Bringing the personal back to China Elevator Stories


The last two years or so, things have been pretty crazy for me and my husband. In the fall of 2013, we found out that I was pregnant with our now 1-year-old son. That’s why we left Shenzhen in the late spring of 2014 to stay in Austria for the birth of our son and a few months after. On our son’s 100 day birthday, we took a flight to Beijing and a train to my husband’s hometown Siping, thinking we’d soon move to Dalian. My husband quit his job in Shenzhen and registered his own company, but due to a few changes of plans, we’ll be staying in Siping for now.

We’ve moved apartments at least 8 times since getting together, and – as you can probably imagine – with a bump-turned-baby-turned-toddler in-tow, we really do strive to get some stability into our lives (I just deleted the back before into our lives, because it seems like life has been very fast-paced ever since my husband and I met).


Needless to say, I feel pretty fatigued. But that’s only part of the story. I have dealt with exhaustion and fatigue, combined with depression and anxiety, for a very long time already. The lack of restorative sleep (most young parents can probably relate) and lack of financial, geographical and social stability in our personal lives has just really topped it off.

Meeting my husband and becoming pregnant has made me forget the depression and some of the anxieties for a while, but with new anxieties hitting off a few months after birth and increased exhaustion because good quality sleep is hard to come by when you have a baby, I’m very much aware that this is something I need to work on (I’m working on both my emotional and physical health with a naturopath in Austria, where I stay for a few weeks with our son).

In recent months, I’ve found it hard to open up and write anything personal on my blog. My writer’s block is partly connected to the happenings around the Shenzhen creeper, wanting to protect my family (still trying to figure out where exactly to draw the line), taking care of a little child, and both my physical and emotional health in general.

The personal is why I started reading blogs in the first place. It’s also what I still love about them. Instead of reading how perfect other people’s lives are all the time, I prefer posts that talk about the struggles of daily life, about the woes of making ends meet, the challenges of raising a child in a different culture. Of course, I don’t want to read only negative articles – I need to get some more positive into my thinking – but I do like articles that are real and make my struggles feel normal.

On a related note, I just read a post by Marghini from The Love Blender about Asia burnout. Marghini mentions me alongside Jocelyn from Speaking of China, Grace from Texan in Tokyo and Rosalie from Rosie in BJ as some of the people she thinks are immune to Asia burnout. Nope. None of us is immune to it. I know we sometimes seem like superwomen who are able to do it all, but I guess many of us are far from being the superhuman we seem to be and struggle with life just like anyone else. It might just sometimes seem like we are immune to burnout, anxieties, depression or other challenges life has to offer when we choose not to blog about the negative things going on in our lives.

In recent months, I remember reading lots of personal posts touching upon the topic of feeling burned out, out of place, suffering from depression or just wanting to leave for good. I remember Grace talking about burnout (she also mentions dealing with depression and anxiety in her wonderful comics), Lauren from English Wife, Indian Life posting about suffering from fatigue, Jocelyn from Speaking of China writing about the anxiety of putting your life out there through blogging and Rosalie touching upon the challenges of raising her child in China. We’re all human and living abroad doesn’t mean we’re free from the daily struggles of life.

So, I’m trying to get the personal back into my posts. I still won’t stick to a schedule, since I have to work on my health first. But know that I am working on it right now.

cultural differences in newborn care

To end this post on a more positive note, I’d like to list 10 things and people I’m currently grateful for in my life (in no special order):

  1. my husband, whom I love so much
  2. our son, whom I also love so much
  3. having the help of our in-laws
  4. blue skies
  5. cool water
  6. being able to experience life in a different culture and learn along the way
  7. working on illustrations for a book called Santa and the Christmas Dragon (written by Amanda Roberts, who is looking for a publisher)
  8. reading great blogs and books
  9. friends who I don’t see all the time, but who are still there for me
  10. connecting with other Western women in relationships with Asian men, who I share a special bond with and who I know can relate to many issues an intercultural marriage like ours brings with it

Now it’s your turn to comment and let us know if you’ve recently had any struggles in your personal life. Or, to share some positivity, you can also list a few things you’re currently grateful for instead.

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Hi, I'm Ruth, welcome to China Elevator Stories! I have been living in Kunming and Shenzhen in the past and am now staying in Northeast China with my Chinese husband and our baby and toddler son. Join us on our journey bridging worlds!


  1. Ellen

    It is hard living abroad and even harder when the country that you are staying in is very different from your own. When I was younger I thought that cultural differences didn’t matter and I guess I was a bit naive to how it can effect you. When I was 19 I went to Japan for summer school, everything was great but during the second month I had a stomach ache that would not go away. I thought I was sick and needed to see a doctor but then it magically disappeared as soon as I got back home. It did not stop me from going back but after the fourth time I realised that it would be the last time that I stayed there, at least that is how I feel right now. And I finally let myself feel like that. I do not know how to make yourself feel better, but I hope you will little by little. I love reading your blog, it is very interesting.
    I am greatful for
    Having my own room to sleep in
    The nice people that I have met recently
    My family and their concern and love for me
    Automatic vaccum cleaner
    Good tasting coffee with milk
    The feeling of warmth when you have been cold

  2. THanks for this post. I have been missing reading about your conversations around China, but I know you’ve been busy!
    We are certainly not immune to Asia burnout. If you check out the timeline for my blog, you will see that after we were here for a year, there was a year I didn’t write anything. I didn’t realize until later it was because I was suffering from a bought of depression. Then about 2 1/2 years ago, I had another bought that almost did me in. Seriously, there were days I only made it through because of my dog. I don’t write about this stuff, not because I want to give the impression of the “perfect expat life,” but because it is so painful and personal you can’t just put it out there for the world to see.
    Life abroad is a daily struggle, and that struggle *never* goes away. The daily struggles might get easier, and you might simply accept them as another regular part of life, but they *never* go away.
    This is something other people thinking of living abroad need to be aware of. I think many people think that they will eventually adapt and their new country will become home just like their native country, but that is a fantasy – at least if you move to completely different culture it is (an American moving to England probably isn’t going to have the troubles an American moving to Asia will).
    Thankfully, I’m still not at the point that I’m going to give up. I might not stay in China forever, but I really don’t see myself moving back to America at the point. My husband and I just talked about this yesterday and I asked him “If we were financially stable enough to live anywhere in the world, would you want to move back to America?” Surprisingly, he said no, and I agreed. Depending on where my career goes, we might not have a choice of where we live in the future, but as long as we have a choice, we will remain expats.

    • Thanks for sharing.

      Yeah, it is definitely hard to put it out there for the world to see. But it’s good to know that there are others struggling with similar issues.

      Living abroad is not all rainbows and butterflies, I think that it can be both hard and rewarding at the same time. But it surely isn’t easy.

  3. Amelie

    Firstly, congrats for being a new mom!

    it feels so true and real when i read your stories every time. i cannot feel exactly the same living in abroad since i am a Chinese and never lived in any foreign countries before.

    but on the other hand, being a new mom and depressed, i had the exactly feelings five years ago. i felt a bit hopeless after the birth,and thought my life was ruined because of my marriage and my son. i even hated my son in somehow for a while, refused to hug him and have a look at him. i had been struggling for getting back to a normal real life and saving my marriage,but it failed though.

    I got lost for almost two years, then i came to shenzhen when my marriage was over, it turned out a super right decision, because i met so many passionate and professional people, especially when i met our writers group where i learned a lot from,i loved it and knew what kind of me i should be and have been working on it.

    wish you the best and hope you get over soon!

  4. I felt like I found your blog about the time you withdrew and so I am happy to see you back.

    Your honesty is refreshing. It is hard, so hard to cope with sleep deprivation on top of depression. (You know they use sleep deprivation to break down prisoners, right?) The fact that you are even able to blog again is pretty impressive. Especially with a baby!

    If it ever strikes your fancy, I hope you write a longer post about why you don’t want to live in the U.S. No judgment here, just genuine curiosity about what places a world traveler thinks are the best to raise a child.

    • I’ll consider writing a post why I don’t want to live in Austria (where I’m from) at this stage of my life. Thanks for the inspiration!

      I’ve been dealing with depression and fatigue long before I became pregnant, but didn’t realise it until only recently.

  5. Love your photos, especially that last one of you and your son. It’s good to hear from you again. You’re right to make your health a priority. I hope your son is sleeping more now so you can get a good night’s sleep.

    My husband and I lived abroad for almost twenty years. He worked for an international organization (Asian Development Bank), our kids went to an international school, and most of our friends were expats. I did feel at home in the international community, but I never totally felt as though we were part of the country itself (the Philippines and later Vanuatu). A couple of reasons: We couldn’t buy a house, and I couldn’t work there. Although I enjoyed living abroad in many ways, in truth, it was not easy. I had many complaints and tears. Sometimes I felt trapped. Now that I’m back in the United States, I can appreciate all the experiences I had. But I’m glad to be home.

    • Thanks, Nicki!

      Fortunately, our son does sleep longer stretches now.

      I feel you. I wouldn’t want to change living in China atm, but yeah, it can be hard. That’s not to say that living in Austria would be easy for us as an international family.

  6. Sorry to hear you’ve been dealing with so much since the birth of your son. Sleep deprivation sure brings out deeper emotions and makes you more anxious, it is really tough. It’s good to hear you’re seeking help, and it must be working already if you feel you’d like to open up a bit once again, so well done.

    I’m glad you’ll be blogging a bit more as your blog was one of the ones which inspired me to make the move to China and I have missed it! I’m gonna need all the inspiration I can get when I return next month, something that really brings out my anxieties now I have a child to protect.

  7. Beautiful post, Ruth. I can relate. I haven’t been blogging much for that exact reason. I tell myself, though, that moving away wont make it better. I will just have another burn out in another location, is all. I have to tell myself that it is just temporary. 🙂

    You’re amazing, Ruth.

  8. K

    Hi Ruth! I found your blog a while back and enjoy your short stories. It’s not easy living abroad, but your honest and taking care of yourself. Just one day at a time is good. 🙂 I hope things only get better for you.

    1. I am glad to be in Japan
    2. To have the love of family and friends even from afar
    3. Being able to spend time with my precious person
    4. Sunny skies
    5. Skirts 😀 Oh and Kiwi ice

  9. Just wanted to say that I think you’re really brave for putting such personal feelings out there on your blog. I too feel reassured when reading that everyone has their own struggles, but I’ve felt too uncomfortable writing in such a personal way myself and usually just keep to writing posts about the places I’ve been – so I appreciate that it’s not easy to do.

    thanks for sharing

  10. Thanks for sharing this! Glad to hear you’re working on caring for yourself well. I hope writing helps you, without any pressure that you have to “perform” for anyone else.

    I totally relate to your writer’s block. I find writing very therapeutic, and sometimes the ideas gush from me, creating a nice full buffer of posts to automatically update. But other times (like the past month or two) there’s nothing. I know it’s part of the transition I’m going through, the experience of repatriaton and the stress and anxiety that goes along with everything happening in my life. I know that my “now” is not my “forever”. But it’s still something I have to walk through.

    • That was what writing felt like in the first two years after starting to blog. And then, with fatigue and anxieties taking overhand, I just didn’t have the energy (and time, with a little one to take care of) to write.

      I’m sure that there would be many people who’d like to read about the struggles of repatriation. Wishing you lots of strength for adjusting to your life back home.

  11. I’m so glad you opened up and shared this with us all, as difficult as it must have been to discuss what you’ve been going through. It’s so great you’re focusing on trying to take care of yourself and heal. That’s incredibly important.

    I can completely relate to feeling blocked at times and even burned out. I’ve felt it in the past and even recently I’m so busy that some weeks (like this past Monday) I couldn’t really post anything new. Blogging publicly takes a toll for sure. I’m definitely no superwoman, not even close. Some days — especially during this busy summer — I’m so exhausted that I can’t even write anything. It happens.

    What I am grateful for is a husband who recognizes the importance of balance and reminds me to take it easy on those days when my energy levels are lagging.

    Sending you hugs!

    • Thanks for sharing your own experience, Jocelyn!

      It’s always good to know that others are in similar situations, it makes one’s own struggles feel less lonely.

      You’re lucky to have such a great husband (and he’s lucky to have you). Wishing you lots of energy!

  12. Isabella

    Dear Ruth, thank you so much for sharing this. I am currently living in China with my Chinese partner. Your post is really powerful and honest. I feel very thankful to you, and to be more honest I am not that interested in reading ONLY positive stories about women living in Asia with or without their families. I feel like I am odd, but today, I realised that all of us, even a woman writing a wonderful blog as yours, has some down moments. We are not robots and living out of the comfort zone can drain us. I made a choice to stay, to follow my feelings, maybe I may regret it one day but this Chinese life is giving me the opportunity to start loving myself, cause nobody else could do it more or better somehow. Sharing makes us feel part of a group, part of the world. We are not alone. You will be OK when you you start sleeping the right amount of hours you need to face everyday life hurdles. And the love you are surrounded will play a big role in that too. Thank you again

    • Thanks for sharing how living in China has been such a wonderful choice for you.

      I don’t doubt that living in China has been a good choice for me, but life here is not all positive and in recent months I’ve seen lots of negative (some of it probably just in my mind), which is why I really have to work on my fatigue, anxieties and depression (and it won’t just go away, no matter where in the world I am).

  13. Take good care of yourself! I have gone through some low points here and there, but with time I come out of it. I have definitely faced so many challenges since William was born but I feel like things are on an upswing now that he is getting older, I’ve overcome my insomnia, and I’m just a more confident mother.

    As for your blog, don’t stress. It should be something that brings you some sort of happiness or release, at least, that’s how I feel.

    Wish you the best Ruth! Hugs. 🙂

    • Thanks, R!

      I’m sure that certain things will get better once our son gets a little older and other factors like our financial situation or the fact that I don’t really know anyone in my husband’s hometown except for my family change for the better. We’re working on it.

      I’m glad to hear that things are getting better for you too.

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  15. Life is full of struggles. Right now I am still in the middle of big health issues which did not even allow me for several months now. Especially when something happens unexcpected it hits you hard. One day I was still working, next day I could barely walk…
    It is important to find a certain balance in life in order to make it even through the bad times. I am slowly getting better but it took its toll on my personal life and me and my wife had to make many adjustments resulting that I will probably not even be able to go back to my work place. Thats life and because humans can adapt easily to new situations they can also create new possibilities and hence even with the hard months now we were able to create something new 🙂

  16. Hi Ruth!

    Thank you for your kind words. You’ve been through so much, it is only natural to feel a bit shattered after so much turmoil in your life. I am sure you will regain stability and confidence as your baby grows up and your life goes back to “normal”, whatever that means! Good luck with everything 😉

  17. I wish you the best in dealing with burnout/anxiety/fatigue. I recently had to cut back on my posts because it got to be too much. And always wondering about financial security really drains me.

    I’m hoping your 2016 is better than your 2015!

    • Thank you so much, Grace! I also hope your 2016 will be much healthier and less strenuous for you. Yeah, to me, the exhaustion also set in (much more exaggerated than before) when we didn’t have the financial security we had in the past. I found that working on my adrenals really helped me gain back some energy, you can google “adrenal fatigue”if you’re interested in what I’m talking about. Giving up coffee is the one thing I’m still struggling with.

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