Homesickness Is Not Hopelessness
This week marks the six month anniversary since I moved to Singapore and set up THE EXPAT MAMA.com, only six months but a really tough six months. I think my emotional journey is clear via the posts on this blog. But I'm six months in now and I'm through the worst of the initial transition into expat life, I hope. But you never quite know when the homesickness will hit you, or what will trigger it. Sometimes it creeps up on you, almost like your mind is playing evil tricks on itself, just reminding you who is in control. Other times it hits you like a bolt of lightening on an otherwise beautiful day, coming out of nowhere and quite literally flooring you. In the early days I would wallow in the misery I won't lie. I was totally miserable, friendless, hopeless and desperate to be back in the safe and familiar nook of home. Home, in this case, to mean my childhood home- a place I haven't really lived in for ten years. There is a wonderful irony in that whenever I find myself there for any period of time longer than about a week I feel completely stifled and desperate to escape again. And yet here I was, almost as far away from that small town as I could possibly be, and all I wanted was to be back. Homesickness is a funny old bastard. But there are ways to cope with it and to stop homesickness putting a halt on travelling or a life overseas. Here are some of my go-to strategies...
- Start keeping a journal of your feelings. Sorry, this is a wishy washy millenial thing to do no doubt, but travelling is not just about what you see along the way, it's about how you feel. Think back to your childhood, are your memories of people, places and things somewhat blurred without an emotional prompt? Well that's where I'm going with this. Ignore photo's- cloud storage can be wiped and prints can be destroyed- but how somewhere made you feel stays with you. Why else would I want to go back to the town where nothing happens if it wasn't for my emotional attachment to it from a very happy childhood spent there? But, in some sort of subconcious brain storage processing, you only seem to remember really shit feelings (like childhood bullying) or really happy feelings (like when you saw your team win the premiership). The everyday moments and little win's (like I'm so fucking proud of myself because I negotiated the local market ON MY OWN) become lost. They become usurped by bigger, more impressive events or places. But for a tiny moment of your life, a time you will never have again, you achieved more than you thought you were capable of right there and then. The emotional journey you are on whilst travelling or adjusting to expat life is like no other, and it's incredibly satisfying to look back on that journey when you're more settled. It's a massive figurative pat on your own back and confirms what you know deep down... not only can you do this, you ARE doing this (and you're probably acing it).
- It's possible to feel happy in one place and homesick for another at the same time. I should make it clear that the entire time I was pining for the grey skies of northern England I was also feeling quite settled being in Singapore. It wasn't, and never has been, that I didn't want to be in Singapore, far from it in fact. I was quite content here with the great weather, lovely home, happy kids, and the beginnings of a life for us all that we could have only dreamed of back in England. I was able to recognise that our quality of life was rocketing at the same time as I was, inexplicably, desperate for the comforts of home that were realistically a creation in my mind. As Autumn hit in England and it was still baking hot here, all I could think about was all my friends pulling out the woolens and having cosy lunches whilst sat fire-side in the pub. The latter part was a complete mind game I was playing on myself. My friends, with their busy lives and jobs, were not spending their weekends like they had just stepped out of a Boden catalogue. I'd invented this whole situation in my head whereby I was missing out because I wasn't there. Sometimes, I'd wake up in the middle of the night and start thinking about what everyone was doing in a timezone eight hours behind. The dead of night is probably the worst time to start taunting yourself with made up stories of people moving on from your friendship, or families who stop counting you in for things because you're not physically around. But the mind, when not totally distracted, can be a cruel thing. And during the daylight hours I would be very distracted, in fact I would rarely feel homesick during the day, I didn't have time or the mental capacity. There were kiddies to entertain and lists of things to do, I was busy and happy with a blossoming new life. So I had this contradiction of feeling settled in our new home whilst also feeling homesick for a life in another home. There is no quick fix for this, it takes time for the thoughts to go away, and it might (definitely will) feel totally shit for a little while. I don't have a solution other than self acceptance. It's okay to miss people, but it's not okay for your mind to invent that they're all now acting like you don't exist. As much as you miss them, they miss you. And that's okay too.
- Acceptance of your new home is as vital as self acceptance. I'm referring to constant clock watching and calculating time zone differences, or checking how much something costs when you convert the price to a currency you know inside out. I was so guilty of this, and to an extent I still am. For a start, the time is the time wherever you are. It's not Singapore time. It's the just the time. Time zones are a total headfuck, there is no question of that, and the effects of jet lag can go on for the best part of a week (especially when trying to reset the body clock of a little one), but looking at the clock constantly and trying to decide which timezone to commit to is just dragging it all out. And the money thing...I completely understand how tricky it is at first when you're using a new currency and trying to work out whether you're getting a good deal or being ripped off. But here's the thing, currency conversions change so unless you're using an internet conversion for every calculation then your estimate is a guesstimate at best. Secondly, things cost what they cost in each country. What is cheap where you've come from might cost the earth where you are now, so look less at comparing prices you used to pay and focus on the prices of local items. Does that make sense? Imported products are always going to cost more than locally produced goods, obviously, so if you decide to buy home comforts overseas put the currency converter away and just accept you're going to pay a pretty penny or two. Over time you'll form an internal price guide as to what you should be paying for items, and what you're prepared to pay...all in another currency! Getting over the culture clash is a game changer when it comes to battling homesickness. If you can nail this you're well on your way.
- If the local TV and radio aren't doing it for you, which I completely understand as Singapore TV choice is somewhat limited, and you've exhausted Netflix then add some podcasts into your life. There's something about the intimacy of a podcast that makes you feel like you're having a cuppa with your mates. Except that, you know, your mates are prerecorded. I'm a huge fan of podcasts since moving to Singapore, partly because there is no reminder of the time on them (nothing worse than listening to the Radio 1 breakfast show whilst eating your tea to make you feel a million miles away) but mostly because I get a blast of much needed British humour. Scummy Mummies is my favourite for when I want to feel like I'm having a no holds catch up with my mum mates, Woman's Hour is perfect for when I want to feel like I'm more than just a housewife (ironic given that Woman's Hour was originally created for housewives), and you can't wrong with some Scott Mills if you need cheering up but don't have the energy to think too hard (innuendo bingo is never not funny). It might sound weird that on the one hand I'm harping on about accepting where you are to cope with homesickness and now here I am like "local TV is shit, listen to British podcasts instead!", but when you're homesick or just feeling a bit glum nothing cheers you up like a good belly chuckle. Laughter is a great tonic for most ills and homesickness is no exception. I'm telling you now, find yourself some podcasts. They're designed for easy listening over a period of half an hour or so, i.e. the perfect time in which to have a cuppa and shut yourself out from the world for a bit.
Homesickness is horrid. It's irrational when you really think about it, but it's all consuming when you're suffering. I know that all too well. But it does get better, or at least with coping strategies that work for you it becomes bearable. And if that's the best you can hope for, then that's what you aim for.