Tell Me About It

I feel isolated as an immigrant in Ireland

After 12 years here, I have never managed to find meaningful work and have struggled to find my place in society

PROBLEM: My Irish wife and I met when we were working in Canada, and for a number of years we lived well together and both of us worked. We returned to Ireland 12 years ago as we wanted to start a family and thought this would be the best place to do so. However, I have never managed to find meaningful work here and have struggled to find my place in society. Culturally I feel isolated, even though I have friends.

My wife tries to compensate by overinvolving me in her circle but it always feels like an act of kindness on her and her friends’ parts. Sometimes she even answers for me when I am asked a question. I feel invisible in this country and know that my contribution is not wanted or desired. I am now struggling with depression, and our relationship is suffering because I no longer have the motivation to keep trying, and the pseudo-optimism on her part is driving me mad.

We have no children and I’m not sure I want any now, as that would tie me even more to never leaving.

ADVICE: This is a very tough situation for you. It sounds as though you were both blow-ins when you were working in Canada and this was a huge uniting factor. However, when one person in a couple returns to their home country, it has inevitable effects on the other and on the relationship.

Your wife was returning to the familiar, to the support of family and friends and to an understanding of how everything works. This is not available to you.

Possibly your wife’s name and qualifications were easily recognised, while yours had to be investigated and treated with questioning. If this had been a short-term situation, perhaps you both could have weathered the difficulty, but it sounds as though you feel trapped and unable to see a way out. It also sounds as though you love each other and do not want to cause more grief and pain than is necessary. She overcompensates and you have tried to see things from her perspective.

No doubt you have talked about moving to another country but maybe rejected this due to financial and family factors. Your wife has deep connections, is perhaps successful in her career and at least one of you is happy some of the time.

However, a couple must do its best for both people, and it sounds as if you are slipping into despair. Your sense of motivation and self-confidence is moving beyond your reach and you may find you cannot pick up on an opportunity even if one presents itself. Twelve years is a long time to struggle to find a solution, and your impending depression is clearly telling you that change is needed. Some action or plan needs to be formed now, and my guess is that you as a couple will need some outside help.

Depression is the first thing to address. It is unlikely you will be able to change anything, trust your instincts or challenge others while you are in this state. There is a lot to be said for talking to a professional who will understand and who will guide you on topics such as medication, mindfulness or group support.

A strong person is one who is self-aware and able to access help when it is needed. Perhaps it is best to get this help yourself, as you already feel your wife is acting for you.

Your GP should be able to recommend a professional, or perhaps you could look up accredited counselling or psychotherapy websites for low-cost services.

For many Irish people living abroad it can take years, even generations, to settle in a new country. We perhaps think that because the current generation of emigrants are educated and aware, they do not have the same needs as those who went before, and yet the same human issues arise: the need for belonging, connection and meaningful contribution.

You know so much about what it’s like to be a foreigner that perhaps you could put this to use for yourself and others.

Could you volunteer in an emigrant centre or offer your experience to others in a similar situation to yourself? This is not a substitute for paid, appropriate work, but it may give you confidence and connections to begin investigating possibilities. Making a decision to stay or leave is essential.

If you decide to stay, having a family of your own will embed you in a way you might find surprising, but that decision needs to happen when you are feeling self-assured.