I hesitate to blog about my recent bout of severe homesickness. But, I guess not mentioning it would create a somewhat false impression about the reality of expatriating ones’ self to a foreign land. I mean…while most of the time it’s all sunshine and salt water here, there can be a not-so-sunny side, too.
And so it went on Thanksgiving day. My first thought when I opened my eyes that morning was the realization that most of my family and friends back in the States would be waking up to a long, holiday weekend filled with overeating and lots of football and shopping. What I missed most at that moment was the idea of having an extra-long weekend spread out ahead of me, full of possibility. And no work.
Unfortunately, Thanksgiving is not a global holiday, and one the Dutch certainly don’t celebrate. Of course, even if they did, I now work in an industry where holidays mean nothing…the work goes on 7/365. If I happen to get a holiday off, it is only because it falls on my regularly scheduled day off. And that’s the way it goes.
So, I got myself up and out of bed, determined to be happy about all the great things in my life. And I do have a lot of great things. But throughout the day, this unexpected feeling of sadness just kept building and building, which surprised even me because I have been mostly happy and positive lately. So I got through my work day and went home, turning down an invitation to a lovely Thanksgiving dinner put together by some American friends here.
And the stupid sad feeling just wouldn’t go away. I missed my family. I missed my old life. I missed my beautiful wooden dining table and china service for 12. The things I would use once or twice a year to prepare my own feast for family and friends. I missed my Nesco roaster and espresso maker. I missed my big house, perfectly decorated by me with a collection of things acquired over the years. But aside from all the material things, I really missed my kids. And my mom.
Then, after a night of tossing and turning, complete with a crying jag in the middle somewhere (thanks to Island Boy for trying to comfort me), I woke up the next day still feeling homesick.
So I did what I always do when I need more information on something. I turned to my good friend Google. And discovered that homesickness in expats is nothing new. In fact, they even have a name for it. Expat Flu. And that it can strike almost anytime. Three days, three months or three years after you leave. And basically, what you are missing is the familiarity of your old life. The ease with which you moved through your existence – whether you realized it at the time or not. And how when the Expat Flu strikes, some people can cope with it, while others repatriate themselves eventually because the longing is too great. The challenges in their new country just too much.
But the idea of repatriation doesn’t necessarily mean you are a failure. It just means you tried something new and realized that it wasn’t what ultimately made you happy. And life is too short to be miserable…whether you are freezing in the deep winter of the Midwest or sweating on a Caribbean beach. You should be happy. And if going back to where you came from is what makes you happy, there is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is if you never try something new because you are afraid. That is the only mistake. Not trying.
And that jarred me a bit. The realization that repatriating myself is something that wouldn’t make me a failure. That I’ve already succeeded just by doing what I already did. That someday – hopefully a long way down the road – when I’m on my deathbed, I won’t have the thought of “what if….” No, I already know the what if in this particular story. And that alone means I’ve succeeded.
Now, before anyone gets too excited or says “I told you so,” you should know that I haven’t seriously entertained the idea of returning to the States. Not at all. But it is reassuring to know that if I do decide that someday, I don’t have to automatically believe myself a failure for doing so. It just means it’s a new chapter in my ever-evolving life story.
Oh…and I’m feeling much better now. The wind is blowing again, which means kiting. And time on the water always puts everything into perspective for me.
Life is good.