I’ve started and stopped a new blog post for almost four months now. It just didn’t feel like the right time. I didn’t have the passion for writing about the nonsensical things that occur nearly daily on a Caribbean island. Was too busy. Or maybe just burned out on blogging.
I’m not sure which it was. Some? All? None of the above?
But finally something so absurd happened that I couldn’t help but sit down and log in to my long-abandoned blog site. My original plan was to describe the “only on an island” occurrence that happened a few days ago.
But a funny thing happened when I sat down to write. I felt like writing about how I got back here. I will eventually write about the absurd nature of island life eventually. But first…a brief (ha ha) update on where Island Girl’s been for the past year.
How did all this start?
In spring 2019, I was at a crossroads. Again. Generally feeling an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction with island life and having no clear vision of what precisely was the issue, I decided to change things up in my typical dramatic fashion. I headed back to the mainland. To the PNW, to be exact. My old stomping grounds. The place where my heart feels as at home as it does near the Caribbean Sea.
The original plan was to split my time between my little tropical rock and the soaring peaks of the Cascades. It seemed like a glorious, workable plan, until I actually had to execute on it. Turns out, living your life in two places is way harder than it sounds.
I’ll spare you the gory details of the daily struggles one faces when trying to attempt to build a life someplace new while simultaneously nurturing a life somewhere else. Suffice it to say, the new life never really took off and the old, island one limped along on life support for a good many months.
What happened next
The truth is, when you have one foot in one world and the other in another, neither existence ever really feels solid. While always flying someplace sounds glamorous and getting to know the airport staff by first name because you’re passing through so often seems kind of cool, a life of constantly being on the go gets old. Fast. Perhaps it works for celebrities and super wealthy people with staff and private jets, but for regular Janes like me, the struggle is a lot more real.
It took about eight months for me to get fully burned out by my on-the-go, globe-trotting, nomadic lifestyle. Even my glam-sounding job that regularly took me to London didn’t save things.
The truth is, I’m a homebody at heart. I like my own stuff in my own surroundings. Hotel life can be fun, and renting rooms or apartments in other people’s homes let you meet some interesting folks. But at the end of the day I like my privacy and hand-picked creature comforts a little too much.
Add in my mom’s sudden health decline, and it was enough for me to finally say enough’s enough. I wanted the support and security of familiarity and shoulders to cry on. My mom has since passed away – not unexepectedly. But the global COVID crisis kept us apart at the end. Not unlike thousands of other families…and it really, really sucked.
What I did
In January 2020, I quit my tech job to move back to the island full-time. Back to the comfort and familiarity of my house, husband, dogs and friends.
(Those of you paying attention will note my timing. I arrived on the island precisely two weeks before the airport here shut down in response to the COVID crisis. As I write this, the airport remains closed to US travel. I’ve been island-bound ever since, whether that was the original plan or not.)
But back to my time in the PNW. Rather than consider my ten month mainland sabbatical a failure, I’m treasuring it for the clarity it brought me. Before I flew away watching Mt. Rainier recede into the distance one last time (at least as a WA state resident), I had a few epiphanies. Realizations that wouldn’t have been made had I not spent 10 months living a crazy, flight-filled, dual life.
You really can’t go home again
Returning to a place that fills you with warm, fuzzy memories is a pretty tempting idea, isn’t it? The problem is, those great memories were made in a different time and in different circumstances. Going back – when you’re in a different stage of life and have new perspectives – is a brand new deal.
While you can return to a place where you lived before, expecting it to be the same is a recipe for disappointment. That isn’t to say you can’t build a new life there, but it won’t be the same. Expecting it to be a mirror image of what you once had only guarantees that things will fail to live up to your expectations.
By all means, return to those places that make your heart swell with joy. Just be sure to have realistic expectations of what your new life there will actually be like.
Maintaining two lives is hard
Aside from the practical considerations, like the cost of living, there was an unexpected side to the whole “living in two places” idea. I found it incredibly lonely to be on my own in the PNW.
The things I always took for granted – after work conversations with my husband, impromptu rosé days with my BFF, cuddling with my pups – just aren’t possible when you’re limited to WhatsApp, Skype and FaceTime. Turns out, the dogs just aren’t that into video chats. Who knew?
The other weird thing I discovered is that I had a general hesitation to build too much of a life in my new place. For every possession I considered acquiring (skis, camping gear, winter clothes), I kept thinking “this is silly to buy, I might leave soon.” The limbo of impermanency was hard for me. Really, really hard.
I felt the same way about building new friendships. I’m generally pretty introverted, and I was also traveling a lot and could never commit to any real planned activities. Combine that with the infamous “Seattle freeze” and it was easier to just do my own thing, instead of really putting myself out there and trying to find a new tribe.
I did meet one really lovely woman in the final weeks of my time in the PNW (shout out to Lindsey, uber-awesome photographer and housemate). I suspect we would have become adventure buddies if I had stayed. But, as life tends to go, I met her just a little too late. We will re-connect and have some grand mountain adventure, I hope, next time I pass through the area.
At the end of the day, though, since I wasn’t “all in” in either place, I ended up also not growing in either place. That wasn’t healthy.
Your tribe is really important
Whether your tribe is big or small, your spouse, a group of friends, or even your loving pups, having a tribe is super important. I sort of discounted just how important when I jetted off to pursue this dual-life thing.
While eventually I likely would have found a new tribe of mountain loving, adventure women, for the reasons mentioned above, I just couldn’t commit the time or energy to doing so. So the alternative ended up with me being sort of a lone wolf who came and went. While I tend to hang out on the introverted side of the social spectrum, that doesn’t mean I never want to socialize with people.
And with the temptation of having a ready-built life someplace else, the decision to flee back to that safety net was always very, very tempting. Especially in those dark moments when I found myself alone (often on a long-haul flight) wondering just what the fuck I was doing with my life.
In the end, I returned to that which was familiar – and that which I didn’t want to permanently jettison or treat like some backup plan. I’m happy to say that my island tribe was ready and waiting with open arms when I returned. They held no grudges for me abandoning them with no real explanation.
It feels good to be surrounded by the ones I feel closest to and who know the good, bad, and ugly about me – and love me anyway. While I still have long stretches where I spend a lot of time alone, it feels good to know they are close by. WhatsApp is no substitution for sharing a bottle of rosé in the pool.
Island life isn’t perfect, and I still have rock fever from time to time, exacerbated by COVID (damn you, corona!). But everything comes with trade-offs. I’ll take boob sweat and permanently frizzy hair if it means daily dog cuddles and people to lean on.
I made the right decision to return. For now, anyway.