If I had to name the most serious ailment that I suffer from, I’d say homesickness, hands down. Considering the transient and distant nature of our lives, this seems impossible. But I am here to tell you that while I am in recovery, you’re never fully cured of homesickness.
When I was a kid, I was totally the type to agree to a sleepover at a friend’s and then have to call my mom crying once the sleeping bags came out and do the walk of shame out to her mini-van when she came to pick me up. Eventually I smartened up and began to be sure extend a pre–emptive invite for all sleepovers. It may have coincidentally and accidentally made me and my parents seem really cool since I wanted friends to sleep over so often. But I was a coward. And my mom was sick of picking me up in the middle of the night.
As I grew up, I came to my senses enough to realize that both myself and my parents benefited from a night with us out of the house. But the idea of being away longer than a weekend was still daunting. My first ever planned trip to Europe was an exchange with German high school students. Basically, a bunch of my friends from German class and our one very lax and naive teacher, Herr Ahlers, took off the Germany for a month. No real supervision, a European attitude towards alcohol, cute boys who barely knew what I was saying. I signed up, hosted my German counterpart for a month and promptly pulled out of the deal very soon before our scheduled departure. My parents were shocked and, in retrospect, probably out a few bucks. My German teacher made a visit to my home and tried to reason with me auf Deutsch. But I just cried and shook my head and missed my chance at a fully funded, unsupervised trip to Europe. If that’s not a sickness, I don’t know what is.
A year later, after committing to go to school in Ann Arbor about 7 hours drive from my home, that familiar cold feet feeling. Obviously there was no way I could back out of this. I had been all talk about getting out of that one horse town and going to a prestigious school for years. Maybe even a decade. But I started getting ill over it, thinking of myself so far from my parents and my sister without a car and without friends and without a clue. I really gave myself no credit, but as soon as I got there and everything was unpacked into the asbetos–ish dorm room, the sickness faded and I made some of the greatest friends of my life. I didn’t even move home the next summer.
As time passed and I became more accustomed to life outside of the Marquette-bubble, my homesickness became more of a seasonal chest cold and less of a terminal cancer. I made the most of my visits home, my family and friends came to see me when they could, I found my niche in each new environment. Now that it has become the norm to go nearly a year between visits back to the nest, I’ve developed some coping mechanisms. Denial is a big part of it. Skype helps. Emotional eating plays it’s role. And a good cry on Dave’s shoulder helps a bit.
But the thing is, no matter how long it’s been (10 years) or how happy I am (very), the homesickness never quite goes away. Ironically, going home only seems to make it more acute at times, because as soon as I’m there I think I could never bear to leave. Our recent visit lasted 21 days before we redeparted for Canada. That’s quite a long visit, and I’m going back in less than two weeks. But I still had to bond over pre-departure preparations with my dad, stay up extra late having a cuddle and a laugh with my mom the night before we left and then have a tear as we drove away. I’m a grown, married woman, and even as we left for my other home, I had to convince myself that having a mental breakdown is not warranted. I had to remind myself that I’ll be leaving for even longer to an even farther and much more unknown destination soon.
With a dose of Dave and some the help of two highly trained therapeutic dogs, I made it out of the city limits and into my mother-in-law’s basement. The symptoms have subsided for now.