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Creating Opportunities.
Transforming Lives.

Building Bridges
Creating Opportunities
Transforming Lives

Surviving my ‘Norwegian’ Depression: Part I

Many might know of the term the Psychological Migration Process. I understand the notion and have studied different variations of it. Essentially, this process occurs, in many cases, when moving to a new country:

  • Feeling of positivity about the new country.
  • Depression after a while and negative thoughts about the new country manifests.
  • Eventually, life begins to stabilize.

Having the knowledge is one thing and having the tools to process the day to day funk is another. I should state that Norway was an especially difficult country for me to feel well and alive in. I should also state that prior to living in Norway, I had lived and worked successfully in countries in Africa, Europe and Americas. I had also travelled to countless other countries. So, I thought I was prepared. I thought I had the tools. Boy was I wrong! Moving to Norway, threw me for a loop. I came here of my own free will and as a “love migrant” to a near perfect human and calm Norwegian man. Having visited Norway on some occasions over 10 years prior to my final decision to move here, I thought I understood what to expect of the country as detailed in my ‘essentials’ below.

Essentials: Warm winter jacket. Sturdy and preferably unfashionable winter shoes. Colors of clothes should mainly be varying versions of black and white. Winter Sports. Fish. Grey days. Learn Norwegian. Accept seeing the sun in the winter on a few occasions. Fish. Great social system. Great transport system. Good healthcare. Fish. Mostly fit people. Great work life balance. One entire year of paid maternity leave (hallelujah!!!). Fish. Free education system. Safe country to raise children. Social welfare state. Equal opportunity. You catch my drift. The list goes on.

As in any other country, I had done my homework before moving. I didn’t expect roses thrown at my feet the minute I landed, but I did expect feeling like I had a fair chance. My first reality check in Norway was on how difficult life was for a foreign, opinionated, highly-educated and experienced professional like myself. I felt entitled to opportunities in the job market, as I had successfully been able to secure a high level (and well paid) job in every other country I have lived in (and not all had English as their first language). 

In this regard and as expected, I was able to secure interviews in Norway, based on my professional preference and qualifications (something of a luxury, as I came to learn). But I struggled with the interviewing process. I felt judged—based on my appearance, assertiveness and the confidence I had in my skillset—and undermined by the type of questions I was being asked. In some cases, it felt as though they were stunned by my CV and the face behind it. Consequently, the line of questioning became nonsensical.

I was once asked by a middle-aged man whether I had children or was planning to have children. Another middle-aged man laughed when I said I could learn to speak Norwegian within a year if I had the incentive to do so (he didn’t believe me). Another asked how I thought I could fit into the work place, because, well I was somewhat “different” and “exotic”. As I moved up along the interview process, the irrelevant questions and assumptions got worse. I’ll spare you.

Before anyone had a chance to offer me a job or send me the generic rejection letter, I sent in a polite email, thanking them for the opportunity, but saying I had decided to pursue other avenues for employment. So, I started my own company, and 6 months later, I still had not secured a single paying project. Everyone/company wanted me to do mountain pile of work either for free, a negligible amount, or on commission.

Meanwhile, my non-existent social life was crumbling. I had always prided myself on being able to exist on my own. And on most days, a good book or a Netflix binge session is all the companion I need. I learned early on in my life not to get too attached to people, because either they moved away, or I’d move away. Obviously, I didn’t strictly adhere to this because I met a man, fell in love with him, and as a show of my love, settled on a semi-permanence that is Norway.

But I started to feel lonely. Actually, alone. In the little social spaces I had, which was made up of a few inherited friends and family members (via my husband), I heard appalling views on immigrants, Muslims, women who willingly chose to wear the hijab, people of Pakistani, Afghanistan Eritrean, Sudanese, and Ethiopian heritages, and on race. But the people facilitating such sentiments were always ‘kind’ enough to remind me that they weren’t referring to me. Because “I am different” from the rest. After each episode, my spirit sank a little more. 

On one occasion, my husband and I were out with two of his friends, and as people in child-bearing age, the topic of children came up. One of the guys there, went on to say we’d have a beautiful (biracial) baby, and it would be great if the baby had my husband’s skin color (he is a White man and I am a person of color).

I was once told by a well-meaning relative, when my husband and I were on an apartment hunt to stay away from Grønland in Oslo, that it was not a good or safe place to live. It was full of wayward and untrustworthy people.

Unsurprisingly, this relative also told me that I must not want my children to secure jobs in Norway based on their perceived names. This happened on a day when my husband and I were playfully discussing future children names (to her hearing), and I had expressed a preference for ethnic names (from my nationality) with strong meaningsNeedless to say, if there was even a tiny chance that I’d be swayed to my child having a Western or “White/Norwegian acceptable” first name, that ship has sailed to a faraway land with her comment. 

Anyway, I have had a few bouts of depression in my adult life and usually as a result of something specific—death in the family, the end of a relationship, homesickness, being overworked—but never had I in my life felt depressed about something I couldn’t grasp or put my fingers on. There was no particular start date or specific experience that was the last straw, there was no tipping point. It just crept in slowly, like the Norwegian winter and without much notice, I was snowed in. It felt like I was attached to a bungee rope for months, continually tossed up and down, without being drawn to safety. My feet could not touch the ground. And no one could see me. No one was hearing me scream.

I started to get angry and disillusioned. When I tried to speak up, I felt silenced, unheard, unseen. I mean, to be clear, the Norwegian people around me would never say, “Shut up! You are an idiot for saying that!” and sometimes, I wish they did. But it was something in what was left unsaid that made me start to shrink. To say less. To show less passion. To become invisible. To be agreeable—otherwise I would reflect poorly on all immigrants or foreigners in Norway. I would be ungrateful.

I didn’t immediately begin to feel negatively about the country as the Psychological Migration Process stipulated – that came later (and if I may say, it was both a necessary evil and next step to my healing process). But I am getting ahead of myself. 

Initially what I felt was negative sentiments towards myself. My self-hatred intensified. I could not recognize who I saw in the mirror. I was weak. I was nothing. All my education, worldly experiences, smarts and privilege were useless. I could not get myself out of the rot. I was freefalling. Self-doubt and shame showed up and took a primary seat in my life. I didn’t trust myself to speak, ask questions or make a phone call. My partner had to do these things for me. I didn’t trust myself to shop for food. My partner had to be present. I couldn’t take a train or bus to job interviews (when I was still interviewing) or networking events, so my husband would drive me. I was willingly allowing myself to become emotionally paralyzed. My thought process was the following…

“This is happening to me! A child genius touted for her resilience, perseverance and Grit! A multiple academic degree holder (acquired through a ridiculously expensive international education at that). I have a wealth of professional experience spanning three continents. The executive director of innate confidence, a master-in-chief of human and personal pep talks. A post-doctoral degree holder in all things solution-finding and a poster child for when life hands you lemon, make lemonades. I did this. I ruined me. I am such a disgrace. I am spiraling out of control. I gave up a good life, independence, my confidence, a respectable job, a happy social life with informed friends and open-minded people, and a livelihood in what I considered a better country for a man. Fuck me!”

Lessons Learned:

Read concluding blog here.

Written by E.

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Claudia

This story reminds me of myself. Wish I could have a coffee with you.:)

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