre assortment of half-eaten food in the refrigerator. The best Kristi himmelsfärds dag-related thing that happened all day was when I learned that its German name is “Christi Himmelfahrt.”

Nyuk. Nyuk. Nyuk. Himmelfahrt.

Here's the thing: I didn't have a real reason for being grumpy. I was tired and headachey and stuck inside because of the weather, but those are pretty mundane complaints. Nothing was wrong, really, and

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I know because I searched pretty hard for a concrete reason to justify being a total pain in the butt. But no, nothing. No excuse for being totally miserable except for the fact of being totally miserable.

Photo: Kate Reuterswärd

Usually when I write here, I make it sound like expat life is nothing but sunshine and moonbeams and perfectly coiffed Nordic men with a finely-tuned appreciation of women’s rights who are riding around Sweden on unicorns that excrete delicious candy and universal healthcare instead of regular old unicorn poop.

And it is, most of the time. But there’s a flip side, too.

My very normal bad day started out with discovering that the milk had gone bad when I poured it into my tea. I spilled the second cup of tea in my lap when I sat down in front of my computer.

After unsuccessfully trying to come up with something funny to say about Kristi himmelsfärds dag  for an hour (beyond Christi Himmelfahrt, I got nothing), I was suddenly and violently consumed by a bad case of I-HATE-EVERYTHING syndrome, which manifests itself (as a rule) in me breaking down and crying and telling Simon that I don’t understand how people cope with the weather in this country every year for the rest of their lives.

So it was going pretty well, this fabulous day off of mine.

Photo: Kate Reuterswärd

I was behaving unfairly and irrationally, and I knew it at the time, which did not in any way help me get control over my personal emotional rollercoaster.

At the moment, it seemed as though all the circumstances were turned against me: the different time zones, the boring holiday, the weather.

This is when being an expat feels like a weight on your shoulders rather than a springboard to this amazing life experience in another part of the world—when you're down and you don't really know where to turn.

It's when you realize that you should have had a rough day about six hours earlier or later if you wanted to talk about it on Skype. It's when getting out of the house seems like too much trouble because you know you'll have to think in and speak a foreign language again, and you just don't have enough energy.

Photo: Kate Reuterswärd

A few days later, and of course everything's fine again. There was nothing wrong in the first place. I just happened to hit the wall on that particular day.

It happens though, and you'd think that after 4 years of living abroad I'd be able to handle the occasional flare-ups of stress, frustration, and homesickness. Every now and then, though, a series of insignificant setbacks combine with tiredness, grumpiness, a lack of good food in the refrigerator, bad weather... or basically whatever it is that will trigger a full-blown meltdown.

Obviously I don't hate Sweden—the opposite, in fact—but like every expat, I have my days when I think I do. And that's normal. And it passes. And if you're an expat out there who's stuck in the Expat Blues, there's hope for you, too. Even if the Expat Blues last a few months, it's possible to dig yourself back out again.

Photo: Kate Reuterswärd

Here are my tips for you, ye battle-worn and tired expats. I hope they help pick you up when you need it.

  • Find a project that takes some effort and planning to do.
  • Start learning how to do something you've never done before.
  • Pick up a camera and start looking for a specific thing in your city, maybe examples of weirdly translated English or hidden pockets of street art.
  • Find a Meetup group in your area that sounds even vaguely interesting and give it a chance. If Meetup doesn't have anything for you, look for Internations or Couchsurfing groups or expat clubs or anything.
  • Get on Twitter and find some other expats

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    to commiserate with.
  • Search the internet for places to interact with animals or to be out in nature in your area.
  • Put yourself in “explore mode” and open yourself up to the particularities of wherever you may find yourself.
  • Wait for the sun to start to shine again. The sun will shine again.

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