Year abroad burnout is a real thing. It's my current reality; the biggest challenge that I'm currently contending with. I don't want this post to come across as pretentious or privileged. I'm already humbled and aware of how fortunate I am to be in a position to spend a year working and living abroad. Perhaps it is my fault; I've perpetuated a convoluted idea that this year abroad has been fun all of the time. Since I only post the good, Instagram worthy stuff, then perhaps you might have that idea.
I'm writing this post not to complain, to whine or seem ungrateful; it's just that I sometimes find it a lot easier to convey my thoughts via this blog than verbally. If anything, this is a personal admission, not a "woe is me" type of thing.
I've been on my year abroad for 14 months. Yup, well 13 and a half. I split it into: 2 months in Paris followed by 8 months in Valencia, a month 'off' in June and then three months working in Paris again. Most people split their year into two six month chunks if they decide to work; others do a semester of studying and then work. It's very rare that you find someone going above and beyond the 365 day Erasmus period like me. It’s hard to admit but I planned this year really badly- I don't want to say that I have regrets because, for the most part, it has been really fun. But I do wish, a lot more than I'd care to admit, that I gave myself a bit more time off and at home with loved ones .
Time is a tricky thing to fathom. Simultaneously, my year abroad seems to have been the longest one in the world, but I also look back and can't believe how quickly it has gone. At this point in my year abroad I'm feeling truly and utterly deflated. If I could pick one word to describe how I feel, it would be tired.
Perhaps tired doesn't fully encapsulate how I feel: I feel fatigued, drained, I'm running on empty. I've been feeling this for a few months now but only recently has it started to encroach on my daily life. I'm normally very good at compartmentalising myself- not always a very good coping strategy, but it does work for me. I separate myself into different split versions: work Tash, family Tash, friend Tash. But at the moment all of these parts of me are feeling the same: exhausted.
Most people think that the year abroad is easy- if I had a pound for every time someone told me that it's just an 'extended holiday' then I'd be able to pay off my student debt, and then some! I can only speak for myself and my own experiences, but this year has thrown me more challenges and curveballs than I even imagined possible- in all aspects of my life; personal and professional. I feel like, to truly understand how difficult a year abroad is, you do have to experience it yourself.
I'm always very candid about my mental health and I'll be honest, I've steered clear of talking about this topic for a while. Not because I want to suppress my feelings and experiences with mental health but because firstly I didn’t want to sound like I was complaining and secondly it can be even more draining when you bare your soul to people on the internet- especially since my more personal posts tend to garner more attention. Maybe more people can relate or maybe they're just nosy- who knows? Either way, what I will say is that mental health on your year abroad is bound to be affected in one certain capacity. I was very open about my struggles with moving to Valencia from Paris and also how I struggled to really understand my grieving process. Now, this is a different type of struggle that I'm going through.
Social media encourages us to post about our best lives, highlight the most desirable and enviable bits of our lives whilst disregarding the not so great bits. I'm a proponent of this- I'll never show you a picture of me crying in the middle of the night or having a panic attack- because why would anyone want to see that? Instead I show you scenic pictures of the Eiffel tower, picnics along the Seine with my friends, and drinking wine on Parisian terraces to perpetuate this half truth. This also works in other ways too: seeing all of my friends graduate, go on holiday and be at home, settled and surrounded by friends and family makes me feel envious. I know there are people who would love to trade places with me and it would seem ludicrous to think that I want to trade places with them. But that’s the way social media works, it fortifies the idea that the grass is greener on the other side.
The truth is that for the past few weeks I haven't wanted to do any of that. Internally I've been breaking down, I have this overwhelming feeling of emptiness, my motivation has been depleted and all I want to do is sleep all of the time. If you ask me how I'm feeling I just say 'tired'. People tell me I need more sleep- I do sleep, perhaps too much sometimes- it's not physical fatigue but mental and emotional. I'm tired of speaking French all of the time in my job, having to be smiley everyday, I'm tired of being told to 'appreciate it whilst you can'. I'm sick of being so far away from my family, missing my niece and nephew's first days at school, missing my grandma, whose memory is getting weaker and weaker everyday. Some days I don't want to get out of bed. I have to give myself a pep talk everyday- cross off the days and count down the hours, minutes and seconds until I'm on that plane home. The only thing that has kept me going is the gym- and even in recent weeks my desire to go has waned increasingly.
I think unexpected change has provoked these feelings. I was homesick from August and I was glad to visit home, even for a few days. During that time I was able to recharge a little- but, I still didn't slow down, still making time for friends and family. Now there's this constant gnawing, a knot in my stomach- an unrelinquishing pull to go back home again- I can't think of anything better just laying on my bed, simply laying there, not doing anything.
I wouldn't say I'm depressed, I know when I'm going through a depressive episode and this feels different. I'm going through this period of transience, feeling low and empty but also I'm slowly shutting down, pre-empting the end. Today I burst into tears at work. Someone had asked me to do something and it completely overwhelmed me. I told them I would do the task but I just needed to step outside for a minute. In the privacy of my own company I let the floodgates open. It was half hysterical but mainly just sad. I felt like giving up in that moment. I have two weeks to go but in that moment I was ready to pack up and leave- I even thought about handing in my notice and rescheduling my flight home- that's the point that I'm at now. Nothing bad had happened, nothing major had tipped me over the edge, but I just wanted to give up- I knew that I was burned out.
I'm not a quitter normally, I always try and do things to the best of my ability but I'm also at this point feeling extremely worn out. My job isn't too difficult, it’s the language element which I find exhausting. Being friendly and sociable are part of my nature, but having to think about everything that you say, have people pick your words and correct them, working full-time and often on your own can be both isolating and an overload sometimes. Even my coworkers have noticed that I haven't been myself in a while- I think friends pick up on it too- I'm not the best at hiding my emotions. I'm feeling a mix of homesickness and complete fatigue. Sometimes you have to admit to yourself that you aren't a superhero and that whilst burnout is not ideal, I think it can’t be avoided if you continue to put yourself under so much pressure. The idea of FOMO (Fear of missing out) severly impacts me too, I want to soak up everything, see my firends and make the most of it all because I’m constantly reminded that i’ll never have the same experience again.
I know I've got two weeks left, I know that I'll miss Paris and the life I've carved for myself this year when it’s over. Yet, it’s also okay to miss your friends and family, it is normal. I'm writing this post for myself but also for anyone who is about to embark on a year abroad. Please don't dupe yourself into thinking it will all be plain sailing- even with the best experiences, we are sometimes met with troubling times. Nonetheless, these times do pass; I know I won't feel like this forever, there is a conclusion in sight and I do have a good support system around me; make sure that you have one too.