Lessons in being kind to yourself (taken from my book)

Following the section about my move to Berlin taken from my book , this is the positive things I learnt from it (amongst many others)

From my tough experience in Berlin I can understand how much isolation and the lack of having a concrete place to call home can really bash you down. It is important to see that a relocation isn’t always a bed of roses, and that some very simple things can help. Being kind to yourself is the most important thing. There will be people who find the move to a new place simple, but even if you do there are some days when things are anything but easy. The feeling of isolation is one that expats regularly suffer from, and it is easy to get into a spiral of isolation and loneliness. There are ways you can take control and fight this.SONY DSC

Get out of the house every day 

I forced myself to go out somewhere every day with my son – whether it was a walk in the park, a wander around the local market, to a child-friendly cafe or to run an errand. In hindsight, when we were living in temporary housing in Berlin, I pushed myself too much and this led to some of the exhaustion I suffered, but I still believe that getting out of the house is essential and once you are in a permanent location helps you find your feet in your new area. It is essential for your health and sanity as it serves as a distraction from everything that can be overwhelming you, and gives you an immediate focus.

Join groups

Especially if you are a parent at home with a child, joining groups gives you a purpose and the chance to meet other people. We joined groups and went to music classes, and even though I wasn’t my normal self I made efforts to make friends or at least speak to people.You may not make bosom buddies but you will get to speak to others. There are loads of Meetup groups in every city, covering a multitude of interests. Picking a couple to join gives you the chance to do something you like and also the chance to talk to like-minded people, at least for a few hours.

Ask for help

I am terrible at this but the Berlin experience made me realise I need to be better at it. It is amazing how many people are happy and willing to help you if you ask. You may find some people will be less willing to help, but most will.

Sharing worries and problems really does make them easier to deal with – I know it’s a cliché, but it is true. Speak to your doctor if you are feeling down and talk to your loved ones; they will want to help you even if they too are struggling with your move. I made the choice to hide how hard I found our move to Berlin from loved ones far away, but I should have been more open and got more support. Don’t box yourself in with your fears and worries. Let your partner in on how you are feeling. They will probably be feeling some, if not all, of the same emotions and you can support each other.

Join online groups for other expats or parents in your new city. Talk to baristas in your local coffee house – sounds weird but these guys are usually friendly and have their finger on the pulse of your neighbourhood, and will always have a smile for you. No matter how tough it seems, you need to get out there even if it is only in a virtual way at first.CIMG7692

Take one step at a time but stay focused 

You won’t be able to do everything at once, especially if you are struggling emotionally. Each day or week make a list of the top few things you need to do, things that must be done even if they seem really trivial, like walk to the local supermarket and see what they sell. Get hold of something you need to make daily life easier, for example, go online and download public transport maps. Locate all the amenities you need in your local area and then spread out this research further afield. Think: local hospital accident and emergency department, local taxi firms, supermarkets that open longer hours, pharmacies, hairdressers that speak your language, florists for brightening up your space, DIY stores, local playgrounds, parks, coffee shops. This research also helps get you out of the house but equally can be done online. It also means you if you need this information quickly you are not rushing to find it.

Do fun stuff 

Sometimes, when the going gets tough, the fun things fall by the wayside. Enjoyable activities enrich your life, and although these things may not seem as essential as finding a permanent home or unpacking boxes they will make you more comfortable in the long run. Find a local museum to visit for a few hours (with kids or alone), go to a local coffee shop and order a big slice of cake and people-watch. Buy some magazines that interest you. You may not be able to read much if you can’t speak the language, but the pictures are fun to look at and you get an idea of the new culture you live in, especially when it comes to fashion.

Don’t give up!

There is a cliché, ‘This too shall pass’, and whilst at the time it feels like a prison sentence if you are struggling with a relocation, I promise you it gets better, it really does. After a time things seem easier, more familiar and less daunting – you may still not like where you live but maybe you will hate it a little less all the time. For some this takes a few months, for others a few years, and it is gradual. All of a sudden you will be looking back on the tough times as a distant memory, and you won’t even see when the turning point was but it will come, I promise.

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