Ex-pat Life: How My Happiness and Well-Being Have Improved By Living Abroad


It’s half past 4 in the afternoon and I’m still in my nightgown, eating cereal from the box. The pain caused by my condition Fibromyalgiais really strong today. It’s sort of like feeling like you’ve worked out too hard at the gym, but this feeling stays with you every second of the day, wakes you up in the night, and reaches every muscle in your entire body. Even the little muscles in my fingers hurt, though worst of all today are my gluteal muscles- making it difficult to sit, stand, lay down, move, stay still.


On top of that, I’ve got the worst case of a “bad tummy” that I’ve ever had the misfortune of experiencing. Yesterday all I ate was a bit of watermelon and I was on the loo 5 times (sorry if that’s much information!). Today I’m better but don’t have any appetite. All my friends went on a boat trip today to surf and snorkel, which I was so looking forward to. But I couldn’t risk being on a boat all day today with what I had witnessed yesterday.


Hoping to find some inspiration for positive thinking, I searched on Facebook for a Fibro Awareness page. However I was saddened to see that pretty much all of the comments are of people suffering through this somewhat invisible disease. Most of the talk is about medicines, have you tried this or that etc, and people sending hugs- which is nice. But there’s absolutely no talk of positive attitude and how it can completely alter the symptoms of Fibro.


When I’m elated, happy, relaxed, or even just content, the muscles of my whole body release themselves from all this tension that keeps them tight and restless. But it’s difficult to just “be happy”. You need a reason to be happy. Perhaps life isn’t going the way you had hoped, maybe you’re so far away from your goals and future success.


When I lived in England, I was utterly miserable. The Fibro was so bad sometimes I couldn’t get out of bed and I started to miss lectures and seminars at university. I took every kind of medicine that was available to me and either took a load of boiling hot baths a day or stood under the shower with it on its highest power, almost burning my shoulders and lower back in order to reduce the constant aching.


The paradox of Fibro is that while it’s caused by a constant state of unhappiness or emotional trauma, it succeeds in further continuing said constant state of unhappiness, even as you start to come to terms with whatever emotional trauma you experienced. That’s because it causes sleep disturbance, making you wake up grumpy and irritable. You body aches but you have to get on with your day. My days were boring. University was unfulfilling. I had the desire to travel, to meet interesting people, to not know what the day would bring, to have a real and concrete reason to get up in the morning. Therefore I was trapped in the cycle of Fibro. I spoke to my doctor and he told me the way to get out is to start feeling positive, happy.


How can I be happy when I’m living a life in direct opposition to the kind of life I want?”


He replied, “Maybe it’s time for a change?”


I explained to him that I had applied for a position teaching English in Maldives. I told him how I hadn’t actually told my parents yet, or any of my family. His face lit up as he talked about the hot weather, how it would be great for my body. That the change of scenery might be exactly what I needed.


Well, he was right.


Sure, today is a bad day for Fibro. But it’s not a bad day for my inner-peace, well-being, positivity, spiritual wellness and all of that humbo-jumbo. Why?


1. I love my own company. It’s sad I missed the boat trip, but there’ll be others. Anyway if I had of gone and shat all over the deck I think I’d have to fly back to England for embarrassment.


2. I live in one of the most beautiful, luxurious, exotic locations on the earth. Enough said.


3. Teaching is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. The children bring me so much joy, with their little phrases they come out with and things they do for me. They often bring me a flower that they’ve picked somewhere on their way to school.


4. Life has meaning. I have beautiful friends, a wonderful job. I’m rarely ‘bored’- when I’m alone at the flat I tend to read and read and read. Get into a lot of online debates. Write. Skype Mr Italy- we talk about everything, especially the future. Our future.


5. I don’t dwell on the past. Everybody has some shitty memory (or in my case, 18 years of them). Sometimes I really do need to talk about it, and I have one special friend in particular who has had almost identical experiences to me growing up: a father you barely see, a step-father who despises you, a mother too absorbed in her husband/kids/house/job/life to barely see you, being thrown out of home at 16 (because you’re too “difficult” to live with- note: I was a non-smoker, non-drinker, never went out late, did all my homework, got excellent grades at school, etc), learning how to provide for yourself at a young age, being lonely as child, then a teenager, then a young adult.

If I dwell, if I start an argument with my mother over Facebook chat for no apparent reason, or in any way try and take out these frustrations on my boyfriend, then I’m really just causing more pain and suffering to myself. I’ll feel bad for feeling sorry for myself and attacking people I love for it, which in turn will affect my mood dramatically, making the Fibro really flare up, causing joint stiffness and sleep disturbances. And who to blame? Everyone else? No.


Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” – Carl Jung


The last few weeks I’ve had a wonderful time with my friends here in Maldives who come from all over the world; Spain, Poland, South Africa, Wales, Czech Republic, India, Scotland, Jordan, England, as well as a handful of intelligent, brave and insightful Maldivian locals, learning about the culture, visiting resorts such as Fihalhohi, Club Med and Paradise Island, taking snorkelling boat trips, partying all night and visiting a beautiful remote sandbank with ScubaSpa. 


I don’t want this blog to be a narcissistic portfolio of my travelling life as is the case with a lot of travel blogs. I am not boasting about how lucky I am. I don’t wish to “do” a list of countries. I don’t care about the number of stamps on my passport. I’m not trying to say “hey, look at me! I’m important and interesting!” or to post photos of myself in front of typical tourist hot-spots. I’m not even sure if I’d be any good at providing advice or travel tips. What I’m trying to do is account for all of the lessons I’ve learnt, be them big ones or small, by typing them up with the story behind it. I’m not just mindlessly travelling or wandering through life. I am not lost. I don’t know if by moving abroad, happiness and inner well-being found me, or if I found them. Or maybe it was there the whole time; I just needed to look at it from an outsiders perspective.


How my happiness and well-being have improved by living abroad (in a nutshell)


1. I’m away from my family which means we all get on along better.


2. I’m away from my family so I’ve learnt to appreciate them for everything they’ve taught me.


3. I hate British mentality, so being on the other side of the world to that is truly liberating.

(By British mentality I mean the #Britishvalues of homophobia, racism, thinking Britain is the best place in the world, moaning about the weather, politics, money, economy, the job you can’t stand, the boyfriend/wife/mother driving you crazy, why your life is so bad, thinking you can only have a good time if you’re drunk/stoned, all of the young women becoming mothers and relying on the government- instead of becoming self-sufficient and independent, university in general- being pressured into going and then being unemployed for years after graduating, being afraid to try new things, being afraid to speak to strangers, always being in friendship “clicks”, white middle-class snobbery, religious intolerance, generalisations of entire races…. (much like I’m doing now,  OK so I can’t escape that one).


4. I exercise more and eat healthier (obvious impact on well-being).


5. All around me I see absolute natural beauty. The sea is the most beautiful colour I’ve ever seen. The sand is pure and white. My friends all have big kind hearts. The locals are caring and sweet. I’m not faced with hatred day in and day out like I was in England, or bus shelters smashed and vandalised, drunks in the street shouting disgusting things, feeling like it’s not safe to be out alone after dark. Here the shops open til midnight and I’ve never felt safer.


6. I’m completely independent. No-one got me here except myself.


7. The best thing about living abroad? If someone gives off negative vibes and I don’t really want to see them again, or if they’re a gossip queen, or just a malicious snake, I simply delete them from Facebook.


8. I don’t hate myself. This one might sound strange, I don’t even mean self-hate like thinking I’m fat or ugly or whatever, I don’t waste time on these thoughts. I mean because for many years I believed everything was my fault. First in my family- it was my fault my step-dad hated me so much, because I had come along and stolen his wife and children (in hindsight I was only two years old when they got married and never once tried to split them up or turn his children against him). Second when I was a teenager when my ex-boyfriends friend killed himself. The grief and utter despair he went through, I felt, was completely my fault. I’d only broken up with him a month or two earlier, so it was my fault that he went on a drug rampage and almost threw him-self off a bus. Much of my life has been spent as a nervous, anxious, wreck.


9. I’ve learnt that REAL suffering is a world-wide phenomenon and the people in my home-town, probably throughout England, will never understand how minuscule their problems are. Ah, that sucks that your dad didn’t buy you that car you wanted- but you still have the freedom of speech right? Too bad you didn’t get that job you went for- at least you won’t get stoned to death for being homosexual, or forced into marriage when you were 12. At least you don’t have to walk 5 miles for clean water, or have an illness that you can’t afford to seek help for- you have the NHS, stop complaining you miserable, soulless creature.


10. I’ve learnt how to let go and to forgive, how to cut-off ties when needed, how to be strong, to be thankful for what I have, to accept change- and to accept that some things – or people- will never change- and that it’s OK. That life goes on.


healingscubaspaquote happinessinspirationquote





If you’re currently travelling or working abroad, what lessons have you learnt so far? Have you found happiness? If you want to pack your bags and get out there, what’s holding you back? You are the maker of your own destiny! And on that note, here are some inspirational quotes I found online:


You are responsible for your life. You can’t keep blaming somebody else for your dysfunction. Life is really about moving on.” – Oprah Winfrey


Well-being cannot exist just in your own head. Well-being is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships and accomplishment. – Martin Seligman

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” – Greg Anderson

Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they’ve started.” – David Allen

When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.” – Helen Keller

Happiness is not having what you want. It is appreciating what you have.” – Unknown

True happiness… arises, in the first place, from the enjoyment of one’s self.”– Joseph Addison

Most of us are just about as happy as we make up our minds to be.” – William Adams

Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” – Dale Carnegie

We can have peace if we let go of wanting to change the past and wanting to control the future.” – Lester Levinson

We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

Money doesn’t bring happiness and creativity. Your creativity and happiness brings money.” – Sam Rosen

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung

There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience and that is not learning from experience.” – Archibald McLeish

View life as a series of movie frames, the ending and meaning may not be apparent until the very end of the movie, and yet, each of the hundreds of individual frames has meaning within the context of the whole movie.” – Victor Frankl

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.

Life is beauty, admire it.

Life is bliss, taste it.

Life is a dream, realize it.

Life is a challenge, meet it.

Life is a duty, complete it.

Life is a game, play it.

Life is a promise, fulfill it.

Life is sorrow, overcome it.

Life is a song, sing it.

Life is a struggle, accept it.

Life is a tragedy, confront it.

Life is an adventure, dare it.

Life is luck, make it.

Life is too precious, do not destroy it.

Life is life, fight for it.”

Mother Teresa



Hi! I'm Sarah. I dropped out of university tired with the mundane life I was living in England. Now I'm an aspiring ex-pat of the world, having already lived and worked in Vietnam, Italy and Maldives. I'm using this blog to document my experiences and hopefully inspire others!

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