Today’s guest post comes from someone who asked to remain anonymous.
In this post, they discuss their experience with unemployment and how it affected them.
Depression can strike anyone at any time.
People from all walks of life can be presented with huge mental health challenges. Emotional resilience comes with experience and is present when we can understand triggers and, more importantly, prepare for them. When a person is presented with a situation when they least expect it, the impact is magnified.
This was true for me last year. It was a pinnacle transition when my husband and I returned from our expatriation in Japan. This experience, in general, was a rollercoaster. Experiencing the pure ecstasy of travel and culture contrasted with adapting to the trials and tribulations of living in a land 5,841 miles away from everything we called ‘Home’.
On our return to England, when we both felt ready to come back to our comfortable, familiar lives, I realised that for me in particular this would not come as soon (or as easily) as I’d naively hoped.
I have the privilege of having one of the most globally flexible careers – primary teaching. As the wife of a global-trotting engineer, this meant I could share his wonderful travel opportunities.
After working across the span of two academic years in a small Japanese international school, I was ready to continue my teaching journey back in the U.K.
Many of you will be familiar with the ever-growing importance of a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check in the world of employment. It is absolutely essential in my industry as an educator. With my situation of being out of the UK for as long as I was and wanting to work with children, as I have done for all of my adult life, I required a Japanese Police Check. As you can see from this website, it takes two months, some fingerprints and several trips to the embassy in London to process. Two months is exactly how long mine took. This may seem like a relatively short period to some but for me, it felt like a lifetime.
I could not teach or work at all in many capacities (trust me I tried!) until it was completed… eight weeks later.
This left me in a place of unwanted, unpredictable unemployment amongst all the other post-expat blues and adaptations your friends have families have made whilst you were absent. I felt frustrated and hopeless that my perfectly innocent circumstances (many of which were not made by my own choices alone) had led me to a place where I felt absolutely useless.
I tried to claim benefits for the first time in my 28 years and received a big fat no, as I had not contributed to national insurance whilst living and working abroad. I was a ‘kept’ woman with a comfortable household income.
I did some job-hunting, despite many posts needing start dates before I could legitimately work, and I even used the time to research a career change, but I was simply filling the void of what I can now describe as one of the lowest points of my life.
I felt judged by outsiders and those who knew me for my unemployment and involuntary dependency on my husband. My old confident self seemed to completely disappear and I was left with low self-esteem, anxiety and obsessive cleaning habits. It also taught me that a lack of control in any situation is evidently going to cause unhealthy frustrations and ill mental health in anyone.
I recognise that bureaucracy such as international police checks are in place to safeguard against other problems, but I want to be the voice of the innocent expats who work hard and want the freedom to continue to do so. If you are an expat out there having the time of your life, just remember to do your research before you come home. There will be many more in my position without the stability of a partner who works for an international company.
I have learned a lot from this experience and I am proud of my achievements since. I am slowly regaining my confidence and remain grateful for the time that period gave me – especially the time to gain a Level 1 in British Sign Language in the short time of two weeks!
It’s probably more of an insecurity than an observation, but I feel that many people see a situation like mine on the surface and assume that I must be happy as I have travelled and I am financially stable. All of us wish for more time and often choose to blame unhappiness on our jobs but when faced with a time without one at all, that wish would soon be regretted.
I am currently reading the classic novel ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott and I am proud to share in the wisdom Mrs March expresses when she tells her daughters:
“Work is wholesome, and there is plenty for everyone; it keeps us from ennui and mischief, is good for health and spirits, and gives us a sense of power and independence better than money or fashion.”
These words are from the chapter ‘Experiments’. In this chapter, the girls complain endlessly about doing chores and want to rest and revel to their hearts are content. I had not given permission for my own personal experiment, but it taught me the same lessons that the ‘Little Women’ of fictional 1868 learnt. A sense of power is vital for good mental health.
Thank you to the anonymous contributor for this thought-provoking piece.
Have you had any experience with unemployment? How has it affected your mental health? Let me know in the comments.