Recently, I woke up and stared out the window for a full hour before getting out of bed. I thought of nothing, but I kept staring out my window at the few leaves that had not yet fallen from the tree in my back yard. Since that day, getting out of bed became a struggle, and all of my obligations were met with indifference. My workouts became low in energy, I stopped writing, and I stopped studying Norwegian. I did not feel sad or lonely, but I did feel very apathetic about my life in Norway. Some may call this depression, some may blame it on the weather becoming cold and dark, but it is nothing more that a common expat problem called the three-month slump.
The three-month slump may not be a clinical diagnosis, but it is a very common problem that many expat spouses face. I have faced this problem both in Norway and in Rio, and I have also spoken to many other spouses in both countries who have felt the same way. I am sure that everyone’s reasoning why is different, but the common thread does seem that people tend to feel a little depressed after three months of living in a new country.
Why three months? Well, three months is just enough time for all the glittery newness of a city to wear off. Nothing is special or exciting, and the usual habits of one’s relationship creep back in. The language skills needed for survival are usually acquired after three months, and any language training becomes more of a hobby than a necessity. A few friends are found, but no strong bonds have yet formed, and you wonder if you are friends with those people just because they are in a similar situation. Simply put, three months is the time it takes for one to understand what their life will be like in that particular country.
It would be unfair to generalize why people go into the three-month slump, but for me it was linked to purpose. I constantly worked before I moved to Rio, and I loved doing it. For me, working has always been a beautiful distraction from life and it gave me complete and total freedom over my finances. Giving up financial freedom and losing purpose from my day to day made me feel as if I lost all control over my life. I constantly wondered if I had made a huge mistake about moving to Rio and thought about all the other possibilities that could have been. The worst part was that I had all the time in the world to think about these issues and wallow in self-doubt and pity. I wanted to express my feelings to my partner, but it is hard for the person who is working to be empathetic to your situation. Not being able to get an empathetic response made the whole ordeal isolating and lonely.
What did not help the three-month slump? Suggestions. Suggestions from your spouse or other people are not helpful and downright annoying. I understand that people what to be helpful, and that is great, but telling someone in the three-month slump that they should teach English, volunteer, study, go for a walk, develop a hobby, etc. is telling someone something they have already thought of a thousand times over. The most important thing you can do for someone in the three-month slump is to listen and show as much empathy as possible. Giving suggestions is a form of sympathy and will only make someone feel further detached and alone. Truly try to feel with your spouse or friend and understand and support their feelings. It is common for expat spouses to group together and complain about their situation or problems they are having with the country. If you find yourself in this type of group, get out! Surrounding yourself with negative people will only prolong your three-month slump, and it can ruin your entire experience of living abroad. Living in another country should be an adventure, so you have got to find people who are in love with living in that particular country. Positive people will help see new possibilities and help lead you to find what you should do to make you feel fulfilled and happy.
What does help the three-month slump? This is a complicated question because everyone had different needs that must be met. One thing that helped me was to write in a journal every day. Through writing, I was able to process my feelings and sometimes realize how ridiculous I was being. The other thing that helped me out was implementing some real obligations throughout my day. I started walking dogs in Rio, and that was what finally kicked me out of my slump. Having someone or something depend on you each day will restore purpose to your life. I recently got a puppy of my own in Oslo to snap me out of my three-month slump here. The most important thing that you can do is to fake being happy. It is okay to feel down sometimes, but it can become a habit. Every time you have a negative thought stop yourself and turn that thought into the most positive thing you can think of like a hundred puppies running through a field of flowers. Thinking happy thoughts helped me view my surroundings in a whole new light and identify things and people who were counterproductive to my happiness.
The three-month slump can be a tough obstacle to overcome, but once you do, the country you live in will come alive again, and you can experience a true adventure. I have a favorite quote that I repeat to myself whenever I feel down, "Find what you love and let it kill you." Some may find this quote a bit depressing, but to me it means that life is too short to spend a moment hating it. Be happy, be positive, love your life, and let everything good consume your entire being until the day you die, or you can just get a puppy. It is either or really.
Written by Nicholas Williams, blog columnist at Culturas. American citizen with a Master in International Marketing Management, Nicholas worked in Rio de Janeiro for four years and is currently living in Oslo.