When I came to live in Dublin, Ireland in 2001 with a 3 and 5-year-old in tow, my world was quite literally turned upside down! Coming from Calabasas (a Los Angeles suburb) I was accustomed to a big SUV, big supermarkets and malls and eternal sunshine. It was easy to take walks with the kids, hang out at the parks with my Mommy & Me friends, and take for granted all the modern conveniences from big American-style fridges to clothes dryers and window screens (why these haven’t come to Ireland is beyond me). My husband went to start a new job with new colleagues and was socially invited to after hours matches, pub nights and luncheons while I was home minding two small children and knew no one! To make matters worse, because we were in Ireland as Americans on his work permit, I was unable to work even part time.
Though we had come to Ireland willingly, thinking that it would be an adventure to live abroad for a few years, I was unprepared for the overwhelming change in lifestyle, culture and routines while having no support from friends or family. After only a few weeks the excitement wore off and I was homesick and lonely beyond words. If I hadn’t had two children to take care of, some days I wouldn’t have even gotten out of bed! I coped with the isolation by taking the kids daily on the train to the beach or walking to the park but 4 out of every 5 times we would get rained out and end up walking home soaked and cold…and it was June! When my husband came home from work, I would quite literally be waiting for him by the door out of sheer loneliness and desperation of wanting someone to talk to. I cried most days and spent them regretting the move altogether. What was I thinking in signing up for this?!
Things did shift when my eldest daughter started school and I began to meet other parents at the school gates. At the very least, I had daily contact with other adults (besides my husband) and being a mother, we had parenthood in common. I began to join these parents in coffee mornings before school and lingered at play dates. I also joined a group of American women who were living in Ireland and found the meetings, both with individual members and in the group, to provide support from those who ‘understood’ the experience of being an American living abroad. They told me that, unlike California weather, I would wear a cotton jumper (sweater) in the ‘Summer’ and a woolen jumper in the Winter. The told me not to ask for a ride but a lift…as a ride is sexual (lol) and showed me how to turn a Bourneville chocolate bar into Toll House Chocolate Chips! These tips seemed small looking back at the time, but they gave me back some of the small ‘hometown’ comforts that were soothing and familiar amongst so much that was different.
This support also gave me ways of being able to carry on with some of the American traditions that I longed for. Members of the group invited our whole family over to their homes for Thanksgiving, and we arranged for group picnics on Cinco de Mayo and on Fourth of July. Having this link back to ‘home’ was endlessly comforting and I formed some lifelong friendships along the way.
Perhaps the biggest factor in my creating a new life in Ireland was the discovery of a 4-year professional course in health and wellness (Homeopathy). This allowed me to engage professionally in a potential career and I made more friends in the course, but more importantly I felt intellectually stimulated through the study and excited about something again. This belonged to me and this was empowering in every way.
Five years later we decided to apply for and were ultimately granted Irish citizenship, allowing us to stay without need for work permits. More importantly, I could now work. Around this time, I had qualified in my Homeopathy course and started my own professional practice in Dublin 4, working alongside two female doctors who wanted to bring complementary therapies into their clinic. It was in this work that I began to consult with countless American ex-pats who, like me, were struggling with the emotional transition of moving and living abroad. They knew that I understood the difficulties and could provide support with some of the many issues that are particular to ex-pats.
It is now 15 years of private practice and I have opened my own clinic on Baggot Street and have since studied marriage, family therapy and group therapy to be able to expand my training and expertise in the area. One-on-one I can support ex-pats in better understanding the emotional struggles of loneliness, homesickness and sometimes resulting depression. Together we can develop coping strategies for managing and even possibly reducing these feelings. Through this work we will also look at ways of being able to assimilate American traditions and rituals while also enjoying the experience of living in Ireland. These 60-minute therapeutic sessions are held in my clinic at 15 Upper Baggot Street, Dublin 4.