Last Updated on February 1, 2023
Now before you continue to read this post, I want to put it out there and say that it’s not another one that goes on about how to deal with the C-word, if we should still be travelling while it’s going on, offering advice or any of that. It’s purely to share my experience of being an expat living overseas while the C-word temporarily takes over the world. More so the mental health aspect of things and yes, how I did end up having an emotional breakdown over it.
Living Overseas: Why 2020 Changed Everything
Let’s start by going back to over a year ago. For a while I’ve been suffering with depression and last year it got really bad. Stress had started making my hair fall out, which of course sent me spiralling down even further. I was really low and struggling to control my mental health.
I worked hard on trying to get into a better head space and for a while it was working. After my summer back at home, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to take the shorter weekend visits back home during the year. This alone was a tough decision. That would mean not going home for Christmas, birthdays, anything. I was going to save all the money and 2020 I’d go back home in the summer, spend the money on some bigger and better trips and give myself something to really look forward too.
I started to feel happier, even over Christmas when I was away from my family I kept telling myself, it’s OK, 6 more months and it’ll be worth it.
I booked a trip to Zanzibar, where my biggest concern was how high risk I’d be to Malaria. I get bitten A LOT. I’d been to Kenya back in 2007, I’ve taken Malaria tablets before and other preventative measures so I was feeling OK about it all.
Then the THING came about. I’d actually been tracking it since early February when the Diamond Princess got quarantined in Japan. Catching it doesn’t scare me and never has. After all I’m willingly putting myself in the path of Malaria. I’m not panic buying and don’t plan to. It’s more people’s reactions that are scaring me and how selfish and ‘every man for themselves’ that people are becoming.
After how bad my anxiety has been, I personally was actually VERY optimistic about the whole situation. Maybe it’s just my new way of trying to protect my mental health, that everything will be ok, just look on the bright side type thing.
Even when talking to my mum she’d start getting concerned and I’d be like ‘It’s OK!’…and then start rattling off the stats that I’d been looking at. I was taking it seriously, ignoring the media and just looking at the hard facts and what the government and health organisations were saying.
The media would often state things about how ‘there are 90,000 cases worldwide’ and I’d be looking at my statistic page and thinking OK you say that but there are actually only 40,000 active cases right at this moment. But things like this never seem to get mentioned. I was seeing China with only 30 new cases a day but over 3000 discharges of people that had recovered. The source location was being controlled and slowing down majorly. Mental health = still doing OK.
Then, we get to the middle of March and suddenly everything goes crazy. Everywhere starts locking down, borders start closing, schools are cancelled (I work in a school and doubt I’d get paid if I can’t go in to work, I can’t work from home), Trump announces that there’s a travel ban on flights from Europe to the USA, excluding the UK.
This is where my downward spiral begins.
When I chose expat life, it was always under the impression that I’d only ever be a flight away from home. If anything was to happen back in the UK, there are multiple flights a day and at the drop of a hat I COULD get home if I needed too.
The realisation started to sink in that, hang on a minute, if this thing keeps heading in the same direction, then I’m potentially going to get trapped. I’m going to be stuck 4000 miles away from my home and family. Being away from them is the thing that I’ve struggled with most as an expat. Even though this problem may be temporary, I’m still going to be stuck.
I spend all year looking forward to and counting down the days until I get to go home and see my family and now it might not happen. It’s like the Gatwick Airport drone trolling all over again.
It got to the point where for various reasons I hadn’t had much sleep over the course of the week. I’d had a particular bad, exhausting week/day at work and when I got home and spoke to my mum over FaceTime, I just broke down. There’s only so much a person can take and it just pushed me to my limits.
Multiple people on Facebook (mainly in the USA) had been wondering/moaning why the UK wasn’t in the travel ban and for me that’s literally my last glimmer of hope hanging on by a thread. Someone in my ‘network’ had even commented saying why would anyone want to go to the UK anyway because it was so bad for this, this and this reason. Congratulations. You broke me. Ironically it’s someone in a travel network that prides itself in not wanting to hear a bad word said about the Midwest and there you are blasting someone else’s home country.
*Since writing this on Friday 13th (typical), the USA have now extended the travel ban to include the UK too. Great. Perfect.
Despite me trying to be optimistic about the whole thing, there are people on my Facebook feed that feel the need to just post endless links multiple times throughout the day about how bad it’s going to get and that it’s going to get worse and 70% of the population will get it and millions and millions of people will die and we’re all doomed. No one knows what direction it’s going to go. And it’s time for me to start unfollowing people like that, because it’s just not doing any good for my mental health.
When I see how many people died from the flu this year in America ALONE and compare it to how many people died in the same time frame in China, they are worlds apart in figures. They seem to have it fairly under control and it’s looking at their figures which have made me hopeful that maybe it won’t be as bad. Why aren’t we locking down and stopping the thousands and thousands of deaths of people that have died from the flu this year and every other year? And for those trolls, I’m not comparing it to the flu and all those that say ‘it’s so much worse than the flu’, I’m just wondering why no one seems to care about the flu death rate and blow that into a media frenzy.
Coronavirus and Travel
I don’t think I’d ever be ‘locked’ out of the UK, after all I still hold a British passport, I’m not a standard visitor. My biggest concern now is that the travel industry is struggling with people cancelling and postponing travels, travel restrictions are in place, airlines are starting to stop certain flight routes and it was the final straw for the UK airline Flybe…they went bust. Even if I can get back in, can I even GET there in the first place? My only other option would be to swim and that’s obviously not going to happen.
There’s a big debate going round at the moment about whether people should still be travelling or not. Again I’m not saying what people should and shouldn’t do. That’s not what this post is about. I have back to back to back travels that have been booked for June and July for a long time. Obviously I’m hopeful that come the summer things might be more under control. But then with places like the UK saying they want to ‘push the peak’ into the summer, then who knows what will be happening.
I’m fully preparing for the fact that I may just postpone the holiday/vacation parts of my travels. The type of travel that you just do for the fun, the exploration and the adventure (and the reason you work so hard and reward yourself with something to look forward too). I won’t be cancelling them, just potentially play around with the dates and move them to a time when it’s not such a risky problem. And you know what, I’m fine with this. If it has to be done, then it has to be done.
It’s the trip to see my family which is what is concerning me the most. I’ve seen lots of things going around online saying that if you travel then you’re being selfish. If you are one of these people posting things like that, just think for a second at how hurtful that might be for someone that’s already struggling mentally with it all. Business travel is pretty much knocked on the head, pleasure travel is being cancelled or postponed left, right and centre. But think of the people that are living overseas, miles away from home and had trips booked to see their families that they might not have seen for YEARS.
I’m lucky in the sense that I have been able to visit home quite frequently but there are some people that don’t and they are being left with the possibility that they might not be able to see people for even longer.
Like it or not, if the flight is going, I will be on it. Even if I have to self quarantine when I get there, my mum can leave me sausage rolls outside the bedroom door and I’ll be OK. People may still think this is selfish because I might be ‘putting my family at risk’. But are these same people going to be holed up COMPLETELY BY THEMSELVES for the next however many months??? Probably not. They’ll probably still be around their family members. Surely I’m only selfish if I turn up and my family would rather that I didn’t. But they want to see me just as much as I want to see them.
Does that make YOU selfish if you risk going to the supermarket to get food for your family, where you could now just as easily pick it up from there? Obviously not in your eyes. Me going home is no different to that. Unless we are all hermits, we’re all potentially going to be exposed to it at some point. Over 50% of countries in the world now have at least 1 case. If you’re telling people to protect their families well you better not go anywhere near your husband, wife, kids, parents, because otherwise you’re just being hypocritical. Lock yourself in a room by yourself and then tell me I’m being selfish.
Just stop and think when the last time was that you got to see various family members. A week ago? A month ago? Maybe Christmas was the last time? You probably take it for granted that they are just around the corner and think nothing of it if you see them throughout this craziness. At the time of my next flight home, it’d have been nearly a whole year since I’ve seen my mum, dad and sister. If you call me selfish for wanting (and needing) that time with them, well then you obviously lack any sort of compassion.
After my breakdown the other day I am still unsure about it all. I don’t want to get worked up over things that might not even happen (thank you anxiety). But now I’m also not wanting to get excited about anything in case they don’t happen. The things I was looking forward to were playing a big part in helping me to get over/deal/control my depression and at the moment I guess I’m just feeling a little lost over it all.
To anyone else living overseas that might be in the same boat, you’re not alone. To all those that are worried about potentially losing jobs or not being able to go to work or pay the bills, we’ll get through it and I hope your mental health stays in a good place.