At the time we left Canada to move to Azerbaijan 15 years ago, I was happy to toss away my old identity. I had a career which occupied me 50 hours a week, my son was always last to be picked up from daycare and I had a house and large garden to look after. With a husband who travelled 50% of the time I used to joke that I was a single mom without dating privileges. Giving up all that stress and hard work to stay home and bake cookies was bliss. I spent 10 years catching up on my sleep deficit alone! Finally I had time to spend time with girlfriends – other trailing spouses – indulge in hobbies and see new and exciting places. What wasn’t to like about my new identity as a trailing spouse?
But my lack of a career did eventually start to gnaw away at me. It bothered me that I had no answer to the question on forms which asked for “occupation.” When my son left for university I found some part-time work and then a full-time job supporting other expatriate women. I was confident, happy and knew exactly, who I was. And then came repatriation.
Suddenly I wasn’t an expat anymore. I wasn’t even a trailing spouse. I had no job. I was invisible. I didn’t know who I was anymore. It was intensely frustrating, humiliating even that a 14 hour plane ride could erase my identity so completely. I threw myself into job-hunting and took a job I knew was wrong for me from the get-go, thinking it would help me find my feet. But if anything it made things worse and took my self-esteem to a new low. The urge to stay home and curl up in a corner with a blanket over my head was overwhelming.
Only now, more than a year after returning home, can I say I’m gradually putting my life back together again. Through volunteering, finding a new job and finally, finally getting out and meeting people, I’m starting to discover a new “me.”
I’d like to offer some sage advice on how to get through it, but to be honest, despite having read a lot on the subject, for me it’s all been trial and error. The main cure for re-entry shock, in my opinion, is TIME coupled with a lot of introspection. If you’re still struggling, hang in there, there is light at the end of the tunnel.