The 24 Month Slump of Expat Life (Confessions)

It’s official: I’ve officially lived in Spain for 24 months, and thats not counting the vacations I’ve spent at home!

24 of the past 28 months of my (expat) life have been spent breathing Spanish air and wriggling my way into the lives of Spaniards around the country. Okay, maybe not around the entire country, but a couple of small towns at least.

And what do I have to show for it? Sometimes it feels like… not much.

Hear me out! My first year here I made some amazing friends. I am so so grateful to them, because those first winter months spent in Spain were honestly depressing and there were times that I spontaneously burst into tears when my roommate told me she wasn’t keen on going out Thursday night. They had my back and kept my spirits up and got me into a groove… and that’s when I met the boy. Arguably one of the best parts about my experience in Spain (blah blah sappy girlfriend blah), I don’t think I’d still be living here if it weren’t for him.

There’s no doubt that living in Spain is hard though, and having a boyfriend here has kept me sane when I was in desperate need of my best friends from home. But recently I’ve been in a total slump. I haven’t gone on any trips (apart from visiting home) in over a year and that makes me feel like part of my soul is dying. I’M SO DRAMATIC. But it’s kind of true. I literally haven’t even stepped foot in Portugal yet and I live a mere 40 minute drive away.

“Why??” you may ask. I’m pretty sure it al boils down to money. Doesn’t every problem, like, ever? I know, total #firstworldproblem…. I’m living in Spain and I can’t travel– boo-fricken-hoo. But honestly, for someone whose core values are independence and new experiences, my life is feeling totally stagnant right now and I’m definitely in a mental (and financial) slump.

As a blogger I get to pick and choose the things I share, and this can result in an idealized and romantic view of life abroad. Yesterday I Instagrammed a picture of some palm trees against a bright blue sky… a photo that I took the other day on my walk home from a job that bores me to death so I could eat lunch before going to another job that is more frustrating than it is rewarding. It makes me feel better that at least someone might think my life is cool based on my Instagram photos, because really, it feels like anything but. So these are my confessions (yeah, Usher style ’cause…yeah) of what it’s really like to be stuck in the 24 month slump, a time of trials and tribulations that I just named when I wrote this post:

  1. Monday-Thursday my life is gray and muted. I pretty much live on autopilot. Go to work, eat lunch, go to work, eat dinner, go to sleep, repeat (x4). I’m so incredibly bored and I get mad at myself for not making a change… but I feel trapped! For now I can’t change anything about it and it’s kind of depressing. This results in a grumpy Chelsea and a confused boyfriend who just wants to hang out when all I wanna do is sulk and watch my TV shows online.
  2. I currently have 71€ in my (Spanish) checking account. Livin’ the life.
  3. Being the sole provider for more than just yourself is like… so stressful! To all y’all out there who are bringing home the (minimal amounts) of bacon, major props!  Being the only one acutely aware of a budget that affects more than just myself definitely creates a lot of resentment– probably due to high stress levels and the fact that I am constantly thinking about my financial situation, even though I have my budget organized to a T on a spreadsheet.
  4. I was more embarrassed than proud last week when I ran (without stopping or walking) a mile for the first time EVER. Embarrassed, because I’m 24 and I’ve never been able to run a mile before, and in order to celebrate my triumph I’d have to share that fact with people.
  5. My hatred for my apartment is growing by the day, largely due to the fact that it’s so cold and humid in here that I haven’t been able to dry myself off with a dry towel in weeks. Also due to the fact that I can’t use any two appliances at the same time (read: stove and oven) without blowing a fuse. Or should I say, the ONLY FUSE that the electricity of our entire apartment is wired to.
  6. I’ve begun the journey into the horribly named “no ‘poo” lifestyle, in which I eschew commercial shampoos and conditioners in order to achieve healthier, cheaper, and  eco-friendly hair. I’ve been seriously thinking about doing this for a couple years, but since the next 5 months of my life contain no major events and I have no close friends here, I’ve decided I don’t care how my transition phase makes my hair look because I have no one here to impress. That fact actually makes me really sad, even though the excitement of my new “project” is one of the only things I feel daily positive emotions about.
  7. I have big dreams for this blog but I’m afraid to try harder to get the word out because that means that if it doesn’t go anywhere it’s because it’s not good, not because no one knew about it.
  8. In a similar vein, I want to write a book (and have declared so twice to my best friends) but am also afraid of putting a lot of work into it and failing, so I’ve been procrastinating on going past an outline for 6 months.
  9. For the first time in a long time I feel like there’s no “end” in sight for this rough patch I’m going through. In university when I was having a hard semester I could always count down until the last day of exams and rejoice. The past couple of years I could count down to summer break where I had work lined up/no obligations to anyone but myself, and I knew I’d have a job again come October. This time, it’s only January and I’m already fast forwarding in my head trying to figure out when this shitty period is going to end, and the nearest end date I can think of is like… next January. And that’s best case scenario! The prospect of moving in August is exciting (and super scary) because at least it will be a change, though a very rough adjustment period will surely follow.
  10. I kind of feel like I “deserve” to have a bad year… as if it were a rite of passage or something to go through “the struggle” and make it out alive. Do I live in a bildungsroman novel? Am I finally transitioning from youth to adult? Every time I start feeling bad for myself I’m like shut up, push through it, something will work out in your favor eventually. And then usually some sort of song lyric pops into my head like “started from the bottom now we’re here,” and I’m like, yo, if Drake can go from being a nobody from Canada  to Jimmy on Degrassi to an international rap superstar, surely I can figure out what I want to do with my life.

So that’s pretty much where I’m at right now- the 24 month slump. It’s not glamorous or fun, but I’m also definitely not looking for sympathy or anything. Like I said, I’m pretty sure some personal growth will come of this, and either way the days keep coming and I keep getting through them. I think one of the days will bring along some changes and the color will burst back into my life. It might not be soon, but it WILL be.

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31 thoughts on “The 24 Month Slump of Expat Life (Confessions)

  1. Totally get what you’re feeling, even though I’ve only been here 4 months. After the tremendous highs of traveling around on winter break, coming back to a job that frustrates, bores, and feels like its turning my brain to mush definitely threw me into the January blues hardcore. People always tell me that I’m taking a break from ‘real life’ or that they envy me, but I made the choice to be here, and it’s still my real life, dammit! Things can be hard wherever you are. I could go on such a rant about this, but you’re definitely not alone!

    Also, I’d wanted to write a book for a long time too, and finally did it this year with National Novel Writing Month November – if you haven’t heard of it it’s a challenge to write 50K words in 1 month, you can track your progress online, and it feels amazing when you finish! Obviously it’s not amazing quality, but words are on the page to be edited, so much more than I ever had. So if you don’t write one by November, I’d really recommend checking it out!

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    • I’m glad I’m not the only one, Sam! Exactly, this is not “taking a break” from anything; if anything it’s more stressful because we’ve gone astray form the beaten path!

      Thanks for telling me about National Novel Writing Month! I think I actually got wind of it this past November but for some reason didn’t even think it could possibly apply to me. MAJOR PROPS for doing that!!!! 50K words is like… insane!!

      Let’s hope it get’s better from here on out!

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  2. Chelsea, thank you for sharing this list. It is equal parts depressing and funny, which is an accomplishment in and of itself! I can relate on so many levels and I really appreciate your honesty.

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    • Thanks Ashley! I kind of feel bad for everyone who has met me this year because I’m just like… this isn’t how I really am! Ha. I’m glad you appreciate it! And thanks for reading 🙂

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  3. Good for you for sharing the low points as well as the high. It’s harder to share the times of struggle when to a certain extent you’re living the life you want to (and a lot of others would love to live), but people need to know that your problems don’t disappear just because you’re traveling or living somewhere cool.

    As far as the fear of failure goes… you will definitely fail in writing a book or having a successful blog if you’re too scared to try. The rational parts of us always know these things, but it’s so hard to be vulnerable and open to the possibility of failure. Anyways, good for you for being so honest and admitting that somedays life sucks no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

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  4. hey chels…yes welcome to adulthood! it is not so bad here…you just have to find small things that make you happy…but more importantly you have to decide what the next phase of your life will entail! it won’t be easy because you have set yourself up to either disappoint or be disappointed…and neither will be true! you will have to make sacrifices…and commitments and put yourself out there and do something big! if you can’t do it in spain, then come back to america…paco will get here somehow…and there are more opportunities and don’t forget annoying family here to help you through it all! love aunt kathy

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    • Thanks aunt Kathy! We’re in super money saving mode for Ang’s wedding… hopefully we can make it work! Love and miss you, tell uncle Paul happy birthday from me!

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  5. Chelsea, take heart! Life in Spain comes with its own challenges (which you document with great honesty & humor in this blog), but many of the feelings & problems you describe are universal–just ask any 20-something (especially the recently relocated). Once you’re out of your hometown and college, it suddenly becomes clear just how much effort it takes to lay the groundwork for a happy life–all the friends you have to make, things you need to learn, places & ways you need to become familiar with. You are not alone! We all just keep truckin’, and you do it more boldly & honestly than most.

    I hope your slump turns around soon! Just keep putting yourself out there and being the bright, sassy, adventurous girl we know and love. And keep writing! Even if your early projects go nowhere, they’ll keep you at it–which is more than half the battle–and lead you to new ideas.

    You got this!

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    • Thanks Kelrob, it’s good to know it’s somewhat universal… no one tells you your 20’s are going to be so hard!
      You’re right, I need to keep writing regardless of the outcome. Expect an outline in your inbox soon…ish. 😉 Love and miss you!

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  6. That read was entertaining cuz you so clever but I can totally relate to the isolation I felt in Paris. From my perspective you need to make a change. Moving back to USA is my immediate suggestion but I suggest defining what is making you most unhappy and come up with some options for improvement. I’m here if you wanna talk. Love you

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    • Hi Jess! Ideas of the US have been thrown around, but at least for now there are too many logistical problems with it! We’re planning on a big change after this school year, so fingers crossed that it works out! Love and miss you!

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  7. I loved this post! I’m currently a first-year auxiliar in Bilbao, and while I do generally really like it and realize it’s hard to complain with such an easy, 12-hour job, I have never in my life felt more bipolar (figuratively). Some days I think, “Of course I’ll renew here, it would be incredibly stupid to lose this opportunity,” and then some days (usually after working with primero de la ESO students 😉 I think how no European visa is worth putting up with this crap. I keep expecting there to be a turning point soon, for me to start absolutely loving it, but it’s pretty much just consistently fine–would life be more than consistently fine if I moved back to the States next year? ugh, decisions. Anyway, thanks for keeping it real on the blog and reminding me that not everyone is obsessed with living a fake and perfect expat life. And keep up those mile jogs–endorphins!! 🙂

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    • Exactly! So bipolar. Monday-Thursday I hate life and then at the weekend I’m like yayyyyyy, sunshine! I always make that comparison about the states too. I picture myself living back at my dad’s house with my boyfriend while all of my friends now live in NYC and I’m like yeah that’s not any better. Thanks for the encouragement, I slow-jogged 5k on Friday!

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    • Jenny, me too! I have never felt so bipolar in my life. I thought I was going crazy. I go from “this job is awesome and these kids are so cool and I can’t believe I live here” to “OMG I hate my life and I never want to see a teenager again” in 24 hour spans. I’m dragging my feet on renewing because I’m throwing a possible region change into the mix, but WHYYY do we have to decide so soon where we want to be A YEAR FROM NOW? (My current frustration.) I get that they have to place everyone but I feel like I just got here. I’m scared of regretting any decision that I make. PS: I’m coming to work at your academy on Thursdays starting next week, will probably see you there 🙂 And Chelsea, I definitely relate to your slump. Good friends are hard to come by and it has made me realize just how easy I’ve had it all my life! Yep, this is adulthood and the only person that can change my situation is me. Sigh.

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  8. I know this is what no one wants to hear but…welcome to crossing over. Your right no one tells you that you go through a period of uncertainty but you do. It’s just life, some people go through it at different stages but everyone does(think mid-life crisis) and if they say they don’t then I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. :o) The good news is you do find little changes that make a difference. Sometimes something as simple as finding a new path to take coming home or trying something you never thought in your wildest dreams you would do can put a much needed spring in your step. Take solace in even the most exciting places become routine after… well you have a routine. Don’t worry this too shall pass, really it will. Hey congrats on running your first your mile! whooohooooo!!!!!

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  9. Even after more than six years in Spain, I feel this way from time to time – trapped in my job, not happy with where I live, angry at my boyfriend for tonterías. Living abroad makes even the mundane stuff feel suffocating and the hard stuff like you’ve got to climb a mountain!

    Little victory – I was finally approved for a Spanish credit card!

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  10. A few of your points really stood out to me. Stopping short of doing things we want for fear of failure. I thought living in rural Extremadura would allow for more time for me to get to blogging and writing that book that I’ve had “pendiente”, but the small town slump has me I guess you could say embarrassed.

    Good to know we’re not alone in this. As far as a gray M-Th maybe see if there’s any groups or cursos you could do…something.

    I also recommend you to check out 100happydays.com it’s a challenge that has really let me see an upside to life!

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  11. This blog post hit me right in the feels (and made me chuckle on multiple occasions). I’m in my 15th month in Thailand, teaching English in Bangkok, but the feelings are the same. Some days I am so frustrated with life, with all the little challenges that come with being an ‘adult’ and the ex-pat struggles on top of it. Having my family and support system on the other side of the world is its own struggle, and it takes a long time to re-build that somewhere new. So I think it’s okay to have ourselves a pity party from time to time, because we’re doing something most people wouldn’t even imagine doing, and it’s flipping hard! I try to be mindful of this opportunity, and enjoy it (especially on weekends), but sometimes I just have to say ‘you know what, right now this sucks’ and be okay with it. And it’s so refreshing to read you saying just that in your blog post! I loved it. And I hope you find little things to look forward to, to get through your Winter Blues.

    *By the way, the no ‘poo thing made me crack up. I have been dying to try it, but in Thailand not washing your hair TWICE a day is like wearing the same underwear for a week. I think my co-teachers would die if I stopped washing my hair. As soon as the school year ends in 3 weeks, I am going no ‘poo and saying screw it to anyone who looks disapprovingly at my greasy hair!

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    • Ha I’m so glad you can relate!! Yeah sometimes a mini pity party is okay for sure. I try every day to find something good even if it’s small, but sometimes it’s not enough to change your mood.

      I didn’t realize that Thais were so hygiene centric! Ha no one here has noticed, I’ve just been keeping my hair in a pony tail, which I was doig before anyways because my hair was so long and annoying. I chopped about 6 inches off so I’m eager for it to start looking good so I can wear it down more often haha. I’m starting week 4 of no poo today!

      Thank you for reading 🙂

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  12. I remember relating to this when I first read it, still can relate.

    With me, I’m a little older than most auxiliaries and have had an overall pretty rough life…2012 – mid 2013 reached such a level of WTF-ness that I’ve been encouraged to write a book about part of it. Then I moved to Madrid last year and had a rough start. Now life is less chaotic, and even _with_ all the chaos and drama this has been one of the easiest experiences I’ve ever had, but I still have so many questions and doubts…the decision to be here and stay here, to stay in Madrid specifically (I think I’d jump at the chance to live in Seville again were it possible), to stay in such a poor first-world country, while simultaneously recognizing that life back at “home” is problematic, to say the least. So many decisions come with straying from the beaten path.

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    • I’m glad you can relate! But not that you’re feeling down. Luckily it seems like this year’s been a nice variation for you, even with all of it’s crazy twists and turns. Hopefully the beautiful spring weather will lift both of our spirits a bit. Thanks for reading, Revé!

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  13. Chelsea, I see that you wrote this post quite a bit ago but I still want to thank you for your honesty!! I was an Auxilliar 2013-2014 in a small town outside Seville. While some days teaching/assisting was rewarding, 70% of the time I felt completely useless. Through extra tutoring gigs and a life saving gym membership I was able to perk up my days. Plus, I was living with another American girl who ended up becoming my best friend.
    So why am I writing you? Well after a year back in the states, I’m ready for another ‘go’ at Spain. And while its easy to just remember the days filled with tinto de verrano the reality is
    you’re in a foreign city, with no friend/family network, no legitimate career purpose, and often very little deneiro. While I’m still dead set on going back, your post reminded me of the everyday realities and for that I’m very thankful. Ultimately, I think knowing that others are feeling the same roller-coaster of emotions will really help in my next experience in Espana. Gracias 🙂

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    • Hey Anna, I’m glad you liked the post! You seem pretty centered about your decision to come back to Spain and luckily you know what to expect so you’ll have more ways to combat the bad days. It helps to never compare one year to another. Each school year is a totally different experience with a new school, new friends, roommates etc. So, as you already know, you’ve got to put your best foot forward! And yes, of course, other people are going through the same thing so that’s definitely good for morale 😉 Good luck with your return to España!

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  14. Great read Chelsea 🙂 I’m currently in my post-college, don’t know what to do with my life slump- but it’s here in the US. I do keep thinking that I need some adventure and to get back to Spain (Seville 2012). So, I’ve semi-decided to go back to school for my licensure and Masters in teaching. Real world office life has made me so depressed! It seems to be true that it’s not as important where your four walls are but who is in those four walls with you. But, I also feel that some of us have greater personal growth when we are in a foreign country and culture. Thanks for your honesty in your post and I hope that you’re out of your slump now. Maybe it’s time for your next big adventure…

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