Confessions of an expat
I'm an expat and I have a confession to make:
Sometimes, living abroad is harder than you can imagine.
I sound like an ungrateful dick, right? But after almost a year and a half of living the expat life out here, I'm done with all the pretending.
I'm through with sucking it up and projecting this kick-ass, totally amazeballs existence to the world. A faux existence that conjures up images of swimming in the ocean all day, drinking freshly-picked coconuts, and lazy afternoons spent swinging contentedly in a hammock.
The reality of living on a tropical Polynesian island is more challenging than people's imaginations (and my Instagram feed) would lead you to believe. It's a constant battle of isolation, alienation and frustration. It's feeling like an outsider; an intruder; a foreign entity that never seems to get things right.
I haven't left this island since I arrived. That means I have gone a year and a half without seeing my friends and family. Skype doesn't work here; you can forget using Snapchat; and our Internet connection is neither strong nor consistent enough to keep up with steady communication.
It's just Dan and I living here together. I'm lucky if I get to spend an hour with him every day as he works long and demanding hours. Needless to say, I spend a lot of time alone. Vodka has become my new bestie.
Everyone here speaks English, but most seem to prefer speaking in Niuean. This means that I spend most of my time lost in the middle of conversations. Eventually I give up on trying to understand what's being said and just stare blankly into space, reminiscing of the days when I could freely communicate with my friends over a coffee and just, ya' know. Let. It. All. Out.
It's been sixteen months since I last:
Saw my father's face
Hugged my brother
Skyped or Facetimed anyone
Cuddled my original fur baby, Muggy, and told him I loved him
Drank a bottle of wine with my best mate
Laughed and shared ideas with my creative soul sisters over a picnic by the beach
Kissed my (growing up too fast) godson
Felt the warm Gold Coast sand under my toes whilst diving beneath the surface of a rolling set of waves
Savoured a sneaky Mickey D's cheeseburger on a road trip to...anywhere
Talked to my grandmother in her final, dwindling years
Celebrated my birthday with loved ones
Celebrated loved one's birthdays, weddings, births - all the BIG events that make up the human experience
Got on a plane
I tell you, it's fucking hard.
And the events of the last fortnight have only driven home just how alone and starved for connection I am.
Dan and I had to make the difficult decision to put our 3-month old puppy, Scout, to sleep after a short, but painful, illness. There is no vet on the island so we had to make this decision without any counseling or medical advice.
We stood by and watched - helpless, heartbroken, sobbing - as someone jabbed a needle through his tiny heart - twice - and pumped him with the deadly toxins that would end his life. Until that moment, I'd never watched a living creature die.
I was forced to physically hold down my baby boy as he screamed and writhed in terror and agony. I had to tell him to let go; that it was okay for him to pass on. My words turned into pleas for forgiveness as I watched his life slowly ebb away.
I pressed my ear to his chest to check that his tiny heart had stopped beating. I kissed him one last time. I closed his eyes and rearranged his facial expression so that rigor mortis wouldn't kick in with him looking so damn terrified. And then, after I had held him for hours after his death - tears streaming, heart shattering over and over again - we had to call around town to borrow a shovel so we could bury him in our yard.
In short, it was the worst fucking day of my life abroad.
I thought nothing would ever trump the pain I felt the day my husband told me he was leaving me. Turns out, killing your puppy is infinitely worse.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a new winner of the 'Life's Shittiest Moments' award.
You know how some people adopt children? Well, I adopt furbabies. So you can imagine how devastating Scout's death was for me.
Throw in a history of depression and anxiety that has made a cameo appearance in my life recently; severe writer's block; ten extra kilos that have taken up residence on my hips and ass; and a language barrier that frustrates the hell outta' me, and you've got yourself one sad little travel writer living in the middle of nowhere.
I've kept this all to myself for sometime now because I've always imagined people would say, What the fuck have you got to be depressed about? You live on a tropical island, for god's sake. And I hear the little voice in my head telling me to suck it up and grow a pair.
But I don't have the energy to keep pretending that everything is all rainbows and unicorns anymore. Hell, I can't even be bothered posting on social media because the thought of conjuring up another moment of 'paradise bliss' for the sake of appearances takes too many fucks. Fucks I don't have in reserve at the moment.
I'm not writing this post to conjure up some sob story that will have people flooding my inbox with messages. Although the support I have received from people at home has been overwhelming (#thankyou) and I feel blessed to have the love of so many people.
I'm sharing this with you because I want to get REAL about how I FEEL
I want everyone to know that living abroad isn't always the never-ending thrill ride some travellers make it out to be. Yes, the expat life is exhilarating, rewarding, beautiful and full of blessings. Yes, it's rad to be a part of another culture and witness the endless beauty that this world has to offer.
But I'm here to tell you that it's also filled with moments of doubt, loneliness, second-guessing, heartbreak and indelible sacrifice. Sometimes, it hurts like a mofo.
Most travel bloggers and expats don't want to admit the gnarly shit that happens because we're afraid we'll look weak. Pathetic. Just another failure with a passport.
But we must give ourselves permission to be seen and heard, even in our dark times abroad. The journey of the expat is not always bright and shiny. We must remember to give ourselves a goddamn break once in awhile.
Even if we feel incredibly guilty.
Even if we feel unworthy.
Even if we live on a tropical island.
So, this confession is me letting go of all the bullshit and just accepting myself as the perfectly imperfect traveller I am. This is my permission slip to let go. To miss home. Mourn my loss. Rage against the unfairness of living in a country with no vet. Wish for a (brief) escape off this rock.
I give myself permission to admit that I want nothing more right now than to cry on my mum's shoulder. To have a beer with my dad. To hear my brother's laugh. To hug my friends.
But most importantly, I give myself permission to share my story with you. I want you to know that my picture-perfect island life ain't as perfect as it's cracked up to be. Because real life trumps bullshit stories every time.
The grass - or in my case, the coconut - isn't always greener, ya know?