Almost two years ago (and I can hardly believe it’s been that long) I was taught about reverse homesickness, and I thought it was the biggest load of crap I had ever heard. I was very, very wrong.
It was at au pair training, about 25 miles north of Manhattan, that we were told to be aware of reverse homesickness. Coming here is hard, they told us, but going home might be even harder. I was jetlagged, nervous and on a continent where I knew only one person – I couldn’t have been less interested in hearing about the things I might have to face in over a years time. Sure saying goodbye might be hard, but how could it possibly be hard to go back to a place I had called home for 21 years? By November 2016 I was going to find out.
I was back home: living with my parents, jobless, directionless and (because I was having such a hard time adjusting) somewhere on the road to friendless. I was homesick for a place that I would never call home again and I couldn’t just step back into my old life as if I had never left it.
The problem is that coming home is permanent
Going away for a gap year might mean saying goodbye to your friends and family for 12 months, or maybe even 24 – and that in itself is incredibly hard. Saying goodbye to people forever is something else entirely. There is no light at the end of the tunnel to look forward to, no countdown of the days until you will be reunited. I lived with (and loved) 3 kids for a whole year and I don’t know if I will ever see them again. Some of my best friends are spread out over 3 continents and I find it hard to believe that all of us will ever be in the same room together again. I spent a year building a life only to turn around and walk away from it as though it meant nothing, when actually it might have meant everything.
A change of pace isn’t always a good thing
I spent the last 2 weeks of my gap year in 6 different states. I was on a flight every three days, I was constantly exploring new places and I could feel that I was reaching the end of my energy reserves. I was ready for a rest and a change of pace. What I wasn’t ready for, apparently, was to go from 100 to 0 in the space of one flight. I went from gallivanting around Miami and snorkelling in the Gulf of Mexico to spending all day laying on a sofa watching Netflix because everyone else had jobs and I was bored and unemployed. I know that this sounds like such a first world problem, but I had no structure and no routine and nothing but time to consider how different things had been only a few days before. I am the kind of person who thrives on being busy, so going from a 40 hour working week down to nothing was such a change that it gave me metaphorical whiplash. I was rudderless, in the middle of calm ocean with no wind and I needed something to push me in a direction, any direction.
And a lot can change in a year
Another thing I hadn’t considered was that while I had changed a lot over the course of the year, so had everyone and everything else. I wasn’t expecting my home town to stand still and wait for me to come back – of course not – but I hadn’t thought about how it would feel to step back into a family dynamic and a friendship group where things had shifted ever so slightly. There was a year’s worth of nicknames and in-jokes and references that I couldn’t possibly hope to catch up with, and that (being honest with myself) I didn’t try hard enough to. It just felt so much easier to hide away than to accept the fact that either I had outgrown my home or it had outgrown me. I am not going to play the victim card here and my loneliness was at least partially self-inflicted, but that didn’t make me feel it any less.
I’m so much better now. It’s been 6 months and I am happy: I have a fantastic new job, a wonderfully supportive group of friends and family who may be spread out over the world but still feel very close to my heart, and I live in one of my all-time favourite cities. I can acknowledge that some people might not be interested in hearing my travel stories or watching my travel videos, but that doesn’t mean I can’t tell them and share them in other ways. I can look back on last year as a bump in the road rather than the mountain it appeared to be then. I can stand on the other side of a difficult time and know that I gained a lot of perspective from it.
And I can accept that reverse homesickness is a very real and truly awful thing.