I read an excellent piece over at Expat Women today. A 52-year old female was suffering from empty-nest syndrome after leaving her grown and nearly grown children back in their home country. Kids were fine, mom was not. You can read the article here.
The response was sympathetic, comprehensive, discussed some positive and negative coping stragegies, and ended with a plea for the woman to seek professional counseling. All well and good, but I thought something very important was overlooked, maybe because it’s just too obvious.
Nowhere did the adviser recommend the woman get a thorough physical exam.
The adviser was so focused on the woman’s circumstances — recent first-time expat and empty nest — that she neglected the obvious.
Any time a 52-year old woman complains of feelings of worthlessness and crying jags, it seems to me that a health-care or mental health professional (which I am not!) should look first at the woman’s physical condition.
Yes, I’m talking about hormones, and not just the hormones responsible for menopause. All of our hormones are impacted by stress.
Perhaps the move took a physical toll and wreaked havoc with this person’s serotonin levels. That can certainly cause crying jags and the other issues described. All the counseling in the world won’t “cure” a physical problem.
I’m not saying this lady doesn’t have feelings to work through, as she obviously does. But dealing with those feelings — of culture shock, empty nest, and the like — will be much easier if her physical health is good.
A very wise person reminded me, years ago, that there were certain things my son would go through even if I weren’t in the midst of a difficult divorce. It was obvious to her, but not to me at the time when my entire life revolved around the circumstance of divorce.
For all you expats, if you or a loved one find yourself unable to cope, don’t just assume it’s culture shock because you’re living abroad. Sometimes it’s a lot more obvious than that! You may just need a health checkup.