Palm trees and utter despair

“It was terrifying. It was the first time I moved abroad. I did a lot of drugs, I drank a lot of alcohol, I gained a lot of weight. My first year was awful…” My fellow co-worker shares her experiences on life in Egypt. We’ve both been expats for several years and lived in different countries. She understands what I’m going through.

This morning I had a meltdown in my bathroom, where everything about the last 3 months in Egypt just hit me all at once. It’s been extremely overwhelming, 10 times worse than China or Taiwan have ever been. And then I wondered: what do other people think about my life? Do people see me as an adventurous globetrotter who is on this #wanderlust bullshit life quest? Do people pity me because I can’t seem to find stability? Do people envy me because I ‘do whatever I want?’ …

I lower myself to the floor of my bathroom, now sitting at toilet-level height, and I stare in front of me, lifelessly, aimlessly, hopelessly. A whole bunch of crying commences. I call my mom in tears, I leave sobbing voice notes to friends. I want to go someplace else. I want to escape the escaping. But I have no place to go.

The idea of living abroad is attractive to people. It was/is for me just as much. There’s a sense of ‘the grass is greener on the other side’, visions of dreamy sceneries, a better quality of life, new adventures. But I don’t think people often touch upon the harsh reality of it. I’m not saying it’s not worth it. That the above isn’t part of the deal. But it shouldn’t be sugarcoated.

I recently learned about a term called expat-depression. It’s a real thing. Studies show that expats may have a higher risk of mental health issues (anxiety, depression) as opposed to domestic workers. Expats “experience extraordinarily high stress as well as social and emotional disruption that result from dislocation and moves.” This could be because they’re predisposed to these issues due to personality traits, which are further enhanced by culture shock, living conditions, work ethics, and social life abroad. But even so; living abroad is a lot to take in, especially if the culture and customs are unfamiliar to you. The mental decline is also often paired with substance abuse. And so far, I haven’t met a single expat in Egypt that doesn’t over-indulge. It’s a weird new reality.

And I know. I know this makes me sounds horribly privileged. I didn’t have to do this. I didn’t have to go anywhere. And look at the life I have. Aside from the personal reasons I came to Egypt; what am I even complaining about? These thoughts keep crossing my mind.

Among the palm trees and the sunsets there is always utter despair lurking. This (the duality of it) is something I’ve had to deal with throughout all my time abroad. There are ups and downs. And so long the ups outweigh the downs, it’s something that I will probably continue doing, regardless of the occasional toll it takes on my mental health. After all, and this is the most comforting, privileged quote of all: I could always just go back home.

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