Editions:  Austria · Denmark · France · Germany · Italy · Norway · Spain · Sweden · Switzerland

I arrived in Berlin expecting a giddy European adventure. Instead I got depression

Share this article

I arrived in Berlin expecting a giddy European adventure. Instead I got depression
Photo: DPA
11:08 CEST+02:00
Floraidh Clement meticulously prepared for her arrival in Germany by scouring expat blogs for tips. One thing she never encountered though was what she needed most: advice on what to do when you face mental health issues in your new country.

This article is available to Members of The Local. Read more Membership Exclusives here.

For every newly landed expat, moving to Germany is shaped by particular challenges: psychological preparation for that first trip to the Bürgeramt, determining if you or the hundreds of other cyclists have the right of way, and the frequent disappointment that the water you ordered is almost certainly carbonated.

As a Scottish graduate bound for her first post-degree job, I delightedly prepared for the same. After months of scrolling through expat forums and planning my every bureaucratic move after touchdown at Schönefeld Airport, I was ready to announce a conquering “Guten Tag” to Berlin.

Yet the one challenge which most prominently shaped my move wasn’t any of those listed above. It was something I never encountered on expat forums, or read about in blogs, and it certainly didn’t align with the ultra-chic, European lifestyle I had giddily envisioned for myself.

It was depression.

After five weeks in Germany, I was signed off work due to my mental health. The doctor’s passing advice was to rest, take gentle walks around my new neighbourhood and even return home for good if necessary.

“I see these kinds of complaints from foreigners quite often” he reassured me.

But his admission seemed unbelievable. Surely moving abroad is supposed to be the most thrilling time in a person’s life? In my head, I was meant to spend my weekends on balconies drinking cheap beer with my vast network of international friends.

SEE ALSO:

Instead, life in Berlin felt increasingly like waiting to get into a party where nobody was coming to the door. Not even the packages of Bisto and Cadbury’s arriving from home could mask the hopelessness felt each day as I failed to adjust to life in the German capital.  

But now, six months later, it’s obvious that struggle wasn't a failure. My only real error was in assuming that everybody follows the same structure of success on their move abroad. I expected a bumpy few weeks while tying up the loose ends, perhaps, but exploring my new home and meeting a flurry of new friends would follow, rendering those initial hurdles a distant memory.

Of course, it can’t always unfold that way. While some of us slip into life in Germany quicker than you can say “ein Bier, bitte”, for others it takes a little longer to get used to that initial culture shock, and the staggering realization that life will never be the same.  

I decided not to go home. I admitted to my colleagues that I was struggling, became more active on forums myself, and eventually began building my own support network of friends from scratch. Comfortingly, I was surprised by how many mentioned feeling similarly to myself, from slightly prolonged post-move blues to lengthy, ugly depression.

In retrospect, the doctor clearly wasn’t so far off the mark about international patients struggling with their mental health.

Being open and sharing stories helped with the pivotal realization that life abroad is not necessarily a constant adventure, where every day is a new opportunity and every street a promising Instagram snap. It’s a daunting step in which you learn more about yourself, your boundaries, how you cope in adversity and how you can flourish in spite of it.

As plans are underway for celebrating six months in Berlin (better late than never on the “beers on balcony” front…), it’s an especially poignant time to reflect on reaching a settled point in this relocation.

My best advice for those going through the same? If you are open regarding your circumstances, accept that you’re not just an anomaly, and have a sincere willingness to weather the tough beginning and create your own fortune, your new home will begin to feel exactly like that – a home – in due time.

Now that I’ve switched from surviving to actively thriving in Berlin, I can say that confidently.

Whether I’ll ever get used to the carbonated water remains to be seen.

This is the first in a series of columns by Floraidh Clement on the struggles and joys of adapting to life in Berlin and Germany in general. 

Get notified about breaking news on The Local

Share this article

Luigi - 17 Apr 2018 14:10
It is a very interesting piece, but I wish I could understand the situation more. Was the depression with no clear reason? Or were there a series of actual difficulties? The article does not make it clear.

I am very happy for Floraidh, that she made it through.
Thomas - 17 Apr 2018 19:13
Without knowing more details about specifically depressing encounters, circumstances, etc. this sounds to me a lot like homesickness. In addition, Berlin is certainly a marvelous place to spend a lot of money or just hang out. From an academic viewpoint a smaller city with a smaller university might be more welcoming and useful. - Judging from the photo, her "home" has a view over a backyard. In other cities, accommodation is often nicer - and cheaper.
monamon - 14 May 2018 13:07
I'm used to moving from country to country, I've been doing it since I was a kid - I'm used to adapting to different rules, different cultures. The emotional rollercoaster that is Berlin, however, feels very unique. Mind you, I had been living in Stuttgart for about two years before and didn't fall into depression there, even while adapting to a brand new German culture.

I'm no stranger to depression, I had it once before in my teens, some 20 years ago, so when it came again, it only took me some weeks to recognize the beast. I also noticed a type of pattern.

As a teen, while trying to figure out how I fit in the world, I struggled with the uncertainties of my developing personality. I never really fit into any of the societal moulds presented. Eventually, I felt the need to force myself into one - simply to survive, to make a living; in time, I convinced myself that this was the closest to the right thing to do, even if it never really truly fit.

Now, in my 40's, Berlin in its strange and beautiful way, gives me the opportunity to explore and expand into my own self again. But in order to do so, I had to crack the mould. And it hurt - I associate my depressive episode to this moulting, which maybe lasted a year. I never realized how hard it would be, but now that I'm through the worst part, I feel that I can finally expand. Berlin allows for that.
Become a Member or sign-in to leave a comment.