What It's Like When You Feel Homesick But You're Already Home
There is no feeling quite as lonely as feeling homesick. It's a lingering feeling of acute isolation that washes over our entire bodies. It's a vacant feeling of being sorely disconnected.
It's one of the most pressingly painful feelings we will ever experience.
The first time I remember feeling homesick was at sleep-away camp when I was an 8-year-old kid.
I was gone for eight weeks, and for the first two weeks of my journey, I was overcome with an incessant longing for familiarity.
Everything was unknown. Even the pleasant smells of wood and pine that permeate the summer camps of New England were unrecognizable and grating.
The twin cot with its fleece blanket and cheerfully bright-red, checkered sheets felt impossibly cold. I cried into my pillow every night for 14 consecutive days.
I remembering feeling like I could dissipate into the thin air and not a soul would notice I was gone.
The second time I remember feeling really, truly, madly homesick was when I lived in Los Angeles somewhere between the throes of 17 and 19.
This time, the homesickness had manifested itself into a jilted, jarring sensation not dissimilar to heartbreak.
I had acute exhaustion that lived deep in my limbs. I was hell-bent and tethered to a chronic fatigue that hurt.
My heart felt heavy in my chest. I lost my appetite. It was a feeling worse than loneliness -- it was alienation.
The third time I felt homesick, I was living in London, and I was 23. In this scenario, I carried on as per usual because I was an adult. And that's what adults do.
The homesickness wasn't intense; it was more of an underlying emptiness that followed me everywhere I went -- even booze and happy pills couldn't fill the lonely gaps.
I sifted through the days as if everything was fine and plastered on a stiff smile at work.
Come nightfall, I wouldn't cry. I would stare blankly at the wall, numbing myself because I knew if I allowed myself to feel, I would fall into grey vortex of hopelessness.
I kept myself immersed in blankness, but I, somewhere deep down, was aching for the old connections I had with my friends in New York City.
The fourth time I ever felt homesick, I was 25 years old. The difference was....
I was homesick, but I was home.
How could I be feeling so desperately homesick when I was home? Guilt and confusion joined forces and invaded my brain.
After all, I was living in my parents' house, sleeping in the bed I grew up in, taking residence in all the familiar smells that shaped the simple, untainted memories of my childhood.
I immersed myself in everything that usually made feel safe and connected. I spent eons of time drinking tea in the kitchen with my mother, curled up in the same secret spot I used to smoke cigarettes in as an angst-ridden teenager.
I tucked my frame into the same corner I would seek solace in when life felt too hard to deal with.
Nothing provided relief. Because I wasn't homesick for a place.
I was homesick for the girl I used to be.
Because home isn't really a tangible place. Home is a feeling. Home is you.
When you've lost sight of who you are, no where in the world will ever feel like home. You will feel homesick all of the time when you're disconnected from yourself.
Even when swaddled into the oh so familiar, safe arms of home. Nowhere is safe when your mind isn't a safe place.
I missed myself. I had wandered away from the bright, happy, confident girl I used to be. I had lost her, and it was her I missed, not home.
I was homesick for a time that no longer existed.
It wasn't just my old self that I missed. I was also homesick for a time and place that no longer existed.
As we get older and briskly move forward in our lives, we somehow expect home to magically stand still.
We think that home is a constant, that it will never change and that everything will look and feel the same no matter how long we abandon it.
The truth is, home changes as much as we do.
Our parents evolve into a different phase of their lives after we leave. Our friends, even the ones who remain stagnant in our hometown, grow in vastly different directions than we would have ever expected. Our favorite mom-and-pop stores close and are replaced by looming corporate chains.
We can't expect our little towns to stay on pause while we go off and explore the world. The only consistency is inconsistency.
And eventually, "home" might look more unfamiliar than the big teeming city you call “home” as an adult.
I was homesick for a fantasy.
Part of growing up is learning to look at the world through a realistic lens. When we're kids, we look at the seemingly massive world with glittering rose-colored glasses strapped to our little faces.
When we're kids, we think our parents are the moral gods of the universe, and their opinions are surely the only opinions that are correct.
We see the little towns we reside in as beatific, and beautiful, and perfect and pretty. We think all the people we grow up with are the best friends we will ever have for the rest of our lives.
Then we grow up and start to see things as they are, not as we wish they were. The fantasy is ripped out of our delicate fingers and replaced by the cold fist of reality.
We realize our parents are two complicated, flawed adults who are simply doing their best but have made (and continue to make) a slew of mistakes.
Sometimes we realize the place we called "home" is actually a small-minded, painfully conservative hick town, and we don't feel comfortable there. At all.
And most of all, our "best friends" from childhood, we don't have a damn thing in common with anymore.
As adults, when we're homesick, we so often long for the fantasy of childhood. To the time when we thought our parents were perfect entities and our high school friends were the best friends we would ever have until the day we died.
When I planted the roots in myself, my homesickness lifted.
It was only when I took the long walk back to myself that my homesickness lifted.
I learned home isn't a place. It's not a shattered memory of the girl I once was. It's not in the familiar faces of my old friends. It's not even in my warm, loving family that I hold in the deepest part of my heart.
It's in me.
When you make peace with yourself and your reality, you're always at home. Because home lives within you. It's like that old Buddhist saying:
Wherever you go, there you are.
Start building roots in yourself. Because things change. Cities evolve. People leave us unexpectedly. Everything we thought we knew can be taken from us in an instant.
But no one can ever rip you away from you.