Admitting Loneliness

After 8 years, 5 countries and 3 continents I’ve become pretty accustomed to the ebbs and flows of living far from home (the holidays are always tough). Wherever home actually is. You can tell I don’t have one of my own  because when I say the word I still picture the house where my parents live, where I always lived before I turned 18, where every note I ever wrote to my friends in high school still sits in a cedar chest in my old room (note to self: burn contents of cedar chest before the baby can read).

It’s true that home is where the heart is, and Dave and the baby are always with me. But my dogs are my heart. My parents. My sister. My closest friends. My heart is in pieces all over the world, and sometimes that takes a toll.

When I meet new people and explain our life or when I discuss our travels with my friends back home, a lot of people comment on how awesome this path must be and how lucky we are. And it is awesome. And we are lucky. When I was a teenager, I dreamed of traveling to this many places but probably never believed it would happen. And here we are passports all stamped up, keepsakes coming out our ears, minds blown by all the experiences.

The catch is that living abroad, even when you do it one hockey season at a time, isn’t like taking a vacation as some people seem to believe. You aren’t a tourist. It can be amazing and fun and enlightening, but it can also be frustrating and soul-crushing and confusing. I want to feel lucky every single day. But I also want to feel like I can read a cereal box or ask a question to my child’s pediatrician in my native tongue. I want to feel like I’m part of the conversation people are having around me, instead of a mute sidekick who just smiles and gives a thumbs up sometimes. I want to eat things familiar and know where I’m going and understand what is being said to me at the grocery store checkout line. These things sound small one by one, but together they add up to a world where every day is a little bit of a struggle. And some days are a big struggle. And all that struggling can make you tired.

Being in Japan is without question the most humbling of my experiences abroad. The Netherlands, Germany, and Norway (heck, even Canada!) can make you feel misplaced. But in Japan all my previous expat experiences are amplified by a power of ten. I’m more confused, more isolated, most definitely identifiable as a foreigner just by sight and completely and utterly illiterate.

Normally, I have no problem admitting that things can be frustrating at times, copping to a bad day here and there. I’m not prone to sugar coating. I don’t hesitate to tell anyone that I don’t regret any of this hockey, gypsy life. I just tell the truth, but I don’t complain for the sake of it and I don’t embellish to cover up the marks.

But in Japan, despite incredible hospitality and my best efforts to get ‘out there’, I’ve been lonely. Not all the time. Not even every day. But more than normal. More than when I had a newborn and was too exhausted to socialize. More than our time in European countries. And this is hard for me to admit.

It’s hard to admit because I want to be a brave, bold, traveler of the world who can take on any challenge and embrace new experiences. I want to be open here the way I was each and every other season which allowed me to more than one amazing, lasting connection each time. I want to be the person who turns lemons into lemonade and is happy to greet each day and blah blah something positive thinking etcetera. Admitting I’m lonely, that it’s hard here, that I don’t really love it, sort of feels like a failure. Feels like I’m saying I don’t like it here (which is not true) or that I’m not enjoying this experience (I am) or that I haven’t met some really lovely people (I really, really have).

Between our hockey life and my online networks, a lot of my friends have lived or are currently living abroad. They move for jobs or love or hockey and some stay forever and some are just temps. And those people tend to understand that I can be both extremely excited by my life in Japan while also missing home fiercely. They get it. They’ve been there. It’s normal, they’ll tell me. It’s ok. Drink some wine, they advise. Enjoy the ramen while you can, they wisely suggest.

But I’m more afraid of the reaction of the others. Of the people who think we’re so lucky to have this life but who haven’t ever had to be in this kind of situation. Or the haters who think we should quit this nomadic, dream-chasing lifestyle for ‘real life.’ I fear those people will see my admission as a conclusion. Will see the struggle as a sign. That their glib advice will be to trade the hardships of this way of life for the hardships that will come when we switch over to another way.

If only it were that simple.

20 thoughts on “Admitting Loneliness

  1. I hear you! I’m Japanese-American, can speak the language, have family in Japan and STILL I feel lonely here sometimes. I feel ungrateful saying that, having been given the opportunity to live in a foreign country, but I know what you mean about things taking a toll. I especially felt lost when I was in China, where I didn’t know anyone but my husband and couldn’t speak the language. But hang in there! I know you must feel lonely sometimes, but please know you’re not alone!

      1. I go back and forth between Tokyo (where my relatives are) and Saitama (where my husband & the in-laws are). How about you?

      2. Nikko! Yes, and if you’re ever in Tokyo, please let me know! I would probably have to bring along my one-year-old, though, if that’s ok. 😉

      3. I have a one year old as well, so perhaps they could entertain each other! 🙂 We hope to go to Tokyo a few times in the next couple of months, I’ll drop you a line!

  2. So well said. Thanks for being brave enough to share it! I was just writing my blog when this came through on my email… ‘funny’ that I was writing a similar story. Very sorry that we couldn’t meet up last weekend, perhaps in the near future. For today, keep living authentically! As I just read in a book this morning, “You report only to you. Not me. Not your mother. Not an “expert”. You.”

    1. I love that line Brandi, those are words I should remind myself of more often! I’m sorry we didn’t meet up as well, but I’m holding out hope I’ll be exchanging konnichiwas with you soon!

  3. Laner,

    I love that you write about both sides of the spectrum in the post. It always drives me nuts when people tell me how lucky Matt is to be playing a “game” for a living. My response is often, “must be nice for you to see your family everyday, not fight for your job everyday, sleep in your OWN bed everyday” (I could go on). There are ups and downs in both lifestyles. People don’t always see that.
    I give you serious props for going into your current situation blind, and making the best of it while you can. I can imagine your struggles, I know already that I could not do it. Geepers, I struggled in Bakersfield, and IOWA. Who struggles in Iowa for french sake!
    This is just a blip on the map of your travels, it will be over in a flash, and before you know it you’ll be swimming in the lake you love, enjoying all the festivities of your sisters upcoming marriage, watching your baby grow with your family close by.
    Chin up sista! xo

  4. Wonderfully said… And while I am not living a nomadic life, I get it (or at least, think I do… probably not as much as if I did live this life, but enough to empathize!) and wish you all the best! (Because I understand how at the exact same moment you can both be so incredibly happy with where you are in life, but also have some aspect of it making you so incredibly lonely/sad/frustrated/etc. And that part doesn’t take away from the good – sometimes instead it makes it even more poignant – but it is there, and you have to acknowledge it, and work with or through it)

  5. Great post Lane. I love the heart in pieces line, so true.v
    I am on the other side of the “expat spectrum” having lived in NL for 10 years now. And even if it does feel like home (and it really does), there are still moments when I feel like a sidekick as you put it nicely. And I assume that this will never completely go away. On the other hand, I feel even less that I belong back “home”. So effectively, I am not sure if I really have a “home” as most people know it. Most of the time this thought and feeling is extremely liberating to me but sometimes it makes me sad. Even more so with the children in the mix.
    I have a half-French, half-Italian friend born and raised in Barcelona and while she lived in NL I remember her telling once around Christmas that she is kind of jealous of people going “home” for Christmas since she doesn’t have one place to call home. This is going to be the case with my children, and it makes me sad sometimes. But hey, they may turn out to be annoyingly optimistic, polyglot globetrotters like her so it is not all bad :)!

    btw – I am writing sort of a 10-year expat anniversary post on my blog, would you mind if I link this post to it (I am never sure of the blog etiquette)?

    1. Of course you can link Jelena, I love your blog! I know that ‘homeless ‘ feeling but I know hour kids will be those worldly -beyond -their -years kids that everyone is in awe of!

  6. The grass is always greener, bla bla bla, there are good days and bad days in any path we choose to take and live. You simply do the best you can and NO ONE should fault you for that. As Matt and I say to each other often -do something until the bad days outnumber the good days. Then stop and switch directions. Your directions have been amazing and wonderful and I KNOW you don’t take any of it for granted, but that doesn’t mean your aren’t entitled to miss certain entities -mainly me! Hahaha! So with all that. I miss you too -come home? Or not, but either way we’ll love you forever and there are so many more memories ahead to share near and far. xoxoxo

  7. I lived in Chiba for a year and it was both the best and the worst time. I think it was easier in my early 20s b/c I would just go to a gaijin bar and drink my face off with other English teachers.

    Not sure where you are located but have you seen the website Being Abroad? It’s a women’s network in Japan. You may find other ex-pat mommies there in your area (not sure where you are though).

    Good luck, and yes, it is terribly hard. It must be what a dog feels like, ears perking up for the few recognized words in a conversation. “ball? kibble? walk??”

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