Expatitis Can Hit Families Hard

I’m pleased that my recent articles on expatitis are striking a chord among my readers. Here’s an email I received from a reader in England that I thought deserved its own page. It’s a lovely and personal example of how an entire family can struggle when living abroad:

I wanted to send a thank you for this latest post because I think it is such a prevalent problem in the high powered ex-pat community and so little discussed.

My husband Bob definitely had a case of expatitis, and although we are recovering, it scared the bejeesus out of both of us while it was at its worst because my normally super-man uber-capable husband was so close to a nervous breakdown. Bob is no stranger to stress or travel, and he has traveled extensively for work for years and works more hours than anyone I have ever met. Through our relationship he has managed to keep his humor and equilibrium about him, until we moved here to England, a pretty cushy move compared to China.

Two work aquaintances of ours, both high-powered lawyers like him, committed suicide over the summer. One morning in the fall he told me he thought everyone considered suicide as a way to escape the demands of their life. But the “everyone thinks about it” made me scared and I demanded he take his health seriously and go see a doctor and get help with stress. He had been working hard and traveling non-stop for a couple of months. He was constantly jet-lagged and the time changes contributed to sleep confusion and sleep deprivation as well as a digestive system that didn’t know what time it was. he argues that it was obvious he would be more irritable, have insomnia frequently, and have more stomach pains than usual. He was reluctant to talk to a doctor about stress caused mainly by work.

Although I had been telling him for years to leave his blackberry, computer, and tv out of the bedroom, to make sure he exercised frequently (even though it is much harder here because of the rain/cold/dark), and that alcohol is a depressent, he didn’t listen until he was scared by his own thoughts and a doctor said the same stuff to him. He still hasn’t reduced his alcohol intake, but the other changes we have made have helped a great deal, and the fact that he consciously carves out “down time” away from work and sometimes away from family. (The last one is hard, but we also make demands of him, and although he doesn’t spend enough time with us it is hard for an introvert to get recharged around children with their constant demands.)

I also decided my role needed to be far more traditional (hear me chafing) and supportive of the whole family than it was in the states. So I volunteer instead of get paid for my work, and my secret unsupported job is to keep the kids and Bob sane. Since this happened I try to create down time and family time that re-energizes and doesn’t exhaust. We cancelled a trip to Russia which we were all excited to visit because I could see that it would also exhaust and drain as well as be fascinating and fun. We also unplugged our tv and put it into a closet so that when the kids are not at school and doing homework they are interacting with each other and us (card games, board games). It promotes more laughter and also more fights, but also more sense of family togetherness in an over-scheduled and hectic life. TV took time (which is precious) but gave little back to us in terms of memories and opportunities for emotional outlets. (I’ll let you know if that experiment works!)

We are all much happier since we starting accepting that we ALL have to work as a family to fight stress and anxiety, and make (hard) choices to leave technology off whenever possible, slow down, relax more, exercise more, and support one another. Thought I’d chime in with my thanks and support for this topic/discussion. Thanks for the post…

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