Living abroad with depression

Full steam ahead.

One and a half years ago I moved to Germany. Around the same time my depression got out of control. I wouldn’t say that moving to Germany caused my depression. It had been around long before, but it definitely contributed to it.

Moving countries is hard enough as it is. There are different procedures, visa regulations, possibly a different language, and you’re in a different environment and culture. Throw depression and anxiety into the mix and you’ve got a cocktail for danger.

I think the biggest problem for me was moving out of home. My large family lived in a small house and now I had not only a bedroom and a bathroom to myself, but a whole floor. I shared my new home with a family, so I wasn’t completely alone, but going from having my sister sharing my room and always being in my pockets to having my own space was a big change that I struggled with.

To top it off the German authorities forbade me from working until my visa was approved so I had nothing to do for two months. That only made things worse. Boredom is the fuel to the fire of depression and anxiety. It gives you time to think, or as the German psychiatrists say ‘grübeln’. Grübeln is a fantastic word that doesn’t really translate well in to English. It means to ponder or brood very deeply and it usually has a negative connotation.

When you’re depressed, deep thinking can be dangerous and damaging.

Once I got my visa I found out that it would need renewing in a year’s time and that for it to be renewed the authorities would assess if I was earning enough to support myself. Naturally as a freelancer I didn’t have stable work and so whenever I didn’t have as much work as I wanted I would ‘grübeln’ and worry about whether I would have my visa renewed the following year.

That lead to me to hospital.

It wasn’t just my visa that fanned the anxiety and depression. Moving overseas meant lots of paperwork; paperwork I couldn’t do. If you think paperwork is difficult in your own language, try doing it in your second.

There was a letter I received from the tax office which I simply ignored for quite some time until a social worker stepped in and took care of all my paperwork.

Then there were the assumptions. Often people thought that I was depressed because I was in Germany. Often people would tell me to ‘come home’.

‘I am home’, I would tell them.

Other people would think I was escaping something in Australia. Some people suggested moving city instead of country and one psychiatrist asked me, ‘what was so bad in Australia?’.

Nothing was bad about Australia. But when I was 16 I fell in love with Germany and ever since then it had become my dream to live here. 

My Mum has supported me ever since I bought my plane ticket to Germany. Even though she would love me to move back, she knows that home is where the heart lies and that my heart lies here. She knew that moving back to Australia wouldn’t fix my depression, in fact we both feared it would make it worse.

So I stuck it out.

It got better over time. I got used to living alone and I got very good at asking for help with paperwork when I need it. Sometimes I ask one or my landlords or a friend or even the company I’m filling the form out for. The other day I left a checkbox unchecked on some paperwork. But that was ok, they just resent the paperwork with the field highlighted. It’s no big deal.

I’ve also learnt to simply trust God that I will have enough work to provide for myself and have visa renewed.

That said though, sometimes Germany throws me some curve balls. Recently I’ve been struggling with the language. After set backs in finding a fully contracted job last month, I decided that would do what it takes to become a recognised school teacher in Germany. The first step is learning German to a point that I will speak like a native (CEFR C2). I set myself the goal of reaching that level within in three years. So, I started taking an online German course and was told I was at level B1. It was a whole level below what I would have picked for myself and that was a huge disappointment. Still, even though the company allowed me to move up half a level it is still very upsetting to be told you’re not as good as you thought.

Now as I actively learn German l get angry with myself every time I make a simple mistake. I criticise myself. ‘I should know better than to use the singular form of the verb with a plural noun.’ ‘I should know better to put than to put the verb in the middle of a subordinating clause.’ ‘I should know better that it’s ‘wurde’ and not ‘würde’.’

I’ve been speedily learning German. I feel like it’s a comfortable pace for me. I don’t feel rushed or that information isn’t sinking in. Quite the opposite actually. If there’s one thing I keep getting wrong I practise it again and again until it becomes second nature. But yesterday my tutor implied that I’m racing through the course too quickly. It made me feel judged and bad about myself. For the rest of the day I couldn’t even think about learning German.

My mum said not to listen.

Earlier this week my mum told me I shouldn’t drive faster than 100 km/h, maximum 110 km/h. I simply laughed and when I was on the Autobahn I drove at speeds of up to 170 km/h (for the tiny section of road that had no enforced speed limit). When I told her I was upset at what my tutor said, she told me:

When I make comments about you driving “too fast” on the Autobahn you laugh at me – and do it anyway. So that’s the attitude you need to have about some German language tutor saying he thinks you’re going too fast. It doesn’t matter what he thinks – that’s the whole point of online learning modules – you can do them at your own pace!!! It would be different if you had enrolled in a class and was trying to work ahead of the class.

So it’s time for me to stop worrying what other people think.

Full steam ahead.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Employing Someone with Mental Illness.

It’s been a while since I posted. While I always had the blog in my mind, unfortunately my life just got too busy and for personal and health reasons I had to step back from my writing for a period of time.

I’ve had some very interesting experiences with work over the past twelve months with two very contrasting workplaces. On the one hand, I had an employer take me back on as a freelancer after I took 20 weeks off while in hospital and on the other hand an employer fired me without providing notice or a reason (however, I’m sure that reason is related to a stigma towards mental health).

Based on my two very different experiences, I’ve compiled a list of the do’s and don’ts when employing someone with a mental illness. Every point on this list is taken from real life experience and written from my point of view.

Taking time off work


Allow me to take a couple of weeks off work if I say I’m feeling a little bit stressed. When do I come back after two weeks I’ll be fighting fit again and allowing me to take time off will prevent things from escalating.


Tell me that you’re glad I’m ‘finally admitting’ that I’m not ok. I was ok before, now I’m not. Depression isn’t one of those things that is consistent, it comes in waves, and you’re really not helping.


Welcome me back to work after 20 weeks off and allow me to decide when I need time off. It really helps me when I feel supported.


Force me to take a week off based on your own assumptions. Only I know how I’m feeling. Not even my psychiatrist knows how I’m feeling. He can only make conclusions based on what he sees and I tell him and he has a medical degree, you don’t.

Talking to other colleagues


Tell the other schedule planner that I’m taking some time off for stress. It means that she’ll understand when I have to decline a shift because I’m finding it too much at the moment.


Tell my coworkers that you think I’m incapable because I have depression behind my back. That’s crossing a line and you should know that.

Giving feedback


Tell me that if you had have known how this would effect me you would have made different arrangements to support me. Do tell me that you wouldn’t have hired me if you didn’t think I wouldn’t be good at my job.


Tell me that you knew I was going to cry. Again, that’s not helpful.


Tell me what I’m doing right and give me areas to improve on and suggestions on how I can learn what I need to improve.


Keep repeating over and over that you are going to give me criticism and draw it out. Just tell me what you want to say.



Ask me how I’m doing and tell me I’m looking really well. It really helps me feel better and reminds me how much I’ve improved.


Tell me you know that my headaches are caused by my depression because you did some first aid classes. They’re unrelated, my headaches are caused by sinus infections. One of my psychiatrists even sent me to an ENT. If my psychiatrist isn’t linking my headaches to depression, then you shouldn’t be either.


Send me emails asking if I’m ok to take on more work. Do ask me if you can rely on me for a shift. It shows that you trust me to make my own decisions about when I can work.


Tell me to take a rest when I first arrive at work. I haven’t even started work yet, I don’t need a rest.