It’s been a good four months since I moved back home from England to the Netherlands, and last week I started to feel this strong urge to write down my thoughts on post-expat life. It has been a strange and disconcerting experience altogether which I find difficult to put into words, but I certainly want to try.
Perhaps you are considering a move back home, are on the verge of going back, or are just curious to see what it’s been like for me. Either way, I hope you can take away something from this post!
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The first three post-expat months: May, June, July
The first three months felt like I was in the middle of a whirlwind. These months practically flashed by as I was kept busy with work and re-adapting to my home country. Meanwhile, my move back home was almost as big a cultural shock as when I first moved to the UK: for the second time, I had a sense of feeling mentally lost; like I was just wandering around and observing the world rather than participating in it.
In July I finished my old job and started summer break, during which I moved house. Unfortunately I hit my head against the ceiling on my first day living there, which resulted in a minor concussion. This left me pretty much useless for the rest of July. My plans to socialise and explore the city flew out of the window.
The fact that I couldn’t move about much made me feel down. As an extrovert I need to be getting out and doing things, or I’ll go a bit mad. Sadly, I now had no choice but to stay in and rest as much as possible, which eventually led to homesickness for Sheffield. I’ll write a bit more about this later.
Settling into a new life: August and September
Over time my days and routine started to get better. Earlier I wrote how I benefited from doing volunteer work, but there were also other things that caused improvement: seeing old friends again, celebrating my birthday, and finally finding a sense of purpose again after the worst of the concussion had settled down.
Throughout the whole of August I kept busy with all sorts of activities here and there. I don’t remember for one second feeling truly bored, though I did get restless whenever I felt I had a bit too much time off.
In September I started a new job, which I was very much looking forward to. Now I could really put myself to good use again, and not have to wonder about filling up my days with things to do. The to-do list would automatically grow. And, even more helpful, as a teacher I get an actual schedule of where I need to be and what I need to do for a couple of hours a week. There’s nothing I love more than being able to hatch on to a routine pre-designed for me. It eases my (slightly chaotic and admittedly anxious) mind.
Homesickness for a country that isn’t your own is a curious thing. For me, it first popped up very badly when I was sat at home with my stupid concussion. I just want to go home, I kept thinking. I stared at the Sheffield print above the mantelpiece on my wall and longed for a real-life view of those Park Hill flats.
Fortunately, this intense period of homesickness didn’t last too long. Every once in a while I still get a sting where I miss “my old life”, with “my old friends” and my old routines, but I am also aware that in a lot of ways this new environment is better for me. Though of course life here hasn’t completely come off the ground yet – I’d still like to get to know the city better and keep meeting new people – the truth is, my life in Sheffield had pretty much dried up. There wasn’t much there for me anymore.
(Mental) health has long been a rollercoaster ride for me. My body and mind react quite heavily to any type of change, whether this be lack of a good night’s sleep, minor adjustments in my routine, or something big like moving house.
When I moved to the UK my body took it as a massive cultural shock. I was ill for a month and for some reason I became extremely hormonal – it was like I was going through puberty for the first time (unfortunately no growth spurts occurred).
Physically I’ve been doing alright these past couple of months, except for some hormonal issues (having to do with birth control stuff, so an entirely different subject). However, one thing that I have continued to struggle with (I wrote about this last time too) is diet and weight. But my GP and I are on the case!
Mentally, things aren’t too bad either. I’m adjusting to a new lifestyle and routine where I work four days a week and also try to socialise a little on the side, so of course I’m bound to have my ups and downs, but overall I can’t complain. I’m honestly surprised myself how well I’ve been coping. Go me?!
One thing I do want to emphasise and hopefully have you take away from this post, is that I’ve been getting a lot of help. I’ve had enough (mental) issues in the past to know that it’s not realistic for me to go without some sort of assistance, so I’ve made sure to get to know my GP well, and I’ve been out to look for other forms of help too. Currently I’m figuring things out with therapy services, and also I’ve been getting help from a social worker. These things help me keep afloat.
There is absolutely no shame or harm in asking for help, even if you feel it’s for a minor thing. I’d always advise you to see what is out there if you’re having some issues! The GP is usually a good starting point.
Tips for coming back home
- Limit social interaction and other plans at first: give yourself time to settle in.
- Keep a diary to keep track of how you’re doing.
- Be open and honest with people around you: do you feel a certain event would take up too much energy? Don’t go! Your friends would rather have you there fully present rather than half-coping anyway.
- Ask for help if you notice you’re struggling: you could have an introductory appointment with your new GP, for example, and explain that you’ve just gone through a big change in your life.