Over the past six months I have been stuggling with a depression for which I could find no cause. I have been living overseas for seven years and have been in Gothenburg for two and a half years. Eighteen months ago I decided to change careers and took voluntarily retrenchment in favour of studying. But I after six months of study I suddenly became very depressed and found everything very difficult. I couldn't study and make it stick. I didn't want to leave the house because that took too much energy. I found I was getting really angry, very quickly and overreacting to simple siutations.
When I went to the doctor, thinking that there had to be something wrong - maybe something hormonal like early menopause, thyroid, whatever... but instead the doctors said that I was suffering from light deprivation depression. However, in six years since living in Sweden I have never once felt winter depression. They asked me many questions about my life and work/study, however all of these things were fine to great. I have a wonderful SO who is very supportive of my change in lifestyle and we are very committed to eachother. I have a great circle of friends. I don't have any overwealming feelings of homesickness. My family is great - everyone is well and happy.
Suddenly it came to me why I was so depressed, why I was getting so angry - I am an alien in a foreign land. In other words, I am alone and isolated. I am the other, the exception. For the first time in my life I feel no sense of commonality with the people around me, nor can I describe this feeling of isolation.
I realised that I could not talk to anyone about this 'at home' in Australia or anyone here in Sweden. Most of the other expats here in Sweden miss Australia like crazy and just want to go back. I don't fall into that category. I love it here. Of course I notice the differences and get extremely frustrated with the differences, but at the same time I can honestly say that if I go back to Australia a very big piece of me will call Sweden home. But however long I live in Sweden, I will never be a Swede. I am socialised differently and do not have the same social references. I am fundamentally different and my choice to live overseas has cemented that fundamental difference with the people I love at home as well.
I wonder why the depression attacks now after all these years of happily living overseas. Is it a realisation that all expats go through when they realise that they can't go back to Australia and be the person they were? And at the same time realise that they are not one of them and never will be.
Are all of us Australians spread out over the globe just a large alien nation? Are we trying to assimilate into our new land but instead happily alienating ourselves from our culture? Or maybe we are just the pioneers of a new world order where more and more people become permanent gypsies without cultural homogeny.
Today I am still studying in a second language, still enjoying living where I am and comfortable with my life but I am glad I have the web where I can chat with my like kind, where a cooroboree of voices digitally chat or argue, encourage and laugh with eachother - it makes the feeling of strangeness, of not quite fitting in, a bit better easier to bear.
May 11th 2003