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My story – not always a happy expat!

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At 20 I was in love with the world and its citizens. I left for Paris, the first stop of what will turn into years of wandering. I lived in the moment and I was totally free and happy.

During my wandering I ended up in Nong Khai, in northeast Thailand, and here I met Nigel, my future husband, who, after a holiday fling, invited me to go and stay at his house in London. We’ve been together ever since, it was September 1991.

Barbara in Paris 19..

Paris, 1987

Travelling and being away from home was for Nigel just a little break. He never had any doubts about going back to Melbourne, finding a job, buying a house and bringing up his children in “the world’s most liveable city”. I was a citizen of the world and following him to Melbourne was part of the adventure and I was ready to jump into it head first.

A few months before we left for Melbourne I had my first panic attack. My head was spinning, I was shaky all over and I was covered in cold sweat. I went to the doctor fearing the worst. When I told him about my symptoms he asked me if I was about to undertake a big change in my life.

The only change was my imminent move to Melbourne but I had been travelling for years and I wasn’t expecting my body to react this way to what was just another move. This time is was different, though. It wasn’t my usual aimless wondering; my next adventure was somehow more permanent, more final. In spite of these warning signs I followed Nigel to Melbourne.

The thing I remember about my arrival in Melbourne was the cold. It was freezing. Wasn’t Australia supposed to be hot? Obviously Australians assumed so too and only a few houses had an efficient central heating system. In Melbourne I was Nigel’s girlfriend and because of this no one seemed to think I needed any other person in my life. Nigel’s male friends didn’t feel it was appropriate to invite me out and the women appeared very friendly at first but they disappeared very quickly.

Melbourne grey sky

Melbourne grey sky

I still had regular panic attacks. I often I had to leave restaurants or busy places and take refuge at home. My relationship with Nigel was tense. I didn’t have a working visa and couldn’t work. He found a job and started to get his life back together. He had his family, his friends and now a job that occupied most of his time.

I was lonely and terribly cold. Again I decided to ignore these negative aspects and went back to Italy to apply for residency and try to make a life in Melbourne.

After four months I came back ready to start a new chapter in my life: I was an Australian resident!

This time I knew exactly what to expect and I arrived in Melbourne without much enthusiasm. I felt very negative about almost everything and, unfortunately, it took me years to shed those negative feelings.

In fact things were altogether different from the first time, I just wasn’t able to see it as my baggage of resentment, anger, guilt, blame and loneliness was hiding everything else. We had our own house in a suburb I liked, my neighbours were lovely and they soon became good friends. I started working as an Italian teacher and absolutely loved my job and my students. I met a few Italian women with whom to share friendship and memories from home. I was still suffering from panic attacks but I managed them pretty well. Life was good but I couldn’t let go of a very damaging thought: Nigel had everything and I left everything for him.

We got married, had two wonderful daughters and many happy moments but it wasn’t enough and we considered separating.

It was at that time that counselling helped me to change my outlook. I had never considered my role and my responsibility in my choice to move to Melbourne. By blaming Nigel, the weather, Australians I had managed to give up control of my life and I felt totally powerless.

And the grass in Italy is always greener!

And the grass in Italy is always greener!

Counselling helped me to regain that control, to let go of the anger that was blocking all other feelings and stopped me from achieving my full potential, to work on the resentment and blame I had accumulated over the years and prevented me from being truly happy.

With my new found awareness I went back to study and became a counsellor myself. My years of studying offered me a further opportunity to work on the issues that were part of the baggage I carried with me, the guilt I felt leaving my parents, the difficulties accepting the cultural differences, the feeling of isolation and loneliness, the loss of identity but above all my resentment towards Nigel.

Houses in Melbourne are still very cold, but I’ve discovered New Zealand wool.

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